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Sermon for June 25, 2023 – Proper 7

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5031 Dead to Me
Cara Garrity

The phrase “dead to me” has unknown origins but saying that someone is “dead to me” communicates that you no longer want to speak or have any kind of contact with that person. This can be a harsh statement to make, especially if we consider that forgiveness benefits us as well as the person we think wronged us. But what if we use the phrase “dead to me” differently and apply it to the shadow side of ourselves? You know, the parts of ourselves that we wish we could change, like acting selfishly, thinking ourselves better than others, or feeling abandoned by God and other people.

The truth is, you and I should consider ourselves dead to these negative behaviors and thought patterns and be alive for something bigger and more life-giving.

The apostle Paul has written about this idea of considering certain aspects of ourselves as being “dead”, especially in the way our baptism mirrors Christ’s death and resurrection. Let’s take a look at what he says in Romans 6:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, so we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.
Romans 6:5-7 (NRSVUE)

We learn that when Christ was crucified, our “old self,” our shadow side, was crucified with him. Why? So we would no longer be enslaved to sin. When we are in him, we are “dead” to those behaviors and thoughts that make us cringe and think, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking?” Christ’s death frees us from the power of sin and gives us another alternative.

The old self, now dead to us, was preoccupied with egoic concerns, like personal preferences and opinions. If sin is dead to us, then we can be alive for something else. We’re free to be alive in Christ. Let’s continue this passage:

But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:8-11 (NRSVUE)

Notice that Christ’s resurrected life is lived to God, and Paul is encouraging us to remember that we, too, are “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We are freed from our compulsion to egoic concerns and our feelings of unworthiness or separation from God. Instead, we are liberated to live a life of radical love, using our skills and resources to help those who are in need.

Being alive to God means we view the world through Jesus’ eyes and view others through his eyes as well. He often noticed tax collectors, women, and children – those who were judged by their culture. As we live to God, no longer slaves to sin, we allow him to bring to our attention the God-given dignity of all people.

May you realize that sin is dead to you and no longer holds you in its grasp, thanks to our Savior Jesus. May you know the freedom of being “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And may you always join Jesus in looking for ways to lift up and bless others who need his radical love.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 • Genesis 21:8-21 • Romans 6:1b-11 • Matthew 10:24-39

The theme for this week is the revolutionary responsibilities of discipleship, and it’s our opportunity to consider that real discipleship requires us to let go of closely held opinions and worldviews to love and advocate for others the way Jesus did, trusting that God will be with us. Our call to worship in Psalm 86 helps us understand God’s revolutionary willingness to be small, to bow down just to reach us, and we can be challenged to do the same for others in humility. Genesis 21 tells the story of Abraham’s family conflict between Sarah and Hagar, and how God resolved the problem outside the typical cultural constraints. In Romans 6, Paul discusses the way baptism can mirror Jesus’s death and resurrection, and he encourages us to think about what we are “dead to” and “alive for” in light of Christ’s loving example. Our sermon text is Matthew 10:24-39, which offers Jesus’ perspective about the challenges of radically loving others, the anti-empire arc of the gospel, and the implications of love’s inclusive nature.

Radical Love

Matthew 10:24-39 (NRSVUE)

If you live in the US, you probably have heard of the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity. This organization, founded by Clarence Jordan, and later joined by Millard and Linda Fuller, began as an interracial community farm called Koinonia Farm outside Americus, Georgia. Its mission was to ensure that everyone was treated equally, resources were shared, and the land and natural resources were stewarded wisely.

As part of the community farm, the Fullers came up with the idea of “partnership housing,” where people who needed a home worked with other volunteers to build a home at no profit. By starting “The Fund for Humanity,” using money from supporters and fundraising efforts, no interest loans were provided to the new homeowners. Their house payments, in turn, would be used to continue “The Fund for Humanity” and build more houses.

What you need to know, though, is that Koinonia Farm was started in 1942 and the partnership housing effort got off the ground in 1965, during the era of segregation and before the Civil Rights movement had made any progress. Their good works got them into trouble with those who disagreed with their views about racial equality and how a Christian should live.

For example, Clarence Jordan was accused of befriending a communist named Myles Horton. Jordan told his accusers, “I really have trouble with your logic. I don’t think my talking to Myles Horton makes me a Communist any more than talking to you right now makes me a jackass.”

Koinonia Farm ran into conflict with the Ku Klux Klan, and the group blew up the farm’s roadside peanut stand, one of its fundraising efforts. When Jordan put up another roadside peanut stand, the Klan blew that one up, too. Jordan refused to quit but changed his business plan. Instead, Koinonia Farm began selling peanuts by mail order with this advertisement: “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”

Though some progress has been made toward equality for all people, regardless of race, gender, economics, and lifestyle choices, inequities have been built into the fibers of the governmental systems in place, not only in the US but other countries, too. As Clarence Jordan and the Fullers found out, bucking the system and advocating for the poor and marginalized is often not well received. This should not be a surprise, though. As we look at our scripture passage for today, we’ll read that Jesus warned his disciples that they would face suffering and conflict because living the way of love toward all people is difficult but worth it.

Read Matthew 10: 24-39

Baylor University assistant professor of religion Jonathan Tran summarizes Matthew 10: 24-29 this way:

I, Jesus, do things that will get one in trouble. Inasmuch as you, disciples, do what I do, you’ll get in trouble, too. But don’t worry too much about that as you’ll be taken care of. If you find yourself overly worried about getting into trouble, that means you are confused in one of four ways: that the things I do are not so significant that they should cause trouble; that who I am is not so significant that what I do should matter very much; that the significance of what I do and who I am do not bear on your long-term welfare; or, all the above.

Let’s look more closely at each paraphrased section of the passage.

I, Jesus, do things that will get one in trouble. Inasmuch as you, disciples, do what I do, you’ll get in trouble, too. (v. 24-25)

Jesus makes the point that if the disciples (including us) lived as he lived, caring for people in ways that often broke cultural norms, the guardians of the existing system supporting those cultural narratives would not be happy. They might even be vindictive as we can see from the way the Jewish leaders influenced Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. Jesus invites his followers to participate in the suffering that comes from loving others in a radical way.

In v. 24, Jesus makes the point that “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.” The word translated “slave” is doulos, and it suggests “involuntary servitude.” In other scripture passages (such as Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1), the disciples refer to themselves as douloi of Christ. The passage goes on to state that “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher and the slave like the master” to provoke persecution. Jesus reminds the disciples how people accused him of doing good works by the power of Beelzebub (see Matthew 9:34 and 12:22-27), and if they thought Jesus’ works were produced by demonic power, any works the disciples did would also be thought to be demonically influenced. In short, if Jesus suffered, even died, for the way he moved through the world and interacted with its systems, it should not surprise his followers when they suffer by living out love in ways that conflict with deeply held cultural narratives and systems of empire.

But don’t worry too much about that as you’ll be taken care of. (v. 26-31)

Jesus encourages the disciples and us not to be afraid when we face conflict from caring for people in ways that conflict with societal norms. Jesus reminds us that any evil secrets will be brought into the light (v. 26), and we should speak on behalf of those who are marginalized and oppressed, listening for God to whisper in our ears what we should say (v. 27).

Another reason we should not be afraid is that the power held by others over us is limited. Verse 28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” The last half of verse 28 helps us keep the right perspective about who is most powerful: “rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The wording of v. 28 is contrasting the limited control human beings have over one another with the power of our Creator who desires nothing more than to give us life.

Verses 29-31 offer “proof” that our loving God cares for us despite any difficulties we might face from following Jesus’ example of loving others. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v. 29-31).

The phrase “apart from your Father” could be interpreted “without your Father’s knowledge,” and the phrase “even the hairs of your head are all counted” conveys the fine detail that God loves in each one of us. God loves and values sparrows and people, but loving someone or something deeply does not mean that the loved one will not suffer. Suffering and pain are the shadow side of beauty and joy – we could not know or appreciate either side without the other.

If you find yourself overly worried about getting into trouble, that means you are confused in one of four ways: that the things I do are not so significant that they should cause trouble; that who I am is not so significant that what I do should matter very much; that the significance of what I do and who I am do not bear on your long-term welfare; or, all the above. (v. 32-39)

Verses 32-39 sound harsh, but Jesus is clear that cultural and governmental systems of oppression are not aligned with the kingdom of God. As translated by The Message, Jesus did not “come to make life cozy” (Matthew 10:34). His use of the literary technique of hyperbole (i.e., exaggeration) helps us understand that we are not being asked to start a family fight (i.e., “set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother,” found in v. 35). Instead, Jesus wants to prepare his disciples for the conflict that comes up when we choose to love others in radical ways, especially those people different from us and our families.

Because of Christianity’s affiliation with empires, beginning with Constantine in 312 CE (Common Era) and his later Christianization of the Roman Empire, many Christians have been reluctant to point out the inconsistencies between governmental policies and the way Jesus lived.

One example of this is found in the US government’s treatment of Native Americans. In Steven Charleston’s book, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, he recounts the popular myths perpetuated by American history books that only focus on the last-ditch, desperate efforts of Native Americans to fight back during the last decade of the 1800s. While those accounts are accurate, they don’t include what was the experience of the majority of Native Americans, which was much less dramatic but just as destructive. It involved treaties with the US government that Native Americans were forced to sign under duress, which gave large sections of land to the federal government. These same treaties were broken, more land was taken than was included in the treaties, and Native Americans were forced to leave their land. Native communities were devastated by disease introduced by pioneering settlers, defrauded of their land, and deported to reservations or the Oklahoma territory (pp. 116-117). Charleston writes:

The majority of these people, the Native American survivors of ethnic cleansing, were Christians. Among the first buildings to be erected in the refugee centers of Oklahoma were churches. My great-grandfather was a Presbyterian pastor who was responsible for building several of these churches in Oklahoma…, [and] Christians cheating and oppressing Christians is the historic subtext of most of the story between Native Americans and white people during the nineteenth century.” (p. 117)

Jesus lived with and loved people, even those outside his culture and those often called “sinners,” and he ultimately was put to death for it. Jesus pointed out the inconsistencies between the Pharisees’ laws and what God’s intention was, along with the hypocrisy in the cultural system. Jesus was not interested in “power over,” saying in John,

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15 NRSVUE).

Jesus was interested in “power with.” He opened his relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit to us, including all people.

What Jesus did was significant, and it upset those in power. Who Jesus was and the love he showed the poor and oppressed offended those in power. Anybody who professes to love Jesus and desires to follow him will also upset those who are intent on maintaining power structures, and governments that continue to promote policies destructive to the well-being of all people. Unfortunately, our tendency is to focus on ourselves and self-improvement rather than identifying social justice issues occurring around us.

American Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon writes about the church’s tendency to focus on personal morality at the expense of social justice:

The sad fact is that the church, both now and at far too many times in its history, has found it easier to act as if it were selling the sugar of moral and spiritual achievement rather than the salt of Jesus’s passion and death. It will preach salvation for the successfully well-behaved, redemption for the triumphantly correct in doctrine, and pie in the sky for all the winners who think they can walk into the final judgment and flash their passing report cards at Jesus (183).

Consider again the example of Clarence Jordan and Millard and Linda Fuller. Think of the courage and conviction it took to build an interracial community farm in 1942. Think of the perseverance it required to rebuild a roadside peanut stand and then come up with another fundraising plan when that rebuilt stand was dynamited. Jordan and the Fullers were following Jesus’ call to love and care for all people, and it wasn’t an easy road. If we are radically loving others, targeting the marginalized, oppressed, and poor, we will also encounter pushback and conflict. That doesn’t mean we are doing anything wrong. Losing our lives is another way to talk about kenosis or the self-emptying love that Jesus exhibited by dying on the cross. In fact, Jesus promises we will actually “find” our lives when we follow his way of radical, kenotic love for all (v. 39).


  • Recognize our tendency to focus on “moral and spiritual achievement rather than the salt of Jesus’ passion and death.” While it’s true that Divine love transforms us, our personal transformation is secondary to our call to live in our true identity as the beloved of God. This means we will participate with Jesus in radically loving others and working to ensure the well-being of all people, especially those who are marginalized by the cultural and governmental systems.
  • Consider our fear of conflict with those who are intent on maintaining systems of power that oppress people of color, women, and other marginalized groups. Think about how we often focus on the cross as forgiveness of personal sins rather than corporate or systemic sins, forgetting that the cross happened because of Jesus’ love for all, as well as his conflict with the power structures in ancient Judea. Be encouraged by the example of Clarence Jordan and Millard and Linda Fuller, who were excommunicated in 1950 by the Rehoboth Southern Baptist Church because of their beliefs about racial equality. Notice how their conviction to radically love and support the oppressed and the poor fueled their radical love and determination.
  • Realize that radical love only asks us to love others the way Jesus did and to use the skills and resources we have to take action. Clarence Jordan used his college education in agronomy to start an interracial community farm. Consider what skills and resources you have been given to join Jesus in convey his radical love to others.

The following poem from Steve Garnaas-Holmes shows how radical love begins with small steps:

When injustice strides so easily,
When evil reigns
And you feel there’s little you can do,
Remember we are all one.
You are part of the Great Oneness –
some call it the Body of Christ –
And what you do affects the whole.
You can choose goodness.
When you change your life, you change the world.
An immense grace hums beneath
The noise of this world.
When you live in harmony with it,
You intensify the great music of life
That renews earth.
You are a voice in the chorus,
A string on the Beloved’s guitar;
When you change your note
You change the whole chord.

Jesus’ talk in Matthew 10:24-39 contains some challenge for us if we say we are his disciples and followers. But it also offers us the comfort of knowing we aren’t alone when we follow his footsteps, participating with him in radically loving others and working toward the kingdom of God on earth.

For Reference:

Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.

Charleston, Steven. The Four Vision Quests of Jesus. Morehouse Publishing, 2015.


The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W4

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June 25 — Proper 7 of Ordinary Time
Matthew 10:24-39, “Like the Master”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What does the phrase “no longer enslaved to sin” mean to you? Contrast how you might live or behave as a “slave” to sin and how that would change as you more fully embrace the freedom you have being “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
  • If we are liberated to live a life of radical love, what are some practical ways we can work to support each other and those who are marginalized by cultural norms and systems of power?

From the sermon

  • How would you feel to be in the shoes of Clarence Jordan and the Fullers, excommunicated from their church in 1950 and in conflict with the Ku Klux Klan because of their views on racial equality? How would you seek encouragement to continue to radically love others, especially the marginalized?
  • What can you do with your skills and resources to radically love and support those who suffer from oppression or discrimination?

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