Why We Need to Preach to the Choir – June 25, 2017
In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
Have you ever picked up a good mystery and skipped ahead several chapters to see what happens there? Or tuned into a Masterpiece Theater series that a friend recommended but you’re watching season two and feel a bit disoriented? That’s kind of like what’s going on today with the Gospel we just heard.
Actually, it’s something we face on many a Sunday. We’re hearing a piece of a narrative out of context or without reading the back story. This collection of verses in Matthew’s Gospel is the continuation of the scene that immediately precedes it—Jesus sending his disciples out and commissioning them to carry out the ministry that he began: to proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom. It’s their orientation course for what to expect and a warning about the challenges they will encounter along the way.
It’s a bad news/ good news discourse. Bad news? They can anticipate the same trials that Jesus endured. They’ll be slandered and accused of acting by the power of Satan. Good news? Don’t be intimidated because the truth will come out and lies will be exposed. Bad news? They’ll risk physical harm. Good News? God loves them so much that even the hairs on their head are numbered.
Times have changed and we are far removed from the culture and circumstances that framed the journey of those first disciples of Jesus. They lived in an era of oppression, rejection, and persecution based on their commitment to follow him and bring his message of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation to a world that most needed to hear it.
Much of what we hear in Matthew’s Gospel today is directed more to the disciples who were the first to receive these words—a people who were exposed to persecution because of what they believed in and stood for. We are very fortunate because we don’t have to fear harassment for our belief in Christ. We are free to practice our faith and to believe or not. Others still are not so fortunate. It hasn’t been all that long since Jews were sent to the gas chamber, Orthodox Christians were suppressed in the former Soviet Union, and the discrimination Muslims now face in this country or Coptic Christians who recently have been the targets of several vicious bombings.
So what relevance then does the instruction Jesus offers in the Gospel reading have for this group of disciples? For you and me? Dale Turner writes in his book Different Seasons: “One of God’s great gifts—perhaps the greatest gift to each of us—is being born into an unfinished world and given a share with God in creation…”
I believe the work of the 21st century disciple is to carry the light of God’s love into the shadows of this unfinished world. If we are serious about that we’ll find that there are times when we are called to proclaim the gospel’s good news from the rooftops and that means talking the talk of forgiveness rather than resentment, justice instead of oppression, reconciliation instead of conflict.
We may find ourselves challenged to suggest that those who have more than enough for comfort might apportion some of their resources for the relief of the poor, or stand up and fight for the most vulnerable members of society. Carrying that light will mean we won’t tolerate language meant to demean and abase other human beings when rendered as racial, sexist, ethnic, or homophobic slurs or innuendos. We may find ourselves in the awkward position of choosing the right course of action when we see evidence of sexual harassment in the work place or a business associate attempting to do something extremely unethical.
That light-bearing mission may require us to stand up to the parents of a bully who is making life miserable for some kid in the school yard or admonish someone on Facebook who is attacking someone by posting vicious or slanderous remarks or saying something when you suspect a child in your neighborhood is the victim of child abuse. It may provoke our conscience to take an unpopular stand with family and friends and fight for a cause because we know it’s the right thing to do.
Being a committed follower of Christ can be dangerous. It has always gotten Christians into trouble, and still does. Yet Jesus has promised that God will be with us in all our trials. Truly amazing things can happen when we take the admonition of Jesus in this Gospel seriously: “Do not be afraid!”
We are not living in first-century Palestine nor are we exposed to persecution because of our faith like the first disciples of Jesus or those who have lived or still suffer in other parts of the world but there will always be someone in desperate need of justice and deliverance and of our willingness to facilitate it. No one should have to live in fear, in the dark, in secret, in the closet. Every beloved child of God can be proud of who she or he is because we are all made in God’s image. You and I are all disciples striving to help build that kind of Kingdom of God. Of course, like Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, I’m preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?
Iconic American singer, Harry Belafonte, once recalled how after a rousing speech by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during a 1960’s Civil Rights rally, he turned to King and asked “what was the point of speaking to these people? Wasn’t it just preaching to the choir?
“Someone has to preach to the choir,” King replied, “Otherwise, they might stop singing.”