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Date: June 25, 2017 (Pentecost 3) 1. Texts: Genesis 21:8-21; Ps. 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: our faith made visible to the world. 4. Aim: challenge. 5. Proposition: “We disciples embody the life of Jesus, so we should suffer the impact of that as he did.”

 

AS JESUS WAS, SO ARE WE TO BE

 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never suffered anything because I am a Christian. No one has ever attacked me. No one has even called me a dirty name. Sure, I give ten percent of my net income to the Church, but I haven’t suffered because of that. I don’t have to have “the courage of my convictions” because no one has ever penalized me for having Christian convictions. There’s something, well, wrong about that. ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name…A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!1 So, here’s the thing: Jesus himself says that, as society treats the Master, so will the society treat the disciples. The oppression by society of Christians will even happen within families. So, whatever penalties the world heaped upon Jesus, the world—including our own families—will heap upon us disciples of Christ. That clearly happens in places like Egypt where extremists murder Coptic Christians at worship. They experience the crucifixion of Jesus in horrendously literal ways. That happens in places like Indonesia and the Philippines, where 1 Matthew 10:16-18, 21-22a, 24-25. Page 2 of 4 -Embodying the faith of Jesusthe government does little to suppress the violent and deadly oppression of Christians in certain regions of those two countries. But here, no one has spat on me. My own family is not only tolerant of what I do, but thinks that I’m a positive representative of a largely ineffectual group. I suspect that most of us have never really suffered much for the sake of our faith. So, what’s going on? Why are we Albertan Christians seemingly exempt from the violent oppression of society? Why is there a difference between what Jesus prophesied in Matthew’s Gospel and our own experience? First of all, the Christian Church is not considered to be a threat to the rest of society. Heck, we’re far from being a threat because everyone else thinks we’re irrelevant. There is no danger in us because we have no impact on the world around us. After all, no one feels threatened by the Rotary Club or the Lions Club or the Elks Hall. Such social service clubs aren’t oppressed or victimized because they do not threaten anyone. The Christian Church is considered by the vast majority of people to be equally as irrelevant and inoffensive. We’re no threat to society and so society doesn’t threaten us. Secondly, the Church in North America has largely learned how to make itself inoffensive. We don’t bother anyone and so no one bothers with us. There is no radical difference between the lives of Christians and non-Christians. In fact, many people have reduced Christianity to merely behaving well. As long as we are moral, good, kind people who behave nicely in public, we’re all ok—at least that’s the way many Church attenders feel. When the Christian faith is reduced to believing in a vague Superior Power who wants us to behave well in public, then no one could possibly be offended by it. No one would possibly want to oppress another because of such a faith. Society sees us as irrelevant and inoffensive. We make ourselves indistinguishable from others who behave politely. Of course there will be no oppression, violence or even abusive language. We won’t suffer anything like what Jesus suffered. We modern North American disciples are radically different from our Master—unlike what Jesus prophesied we should be. We should start with the implications of what Jesus said. He said that, if the world oppressed the master, then the disciples will also be oppressed. This Page 3 of 4 -Embodying the faith of Jesusmeans that the disciples should be reflective of the master. The disciples are apprentices of the master, who learn the master’s content and live the master’s life. The disciples are oppressed because they embody the master and the master was oppressed. In Christian terms, Jesus is our Master and we are his disciples. We embody his gospel and his life, so we are to be treated as he was. That’s all very clear. So what was it about Jesus that made him so threatening and created the climate for society’s oppression? As the Christ, Jesus embodied and lived out a radical re-orientation of life. His words and actions proclaimed the gospel, which we could reduce to this: “As God is, so is the Christ. As the Christ is, so are his disciples to become.” Thus, as Jesus incarnated the justice, righteousness, grace, forgiveness and love of God, so are his disciples to reflect the same in our lives. We are to campaign against prejudice, racism, violence and hatred. Our holy lives are to serve as an active critique of society—even at the cost of our own reputations, friendships and familial relations. So two very powerful factors are at work here. One: society no longer pays any real attention to Christians, dismissing us as irrelevant at best and criminal at worst. The Church has largely become invisible and indistinguishable in society. Two: we Christians are not adequately embodying the justice, righteousness, grace, forgiveness and love of God. We are not offering any meaningful critique of society and frequently seek to be invisible and indistinguishable in society. We could leave this as it is—it would be far more comfortable than taking any action. After all, none of us wants to suffer what Jesus suffered and we would rather that everyone left us alone, so we’ll just leave them alone. But we all guess that we shouldn’t stand in the way of Jesus’ prophecies. That seems wrong. After all, we apprentices should be like the Master—we all know that. If that means we have to pay some price, well, so be it. Jesus said, Page 4 of 4 -Embodying the faith of Jesus- ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’2 Our lives are to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the (perhaps spiritually) blind and freedom for the oppressed. That’s our goal, whatever the cost. Once, after Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.3 We are to serve the world in humility, doing loving service even when it hurts our reputations and pride. As apprentices of Christ, we associate ourselves with those our society considers lepers and outcasts, just as Jesus did. 4 We advocate for them and give up our lives for them, as Christ gave up his life for his disciples.5 It seems to me that, if we lived the life of Christ which critiques our society, then society would likely be threatened by us and we would like suffer for our radical reorientation of life. Not that we want to suffer, but it would be the outcome of living a life oriented towards our just, righteous, forgiving and loving God. We can only pray that we will need the courage of Christ’s convictions. AMEN.