Weekly Seeds: Life

Sunday, June 25, 2023
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost | Year A

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
God With Us, we acknowledge the joys and costs of following you. May we find life with you above all else. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Matthew 10:24-39
24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 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!
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 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;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 21:8-21 and Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 • Jeremiah 20:7-13 and Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 • Romans 6:1b-11 • Matthew 10:24-39

Focus Questions:
What does it mean to find your life?
How have you found life to be with Christ?
How have your relationships been impacted by your faith commitments?
What would you not be willing to lose for the gospel?
What have you gained from living a life following Jesus?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

While in a seminary course on prayer, the professor directed us to pair up and pray for one another. He instructed us not to ask the person their prayer request; rather we were to seek the direction of the Spirit to guide our prayer. We did this in multiple rounds. As a result, in this fairly large seminary class, we prayed for those who we knew well and others we only had brief interactions with in class. In one round, I partnered with my commuting buddy. We knew each other well. We talked on those weekly trips about our families, our ministries, our hopes, and our disappointments. She always had the sunniest disposition, and while I knew her life was not perfect, she was in a good place as far as I knew.

I was surprised then to find the Spirit telling me to pray for her peace…and nothing else. Not her children nor her day job, she sought peace. So, I prayed for peace. When I finished that rather brief prayer, she smiled and told me that was just what she needed. As a result of that, I often pray for peace for the people on my prayer list, because it is often not apparent when that need goes unmet. So, it always takes considerable pondering when I read Jesus say, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (v. 34)

This entire passage is cutting. Like “the sheep and the goats” discourse that will come in Matthew 25, the words of Jesus promise a level of accountability and consequence that may seem incompatible with the God of grace and mercy. In particular, this passage portrays Jesus as an intentionally divisive figure who insists that to follow him means to leave everything and everyone behind, especially those closest to you.

[quote] Bold proclamation is risky. Matthew’s community had martyrs in its memory and in its current consciousness. They could look back to the crucifixion of Jesus and before that to the beheading of John the Baptist. The threat is ongoing. “By Matthew’s time … it was well known that Christians—including Simon Peter, who was so important to Matthean Christianity—had been crucified in Rome under Nero.”
Anna Case-Winters

There are two audiences in this story; both of them contain disciples. There are the original hearers, the first to be called to follow Jesus. They did cast down their nets, leave home and family, and join Jesus on his itinerant ministry. Jesus distanced themselves from their own immediate family in service of their teaching and healing work. There are also the audience found in the Matthean community, who had to grapple with the persecution of their time, including the martyrdom of the apostles.

In this passage, Jesus uses the term peace in a way that reflects a more contemporary and superficial perspective than found in the tradition of the prophets and Hebrew scriptures. Peace–real peace–denotes a realization or demonstration of the kindom of God. When peace is fully present, humanity and all creation are well, whole, and flourishing. Here, Jesus speaks of the absence of conflict, the poor and inadequate substitute for God’s shalom.

But, that was probably just what the Matthean audience longed to achieve. When under assault and the threat of destruction, the absence of conflict seems like paradise. Jesus’ words remind that audience that the costs of discipleship were never concealed. Jesus was brutally honest in warning those who choose to participate in the kindom building ministry will need to make sacrifices as Jesus did.

The fourth section identifies the courage, impact, and reward of faithful mission (10:24–42). As Jesus was resisted, so are disciples (10:24–31). But disciples can “fear not” (10:26, 28, 31) because God rules the future (10:28, 32) and the present (10:29–31). The mission’s exclusive loyalty to Jesus disrupts households (10:34–39). Yet some will be receptive and vindicated in the judgment (10:40–42). This mission discourse underscores key features of the community of disciples. As a mission community commanded by Jesus, it imitates and continues his mission. Disciples do so in poverty, single-mindedness, itinerancy, vulnerability, and interdependence. They engage society, neither fleeing from it nor accepting imperial society as normative. Mission comprises transformative practices of proclamation, healing, and exorcisms. It is not a sporadic or optional activity but is central to the community’s identity and practice. It requires courage, hope, and conviction about its life-and-death importance in the face of resistance and persecution. The existence of persecution highlights its contestive and conflictual nature.
Warren Carter

Matthew’s account consistently speaks to a community on the inside with encouragement to devote themselves to expanding to the outside. The conflict is inside the house. Safety, purpose, and welcome can be found moving beyond the bounds of comfort and familiarity. At the same time, the account is shared with a community that has witnessed the evolution of that movement and found itself confronting resistance, oppression, and death. What encouragement can really be found for entering into those precarious waters?

Jesus tells them to find their life they must lose it. In truth, Jesus entreats them to give up what they would hold most near and dear. But isn’t that what the incarnation was for Jesus? I read a book that makes the claim that for Jesus, the humiliation does not start at Calvary and the crucifixion, but at their birth and incarnation. Jesus does not pick up their cross after their conviction; rather, Jesus lives his entire life on the cross of self-emptying as they live a life as bound by the physical as the spiritual, fully human and fully divine. Jesus’ connection to Source and Spirit gets severed for a time as they submit to death in the same way that they admonish the disciples that their commitment to the kindom must be greater than that of any relationship they value. The word cuts, and it won’t be until later that the original hearers will be privy to witness the wounds to which Jesus will be subjected–mind, body, and spirit.

Most of us will not confront the same depth of sacrifice when paying the cost of discipleship. Yet, we also must realize that the cost companions alongside the joys that we seek:

This chapter is sometimes referred to as the “missionary discourse.” For first world readers in mainline denominations this chapter seems a world away “with its talk of witness, persecution, poverty, and martyrdom. To the extent that it seems alien, it is a call to reexamine our own version of Christianity” Such a reexamination is in order, I think. I wonder whether we in fact have a form of “culture Christianity;” an ecclesial existence that has become so “well-adapted” to our culture that it is indistinguishable from it? In our situation of ease, have we lost our prophetic edge and with it a sense of the distance between the reign of God and the status quo? Is it possible that the very things that, in our context, have made it easy to be a Christian have made it harder to follow Jesus?
Anna Case-Winters

The tension between being and doing seems to never abate. To be a Christian speaks of identification with a community held with shared characteristics. To follow Jesus describes action and behaviors that reflect their ministry, purpose, and authority. When one of these descriptors conflicts with the other, then perhaps either our being or our doing has been compromised for our comfort.

Comfort is not a fruit of the spirit. While Jesus promised a Comforter, they do not offer a life of comfort. In fact, it would seem the claim that to lose one’s life is the only way to find it suggests that the pursuit of comfort embraces death and destruction.

Life requires a full commitment to the kindom of God, in proclamation and demonstration. Life may only be abundant and full when lived in spirit and truth. As resurrection people, our testimony confesses that when the old life is finished, while those cuts may leave scars, new life is promised.

Proclaim life.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
The black people around me were strong and determined but marginalized and excluded. The poultry plant bus came each day to pick up adults and take them to the factory where they would daily pluck, hack, and process thousands of chickens. My father left the area as a teenager because there was no local high school for black children. He returned with my mother and found work in a food factory; on weekends he did domestic work at beach cottages and rentals. My mother had a civilian job at an Air Force base. It seemed that we were all cloaked in an unwelcome garment of racial difference that constrained, confined, and restricted us.
My relatives worked hard all the time but never seemed to prosper. My grandfather was murdered when I was a teenager, but it didn’t seem to matter much to the world outside our family.
My grandmother was the daughter of people who were enslaved in Caroline County, Virginia. She was born in the 1880s, her parents in the 1840s. Her father talked to her all the time about growing up in slavery and how he learned to read and write but kept it a secret. He hid the things he knew—until Emancipation. The legacy of slavery very much shaped my grandmother and the way she raised her nine children. It influenced the way she talked to me, the way she constantly told me to “Keep close.”
When I visited her, she would hug me so tightly I could barely breathe. After a little while, she would ask me, “Bryan, do you still feel me hugging you?” If I said yes, she’d let me be; if I said no, she would assault me again. I said no a lot because it made me happy to be wrapped in her formidable arms. She never tired of pulling me to her.
“You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close,” she told me all the time.
—Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

For further reflection
“These are the times when our faith is not just an idea or a concept that we throw around. It’s something that has to actually be lived out.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ― C.S. Lewis
“The Kingdom of God is not for a selected few, but for anyone who willingly follows Christ on this journey of life.” ― Gift Gugu Mona

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.