Sermon on Matthew Chapter 10:24-39
By The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley
The Gospel last week dealt with what we call “The Great Commission” when Jesus sent out his disciples on their mission to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. You will recall that Jesus didn’t make it sound easy or even very attractive. The tough nature of their job was spelt out in honest detail. In today’s reading from the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus warned them that they were not to expect any better treatment by the world than their master.
I think if Jesus were alive today, he would be advised to repackage his
message to be more attractive. A PR expert would say, “less heavy on the
potential suffering angle, Jesus, more on the eternal reward”. Disciples
these days might be asked to carry out Risk Assessment appraisals, fill in
Insurance forms. If anything confronted them which was difficult, or caused
them pain, they might be advised to seek counselling or debriefing. Mentors
would advise them not to burn themselves out, or tell them how to set
boundaries to protect them from the people they were commanded to serve.
As a society we are facing an epidemic of lack of commitment. Those who run
organisations, whether it is the Brownies or cricket teams, all complain
that they find it hard to find people who will take on roles of
responsibility, become Treasurers, Secretaries etc. Certainly, people want
to come and take part, they don’t mind being the consumers of the Brownies
or the Cricket Team, but they will not commit to regular attendance or take
on responsibility. Joining things has become too much of a commitment. Trade
Unions, political parties, Working Men’s Clubs all are reporting a dropping
off in membership. There are all kinds of sociological reasons that you
might cite to explain this. Longer working hours, less extended family to
help with childcare etc. But this doesn’t cover the childless, the retired
or the un-employed. No one much wants to take on responsibility or sign up
to anything on a regular basis. They would rather keep their freedom and
retain their choice to stay home and watch the telly, or chat on the
Internet. People are now thinking less about wanting to be part of a cause,
or a community of believers (in anything) and more in terms of individual
pleasures and activities.
To sum up, we live in a less committed society. If you want to persuade
people to do things you have to downplay the commitment involved. What would
Jesus say to his disciples now? “Just do what you can, as and when, no
worries if you don’t feel like it.” Is this what he is saying to us? Come
and follow me, in your own time, no pressure”? No! He didn’t say that to his
disciples or to us. He throws out the challenge to his followers. He told
that bunch of scared men that their new way of life was going to be tough.
And they rose to the challenge, rose magnificently to the challenge. They
were heroes and heroines, those early Christians: brave, self-sacrificing,
and unswerving in their commitment to Jesus and to the church.
I think that, to a large extent, we become the people we are expected to be.
If you tell a child to be afraid of walking through a stream then she is, if
you tell someone they can’t or need not do something, then they won’t do it.
If you continually warn people not to overextend themselves, to be careful
because they are frail, then they become frail and fearful. We must train
ourselves to be brave Christians, giving generously of ourselves. We need to
be willing to willing to take a risk with ourselves, our money, our privacy,
and our time, even our energy. Jesus told his disciples that they need not
be afraid, that they would be guided and protected, that they were precious
in the eyes of God. He reassured them that, although their feelings and
their bodies might be hurt, no harm could come to their souls.
God’s love and assured of his promises surround Christians and so we are insulated from the worst that life can throw at us. Yes, we might suffer, indeed as typical humans we will suffer, but we are dear to God and held in the palm of his hand. Our souls are safe in his care. We can and will endure. In a society that eggs us on to be lazy, self-indulgent and sit on the sidelines, it is difficult to imagine people behaving with the courage and commitment of those first Christians.
Now I know that I can’t complain about lack of commitment in this church. We are most fortunate that we have many people willing to work hard and to make themselves responsible for every area of its life. But we mustn’t be complacent. As the outside world is, so every person may become, so even this church could become. We must be on our guard that the prevailing philosophy of the “sacred self” doesn’t drain us of commitment to others and to God. We must be careful that the desire to guard our leisure time doesn’t mean that we simply can’t bear to turn off the telly and go and mix with the people and organizations that surround us. It is so attractive to disguise lack of commitment as “making time for me” as Good Housekeeping advised us women to do last month. Our present society encourages us to avoid stress, to concentrate on ourselves and it is hard to resist the urge to be lazy and not get involved. Jesus’ message in this great chapter in Matthew’s Gospel is that as Jesus’ followers we are all involved with each other, with God’s will for the world, with his command to spread the word, to bring in the Kingdom, and we must not let the siren call of self interest and lack of commitment thwart that purpose. Amen