Where is the Focus of our Lives?
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Matthew 10:24-39
This is a very difficult text from which to fashion a sermon, but one well worth the effort of working with. To begin with, this appears to be a disjointed series of teachings from which it is hard to find what is a common theme or thread. Almost as if the Gospel writer had written down a handful of Jesus’ teachings on note cards, tossed them in the air, picked them up in no particular order, and then linked them together in this passage.
Here is a summary of Jesus’ teachings in these 15 verses:
- The student is never greater than the teacher, and the slave is never greater than the master.
- What you hear whispered to you, proclaim with a loud voice.
- Do not fear those who kill the body; instead, have fear (or respect) for God, who judges your eternal life.
- As a child of God, you are worth far more than a sparrow. God knows you well enough to count the hairs on your head.
- The message of Jesus’ unconditional love and focus on the needs of others will sometimes bring conflict and division in families.
- We must be willing to put devotion to God and the following of Jesus’ teachings first in our lives.
On the one hand, we are told we are God’s prized possession. Jesus assures us that God knows when even a common sparrow falls to the ground. Some translations give us the word “land” instead of “fall.” The Greek word here can mean either falling or landing, meaning that God is mindful of each time a sparrow lands on the ground. If God is mindful of a sparrow’s activity, how much more is God aware of each of us? AMAZING! We can certainly use this text when we are feeling small.
But then again, we are also told that Jesus’ message can bring division in our families, congregations, and communities. There is a well-worn adage that says never discuss religion or politics at the Thanksgiving table. But in this text, Jesus tells us that we must put all things in our lives as secondary to our focus on faith in the God of creation, the God of our salvation, and the God that moves among us today. We must be careful here to let each of Jesus’ statements here be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. All of these statements must be read in relationship to the rest of his message. The rest of that message is that our God is a God of unconditional love and grace. And that is what should define our mission in life towards ourselves, our families, our congregation, and the world around us.
This text is here to remind us of God’s place in all of who we are. It is God who gave us life, it is God that forgives our sins, it is God who whispers in our souls, and it is God who breathes new life into us. God is woven into the very fabric of our being. But we must confess the times that we hold back from God that which God deserves from us:
- The times that we have held tightly to our wallets instead of giving generously
- The times when our mouths have uttered words that have caused damage instead of spreading grace;
- The times when moral decisions have been made for immediate gratification rather than seeking God’s will for our lives.
If we truly accept that God values us, what else matters except living into God’s will for our lives? What else matters except to allow the grace of God, as shown to us in Jesus Christ, to guide how we manage each aspect of our lives?
We find this beautiful prayer in the Liturgy for Epiphany and World Mission in the Moravian Book of Worship(page 67). May it help you to reset the priorities of your life:
Compassionate Lord, you call us to a higher standard than we have achieved. We therefore bow in honest confession of those thoughts, words, and deeds which have missed the mark.Within our families, we have loved imperfectly. Among sisters and brothers in the church, we have not fully walked in the light. Often our congregations have not reflected the rich diversity of people in our communities. In our witness to the world, our lives have not adequately testified to your redeeming power. Forgive us, gracious Lord, for permitting ourselves to be distracted from the goal of our discipleship. Heal the brokenness of our hearts and restore us to you, our first love. Amen.