Tell in the Light

The Path of the Disciple: Learning to Grow

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

“What you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” (Matthew 10:27). This week, we’ve got whispers and we’ve got shouts. That seems like a common human experience, doesn’t it?

My dad was the pastor of Wheatland Avenue United Methodist Church in Logansport, Indiana. As an aside, I sometimes wonder about the choice to name a church after a place rather than a statement of faith or history. I noticed when I was in Anderson, Indiana, that the Church of God always names their churches after a place. You will never see Faith Church of God or Trinity Church of God. It is always a place. Here we are! This is us. We are located here.

Well, Wheatland Avenue United Methodist Church was on Wheatland Avenue, duh. But I remember that church more for the trauma it induced in me than almost anything else. Every now and then, Dad would send me to the church for something, late at night, in the dark. Creepy dark. Old churches are spooky places in the dark. Did you ever notice that? There are all sorts of creaky sounds that might be someone sneaking up behind you. There are all sorts of wheezy sounds that might be the hot breath of some creature looking for a meal. All sorts of shadows, no matter how many lights you turn on, might be demonic presences or rats scurrying out of the glare into the darkness. It was a troubling place for someone with an overactive imagination, like me.

So, I did what any self-respecting Christian boy would do in that situation. I came into the church singing hymns at the top of my lungs and didn’t stop until I was back outside again. “Amazing Grace” has a power that the creatures of the night can’t defeat! I know this. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is just the antidote to feeling alone and vulnerable. “Up from the Grave He Arose” strikes fear in the legions of undead looking for throats to bite. So, I knew I was safe as long as I could sing the hymns of the faith. And upon the completion of my mission, I would pause before entering the house to catch my breath and make sure no one knew either of my fear or my singing!

We call it whistling in the dark. It is that activity that keeps the fears from overwhelming you and enables you to continue to function, to complete the mission at hand. Some complain that it is a process whereby we ignore just how serious the problems really are – “you’re just whistling in the dark!” But I submit that it is something more than that. It is calling on a power that helps you face those fears. It is acknowledging the severity of the problems but choosing to live in hope anyway.

At least I think that is what Jesus is trying to help us do in our Gospel passage for this week. Jesus is never one to say, “Oh, this will be easy! Don’t worry.” He is almost frighteningly honest about the kind of opposition we might be facing. But he gives us our mission anyway. And a simple mission it is - be like him.

This passage begins and ends with that missional call to be Christ in the world. “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher,” he tells us, and “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Like he did. Be like me, he says. And then he proceeds to tell us how difficult it is. “They’ll call you names,” he says. This refers back and forward to an encounter with the religious establishment who tried to claim that Jesus had power over demons because he was a demon himself! Even when you are doing good, you get attacked! Thanks for that, Jesus. And the other end of the conversation here is even more serious. Not just name-calling, but a willingness to give our whole lives away – just like him.

And then, to compound the call, he tells us that even those closest to us are likely to think we’ve gone crazy. Just like him. Remember when his family showed up to take him away because they thought he was nuts? Well, it might happen to us too. There is no guarantee that when you decide to live your life for Christ that everyone around you is going to cheer you on. He’s asking us to choose sides, even if it means choosing against parents or children. Wow, tough stuff.

Throw us a bone here, Jesus. It can’t all be loneliness and fear. It can’t be us against the world; we aren’t strong enough. Are you ready? Here is the word of comfort: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (verse 28). Um, OK, thanks, Jesus. But wait; keep listening. He tells us that this power, this ultimate power beyond the universe, is leaning in our direction. “You are of more value than many sparrows!”(10:31). What a blessing! Seriously. If God, this God who has the power of life and death and eternity, cares about sparrows, for heaven’s sake, then we truly have nothing to fear.

This is the point that Jesus wants us to hear. It is not about the shadows that make us jump; it is about the light that brings us comfort. It is not about the enemies that lurk; it is about the friend who stands with us. It is not about the unknown that causes our knees to tremble; it is about the faith in the one who shores us up. God is on our side - not in an “I’m-right-and-you-are-wrong” kind of way. God is on our side in a “there-is-nothing-we cannot-do-for-the-kingdom-if-we-try” kind of way. God is on our side in “a"life-is-deeper-and-richer-and-more-satisfying-despite-the-risks” kind of way. God is on our side in a “whistling-in-the-dark, shouting-from-the-rooftops” kind of way.

So, start shouting. “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” (verse 27). Jesus tells us that even though we feel that we don’t have all the answers, we can go on as though we do—because we know where the answers are. Even though we don’t know how it will all work out, we know it will work out in God’s time. Even though we have only glimpses of truth, we can proclaim what we have heard with confidence. We live in the dark, but we proclaim the light. We hear only whispers, but we shout with our whole lives our faith in the one who loves us with a love beyond description. Those old hymns do have power. They have the power to remind us of our faith in God through Jesus the Christ. Keep singing.

But if there is a story you want to sing your way past, it is the story from Genesis assigned to this Sunday. Many preachers will gladly give it a miss and focus on the gospel. Matthew might be cryptic, but at least it isn’t offensive. Or painful. Or even shameful the way the Genesis story is. The treatment of Hagar is beyond excusing, and we shouldn’t try. Certainly, we can talk about the consequences of sin, of trying to take the promises of God and make them into what we want them to be. We can talk about how we are interwoven and one person’s bad choices, one person’s jealousies, one person’s manipulations have an impact on the lives of others. But please don’t explain it away as a part of God’s plan.

Yet, we can listen to the call and get back on track, even when we think we’ve messed it up so badly that we’ve hurt innocents; we’ve hurt those we love. Hagar was driven out to the desert to die because she and her child became inconvenient and a constant reminder of a failure of faith and an inability to follow the call of God.

In This Series...

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes