Costly Discipleship (21 June 2020)

21 Jun 2020 by Sue McK (Service), John McK (Sermon) in: Worship Services: 2020


Acknowledgement of country
This land is God’s land and God’s Spirit dwells here. We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands where we are worshipping today and how they have blessed this place through their care and concern. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge the stories, traditions and living culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We commit ourselves to working for reconciliation in this land and to building a better future together. May we continue to think of, pray for and connect with our First Nations people.

Call to worship 
Into our wilderness, God comes and says,
 “Do not be afraid for I have heard your voice.”
                                                 Out of the shadows of fear and into the light of
                                                 faith, we come, O God.
When we ask for a sign of love,
 God comes and provides all that we need.
                                                 Out of the shadows of fear and into the light of
                                                 faith, we come, O God.
Old ways are discarded
 and we are made alive with Christ.
                                                 Out of the shadows of fear and into the light of
                                                  faith, we come, O God.
Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it,
 and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
                                                  Out of the shadows of fear
                                                  and into the light of faith, we come, O God.
Come, let us worship

Prayer Of Welcome 
God of sparrows and elephants, of earth and sky, of the great and the small,
you stand with us when we are hurting,
when we are frightened, when there is danger.

You are with us today, and always, loving us and caring for us,
even when we do not see you or hear you or feel you.
As we live in your steadfast love, may we live boldly, faithfully, and joyfully.

Hymn/Song:  Called by Earth and Sky
Words and Music Pat Mayberry Copyright 2005, Pat Mayberry.

Called by earth and sky, promise of hope held high 
This is our sacred living trust, treasure of Life, sanctified 
Called by earth and sky 

1. Precious these waters endless seas, deep ocean’s dream 
Waters of healing, rivers of rain The wash of love again 
2. Precious this gift the air we breathe, wind born and free 
Breath of the Spirit blown through this place Our gathering and our grace 
3. Precious these mountains ancient sands, vast fragile land 
Seeds of our wakening rooted and strong Creation’s faithful song 
4. Precious the fire that lights the way, bright dawning day 
Fire of passion sorrows undone Our faith and justice one

Prayer of adoration and confession
Sometimes, the hard words of Jesus confuse us and frighten us. Sometimes, we wonder how to be faithful when our faith makes other people dislike us or distrust us or fear us.                                                         
How can we not be afraid?

Sometimes, speaking up to defend someone who has
been accused wrongly, or finding resources to share
with others, or telling the truth when a lie is easier, or
facing up to bullying without backing down, seems
too frightening to bear.                                  How can we not be afraid?

Sometimes, we want to run away, to ignore the
problems, to be silent when someone needs our
help, to save our money or our time or our talent for
ourselves. Sometimes our fear controls us.  
                                                                      How can we not be afraid?
Forgive us when we allow fear to overtake us, and
we doubt your presence. Fill our spirits with the
strength you offer, comfort our hearts with the
courage you offer, open us to the grace you offer,
and grant us the trust to believe in your love
supporting us.                                  Comfort and sustain us, we pray. Amen.

Words of affirmation
Hear the grace-filled words of Jesus the Christ, who
said: “I am with you always, ‘til the end of time.” Thanks be to God.

Questions for your own reflection: What has compassion demanded of you this week? ■ Where has courage been required of you? ■ What was the cost?

Let’s take a look at each of the readings this week.

Genesis 21:8–21 Abraham casts Hagar and Ishmael out into the lethal desert conditions at Sarah’s request and, according to the storyteller, with God’s approval. However, Hagar and Ishmael are not forgotten. God stands in solidarity with and provides for those cast out into the wilderness by society, offering hope that those who are oppressed and labelled as outsiders by society today have the power to find their voice, a voice that calls God and all of God’s people to listen and act. 

What emotions, responses, or concerns do you have about Hagar and Ishmael being cast into the wilderness? Which character’s experience do you most connect with – Hagar, Sarah, Abraham, God? How do we show our solidarity with those who are in distress? What resources can we provide? (prayer, sanctuary, economic assistance, protest, legislation reform, support and care)

In Psalm 86:1–10, 16–17, we hear the cry to God from one who suffers affliction. It is a cry, like Hagar’s, calling for strength, comfort, and God’s favour. This call recognizes the power of God and understands that God uses this power to stand with those who society scorns or deems shameful. 

Romans 6:1b–11 invites believers to recognize the cost of discipleship. To be one with Christ requires that Christ-followers act differently than they had before, and to live one’s life like Christ – standing in solidarity with the marginalized, bringing healing, and sharing meals with those society has rejected. 

Matthew 10:24–39 To bring about the reign of God requires radical changes in society; changes that challenge power structures. Followers are called to enact this change and face the consequences that emerge from it. 

Hymn/Song: The Sorrowing Song (Robin Mann)
We’ve sung this on Sunday mornings a few times but not often. It’s a very sad song and there’s no interesting or beautiful video clip to go with it, but I think it goes very well with Hagar’s story and the Psalm. If you don’t feel up to it right now, click on Be Still and Know that I am God instead, but come back to this one sometime. 

1. Lord, hear my praying, listen to me; 
you know there's evil in what I see.
I know I'm part of all that is wrong;
still, won't you hear my sorrowing song?

2. Children are crying, hungry for food,
sick from diseases — God, are you good?
People are homeless, lost and alone —
God, are you hiding? Where have you gone?

3. Why do the rich ones steal from the poor?
Why do they build their weapons of war?
How can you stand the torture and pain,
hope disappearing, freedom in chains?

4. Jesus, remind us that you are found
with those who cry, with those who are bound.
Where there is suffering, you will be there —
help us to follow, Lord, hear my prayer.

Sermon John McKinnon - Matthew 10:24-39
What extraordinary times we live in! In the middle of a climate catastrophe, we have a global pandemic. In the middle of that pandemic we have a race incident that sparks a global racial justice movement. The climate catastrophe will play out over coming years and decades. The pandemic may be over in the next couple of years. The race justice movement has been centuries in the making. The murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis was just the most recent trigger for those who strive for racial justice.

In the aftermath of that murder and the moment it created, we have seen thousands, probably millions, marching in the streets all over the world, seeking racial justice. We have seen statues of celebrated racists, like that of the slave trader in Bristol, torn down. We have also seen a brutal response by police, government and white supremacists. To be part of those Black Lives Matter protests in the US means possible exposure to tear gas, beatings, choke holds, water cannons, arbitrary arrest and general persecution. 

Even in Australia, it means potential exposure to pepper spray, beatings, and government threats. Some of those protesters have great courage and take great risks. Why? Because the mission they are on – that of racial justice – is important. It is worth the risks. It is literally a mission from God.
The words of Jesus that we read today are very relevant. Remember that Jesus lived in occupied territory, in a very unequal society, where women, the poor, the sick and disabled, sexual minorities and foreigners were all very much second-class citizens. Also remember that Jesus’ mission in that world was to bring the rule of God – that is, a world where justice reigns. As far as we know Jesus didn’t say “black lives matter” but based on his actions and other words we can speculate that he might have said: “female lives matter”, “disabled lives matter”, “unwell lives matter”, gentile lives matter”, “Samaritan lives matter”, “tax collector lives matter”, “poor lives matter” and so on. Making those lives matter was his mission.

Earlier in Matthew 10 we read about Jesus sending his disciples out on a mission to implement some of that justice – cast out demons, heal sickness etc. That is, to address some of the very issues that cause people to be marginalised and oppressed. The words we read today are part of what he says to them upon their return. We guess that they didn’t have an easy time of it on that mission trip.

So what does Jesus say? He says to expect persecution. If they attack Jesus, then his followers should expect the same. After 2000 years of history, hopefully we have learned at least that lesson. They crucified Jesus; when we are on a mission for justice, expect no less.

Then he says, “Don’t be afraid”. The secrets will come out. We have seen that prophecy come very true in our age when so many injustices, like the murder of George Floyd, are captured on camera and uploaded to youtube within minutes. Why not be afraid? Because God is the greater power and God knows everything that is happening. We have that famous saying here about God knowing when every sparrow falls to the ground and that God has numbered even the hairs on our heads – an easy job in the case of some of us. Jesus is not saying that God will stop those persecutions and injustices but that God sees. God knows. We can hope for some eternal vindication because of that but I think Jesus’ point here is perhaps more “present day”. God seeing and knowing – even the intimate details – is about solidarity. God is with us in this fight. We are not abandoned. God does not head for the bunker. It is God’s mission and God sees everything that happens. God is there too. God is in the middle of the protests where the tear gas is thickest, God is there at the end of a police baton. God is suffering from the choke holds too.

Because God sees, we must not abandon the cause. Jesus says, if we acknowledge him, he will acknowledge us before God. God sees, and God sees if we are faithful. If that part of Jesus’ speech is not hard enough to accept and put into practice then it gets worse. Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace but division”. “I will split families”, he says. What is he getting at there?

Most of you know that I’m a keen cyclist. Somehow I got on the email list of a cycling coach so now I get regular emails with articles about cycling. A recent one was on why (male) cyclists shave their legs. Why do they? Well, there are a couple of arguments that I have heard before:

1) it is more aerodynamic and so you can ride faster. The coach admitted this was true but only if you are an Olympic level cyclist and are trying to shave an extra 1/100th second off your time. 
2) it helps if you crash and have to bandage gravel rash. Yes, I can see the sense in that but I try not to crash -  and I don’t crash very often. 
3) You look better. Well, that’s debatable. 
4) This is the key one – it makes you belong to the cycling tribe. It marks you as an insider. The coach admitted that this was the real reason he shaved his legs. 

Belonging is important. Whether it is our cycling club, our family, our political party, our sporting team, our race, our class, our profession, or our religion, we love to belong to a tribe. Here in the Shire, family is obviously very important. There is a strong allegiance to family; generations live close and have ongoing close relationships. Being outsiders, that is a big thing we noticed when we moved here. 

What we are witnessing in the US now is how important political and religious tribes are. It doesn’t seem to matter how extreme Trump gets or what he does, a large group of his supporters will never shift their support. His tear-gassing of innocent people so he could have a photo taken hold a Bible in front a church should have disgusted all Christians. But it didn’t. Many still support him. They are showing that belonging to Trump’s tribe is more important to them than the sanctity of the church and violent injustice to protestors. Whole sections of the church are very happy to ignore Trump’s moral failings, lies and unjust rule because they are in his tribe. 

We see this in Australia as well. The so-called Australian Christian Lobby is a powerful lobby group whose name belies the fact that most of its positions are opposed to what Jesus stood for. It has voiced its opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement describing it as the opposite of what Christians stand for and “anti-Christ”. 

Why such ridiculous and untrue claims? Because the BLM movement is not part of their tribe. They feel the need to mark off the boundaries of the tribe and reject all that is outside them.  

Following Jesus, however, causes us to put our tribe, our family, our club etc, second to His mission. And that means we will lose relationships; we will lose friends. That is exactly what Jesus says. I know this myself. I lost friends when I supported climate justice. I lost friends when I supported equality for sexual minorities. Just recently I argued with family members about black lives matter protests. 

If our starting point is Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s rule - that is, a rule of justice and peace - and we understand that this will mean upsetting the status quo and the powerful, then Jesus’ words are not surprising. They only come as a shock because we have been conditioned to think that Christians are nice; that Christians are meek and mild; that we aren’t meant to upset people or make enemies. But Jesus was not nice. He sought a non-violent revolution of love and justice but he was sufficiently realistic to realise that in doing so, he would make enemies. He did not shrink from that mission; he says we should not either.

Finally Jesus sums up the life of a disciple – the essence of being a Christian, a follower of Jesus. To follow him in his mission, you have to take up your cross. Following Jesus is not an easy life. The mission he has set before us will involve trouble and unpleasantness, broken relationships and ridicule. But that is the life he has set before us.

Let me finish with a quote from Richard Rohr
Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we have made it into an established religion (and all that goes with that) and avoided actually changing lives. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history and still believe that Jesus is “personal Lord and saviour”. The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on earth is too great. Our faith must show real fruit.

Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:38)

Have you lost a close relationship because of an opinion you hold or an action you took?
If you have taken part in an action for justice, do you consider it is God’s work? Did you sense God’s presence?
How do you feel when you see the protests on TV? What about the statues being torn down or threatened?
And a big final question to ponder: What do you think is the essence of being a Christian?

(This Refugee Sunday prayer is provided by Common Grace) 
Creator God, you are the giver of life.
Saviour Jesus, you have shown us what it is to love.
Guiding Spirit, you awaken us to justice.
Show us how to build a just future, where all people have equal opportunity to belong and to flourish in your vitality and love.

We ask for mercy for people in limbo on temporary visas, for safety for those seeking permanent protection, for reunion for families who are separated by borders, and for relief for those losing hope within our detention systems.

We pray for First Nations Peoples fighting for justice on their own Lands, for survivors of domestic violence and for creation groaning under climate disruption.

Help us to live out your inclusive love. Help us to live into your Kingdom where all people have equal opportunity to belong and flourish. Work through us, towards a just future.

Hymn/Song: Draw the Circle Wide.
Draw the circle wide.Draw it wider still,
Let this be our song No one stands alone!
Standing side by side,Draw the circle,
Draw the circle wide
(The song is a variation on these words; there’s a few more but I didn’t transcribe them)

Although we don’t take up the offering on Sunday mornings any more, we are still giving our time, money and talents. Take some time now to rededicate your daily offerings to God with this poem and prayer:

In the wilderness, God provides.
In daily living, God provides.
In times of plenty, in times of want, God provides.
Trusting in God, then, let us give without fear.
Great and loving God, who hears the cries of all people, and
who proclaims each and every one of us to be of great worth:
take these gifts we offer. May our giving help your church
to proclaim the gospel of justice and truth throughout the
world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Prayers of the people (picture: Hagar)
Divine Caregiver,
 you have counted the hairs on our head
 and your loving eye is always upon us.
 Show us where we might move out with confidence
 to speak bravely of your way,
 even if the consequences seem hard to bear
O God, grant us the courage and compassion to live for you.

Holy Sparrow Creator,
 you take delight in the smallest creature
 and your compassion sustains all of Creation.
 Conceive your selfless love within our hearts
 and birth within us the desire
 to give voice where the voice has been silenced.
 We pray to you, O God, grant us the courage and compassion to live for you.

Eternal God, we have no reason to fear
 for we know that, in life or in death,
 we will always belong to you.
 Mindful of your presence,
 help us to live out of this truth,
 even when the future seems cloudy and uncertain

We pray to you, O God, grant us the courage and compassion to live for you.

God tells us, “Do not be afraid!”
Jesus tells us, “Have no fear!”
Paul tells us, “Death no longer has dominion…”
The psalmist tells us, “God is abounding in steadfast love.”
So let us go out to our work unafraid. 
Let us go out to our ministries, confident that God is with us.
Let us go out to our discipleship, in newness of life.
Let us go out to our service, with grace and strength.
Where God leads, we go with confidence.
Where God sends, we go with faith.

Benediction Song: 
May the God of Hope go with us every day (an Argentinian folk melody)
May the God of hope go with us every day,
filling all our lives with love and joy and peace.
May the God of justice speed us on our way,
bringing light and hope to every land and race.
Praying, let us work for peace,
singing, share our joy with all.
working for a world that's new,
faithful when we hear Christ's call.

Dios de la esperanza, danos gozo y paz!
al mundo en crisis, habla tu verdad,
Dios de la justicia, mándanos tu luz,
luz y esperanza en la oscuridad.
O remos por la paz, Cantemos de mor.
luchemos por la paz, fieles a Ti, Señor

If our days do not begin and end in you, O Lord, they come to nothing. Bless our efforts at faithfulness; work through us despite our supposed strengths. Establish the work of our hands, O God, and be merciful. Amen. 
Common Prayer