The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
June 21-22, 2008
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
Dear Friends in Christ,
There is a story about an old man and his grandson in Japan. He was too old to be left alone. So the family always had the young boy stay with him. The boy, likewise was too young to be left alone. So the old man watched his grandson and the grandson watched his grandfather. They lived on a farm on a high hill. Below their rice fields was a village which was right on the sea coast. One day, much like this one, there was a great festival in the village. The people were very happy because the rice was nearly ready to be harvested. It would be a record crop. So it was a celebration of special importance that year. The old man and the young boy were left home. The old man was too old to walk down to the village and dance. The young boy was likewise too young for the celebration. So they were at home watching from the top of the hill. Then they felt a small tremor. The people in the village paused their celebration fearing that it was the beginning of an earthquake, but it passed quickly. The party resumed. But the old man was suddenly moving faster than he had moved in years. He ordered the boy to get torches, oil and flint and steel. The old man lit the torches and handed one to the boy. He ordered the boy to begin setting fire to the rice fields. The old man began light up other portions of the fields. When the people at the festival saw the fires they rushed up the hill to fight the fires. When they saw that the old man had set the fires they began to berate him - “What are you doing you crazy old man!” Before they could say more, a tidal wave came and destroyed the village. They were safe because a wise old man saw the true danger that they did not see and burned the rice fields.
Most Americans don’t see the real dangers around them. They are the people at the festival in the story. They are enjoying life. They are prosperous. It is often said that even the poor in the United States are rich compared to the rest of the world. Opportunities abound. We hear everyday about someone who grew up poor who becomes accomplished in life. And certainly we could leap from here to the earthly dangers. Certainly we have taken many of those too lightly. Whether it is Islamic terrorism, drunk driving, the lack of respect for the institution of marriage, people not taking good care of themselves does not matter. These are all things people should take more seriously. And these would all be great topics for a civics class or a political speech. But we are here to look at something more serious. We are here to look at some of those things which endanger the soul.
There are two basic categories of dangers, those from without and those from within. Both would try to lead us into great sin. Our text focuses on those dangers that come from outside of ourselves. We will have, I’m certain many texts in the coming weeks that help us to look at those dangers that originate in our own sinful hearts, but that is for another day.
Christ says: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Here is the most basic danger, that we would be pressured to deny Christ. The obvious examples are cases of persecution - where we are ordered under threat of death or punishment to deny Christ. Certainly that has been common among Christians from the first days after Pentecost until today. It is common for Islamic terrorists in the Sudan to mine the area around church buildings. If you found, one Sunday morning, that the sidewalk was all torn up and mines planted all around the church, would you still come to the service? Would you find another place to gather? Or would you say, this Jesus thing just isn’t worth it, you could get yourself killed? But remember what Christ says. He doesn’t say it will be easy. He says that we will be betrayed by our own brothers and sisters, parents and children. He says that we will be abused and put to death because we are Christians. In past generations, many Christians considered it a special blessing and privilege to be able to die for the sake of Christ.
Today we live at a time when we face different sorts of persecutions. We are pressured by a society to surrender Christ in more subtle ways. We are pressured to live lives that make a mockery of our creator. We are told that it’s a good thing to use our sexuality in ways that make us worse than barnyard animals. We are told that life is about us and our pleasures. So grab everything you can. This not new. The Schlitz Brewery has been out of business for a couple decades, but many of us remember the slogan - go for the gusto. Modern consumer materialism tells us that we are simply the sum of our toys. So we have to have the newest and nicest boat, motor home, snowmobiles, hunting rifles and the like. Consider what our prosperity has done for us in just one area - guns. When I was a child, my father was considered to have a large collection of guns. He had a .22, a shot gun and a deer rifle, plus a couple more he kept around for us kids. His guns were selected for utility. He did all his hunting with these three guns, whether it was Elk and Moose in Montana, white tale deer, duck, grouse, pheasants or whatever. It was all covered by three guns. Today, you have to have a separate gun for every application, or so people think. And if you don’t, you are somehow inferior. So for many Americans, even many American Christians, consumer goods are their god. Just consider how many your daughters and granddaughters live for their next trip to the mall? How many your sons and grandsons live for their next trip to Gander Mountain?
In contrast to this what does Christ offer? Microwaves and DVD players break and are thrown out. But Christ died for our sins and rose to life again. He lives and cannot die. He gives to us perfect forgiveness and life. We might enjoy a snowmobile or ATV but they will not forgive us. If we are not careful or drink and drive they might even kill us. Christ raises us to life with Him. That shiny new car, eventually becomes the rusty old beater. Though Christ has existed from all eternity, He never gets old.
Most Americans don’t see the dangers to their souls. They don’t see the temptations to self indulgence. They no longer see dangers of wine, women and song. They no longer even see the dangers posed by the stuff they buy at Wal-Mart. They have become consumed with getting things to satisfy themselves. In this, they deny Christ. We must look to our own hearts and see where we too have become followers of the world of consumerism. For we cannot change the rest of the world. We must look to ourselves and seek to lay our own sin before the cross. For there, in that ugly piece of wood that no one would desire, God the Son, laid Himself down for our salvation. The cross is a good we can’t consume. We cannot buy it. It never wears out. And it is given to us a free gift. That makes it better than anything bought and sold among men.