June 25, 2017, 3rd Sunday of Pentecost YR A The Rev. Anne Abdy Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Mt. 10: 26-27)
This week’s gospel reading instructs the disciple how to be a follower of Jesus. Matthew’s passage can be a bit convoluted and confusing but the basic concept that Jesus is teaching is this: Don’t be intimidated. Stand steadfast in your faith. Proclaim the gospel whenever the opportunity presents.
In 2012 I was living in Gold Beach and working for Curry County Mental Health. It was during the summer months that my boss reviewed the new budget and noticed a discrepancy. One of the departments that offered a particularly important service to the community had an unusually large influx of funds. Further investigation by my boss revealed that the Director of County Programming was diverting funds from the mental health budget to this other department. My boss recognized this as a major error because she knew from previous years that department had operated in the red. So in a supervisory meeting with a co-worker present she confronted her boss. He in turn threatened her and this colleague with termination of employment if they told anyone.
This is a prime example of what Christ expects us to do. We are to reveal the secret that is made in the dark. Before long the whole mental health department was willing to walk off the job—and did we ever get the attention of the State. Jesus wants us to stand up to unjust practices and to point them out. After all, he threw the money-changers out of the temple and he violated the Sabbath law by performing miracles and doing what is common sense by righting a wrong.
We are to give light to the unknown. In these times, it is difficult to stand secure in one’s faith and point out evil. That is when I draw strength from the apostles, the disciples, and the martyrs. For many there are repercussions when you point out evil or whistle-blow on your boss. Just this past week voices were heard across the country demanding that Republicans reveal their version of the Health Care Bill as it was crafted in the back drawing rooms of Congress. The news showed demonstrators taking a stand and voicing their concerns.
Tom Long, a prolific writer, preacher, and professor at Chandler School of Theology in Atlanta, provides these words of wisdom which also ring true when engaged in Christian social justice:
“First, the Holy Spirit will surely be present and will never abandon us. Second, we will come to recognize that our suffering is not wasted, but is a testimony to faith. Third, even in the midst of our hardship, we will know that nothing can eradicate the gospel or destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful.” His last point, which I paraphrase, suggests that being faithful helps make decisions more clear and focused which can disrupt the loved ones around you.
We certainly understand his first point. We know that as Christians the Holy Spirit is given to us. It is just up to us to take and use her nudges to empower us. And in recent weeks we certainly have heard loud and clear the “I will not abandon you” theme emanating from the Gospels of Matthew and John.
In regards to the second point, Christians may feel that their faith is being tested, but I find at least for me I am not so much being tested, but a subtle readjustment is happening to which I am resisting because undergoing change is not fun! As soon as I move out of the way and relinquish control, God works wonders in my life. Have you seen the simple line diagram where a person is walking a straight path to God believing that their plan is simple and straight forward? Then the next picture frame shows God’s plan—a plan of peaks and valleys. Being Christian is not easy. Our plans, as good as they may be, are not God’s plans. Yet we have to be obedient to the Spirit’s call within us.
In regards to the third point where there is nothing that can destroy the gospel and message of God’s love. In the Daily Office of Morning Prayer, we say the Collect for Peace. Our plea to God is to have him “defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries.” The evidence of Christians holding tightly onto the Message is seen throughout history through the acts of kindness as the church responds to the needs of others.
On Thursday, Roman Catholic Bishop, Thomas Paprocki, from Illinois provided guidelines for the offering of sacraments to the LGBTQ community in his diocese. These guidelines will curb the community from receiving Holy Communion because they have not repented of their sin, but here is the zinger. He continued: “Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites.” My seminary friend, the Rev. R. J. Powell responded to this article by commenting in a Face Book post: “We would be honored to walk and pray with you through the good times and the most difficult and intimate.” God’s love always wins.
The last point about family dynamics is difficult to understand. The Holy Spirit convicts us and empowers us to act or say the difficult truth. Many times, this may result in pinning one family member against another. I have always wondered how agnostics make it through the tough times in life without a God in their lives. Then I met another seminary friend whose mother and older sister are Episcopal priests, and her father and herself for many years were non-believers. Her response was, “Anne, you surround yourself with those you love and who support you. Sometimes it is still family.” She has since finished a Masters of Arts in Religion and married an Episcopal priest. We are to stand true to our convictions and allow God to do the changing in other’s hearts.
One last story I think illustrates these points. It is a true story and I believe I have all the facts correct. In the late 1980s Archbishop Desmond Tutu was preaching at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town during the uprising against the Nationalist Party. The police dressed in riot gear entered with the intention of arresting the him then and there—even if it were mid-sentence as he spoke. The police surrounded the congregation in the nave. Desmond Tutu looked up, paused, invited the police force to sit and he then went on preaching. Holy Communion was administered and there was joyful singing and dancing as the congregation streamed out of the church into the streets behind the police whose objective was foiled. This act of standing up to evil reportedly was the turning point for the resistance and led to the abolishment of Apartheid and the dismantling of the government.
Jesus in this text assures all Christians that we are empowered to approach the cross in a new way. Because we belong to the Body of Christ, Jesus’ life and ministry reminds us that the cross cannot be viewed as acceptance of injustice and misery. We have to engage Christian action. My willingness to lose my job was Christian action. The protesters’ action in Washington D. C. was Christian action. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s action in cathedral that day, was Christian action in the face of evil.
In the words of William Goettler, “the cross is a sign of the realm of God that is to come, a strength that can be known by those who are obedient to the call of Jesus Christ in their lives. Those who live by the light of faith challenge the evil powers of this world with the certainty of believers, knowing that the way of God will prevail against every hurt and every challenge.”
So, go out into the world “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
 William Goettler, “Matthew 10:24-39 Pastoral Perspective” in David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds., Feasting On the Word, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008-2011), 164-168.
 BCP, 99.
 Robert Shine, June 22, 2017, comment on “Bishop: Pastors Must Deny Funerals to Catholics in Same-Gender Marriages,” in New Ways Minstry Bondings 2.0 Blog, June 22, 2017, accessed June 22, 2017, https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/bishop-pastors-must-deny-funerals-to-catholics-in-same-gender-marriages/.
 Goettler, 168.