3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 21, 2020
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
“Who You Gonna Call?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 10.
My dear friends,
It was the summer of 1984 – 36 years ago – when the movie “Ghost Busters” was released. It was the 80’s and each summer brought summer blockbusters…I miss those days. Back before satellite TV and Netflix, we had the summer blockbusters, and “GhostBusters” was hugely successful. “Ghost Busters” would eventually make more than $240 million dollars making it the most successful comedy of the 1980s. It launched a mountain of merchandising with GhostBuster images all over it. Its hit theme song launched not one, but TWO catchphrases in America: “who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!” along with “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/popsicle sticks), 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, 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 its worst economic crisis ever – the Great Depression AND the Dust Bowl era at the same time – sparking fears among the populace nationwide. Who were they gonna call? In 1933, certainly not the Ghost Busters. Here we are today…2020…and the question remains. 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 today, as we face and 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 the message of the Gospel. Public opinion of and affiliation with the Church is at an all-time low. Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Americans who claim they “frequently” attended in church has been steadily declining. If the current rate of decline continues, by 2050 the number will be around a mere 20%. Let that sink in. Who you gonna call?
Additionally, we need to address the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Do we have plenty to fear outside of church? Of course. The Coronavirus is still a “thing;” there are still more reported cases and more deaths even though states like our own are opening up more and more. People are angry enough to demonstrate which leads to rioting which leads to looting which leads to more wide-spread rioting and looting. And now we have “CHOP” or “CHAZ” or whatever occupying a chunk of downtown Seattle. What is going on? Who you gonna call?
And, as if that were not bad enough, Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the 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.” How long before that comes to America? 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 as we faithfully trust and obey. 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.
Happy Father’s Day everyone.