Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
25 June 1023
Sermon By: Rev.
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of Bangladesh
St. Elizabeth’s Church, Sebastian
St. Agnes Church, Sebring
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
This week, Fr. H shared a very poignant story with the Daughters of the King.
Tuesday morning Sharon discovered Fr. Stephen’s obituary in the local paper, an obituary perhaps you too read. At a very young age, Stephen, a highly successful New York security firm owner let go of his pursuit of worldly fame and fortune to follow Christ’s call, become a faithful servant priest and devote himself to following Christ. Encouraged by God’s calling him to grow more fully into the man God intended him to be Fr. Stephen utilized his gifts and talents seeking out as Christ did the poor and marginalized, empowering the hungry, addicts, and HIV/AIDS patients persisting through his own heartache, illness, and pain, not always perfectly for none of us humans are perfect. But His Testimony, his talk and his walk were to live for Christ’s sake and glory.
Now ironically not long after reading the obituary Fr. H and Sharon, on their way to church, read another testimony in big bold red letters on a small black sedan’s rear window, they read... I DO WHAT I WANT. I DO WHAT I WANT. I don’t know about you but to me, these words suggest that the owner lives with these core beliefs; I serve and am loyal to ME-MYSELF - and I. My world centers on doing what I want, when I want, wherever I want, with whomever I want. Getting my own abundance of the world’s stuff, power, and status is more important than sharing and Giving to others. Who cares about others, anyway. I don’t’ consider the impact on or cost to others, or even myself. Life is all about ME and my happiness, right now. I DO WHAT I WANT.
Comparing Fr. Stephen and this unnamed car owner’s way of living remind us of an important question Jesus asks his disciples and us this morning. Am I losing my life for Christ’s sake and glory or finding my life for my own glory, only to lose it all in the end?
In our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus gives the 12 disciples last minute instructions before they journey away from Him to proclaim the Good News. Now just like the disciples back then all of here have chosen to follow Christ. Christ is at work among us and in our hearts and each week as we leave the sanctuary, time we leave our house, choice we have to make. We are called to consider if we are focused solely upon ourselves or are we listening and obeying Christ’s calling to us.
And, the reality is that just like the disciples we live in a tension between placing our self and placing Christ at the center of our hearts and choices. And with all choices it is important to pray and ask that God... Jesus... Holy Spirit what are you calling me to do?
The spiritual journey of being and becoming like Christ is a lifelong journey filled with stops and starts, successes and failures, worries and doubts. The path of growing up spiritually into the man or woman Christ envisioned us to be is not easy, letting go of our attachments to worldly stuff, power, and status, embracing hard work, experiencing at times the pain and discomfort of growing and stretching new Christ-like muscles.
And in this morning’s Gospel Jesus presents us with a very challenging teaching about spiritual growth
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
I don’t know about you but this text at first made me shudder. What in the world is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, calling us to even more dysfunction, division and warfare within our families? But then I learned Jesus brings a sword not to destroy but to create, to create times of separation, to generate new life in relationships creating space and freedom for people to have the detachment we need to listen for how God is calling us to be and become in God, more and more like Christ.
Separation, space is necessary for the creation and growth of all new life physical, emotional and spiritual and is at the heart of growing up in Christ, becoming fully the person God calls us to be.
Psychologically space is needed for us to grow as young children we detach from our parents, often our mothers, as young adults, after adolescence, we have to leave the family nest, as parents we have to let go of our adult children when they marry and have their own children.
Spiritually separation is also part of growth. God created the world through separation the light from darkness, the day from the night. Jesus chose separation from his parents at age 12 remaining in the temple behind Mary and Joseph to increase in wisdom and years and divine and human favor... (Luke 2:52).
Matthew left his tax booth, James and John left their boats, father, and nets to follow Christ. Separation creates a space for us to listen for God’s voice to guide us, to grow into our authentic selves, to take space away from others, to put Christ right at the center of our hearts and trust that Christ will guide us to forgiveness if our hearts are open.
For we are in an in-between time, between Jesus’ resurrection and His second coming, a time when St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (6:6) about the Old Self....the part of ourselves scarred by our sinful nature, that lives by the mantra I DO WHAT I WANT and lives in conflict with our desire to follow Christ until Christ returns again in victory over Satan.
And in this in-between time Jesus equips us as he did the Disciples long ago with the power of the Holy Spirit to help us listen and confront the death dealing ways of the Old Self... the I DO WHAT I WANT self. With the reminders that in our spiritual journeys suffering and persecution are to be expected, conflict cannot be escaped (though certainly not enjoyed) and yet in the midst of that conflict and times of separation God is with us, God cares for each of us, God knows every details of our lives even the very number of hairs on our heads. God will bring all truth to light when Christ comes again and conquers Satan.
Our fear is not to be of separation or conflict or even anything or anyone that can kill our bodies but to fear or to stand in awe and wonder of God and God alone. Separateness, while seemingly a threat provides the freedom to reflect upon who and whose we are, to assess how we are living with Christ or with only ourselves.
Separateness which at first seems like a burden provides the space to hear God’s still small voice reminding us of our gifts and talents, limitations, hopes and dreams and sense of purpose in Christ.
Separation, taken in prayer and time away gives us a place to seek Christ and to grow up spiritually in Christ, to trust God is with us, God knows and cares for us intimately and God will in the end bring all truth to life and victory over death and Satan.
If you were to become fully yourself, fully alive to God’s dream for you and your life who would you become? What or whom do you need to detach to reclaim yourself and embrace your emerging self, separating, not necessarily rejecting them, reclaiming yourself as a child of God?
Perhaps Christ is calling you to detach from a person whose behavior is harmful to you, a past experience which continues to plague you with guilt or shame, a fear or worry long held so you can come alive in Christ, to be fully yourself.
While at times, Jesus calls us to separate and detach ourselves from relationships which are toxic with no anchor in Him or His glory. In many cases Jesus calls us to take a step back, to pray and listen to Him, to ask Him for healing, reconciliation.
Jesus calls us not to fully detach from our relationships unless of course they are toxic, with no foundation in Him or His glory but to re-orient our lives to become more fully alive of the good work. He has become and desires to continue in us an identity, a mission among His people with a purpose anchored in Him.
A favorite story of mine is about the Rabbi Zusha who laying on his deathbed inconsolable, “Why,” his students asked him, “are you so sad, Rebbe, after all the good deeds you have done?” The dying Rabbi, I am afraid God will say to me when I get to heaven, Don’t worry Zusha that you were not more like King David or Moses? Why weren’t you more like Zusha.
Where do you need to take time and space to separate yourself for anything or anyone that keeps you from becoming with God’s help, your authentic self?
Cover Image: Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash