a Sermon for Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Text: Matthew 10:16-22
In the years after Jesus died, his closest followers passed on stories about Him. They gathered, started new faith communities, worshiped, sang. They prayed for the Kingdom. They called out to GOD. They taught their children to do the same. They told stories. Decades later, some of their followers started writing the stories down. The literate few read them and shared them with other communities. These writings would, centuries later, be gathered into the first collections of Scriptures we call the Bible.
Many of those first famous followers, the disciples, were hunted, arrested and killed. Just as Jesus had warned. Just as those descendents warned each other.
I’ve often marveled at how strange a tension they lived with. They are called to share the Good News—to share how they have been moved by Jesus and the Holy Spirit—in a culture that would reject it. That they would be hurt or endangered if they did what they were called to do. Perhaps this tension isn’t really all that strange.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Jesus says “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves”. He is comparing their work/ministry to certain death. He tells them that they can expect to take a beating.
This isn’t a gospel about Jesus’s sacrifice for us. It is a gospel about our sacrifice for Jesus.
And that scares me.
Following Jesus isn’t easy. The gospels remind us of that. It isn’t all praying and singing, is it?
I called up my buddy, Chris in the afternoon on Christmas. He told me that he, his wife, their two kids, and his Mom were all sick—and had been for pretty much the previous three weeks. What a lousy Christmas present. They didn’t get to go out shopping and do up Christmas as they wanted.
Right about the time they were at their lowest, they watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “You know,” he said, “Christmas came. It came just the same. It came without ribbons, boxes, or bags.”
Chris is a priest. And still it took having a whole house of sick people and no way for any of them to celebrate the way they wanted for it to dawn on him that we can’t control the Spirit. But we can control whether or not we recognize Her.
In our lives, when we take something on, whether it be giving a safe home for a grandchild, a new commute to visit a Mom moved into assisted-living, or the challenge of serving the church with hope in the midst of fear, we cannot escape the trouble, discomfort, or the fear.
But we can stop being paralyzed by it.
Rome, grasshoppers, and control
That tension Jesus speaks to is timeless. The factors, the parts change, but the tension is the same.
We are called to see things differently, to believe differently, and to get together differently. To love each other. To deal with the hard stuff. To get our hands dirty. To be the kind of people that Rome would want to hunt.
Rome is afraid of us. Rome is afraid that our leader isn’t elected, but we follow anyway. Our leader isn’t a king, yet we choose to abide His rules. Our leader doesn’t answer our questions, and yet we may discover comfort in our confusion because of Him.
We are precisely the people Rome despises because we are spending our lives learning how to defeat fear. And fear is all that Rome has.
Like the grasshoppers in A Bug’s Life, pushing the ants around with fear, we are taught to be afraid. And often we teach each other to be afraid. We bully each other like those grasshoppers because we think it has to be that way.
Jesus tells it differently:
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Making room for Jesus
Do not worry. Don’t be afraid. Be wise and innocent among the wolves. Don’t worry.
The wolves speak easily. They threaten, snapping their jaws, challenging the weaker animals. Jesus tells us that our job isn’t to out-threaten the wolves, but to be in the right spot so that the Spirit might speak. It isn’t us. It isn’t our worries or fears speaking. It isn’t the lessons we learned in business or how we ran things thirty years ago. It is allowing the Spirit to have something to say to us today! GOD speaks! Hear this! GOD speaks and our work is to make space for that to happen.
In our tradition, we are used to control. Solemnity and pomp in our worship, formality and rigidity in our gatherings, efficiency and authoritarianism in our meetings; our local traditions, predictability, harmony. Controlled. Every detail controlled. Just like Rome likes it.
Jesus is different. Jesus promises to be with us. That GOD will speak through us. That this isn’t controlled—far from it. Jesus is the antithesis of control.
Today we will stop being controlled by our need to control the details of our lives. We are making room for GOD. Plans and projections give us goals. But they don’t give us what only GOD can give. They don’t help us love and give and invite our friends –and our families—to be with us. But GOD does.
We’re making room. We’re letting GOD speak. And we’re going to act like we actually love Jesus.