Lectionary 12 – A
Third Sunday after Pentecost/Pride Sunday

Prayer of the Day
Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, except that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 20:7-13  The prophet must speak despite opposition
Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11  Buried and raised with Christ by baptism
Matthew 10:24-39  The cost of discipleship

Sermon

Title:  Labels that Stick
No one likes to be called Beelzebul – A title for Baal – the Canaanite deity whom was the god of the land when the Hebrews arrived in the Promised land after their freedom from Egyptian slavery and their 40 year wander through the wilderness.  Beelzebul literally means – Baal, Lord of the flies, which is thought to be a Hebrew corruption of the more sincere expression of devotion – Baal, the exulted.  Maybe you remember that great Old Testament Baal story where the prophet Elijah is up on the mountaintop with the prophets of Baal.  Both camps are calling upon their respective gods to send down fire and consume their offerings.  Baal gives no response to the prayers and the dancing, the singing and the cutting of their own flesh.  Elijah, never missing an opportunity to mock, suggests to Baal’s devotees that perhaps their god is on the toilet and unable to satisfy their request.  Then, just to rub salt in their wounds, and to prove which god is the true God.  Elijah has the offering that is dedicated to Yahweh doused with water and yet God still prevails, sending fire to consume the offering and dry up all the water that had been poured on it.

Yes, nobody wanted to be associated with that failure.  By Jesus’ time that ancient affront had become connected to Satan.  False god or devil, it was all evil and it was an insult that was being hurled on Jesus.  So he felt he’d better warn these still new recruits, these still green disciples, the roster of which we heard last week, that if they are following him, the association will most likely bring the same insults onto their heads and reputations.  He offers them a compassionate warning because no one likes to be called Beelzebul.

Anyone who has ever walked in the Pride march, especially those of us who have walked as followers of Jesus, carrying signs connecting us to churches, synagogues, and communities of faith that publicly claim the name children of God, we have been called Beelzebul.  We have been told that we are condemned and going to hell.  No one likes to be called Beelzebul.

No one likes to be called worthless.  Volumes that report psychological studies and educational studies prove this time and time again.  We cannot put enough weight on the enormous impact that self-image has on the individual’s development, general well-being, success, and overall physical and emotional health.

Jesus knew, with perfect compassion, just what lay ahead for his disciples.  His ministry had divided his own family and childhood neighbors.  He had been rejected by those he loved, and more rejection was to come.  Even by those who he was now warning.  But he also wanted to reassure them, that in God’s eyes, the God who knows each creature, the God who counts hairs on heads, the God who loves beyond measure – not because of who we are but because of who God is – this loving God will never count his creation worthless.  Jesus of priceless worth was given to prove this.  Because no one likes to be called worthless.

And yet many who will be marching today, can tell stories of hurtful rejection, cutting insults, and outright disownment, by family and friends when they courageously spoke their truth about who they are and how they love.  Silenced voices, closed ears and hearts, slammed doors, all have spoken messages of worthlessness that no one likes to hear.

No one likes to be called a laughingstock.  No one likes to be mocked.  And yet, that was the story of the prophet Jeremiah’s life.  He was delivering a message that was contrary to what everyone wanted to hear.  He was speaking truth to power.  And he was laughed at.  He was mocked.  As we hear from the opening lines of the first reading, he really wanted to stop, but God’s word burned inside him if he did not let it out.  If he did not risk being a laughingstock.  And so he continues singing a song praising our God of mercy and deliverance.

Those of us, St. John’s and other faith communities, who proclaim the truth of God’s radical welcome through Jesus Christ are a laughingstock.  We are mocked as secular, accused of watering down the faith, of being swayed by popular opinion rather than following the teachings of Jesus.  We are ridiculed by those who fear the challenge of living in Christ’s body with those who they may not understand or may not agree with.  Those who cast themselves in the role of judge.  Those who shy away from listening to witness of the work of the unpredictable Holy Spirit.

No one likes to be called a laughingstock, and yet we have a message that burns within us.  We cannot hide it regardless of the mocking.  People who hear those loud voices of the misguided mockers calling them Beelzebul, worthless, and laughingstock, those children of God need to hear of the life that is in the font’s water where our loving God makes promises.  They need to hear of Christ’s living presence in the bread and the wine served at our Lord’s table.  They need to hear the living word that is read and studied, preach and sung in this place for the sake of following in the way of our Master.  They need to see the diverse community of faith that the Holy Spirit is weaving through us.

This is our calling.  This is our work.  Because no one likes to be called dead.  No one wants to see meaninglessness, know shame, and lack identity.  So Paul is reminding us of the message that is burning within us, the good news that is ours to deliver, the truth that is ours to live.  We are alive in the resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And this is a message that we just can’t keep inside because, no one likes to be called dead.

Today as hundreds of thousands line the street, as tens of thousands walk in the march, it is good for us to remind ourselves that many of them have been called Beelzebul, many have been called worthless, many have been made laughingstocks.  And although in the past, the church and disciples of Jesus have been some of the loudest critics, the harshest judges, and offered the most mocking laugher, Jesus is telling us to deliver a different message.  His message.  And since a disciple is not above the teacher, and the slave is not above the Master, it is Jesus’ message, and only Jesus’ message, that we have to deliver.

That message proclaims that God cares for all.  All are worth more than the birds that God loves.  God intimately knows each hair on our heads.

Doesn’t mean life will be easy.  This message of radical love and mercy, limitless grace and peace does not sit well with the critics, the judges, and the laughers who want to think they have it all under control, all figured out, and who think that by pushing others down they will only raise themselves up.

But this is our mission and our Jesus-given message not just for today but for every Sunday.  Not just on Sundays when we are together in this place, but every day wherever we go.

For whoever you meet that the world is calling Beelzebul – you can tell them that they are a child of God in all that you say and do.  Whoever you meet that the world is judging worthless – you can tell them that they are mostly highly valued by the creator of all.  Whoever you meet that the world is making a laughingstock of – you can tell them that they are God is their defender and redeemer.  And that will give them something to laugh and sing about.

Doing this work is the living the life that Jesus calls us to find in him.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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