July 2, 2017 4th Sunday of Pentecost 4th of July Sunday
Genesis 21:8-21 Romans 6:1b-11 Matthew 10:24-39
When I first started teaching I read a book written for beginner teachers. The chapter titles were warnings like: A Teacher is Not a Peer, because young teachers have a hard time teaching kids who are often the same ages as younger siblings or cousins, whom you are friends with. Or the chapters were encouraging sayings like: You Will Get Out of Teaching What You Put Into It, because teachers are sometimes so focused on curriculum that we forget that it’s okay to make our subjects fun to teach and learn.
Basically the book was about how to set your boundaries so you can work, which gives you the reasons to say yes or no to situations; and how to be creative so that you can enjoy your work, which gives you the reason to keep going even when the job gets tough. Sometimes I wish that I still had that book – but when I went to Japan I gave it to a teacher, who was just starting out, and who needed it more than I did. And hopefully she eventually passed it on to a younger teacher who needed it.
What all the lessons in the book actually boiled down to was: Our actions produce reactions, or consequences. In other words, whatever we do, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, is going to affect someone, and change things, even if it’s only ourselves. And very often it’s more than ourselves, usually –about 99.9% of the time someone else is involved. This is why we need Grace in our lives – because no matter what we do, we are going to affect someone, and often we can’t see what the outcome is going to be.
You’ve probably noticed that the last few weeks I haven’t been preaching on some of the hard stuff in Matthew. Chapter 10 of Matthew is tough to preach on because it’s got a lot of scary things in it. When the disciples are sent out on their solo missions Jesus warns them that not everyone is going to agree or accept their message, their lifestyle, or the changes that they will bring about in people’s lives. If they become active members of his flock, and start to preach what he has been preaching to them, the authorities are going to start to take notice and realize that there is a movement going on here. And they might become targets for a lot of hurt. He warns them that they are stepping outside of the culture norms and that this is going to cause heartache and dissent among family members and friends.
Jesus warns his disciples that even though has taught them to live and preach love, healing, and the restoration of God’s Kingdom that other people are not going to respond with love, healing, or a desire to participate in the restoration of God’s Kingdom.
So why, with all the risk involved, did all those people follow Jesus knowing they might face the ostracism of family and society?
Paul, helps us to understand this a bit, which is why his philosophy is paired with this scripture.
Paul talks a lot about the concept of us being slaves to our emotions or our desires. Now we are very uncomfortable with the word slave. In this country we have a very nasty history with slavery, so we tend to disassociate ourselves from the word. As Americans, we value the independence and rights of individuals and a slave, by definition, has no independence or rights as an individual, so slavery went directly against our values – even the stated values of our Constitution – which brings us a lot of cultural shame. In our history slavery was something that was forced upon people as a permanent condition – not something that people did willingly to themselves.
But slavery in Paul’s day was different. Yes – there were some slaves who were captured in war – but most slaves had willingly become slaves as a means to get out of debt. The condition was not permanent, you contracted your WAGES IN ADVANCE for the amount of years that equaled your debt. It is true that you gave up your rights, but it was a temporary condition, you could get your rights back once your tenure was finished. And believe it or not – if you were a hard efficient worker often you could become a very valuable asset to your owner who might even hire you, or give you an exit bonus, once your tenure was done. Don’t get me wrong – being a slave was on the bottom of the social scale but it was an ingrained part of the economic system that didn’t carry the amount of social shame that it does for us.
So when Paul says: Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? He is talking about a person’s willingness to subject themselves to certain life conditions to get a certain payment in the end.
Paul is saying that if you decide that you are going to spend a life following sin you have subjected your body and soul to those conditions and that you are going to come out the other side with a payment for your choice, which is death.
Paul knew that we were all going to die and he probably didn’t believe in our notion of Hell, which was developed much later in Christian philosophy. What Paul probably meant was that when you died that your soul ceased to exist because it hadn’t had the chance to develop enough in this life to be able to continue on into eternal life with God.
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. You see, slavery to God for Paul was a choice of coming under God’s rule so that you could receive a reward, a gift, at the end. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My how-to-teach book stated that there were certain conditions that I had to be willing to subject myself to, and certain actions that I needed to do, in order to become a good teacher. And there were a lot of examples in that book of teachers who did not agree to those conditions or actions and they ended up quitting or being fired. There was payment or consequence of action. My yes and my no affected myself and my students, and what I put into my classroom I would eventually get something out of it, beyond what my paycheck gave me. The book never said that it was going to be smooth sailing all the time, but it gave me a foundation so that I could deal with things when the going got tough. That book was a valuable resource for my job when I was first starting out.
Our Bible, and more importantly our Gospel, is our valuable resource for our life. The Gospel says that there are certain conditions that we have to be willing to subject ourselves to, and certain actions that we need to do, in order to become a good person. There are a lot of examples in the Bible and the Gospel of people who rejected those conditions or actions and their wages or payment is the lost opportunity of living a life of love, healing, and the knowledge that they are participating in God’s Kingdom.
But if I willingly accept the conditions and actions and try to become a good person then my wages or payment for my service to God will be a life of love, healing and the knowledge that not only am I participating in God’s Kingdom now, but that I will be participating in it eternally with Christ. And Jesus did not sugar coat things and say that it was going to be smooth sailing all the time, but if we follow the Gospel it gives us a foundation so that we can deal with things when the going gets tough. Our Gospel is a valuable resource not only for when we start out but also for our whole lives.
One final lesson that my teaching book gave to me was that some people look down on teachers: You only work from nine to three – and you have the summer off. You only teach because you can’t do anything else. I was told not to worry about those detractors who don’t know that often teachers work from eight until after five, and are often taking classes, or planning classes in the summer, and that effective lesson planning and execution is an art that takes years to learn.
Some people look down on Christians as being unrealistic and that we are all singing, “Kumbaya around the campfire.” (Someone actually said that to me once.) Being a good person is a tough job. Attempting to love and heal in this world of hate and pain can be a daunting and discouraging job. But we are not doing it alone – God, Christ and the Holy Spirit are doing it with us – and we do not have to do it in huge chunks of greatness. Even the little acts of kindness: and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward – are counted.
We all have the choice of deciding what our job will be and who our boss will be in our lives. And we know what our final payment, or gift, will be. What will your wages be? You get to choose – just remember Jesus wants you to accept His gifts and be with him in his life everlasting.