3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2017
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
“Who You Gonna Call?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 10.

My dear friends,

It was the summer of 1984 – 33 years ago – when the movie “Ghost Busters” was released. It was the 80’s and each summer brought summer blockbusters. “Ghost Busters” would eventually make more than $240 million dollars making it the most successful comedy of the 1980s. In its hit theme song, Ray Parker Jr. asked the musical question “who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!” along with the tagline “I ‘aint afraid of no ghost.” Well, I also “‘aint afraid of no ghost,” But there are several things I AM afraid of (needles/snakes), and I imagine there are things that you fear too…and you’re probably thinking about them right now.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, the fact is there would have been no reason for the 32nd President to say there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. And there was. At that time America was in the throes of a staggering economic crisis – the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era – sparking fears among the populace nationwide. Who were they gonna call? In 1933, certainly not the Ghost Busters. Who you gonna call?
Let’s go further back than the 80s and 30’s. Let’s go back to the 1st Century. In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom, yet Jesus knows that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). Like FDR, Jesus’ very words of encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is MUCH to fear, at least from a human point of view. And, as we consider today’s text, if we have the courage we are challenged to face and to name our fears, we aren’t going to call Ghost Busters, but we will rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus is greater than our fears.
As Jesus speaks today’s text, he knows that those who follow him have almost everything to fear. He knew they would face rejection (vs 21-22). No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). Still today, many reject not only the message of the Gospel but also those who proclaim this message—which is undoubtedly one reason we shrink from bearing witness to Christ more boldly and consistently. We’re afraid of rejection. Public opinion of the Church is at an all-time low, and what can we say? Much of the fear we ourselves have produced. Clergy have betrayed their flocks. Congregations fear adding more financial and time commitments. It is easier to “keep on keeping on” than to challenge themselves, risk rejection, and step out in faith. And people see that. Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Americans who claim they “frequently” attended in church has been steadily declining. By 2050 the number will be around a mere 11%. Who you gonna call?
Additionally, Jesus minces no words in this text as he describes the persecution that may—in his words, will—be encountered by those who bear witness faithfully to the Gospel of Christ (vv 21–22a). Although Christians in America have largely been spared violent persecution up until now, we should not naively expect that this will always be the case—and evidence of more subtle forms of persecution is increasingly apparent. Who you gonna call when you experience real persecution because of your faith? I’m not talking about poor seating at Millie’s because you get there late after church. I’m talking about the day we may face the business end of an AK-47. Who you gonna call?
And, as if that were not bad enough, Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the twelve disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” (gulp!) as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were. Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world.
“The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” is the title of a sobering and thought-provoking article by Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times. She writes, “The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. That’s 1,246 Christians every day for 100 years. Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today. The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs – atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.”
Afraid yet? Who you gonna call? According to today’s text, you can expect some things to be afraid of including rejection, intimidation, persecution, and execution. But Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where he has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that he understands our fears, can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and will provide mercy and love and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).
Fear is the great enemy of faith (apathy is a close 2nd), but Jesus has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. Are you afraid of suffering? God is able to use it for our ultimate good and for his glory (Rom 5:3–5; 8:28). Sometimes suffering in life is God’s love and mercy in disguise. Are you afraid of Satan and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)? How about hell or death? Those too our risen Savior has conquered! Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, even in every fear-filled situation.
Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where sin, doubt, death and fear will be banished forever and ever. When you’re afraid, who you gonna call? It’s not Ghost Busters…His name is Jesus who is called Christ. Never, ever be afraid to call upon Him, for that is what he truly desires from you.
Amen.