25 June 2008

Homily - Trinity 5 Midweek

Confessing Christ Before Men
Trinity 5 Midweek (A-Proper 7)
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Let’s begin tonight with a little story. According to Snopes.com, it’s only an urban legend, but it still serves as a good parable to go with our Gospel reading.

The story is told of a university philosophy professor who was a deeply committed atheist. For one required philosophy class this professor would spend the entire semester trying to prove that God could not exist. He used impeccable logic, and so all the students were afraid to argue with him. In the twenty years that he taught this introductory class, no one really had the courage to challenge him. Sure, now and again students would debate him in class on this point or that, but none really challenged him or questioned his presuppositions. After all, this professor had a reputation.

On the last day of every semester the professor would tell his students: “If there is anyone who still believes in Jesus, stand up.” In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. Everyone knew what he would do next. He would say, “Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God did exist,” the professor would say, “He could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and He can’t do it.” Every year the professor would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom, and it would shatter into pieces. The students would only stare in silence.

Most students were convinced that God could not exist. Sure, some Christians undoubtedly slipped through, but for 20 years no one had mustered the courage to stand up.

Then, as the story goes, one year, one devout Christian freshman enrolled in the class. He had heard the stories about this professor. For the whole semester he prayed for courage to stand up at the end of class and truly challenge the professor. Finally, the day came. The professor gave his end-of-semester challenge to stand up. So this freshman stood up in the back of the class. The professor and the rest of the class were quite surprised.

The professor shouted, “You FOOL! If God truly existed, He could stop this chalk from shattering into tiny bits.” The professor proceeded to drop the chalk, but this time it slipped from his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleats of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As the chalk softly hit the floor, it simply rolled away, unbroken. As the story goes, the professor left the room, and the young freshman took the opportunity to talk with other students about Jesus Christ.

Yes, an urban legend; but also a good illustration for what we hear from our Lord tonight: “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.” Our Lord Jesus sent out His Twelve Apostles to confess Him to the world. He also sends us, His Christians, to make the same confession in our day.

What do you say when someone asks you about Jesus Christ, or asks you why you’re a Christian or why you go to church? What would you say to someone who might challenge your faith in Christ by saying that He does not exist, or that God cannot possibly be good or love all people? How would you confess Jesus Christ and His forgiveness, life, and salvation if it were illegal to do so and you could be fined or imprisoned?

No doubt, the Twelve Apostles must have asked similar questions. And Jesus knew that their confession and witness would be met with resistance and rejection. Everyone from authorities to family members would reject confessing Christians and even persecute them. After all, they did it to Jesus; they would also do it to His disciples. As Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

So, tonight we hear some comforting and encouraging words from our Lord. Basically, He says, “Confess, bear witness, and don’t be afraid of what other people say or do to you.” It was good encouragement for the Apostles then; it’s good encouragement for us now. After all, it comes from our Savior who Himself was betrayed, beaten, and crucified to forgive our sins and restore us to life with God.

Our Lord encourages and comforts us in our confession of Him in three ways. First, He says, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” Don’t worry if people talk about you behind your back just because you’re a practicing Christian. Let them utter their secret slanders and covert comments. Such insidious things will be exposed on the Last Day. Our task as Christians is boldly to tell what Jesus has said and done.

Second, Jesus says, “And 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.” Yes, death is a frightful thing. After all, it separates body and soul, and that’s not how God created us to survive and live. But as Christians, we need not worry if we are punished, or even martyred, for Christ and His life-giving Gospel. Our gracious and loving God still takes care of us. What we should rightly fear is being separated from Him, which happens only if we deny Him. Even the worst things that persecutors can do to us Christians cannot separate us from God and His love in Christ Jesus.

And the third way in which our Lord comforts and encourages us is this: “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Now, before you scratch your heads, ponder this. Jesus says that two sparrows are “sold for a penny.” The Greek term used here might be better translated as the pay for about a half hour of work. With the current minimum wage, that’s about $3.30, for two sparrows. And yet your heavenly Father takes great care for each and every little sparrow on the face of the planet. Now, don’t you think that He’ll take care of you? After all, you are much more valuable than sparrows that go for just over a buck and a half apiece. You are bought with the blood of Christ Jesus. You are cleansed with that blood in your Baptism and nourished on it in the Eucharist. Of course, your heavenly Father will care for you in time of rejection or persecution for confessing Him.

So take courage in your lifelong confession of Jesus. He gives you a most soul-strengthening promise: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven.” Remember that you confess Jesus Christ every time you come to His house on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings. You confess Him as you attentively hear His words proclaimed for your forgiveness and life, every time you gather around His Table to eat and drink His Body and Blood. You confess Him every time you read, pray, and sing His words together in your families. You confess Him when you faithfully and honestly do the work of your different jobs and callings in life. And, yes, you confess Him every time you are asked to give the reason for the hope that you have.

So, be bold, be courageous, and be comforted. Your Lord Jesus gives you the opportunities to confess Him before other people. And when you confess Him, He is with you and gives you the words to say. In fact, you might even want to keep in mind the words of King David in Psalm 27(:1): “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Amen.

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