The 10th chapter of Matthew is all about discipleship. It starts with Jesus naming and equipping the disciples to cure the sick and cast out demons all the while proclaiming the good news. They are to find the worthy who will be receptive to God’s message. But their journey will be hard. Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of the wolves” (16). Then Jesus, the great teacher, gives this lesson to his followers. READ
Robert Frost’s first assignment for a class of teachers was to read “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” This was Mark Twain’s famous story about a frog that lost a jumping contest because he had been pumped full of quail shot. When the class next assembled they were mystified because they did not understand what this story had to do with a course in education.
Frost patiently explained to them that this particular story was about teachers. He said that there were two kinds of teachers. There was the kind that filled you with so much quail shot that you could not move and the kind that gave you a little prod on the behind so that you could jump to the skies. (Gary W. Houston, Cowherding Christians, CSS Publishing Company)
Jesus taught his disciples in ways that helped them to jump to the skies. He did this through parables, wisdom and empowerment. Jesus taught his followers and called them disciples because a disciple simply means “learner.” So, a student, a learner, a disciple is not above his teacher, nor is a slave above his master. Jesus asks us as disciples to be like the teacher, to be like Jesus. And yet he warned them they were heading into dangerous territory. Being a disciple of Christ could mean family feuds, arguments and fights, even dying to bear witness to Jesus as Lord. Jesus does not sugar coat the costs of discipleship. Much like fathers and sons were fighting one another in the Civil War, families were torn apart when it came to those who followed Christ and those who did not. History is filled with brave people who lived and died to share the gospel of Christ, who carried the cross of following Jesus.
Yet recently one woman said that Jesus went too far in saying “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” I too have a challenging time with this passage, especially with all the religiously motivated tragic attacks of late. When an attacker proclaims violence is done in the name of God I recoil and am appalled. So, the very thought of Jesus saying I came to bring a sword causes me great angst. Looking at this passage another way, a more personally reflective way, one commentator wrote, “Evidently there is peace, and then there is peace. The demands of the prince of true peace may very well feel like a sword cutting through lesser loyalties and making quick work of our flabby, commonsense morality” (Feasting on the Word, A3, p.167). Christ calls us to a higher standard, Christ teaches the way to an undivided heart, the way of God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola knows what it means to be taught by Christ. He came from a family of minor nobility in Spain’s northern Basque region. One thing to know about Ignatius is that he was far from saintly during much of his young adult life. He was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. He gambled and was not above sword fighting. As some have noted, he might have been the only saint with a notarized police record: for taking part in a nighttime brawl. Yet after becoming a priest he wrote this prayer asking Christ to teach him.
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous,
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.
As Christians, we strive to be like Christ, our teacher, as we grow in our discipleship. That is why we are starting our Summer Bible Gathering this week on Wednesday afternoons at 1:00. We will have a time to read the scriptures for the coming week’s sermon, ask questions and live in God’s word. I encourage you to come, even if you have never been to a Bible study before. Because this is not so much a study as it is a chance to sit in God’s word and consider. Wonder what God might be saying and allowing it to grow in your heart long before you hear it in a sermon. Being in the God’s word is a fabulous way to grow in our faith, to grow in our discipleship, grow in our connection with God and each other. You can come to one or to as many work with your schedule. But please come.
Yet discipleship is not only about learning, there is a cost to discipleship as Jesus reminds us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a book entitled Cost of Discipleship, “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend- it must transcend all comprehension.” He continues, “Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.” Then he connects it all with grace. “Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (pgs. 103, 96, 47).
God gives us grace but we can only receive that grace when we feel valuable, when we know our own worth.
A well known speaker started his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty. “Now who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air.
“My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in God’s eyes. To Him, dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to God. (Source: unknown)
For us to be good disciples, we need to see ourselves as valuable.
In between the teaching on discipleship and swords Jesus speaks of fear and value. He says, “Have no fear” even as he speaks of losing your life. There are times we are discouraged, when we think Jesus has forgot us, when we doubt our own worth. That is what Jesus is addressing. But he simply reminds us of the value of a sparrow. God cares for this simple and small bird. A bird that often lives with people, a bird small enough to need protection. One of God’s wonderful creatures. Just as we sang, God’s eye is on the sparrow, watching and protecting us, God has a plan for you and your life and even when things get hard, when you face troubles, God’s providence is holding you up. Amazingly as I wrote this sermon from home, a beautiful brown dove flew up to my window and perched on the roof and just looked at me. It has never happened before, but I felt like God was saying see I am with you. When God is with us, we can feel our worth, we have confidence in our actions, we can follow our Lord as we feel the love of God. Amen.