St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-18-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-18-2018

Nobody Ever Said it Would Be Easy

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-12, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Working once again in thoughts of our season of Lent as a time for, not only self-denial, but also self-reflection; we find ourselves at another point in the Gospel of John that calls us to, again, look carefully, critically, at ourselves as followers of Christ with the purpose of discerning whether or not we are truly doing the best that we can at living as Christ calls us to live. Especially, today we are called on to consider how challenging it really is to do just that.

It is a theme in all four Gospels; though each one with varying degrees of intensity. Mark, for example, relates it this way;

“[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it””. (Mark 8:34-35 NRSV)

Matthew, true to his tendency to double-down on Marks narrative, adds an emphasis to the self sacrifice aspect by writing Christ’s words…

“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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. (Matt. 10:37-38NRSV) 


 

And Luke really gets down-and-dirty, quoting Jesus as saying emphatically…

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27 NRSV)

Finally, as we just heard, John recounts the call to follow, also true to his form, just as intensely but with a bit of a twist writing Jesus’ words this way…

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor”. (John 12: 25-26 NRSV)

Jesus made many promises to those who follow him, but he never said it would be easy. The question then, especially in the context of Lenten reflection, is “are we taking the call to follow seriously enough to experience, to feel, to recognize, just how hard it is”?

Of course, we don’t need to “hate” our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters; and we don’t have to hate life. These words are the way Jesus underscores the importance of his message and give perspective as to where it should be on our list of priorities; right on top; above earthly loved ones, above our own self-serving interests, even above life.

We also don’t need to literally bear a cross for Christ’s sake, and certainly not have a cross bear us; again, these are words used to instill the importance of understanding that the journey with Christ isn’t always easy and that, at times, it’s downright difficult yet as necessary as a servant’s unwavering obedience to his master.

This is all very serious and requires our attention. We must think about what it means to be a follower of Christ and be constantly questioning ourselves as to whether or not we are fulfilling the expectations. Yet, it is not an impossibly heavy burden to bear; there is help!

For one thing, love makes the burden lighter! Our love for God and Christ can make the load seem quite a bit more moveable. Love for our fellow Christians, likewise, can make it easier. And all of their love for us, if we pause to take it in, can make it seem like no burden at all.

Another thing that can make the same load seem like less to carry, and perhaps the most lifting of all, is remembering the reward we receive for enduring; the reward of eternity in the presence of God and Christ.

Looking again at today’s gospel reading; particularly at verse 26, we can see something special there if we look closely; that “twist” I mentioned a moment ago. Let me repeat that verse for you… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

At a glance, we can clearly see the condition for serving Jesus. Whoever serves Jesus must follow Jesus; clear enough. But now think of the next part of the sentence ‘wherever Jesus is, there his servant will be also’

Most readers might think that this is an extension of the requirements of being a servant of Christ; to be at the master’s side wherever he may go. I don’t deny that. But another way of looking at it is to think of it as, not a requirement, but a benefit of being Christ’s servant; the benefit, the gift, of being at Christ’s side wherever he goes… even into his glory!  This thought is reinforced by the next words out of Jesus’ mouth, the final part of the sentence stating “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor”! “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor”.

Where my approach to interpreting the worthiness of differing views such as this varies from many Bible readers is to not focus on one being right and the other wrong; not either one or the other; but to consider the possibility of both together; the thought that Jesus intended for us to see both views as truth, especially when his statement is as ambiguous as this.

If we do this here, then the result is that, yes, we are called to pick up our cross and follow; to not only bear the burden and  follow Christ all the way to Golgotha… but to recognize that path as the way, the only way, to follow him beyond Golgotha! To follow Jesus to the point of death so that we can continue the journey beyond death into new life, at his side, all the way into his glory and our glory; his honor and our honor!

The Father will honor the follower! Amen

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31:31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
31:32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.
31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
31:34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Hebrews 5:5-10
5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
5:6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
5:9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,
5:10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John 12:20-33
12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.
12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
12:27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–’ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
12:30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.
12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.