Message by Pastor Pokora – June 21, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter how many times I hear today’s Gospel reading, no matter how many times I’ve heard it preached on or discussed, it doesn’t get any easier for me. It’s not an easy passage. Why would something in which it sounds like we’re being told to turn our backs on our families be an easy pill to swallow?

The text we’ve heard is what Biblical scholars and commentary writers refer to as the Missionary Discourse, the second of five great discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most familiar in the Gospels – a lengthy passage that includes the Beatitudes and the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer. 

Today’s discourse lays the groundwork for how the disciples and followers of Jesus are supposed to approach carrying the good news into the world. This call of Jesus to the disciples asks two things of them: boldness and courage.

First, there’s the command to be bold. We read “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” They’re not supposed to keep the light of what they have been entrusted with under a bushel; they are supposed to let it shine in the open. Secrets and whispers are not how their work is to be handled; they are to proclaim the good news in a way that is visible and loud and visible for the world to see.

Perhaps even more important than being bold, however, they are called to be courageous. What the followers of Jesus were doing was something quite new and extraordinary – and very much against the norms of the day. They weren’t content to continue with worship in their village synagogues and traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead, they gave up their former lives to follow one who –depending on the Gospel you’re reading – was upsetting the Romans, the Jewish king, the temple authorities, and the Pharisees and Sadducees.

That’s a lot of pressure to carry around. The ministry of Jesus and the work of his disciples at one point or another antagonized pretty large segments of the population of the day. For me, it’s enough to deal with a situation when find that I have upset a single person – my wife, one of my daughters, a friend.

The stress I feel in working to heal these rifts is admittedly intense. I can’t even begin to imagine, therefore, how I would feel if I were upsetting – using a modern equivalent – the federal government, the governor of Iowa , the bishop of the synod and the leaders of the national Lutheran Church.

Standing up in opposition to the status quo takes an exceptional amount of courage. As I was reading today’s passage and thinking about what the disciples are being asked to do, I couldn’t help but think of two of my personal heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Lewis.

Bonhoeffer was one of the most brilliant theologians and preachers of the 20th century, a man who could have undoubtedly had a long and distinguished life and career. But he heard the call to be courageous and bold, and that call led him to oppose the Nazi regime in Germany – only in his writing and preaching, but by taking an active role in a plot to assassinate Hitter. He could have easily fled to the United States and avoided the entire conflict, as many friends urged him to do, but his conscience and his faith in God would not allow him to abandon his countrymen to their fate. And it cost him his life.

By following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the fight for equality and civil rights, John Lewis also displayed courage borne out of self-sacrifice. Whether it was participating in the 1961 Freedom Ride to Alabama or leading the march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma; whether it was a lunch counter sit-in or a march on Washington; Lewis challenged the status quo and the treatment of black Americans. And he paid a hefty price, suffering severe physical harm on the Freedom Ride and the Selma march and being arrested by his own count more than 40 times.

These two personal heroes faced significant repercussions, all because they heard the call to courage and boldness and to challenge what was wrong in the world. And it is in the responses offered to the ills of creation that we discover in these moments – the moments of danger faced by the disciples and those experienced by Lewis and Bonhoeffer and many others in more recent times – the true meaning of radical discipleship.

Radical discipleship. Bringing the message of Christ beyond the usual boundaries. Proclaiming the message of Christ in new, more powerful, more innovative, more meaningful ways. Living the message of Christ in our own lives in ways of which we might not even be aware but which are perfectly clear to those whom we are serving.

Now of course, being radical disciples doesn’t mean we have to run out and throw ourselves in harm’s way. It doesn’t mean that we have to live our lives exactly as a Peter or Matthew, a Lewis or a Bonhoeffer. What it does mean, though, is that we have to approach the things that we see wrong in creation with new eyes.

It means looking for ways of showing Christ to the world that are outside the box – moving beyond what’s right in front of us and considering what might be there, just out of sight around the next bend.

It means extending one hand to help someone in need and then trying to find someone else to support with our other. It means taking the things that God whispers to each of us in those still, silent moments – those calls to action that we receive – and putting them to work for others.

It means looking at an opportunity to support an outreach program and not thinking, “I wonder if I could do that?” but moving beyond your own inner status quo and saying with  certainty, “I can do that!”

Acknowledge Christ. Tell it in the light. Proclaim it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid.

Simply take a deep breath, pray, and step into the world of radical discipleship to which Jesus is calling each of us.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.