The Third Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Torey Lightcap

Today, we hear him saying many hard things to the disciples:
… “A disciple is not above the teacher”
… “Don’t fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul”
… “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven”
… “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”
… “Whoever loves father or mother [or] son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”

When I hear these things, it puts me in mind of something said
By the South African theologian Itumeleng Mosala.
He was talking about how hard it was years before, trying to reconcile
His Christian faith with the experience of being black in South Africa.
He said, “I felt I needed either to resolve this or get out of the Church.
I’ve still not resolved it and I am still in the Church!”
I really feel this energy that Reverend Mosala talks about:
If I can’t wrap my mind or at least my heart or my gut
Around these incredibly hard things I hear Jesus saying,
Then I should either resolve it or get out of the Church, right?
Well, here I am – I’ve been diving into these hard saying of Jesus all of my life,
And I still can’t resolve them, and I’m still in the Church!

Although … I have at least come to appreciate a little of the context around these words.
They’re contained in a gospel written to a specific audience
Beginning to undergo some level of persecution and falling-away:
These are Jesus-believing Jews and some Gentiles living in a time and circumstance
Where they were starting to differentiate and set themselves apart from their customary society.
This separation came with the social costs you can probably imagine
Anytime someone separates themselves in some way:
Alienation, disorientation, being misunderstood and scorned by others.
What they needed were words of assurance
That their trust in Christ was well-founded in the first place;
That it was worth the cost to follow out Christ as they had come to understand him.
A friend and fellow-pastor of mine from Iowa is a scholar in the Gospel of Matthew,
And here’s how he puts it:
He says that “Matthew is first of all a handbook for equipping disciples .
The issues of Matthew, particularly those of judgment, are issues for the community
And not to be used as part of the church’s message to the world.
The way of the alternative community envisioned by Matthew is not easy.
The community that stands before the powers that be in this world
Must stand in the presence of Christ and in the promises of his word.”

This is intriguing.
Perhaps the hard sayings of Jesus aren’t meant to divide and threaten us …
So much as they are there, strangely, to comfort us.
They’re there to remind us that although we may stand shaking before the powers of this world,
Nevertheless, we are, first and always, in the presence of Christ and his promises;
And we are a community , and not just individuals.

Imagine that you live in the time and circumstances of Matthew.
Depending on the day and what you happen to need,
It’s hard to get around and live your life
Because quite simply your faith in Jesus as Lord dictates some level of resistance.
Rather than “In God We Trust,”
Many of the coins you handle declare that “Caesar is Lord!”
To buy what you need just to get by, you might have to pass by the bust of Caesar
And throw a little incense into a pot and make the same declaration, that “Caesar is Lord!”
Not merely Lord in the sense of ruler, but of someone invested with real divine power: a god, little “g.”
But how do you square that with “Jesus is Lord”?
Or do you go along to get along? Compromise for the sake of the familiar and comfortable?
We know from history that these are some of the more casual problems encountered;
That as time went on, the situation became far more acute.

What do you do when you live in a world that is powered
By beliefs and practices that are the opposite of what you know to be true?
I suspect you might run to a Gospel that teaches on the subject of division –
That teaches that faith in Christ as Lord may create dividing lines in our lives.
And now, perhaps, rather than hearing condemnation –
Hearing instead the urgency of Jesus to remain steadfast in the face of it all
For his sake and for the sake of the community he loves.

Following Jesus is hard, and very often unclear, but worth a lifetime of investment.
Sometimes the dividing lines we’re trying to stand on either side of
Aren’t always between the sacred and the secular.
Sometimes they feel as if they’re right down the middle of the church itself,
Or seem to be cutting society in half.
Each one side claiming the exclusive truth.
Sometimes the world is trying to tell the church something really important,
And the Church out of its inertia will fail to listen.
There will always be divisions – some unexpected, others entirely predictable –
Some naturally arising, others manmade –
There will always be divisions,
But being faithful to Christ comes at a cost.
Right now we don’t have to fear losing our lives because of our love of Christ;
Instead, we simply stand to lose a bit of our ego and our certitude.

If you read Matthew chapter 18 you will see that Jesus anticipates all of this.
He understands that finding him is a constant, messy process.

So he gives the church the tools we need to seek restoration and forgiveness
At least with each other,
And many faithful people have followed them out, and discovered that they work.

That’s good news, and it helps the community stay together.
Especially now, when we are finally coming to realize
Just how much work as a church and a society lies ahead of us.
Much of it, reforming ourselves and our entrenched attitudes.
Amending our hearts and our ways.
Showing the world what it’s like to be vulnerable for one another.

I would just say, for one, that the latest conversation occurring on the subject of race
Has finally blown open a lot of my preconceptions.
The discussion around Black Lives Matter has confronted me
With the specter of my own attitudes and upbringing.
Then, when I look outside myself, I see those same attitudes ingrained in the world around me,
And not just in individuals’ words, but in policies and laws.
This is something I have to dismantle; that I can work on in myself; that we can, if we will.
It’s not about being “woke” or cool or trying to let the attitudes of the larger Church dictate my own.
It’s simply about realizing that because of the presence of Jesus,
I must topple my own gods, little “g.” That, I guess, is part of the ongoing price to pay.
But worth it.

There isn’t a Christian who doesn’t need to hear these admonitions:
That doing and saying the right thing will exact its own sort of price.
Following Jesus is costly.
But, as he reminds us in today’s reading, “Those who find their life will lose it,
And those who lose their life for [his] sake will find it.”
Odd-sounding comfort. Comfort nevertheless.

So then.
No matter where we go;
No matter the authority we stand before, even if it be the authority of our own past;
No matter the tools we use to refute lies, even if they be in our own minds;
No matter the truth we are compelled to speak,
We have this promise that we are always in the presence of Christ.