Prepare to Persevere

perseverance

June 22, 2014 Fr. Ray Kasch St. Patrick’s Anglican Church
Lessons Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:1-18; Romans 5:15-19; St. Matthew 10:16-33

I recently heard an interview with two Navy Seals, describing their experience at BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals. It is a six month training course in special warfare tactics and the men who complete it are the cream of the crop. They described in particular how difficult hell week was for them. One trial required standing in frigid water until their core temperature was dangerously low. All the while they were told to drink large volumes of water. Then, still soaking wet, they were placed in an airconditioned classroom to take a test. They were not allowed go to bathroom and they had to complete the test. If they did go to the bathroom or if they didn’t complete the test then they were washed out of program. As you can imagine classes of over 100 men would see only a handful of graduates. When asked how they got through it they said that the mind can have us do things that seem impossible. But really caught my attention was when they said, without exception, the men who made it through had already made up their minds, before they even came to BUDS, that no matter what they would not drop out.

The lesson is that preparing your heart and mind ahead of time
makes the difference between success and failure. We don’t persevere by accident. We prepare to persevere.

I believe that is what Jesus was doing for his disciples in today’s Gospel. He was preparing them to persevere. Last week’s Gospel we see Jesus giving the Great Commission which is all positive about going to the nations and preaching and baptizing and making disciples. But this week they get the rest of the story and it could not have been one that they welcomed to hear.“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves………..brother will betray brother to death………if they call the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?……..”

Those guys were Apostles but also they were real men. What must have been going on in their minds when they heard this part of their commission? It would be like having some military recruiter came up to you and say, “The food is lousy, the pay is worse, most of the officers are idiots and you will most likely get killed.” How quickly would you be looking to sign up? But Jesus tells it like it is and His words really act not just as a commission but also as a prophecy.

I know that you have heard this before but let me remind you that according to tradition here is what happened to the 12. Matthew was killed by the sword in Ethiopia. Mark was dragged to death in Alexandria. Luke was hanged in Greece. James the Less was thrown to his death from the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Philip was hanged in Phrygia. Bartholomew was flayed and then beheaded in Armenia. Andrew was crucified upside down on an X shaped cross in Acaia and took 2 days to die. Jude was shot to death with arrows in Persia. Thomas was run through with a spear in India. Simon was crucified in Persia. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome and Matthias was stoned and beheaded in Colchis. Only John died a natural death but that was after being tortured and exiled for many years. So Jesus was not playing psychological games to wash them out of the program. Rather the One who is Truth was simply telling them the truth.

But what about us? As I observe the currents of the world and the current of our own culture, I think that while we may not face what the Apostles faced, nevertheless we need to hear His words about being hated for His Name. We also need to remember that His words, though difficult to hear, are very pertinent today to Christians in many parts of the world such as Syria, Iraq, Nigera and Pakistan. Those Christians are facing exactly what the Apostles faced.

And while my generation understands what is going on in the world I fear that we are not taking Jesus’s words seriously enough and too many of us are trying to fix the fix with the wrong fix. Instead of preparing ourselves to persevere we are busying ourselves with vain hopes of making things easier. But Jesus didn’t promise that things were going to be easy. Allow me to explain.

I grew up in the 1950’s/60’s and at that time there was an informal Judeo/Christian consensus in our country. For example nothing happened before 12 pm on Sundays and most stores remained closed all day. These were called “Blue Laws” meant to enforce a modified sabbath observance. Also during that period “Under God” was added to the Pledge and there was prayer in public schools. Often the prayers were led by school officials. Also the Bible was taught in public schools and because of that there was general consensus about what constituted morality and general agreement about what should happen to those who violated the laws. Many of the legal standards of the individual States were biblically informed. The only Jihad or Moslem holy war we knew about is what we read about in our history books. Abortion was illegal, gay marriage was inconceivable and people who lived together outside of marriage we referred to as “living in sin.”

Thus many of my generation look back to those times with great fondness and want our culture to return to those days. We think that we are to engage in culture wars to return us to an Eisenhower era America, but I don’t agree
I suggest to you that what we need to do is to realize that we are in a whole new ballgame. The Judeo/Christian consensus is gone and being a Christian today is much more like being a Christian in the first few centuries when the culture did not share our views, or beliefs and values. If anything we are considered to be the oddball. But that is okay. I attended the funeral of a famous Pentecostal minister last week. He had a great saying.“I may be a nut but at least I’m screwed on to the right bolt.”

Let me give you an example of where I believe we are today. It may be anecdotal but I think it is very significant. For my exercise I walk and while I walk I listen either to the news or to a comedy channel. Frankly a lot of times after listening to the news I need that comedy channel. But what I have noticed over the last few years is a marked increase in anti-Christian jokes as well as jokes about Jesus that are so blasphemous that I have to turn them off. This all takes place on a so called family channel that does not allow swearing or sexual jokes but evidently blasphemy is okay. And do you think that I have witnessed an equal increase in jokes about Allah or Mohammed? You know that I have not.

That is where we are today. Christians are about the only group left that it is not politically incorrect to mock. And if you know anything about changing cultural norms and mores you know what an agent of change humor can be. Look back at the jokes and cartoons and mockery that German propogandists used to turn the tide of the German people against the Jews. Now I’m sure it is unintentional on the part of the comics but it is the intent of the powers of darkness to minimize and marginalize the Church and our Christian faith and mockery is a powerful force being used to that end. So we need to hear Jesus’ warnings to the Apostles as words to His Church today. We need to prepare to persevere.

Thankfully Jesus adds some great news to the bad news. In fact it is the latter that produces the former. In the midst of all of this opposition His gospel will be proclaimed from the housetops. God will be so close to them that they don’t have to worry about what to say because the Spirit will speak throught them. And because they will acknowledge Him before men, He will acknowledge them before the Father in heaven. In short He tells them that it’s going to be tough for a while but it is going to be GREAT for eternity.

This was really gracious of Jesus to give them both the bad news and the good news, or else they would not have able to prepare themselves to persevere. If they were ignorant of the challenges ahead their human nature would have been in control and when things get tough or scary it is human nature to want to run. But if they knew that things would be tough and scary then they could make up our minds ahead of time to persevere.

Even if we never face direct oppostion for our faith, life by itself can be a great challange and so we too must determine to remain resolute. G.K. Chesterton said it well. “When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him, but in heaven’s name to what?” Jesus tells us of a God that is so close to us that He numbers the hairs of our heads. Whatever it is that we will go through we know that we will not go through it alone.

It is important to know the reason that Jesus gives for enemies and even family members opposing the Apostles. He says “you will be hated by all because of my Name.” If and when we face opposition it needs to be
for the same reason. It must be because of His Name. We certainly should not be hated for our sins and hypocrisy. But also we should not be hated for our self-righeousness or for being famous for what we are against. The Westboro Baptist crowd that protests the funerals of our fallen soldiers may think that they are serving God but they are not. They are not hated because of Jesus’ Name rather they are hated for their hate.

Years ago while serving another church I developed a friendly relationship with the local Rabbi.We borrowed chairs from him and we put on a lunch for them when they moved into their new synagogue. Things were amicable. But one day I received a heated phone call from the Rabbi because he heard that we had invited a Messianic Jewish group to hold a concert in our church. The group was called Liberating Wailing Wall and they sang and gave testimonies of coming to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. The Rabbi was feeling threatened by this and wanted to let me know. So I assured him that we would not be standing in front of his synagogue passing out Jews for Jesus tracts, but he could not let it go. I tried to explain to him that is was a part of our faith to present Christ to all people and to exclude no one, especialy not the Jewish people, but that did not help. He became increasingly vexed. Finally he said to me “Kasch, what it that? That’s German isn’t it?” I said “Don’t even go there with me” and ended our conversation. Sadly I was not able to rebuild that bridge but that was his choice and not mine. I have made a lot of mistakes in ministry over the years but that was not one of them and my conscience was clear that I was being rejected for His Name and not for my own sinfulness or stupidity. If you are going to be a target, and you will be if you confess Him before men, then let it be because of His Name and not for any other reason.

I also love that in the midst of these hard sayings Jesus tells them not to worry and not to be afraid. That makes all kinds of sense because it is difficult to persevere if paralyzed by anxiety or fear. And notice why they should not worry or be afraid. They should not worry because the Holy Spirit will be with them and they should not be afraid because of the fear of God. Jesus said,“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.”

The fear of God is not a welcomed topic in our day and time but it needs to be preached because it is as true as the love of God and Jesus taught both. We must not move too quickly past fear to get to love if we are going to benefit from God’s words to us. Rather than trying to make our discomfort about the fear of God go away we need to embrace it. Remember Jesus was not trying to get the Apostles to feel good about themselves rather He was preparing them to die! When they face the spears or the arrows or the crosses everything in them will tell them to run. It is then that they can face down the fear of death with the fear of eternal death. The fear of man is driven out by the fear of God.

And as most of you know, when speak of the fear of God, we are speaking more about reverence and awe than about terror. Does God have the authority to destroy both my soul and body in hell? Yes He does and I am in awe of Him because of that authority. Will God destroy my soul and body in hell? No He will not because He is my Father and I am his son and nothing can separate me from His love. As proverbs puts it “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Then Jesus offers the other side of the same coin. It is not just the fear of God that keeps them through difficult times but it is also the love of God. Fear of God tells them that there is nowhere else to go. Love reminds them that that there is nowhere else they want to go.

We see a similar two sided coin in our human relationships. Part of the reason we stay true to our marriage vows is because we are afraid of the consequences of breaking them. Beth told me when we married that if I was ever unfaithful to her that she would not divorce me but that she would make my life a living hell. I believed her. I still do. But the other reason that we stay true to our marriage is because we’ve got it so good at home. I feel like the most blessed man alive to have the wife that I have and so there is no other place I want to go. In our human realtionships we can understand the connection between a healthy fear and a deep and genuine love and so it should not surprise us that Jesus teaches both in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

I began this sermon by painting a bleak picture about where I believe that we are culturally, and that we need to face the reality that things are moving to be more like first century than like the 1950’s. But I see that reality as encouraging. Why? Because Jesus has not commissioned us to preach an Eisenhower era cultural Christianity. He has commissioned us to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand and there is a vast difference between the two. We don’t need to go back to the 50’s, the good old days probably never were. We need to move forward into His kingdom as He makes all things new. It is the kingdom of God that those first century Christians lived and preached and because they did live it as well as preach it, they turned the world upside down. They did it facing great opposition, and they needed to steel themselves to persevere to the end, but God was with them.
Why would He not do the same for us? His eye is on the sparrow so certainly His eye is on you His beloved who are called after His Name. Prepare to persevere. Amen.

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