“A Line in the Sand”
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/28/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/28/20
“A Line in the Sand” Matthew 10:32-34, 37-39
In our text, Jesus is initiating the ‘wokeness’ of his Father’s kingdom and he’s not just getting the disciple’s feet wet, he’s pulling them in over their heads. So, let’s just dive right into the deep end with them.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
I don’t remember struggling more with the gospel than I have in the last few weeks. And I don’t mean struggling to interpret the truth of the gospel. I mean struggling with that truth in my life, struggling with what that truth reveals about us and our country, struggling with what that truth is asking of us, and struggling with that truth in what I say to you each Sunday.
I want to be true to the truth of the gospel, but I also don’t want to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable, challenged to change, or risk disapproval and being criticized, personally or as a preacher. And I suspect you feel the same as a listener of the gospel.
Don’t you sometimes just want an easy, feel good gospel? I do. Sometimes I want a gospel that affirms our life as it is and leaves us alone. I want a gospel that’s easy to preach, easy to hear, and easy to live.
None of that, however, is likely to happen today. Jesus has taken his stand and drawn a line in the sand with his sword. He’s given marching orders to his disciples.
The prophet Jeremiah felt the cut of that sword in his own life. He said,
“I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. I cry out, “violence and destruction!” So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” He knows what he must do and where he must stand.
The line has been drawn.
The line Jesus draws is a line between acknowledging him before others and denying him before others. And I’m not talking about whether we read the Bible, go to church, affirm the Apostle’s Creed, or post Jesusy kind of stuff on our social media. I am talking about how we live, what we say and don’t say, what we do and don’t do, the policies we enact or support and the ideas behind them. I’m talking about where and with whom we make our stand today.
There are, obviously, other lines in the sand today. Jesus isn’t the only one who draws lines. Some we have drawn for ourselves and some have been drawn for us by others. They’re not hard to see.
Look at the lines that are being drawn about racism, what lives matter, and the place of historical monuments in our country. Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand these past weeks, you get that yes, the times they are a changing. To quote Mr. Hawk Newsome last week, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it.” Now the Star-Spangled Banner and Mt. Rushmore are on the cancel culture list.
Race activist Shaun King (who is a white guy by the way) called for the taking down of all statues, murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus and his European mother. King issued the statement on Twitter to his 1.1 million followers. He said, “All murals and stained-glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends should also come down. They are a gross form of white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down.”
Lines run through violence, and prejudice. They run through the lack of education and an understanding of our nation’s history. There is even a line running through decisions to wear a mask in public and keep social distance. What does the line that Jesus draws have to do with these situations or any other that are being drawn today?
I wouldn’t be surprised if right about now some of you feel that I’ve crossed a line, that I’ve gone from preaching to meddling, that I’ve left behind the gospel for politics. I wish it were that easy to avoid the gospel but it’s not.
If Jesus can say, “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”, might he not also say, “Whoever loves President Trump and the Republican party more than me is not worthy of me, whoever loves Mr. Biden and the Democratic party more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves his or her own position, opinion, or agenda more than me is not worthy of me?”
The line Jesus draws with his sword intersects every one of the issues I raised and more. It intersects the lines you and I see being drawn in our country today. It runs through your life and my life. It runs through our country. It runs through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
For Jesus, there is only one line that matters. That’s why I struggled with today’s gospel. It holds before us a set of values, a way of being, a truth that we either acknowledge or deny. We cannot straddle that line – one foot here, the other there. There is no middle ground on which to stand. And we can’t gerrymander the line to make our life easier.
You see, Jesus’ sword cuts through everything. The line he draws runs through every single grain of sand in our life. That line reveals and calls us into a greater priority, a higher authority, a truer identity. That being, a citizen of God’s kingdom come. Where we stand in relation to that line will determine who we are, the values we hold, and how, or even if, we love our neighbor.
If you want to know where Jesus stands, what he stands for, and with whom he stands look for the places of brokenness and dis-ease; look for love, integrity and compassion; look for people who are hurting, you know, the red and yellow, black, brown and white ones. Those people. That’s where and who we see Jesus drawing a line in the sand and taking a stand with.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stands with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. “You have heard it said … but I say to you …”
After his temptation in the wilderness Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown and took a stand “to bring good news … to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
When Jesus was only forty days old Simeon prophesied that Jesus would draw a line in the sand. “This child,” he said, “is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”
A few questions. What line is Jesus drawing in the sands of your life today? What is being revealed to you? And what is being asked of you? Are you openly acknowledging Jesus during these trying times or are you silently denying him?
Those are the questions I ask myself. I think we all need to be asking ourselves those questions everyday of our life because we all stand somewhere. We all take a stand by our actions and inactions, by our words and our silence, by our thoughts and intentions.
First, we found ourselves in lockdowns, then our cities were on fire with businesses looted, now public property has been overtaken by anarchists, historical monuments have been defaced or destroyed, while credible threats of violence linger for citizens. It seems that there’s no logical expectation for this to cease because it’s being allowed to happen. It almost makes one wonder if this hasn’t been a systemic attack to bring about a paradigm shift on our culture and way of life.
At the dawn of the crafting of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams observed, “If the people are capable of understanding, seeing and feeling the differences between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice, to what better principle can the friends of mankind apply, than to the sense of this difference?”
But today, the ability of Americans to discern ‘between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice,’ is being systematically eroded by politicos, in collusion with 24/7 media and big tech enablers, relentlessly seeking to empower the state. Don’t be fooled. Lines are being drawn and consequently, America is presently in a battle, not only for its physical well-being but also for its spiritual values, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we know.
When you look at the line Jesus has drawn in your life today –where do you stand? For what do you stand? With whom do you stand?
In the Jewish tradition there’s a collection of ethical teachings. In it, one rabbi says this, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
I read these words as invitation to truthfulness, authenticity, honesty, and integrity. They hold a vision of the work before us. I trust those words will lead you and me to a life worthy of Jesus.
As followers of the Way we cannot straddle the line Christ has drawn, nor can we shrink away from his call to pick up our cross and follow him. We all know how to lose our life so that its lost. The trick is to figure out how to lose one’s life so that it will be found. And the key to that mystery is to lose our life for Jesus’ sake. For his purpose, aim, or end. Losing one’s life might simply mean losing one’s social status - becoming disgraced in the eyes of others because one chooses to associate with those outside of one’s social circle. Hanging out with the lowest and the least, or go figure, maybe even one’s actual neighbors.
In closing, and everyone said… I extend that invitation and remind you that, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
The line has been drawn.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.