June 21, 2020

Third Sunday After Pentecost Online Worship 2020

Passage: Matthew 10:24-39

Why would Jesus say that he comes to divide?  Why does he say he comes not to bring peace?  After all, this is the Prince of Peace.  It’s Father’s Day, and if you will indulge me, I’m going to share a story with you about my dad.

It’s about a lesson that he taught me that I think in some way, shape or form kind of folds in with what this lesson is talking about as well as the grace that was in our letter to the Romans chapter today.

See, I was just five years old and I was a young five.  My twin brother and I were in the backseat of my dad’s car.  He had an old Chrysler or something or other.  We lived in the lower part of Staley in Clarksburg on a little street called Fairview.  Our house sat in the back and there was an alley that went down around the side of our house.

As they say, caddywampus to the corner of our house was a garage.  Back in that day it was known as Pringle Motor Services, or Pringles Garage, whatever you wanted to call it.  They sold Studebakers back in the day and were also a Lincoln Mercury dealership.  It changed hands quite frequently over the years.

Anyway, we were going into town and Dad had us in the back seat.  I guess we were a little bit too large for our car seats; if we even ever had car seats as it was 1961 to put a date on it.  So, we went down the alley onto Park Boulevard and turned left to go out to Milford Street which is also US 19.

I find it strange because today my address, my residence, sits not only on Main Avenue, but also on Route 19, just about 22 miles south of where that was.  We turned toward town and there was a city bus stop there and you could see the cars on the street.

Randy and I always liked to see those big, shiny cars.  So, we were looking out the window and there was a man standing there at the bus stop, and it was a black man.  I think it was the first black man I had ever seen, or, I don’t know if that’s correct, it was the first time I noticed someone with a skin tone was much darker than mine. I believe I said something to the effect of, “that man is as dark as chocolate fudge” or something like that.

Dad drove across what we know as the Staley Bridge, or Milford St. Bridge, across the West Fork River.  Right on the other side of that there was an old feed store at that time that’s no longer there.  We crossed the railroad tracks, and there was an old Kelly Springfield tire dealership right there.  It didn’t look like it was in very good shape even then in 1961.

Dad immediately pulled off the road into that space and wheeled around from the front seat, it was an old bench front seat, and he got up on his knees and pointed his finger at Randy and me and he said, “Boys, I want you to know something right now! That man you just saw is as much of a man as I am, and don’t you ever forget it!”  We’d just turned five.  It was 1961.  That lesson has stayed with me my whole life.

I don’t know what circumstances had brought Dad to that place where he was so emphatic about that man and about making sure we understood who this man was as a person.  I’d like to think that he was nurturing us in our baptism to reject the evil of this world.

You know, I know families who have been divided because they have differences of opinions or they have different points of view about these things.  It’s whatever list you want to use, it could be faith, or it could be politics.  Those are the big two I think.  You’re never supposed to talk about religion and politics, right?

It could be other things, it might be the way we respond to another person or how one person might want to respond or not respond to them.  That can divide us.  Jesus doesn’t mean to divide us.  What divides us are our own choices, whether we are going to take up our cross and follow him, or follow another path.

About four or five years later, which to a kid who had just turned five seems like a lifetime, Mom and Dad took me and my twin brother Randy to Washington D.C. to see the monuments, experience the city, and tour the White House and the Capital Building.

We stayed in Fairfax at a little motel and we were there for a few days.  On Sunday it was time to go home and Dad would return to work the following Monday.  We didn’t go to church that day and we checked out and drove for a little bit.  We hadn’t eaten so we found a restaurant and drove up to it.

There was another family that pulled in just ahead of us.  It was a black family, a husband, wife and two children.  It looked like they had just come from Sunday School.  The gentleman had a suit coat on with a tie and a white shirt.  We were sitting in the car as I remember and the man of this family got out of his car and went to the door and looked in.

He came back out and shook his head to his wife and they got in their car and drove away.  Dad was sitting in the front seat with Mother and as he observed this he said, “Well now, if this establishment wasn’t good enough for that fine looking family, it’s not good enough for us.”  He pulled out of that lot and we drove on down the road.

Jesus said, starting at Matthew 10:28, “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.  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.  Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.  (NRSV)

Let me put some theological meaning into what my dad did at that restaurant.  He was a man of faith and that year would have been about 1966.  Do you think that if we had patronized that restaurant that we might have been, in a way, denying Jesus?  Denying someone else’s humanity?  Denying who we are and who others are in our worth in God’s eyes?

Folks, we cannot deny Jesus Christ if we are to follow him.  We are called to pick that cross up and follow him regardless of where it takes us.  Sometimes it might be dangerous, but it’s not worth losing our souls over.

In this time of unrest there’s an opportunity.  We have to acknowledge that there have been so many wrongs in this world perpetrated against people of color.  And just because we say we’re not a racist, what we do or don’t do could further perpetuate it. It could allow it to stand and continue.

It is here all around us.  I heard a testimony of a young man yesterday that said that when he was about eight years old, this was 15 years ago, not far away, here in West Virginia, he walked into a big box store and someone pulled a gun out and pointed it at him and told him he wasn’t allowed to go in there.  An eight year old boy!

Folks, it is not worth losing our souls over.  I want to be in that number.  I want to live and to worship and to give glory to God for eternity.  If this makes you uncomfortable, well, yeah, imagine how that eight year old boy felt.  Uncomfortable?  I’ve never had anyone point a gun at me.  It breaks my heart.  It makes me uncomfortable to hear those things.  It makes me want to make it right and to say NO.

They can kill my body, but my soul belongs to Jesus Christ.  How about you?  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.