The Second Sunday after Pentecost: July 18, 2017
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) | Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8 | Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
A couple weeks ago, we heard that Christianity means being a disciple and an apostle. Mother Kate said “We come here to be followers of Jesus, to be fed and nourished by our faith and this community and then, we get up and go out to share this grace in our daily lives. In other words, we don’t get spiritually fed for ourselves alone, but in order that we may give this to others.”
Last week we again touched on this theme as our graduating seniors reminded us: we are here to grow for a time, and then we are sent forth to bear the fruits of the Spirit in the world.
Today’s gospel continues this theme with Jesus’ words, “See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
“See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”
And I thought being a Christian was all about having some enlightening, peaceful, spiritually uplifting experience!
What is Jesus getting at here? Perhaps this is a historical note calling us to appreciate the hardships and suffering the early disciples went through. After all, times were tough in Jesus’ day. Jesus warns the early disciples of the dangers of outside persecution and internal divisions. Sadly these dangers resonate with us today. Within the past few weeks, we have experienced staggering tragedies with terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, shootings in San Francisco and Alexandria, the outcome of the Philando Castille case, and of course the ongoing bitterness and enmity in our country’s politics.
Now perhaps more than ever the world needs to hear some good news. Perhaps more than ever, we need to hear and share what our faith has to offer.
So what does our faith have to offer? And how does this sheep-amidst-wolf discipleship work on a practical level?
Go forth, get eaten by some ravenous pack of wolves, proclaim the good news from a wolf’s stomach. Yeah…no. While sacrificing one’s life for one’s faith is admirable, this is not the only way God calls us to be Christians in the world.
Look at today’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out alone as individuals, but as a group. We are meant to be sent out as a flock together–not on our own. Pretty countercultural considering today climate. If someone says, ‘the Church should take a stand in the public sphere’ we may think: ‘Flee! Run away!’ Or ‘please Lord, not me!’
I wonder why we are so reticent to share our faith in public?
Studies show that most people in America still believe in God, they just don’t go to church including Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. People nowadays are spiritual, not religious. Faith is prioritized as an individual (not communal) practice.
Why the decline?
Well the Church as an institution has not always heeded Christ’s call to feed the poor, heal the sick, forgive and love one another as God loves us. In other words, the Church sometimes acts more like a wolf than a sheep in the world. Consider ongoing church battles around homophobia, islamophobia, sexism,…the list goes on.
But I believe the Church still has something vitally important to say today.
A recent article from the Atlantic notes that while leaving the church has led to greater tolerance in some areas, the rise of secularism has also led to intolerance, disillusion, and isolation in other areas. Our politics have become more brutal and divided. With the decline of the Church, the religious values of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are replaced by secular values of race, nation, and revolution. This rise of a secular spirituality rooted in racial tribalism runs contrary to the Gospel teachings.
Note that Christ calls us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves–he does not call us to be one or the other; he says be both. Can you imagine what a world of only serpents would look like…we would all slither around being sly and manipulative. And in a world of only doves we would be naive and immature with our head in the clouds. This is the vision of racial tribalism. It’s either/or.
Christianity says don’t dominate, integrate–look at how we can be both/and! Find a balance between the two and you will become grounded and free; patient and simple; open and reflective; hopeful and wise; pure, true and just in thought and action.
This is what Jesus means when he calls us to be sheep amidst wolves. His vision is not that all sheep become wolves, or all wolves become sheep but that we learn ways to reconcile, unite, and dwell together. Find out what each has to offer and then integrate these gifts.
This is the surprising and amazing thing about the Christian faith. It calls us to live out a broader vision that values secularism not as our enemy, but as an important partner in creating God’s peaceable kingdom–one where wolf and sheep don’t devour the other, but dwell together. Where danger and enmity become possibilities for transformation and healing.
This is the Christian faith that empowered leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights movement and Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid in South Africa. This is the faith that has inspired people to gather together to heal and transform patterns of deep division, persecution, and violence. This is the faith that reminds us the way of the world is not the only reality, the only way to live.
Rise up, ye saints of God! Have done with lesser things, give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings. Lift high the cross of Christ! Tread where his feet have trod; and quickened by the Spirit’s power, rise up, ye saints of God! Amen.