Second Sunday after Pentecost-Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was a name that I remember from my youth that I knew what it denoted, but not the etymology from which it arose. Growing up with grandparents in the midwest, let me just say there were many such idioms and expressions that boggled my mind. I could use them, and use them correctly, but I had absolutely no idea where they came from and outside of their figurative usage, what they literally meant. For example, whenever something needed to be fixed, Mom or Grandpa would declare themselves to be a regular Patch Adams. Now the name itself hits at the definition and so it didn’t take me long to figure out that a Patch Adams is one who patches things, be they bicycles, lawnmowers and tractors, or even scraped knees healed and mended by a mother’s love. Yet it took me several years, and really not until the Robin Williams’ movie, to realize that Patch Adams wasn’t just an expression like a Johnny-Come-Lately, but rather a real live person. Not only is Patch a real person, but the name is indeed indicative of his vocation, a doctor.
The movie, by the same name, chronicles in Hollywood fashion (meaning more fiction than fact) the story of his journey through medical school and to becoming a doctor. In one of the more poignant subplots to the movie, Patch, rather courageously and foolishly tries to build a relationship with one of the patients, Bill, who is dying from cancer. Bill is angry and grieving. He is so filled with anger that he routinely yells and screams at the nurses and doctors, gladly hurling his bed pan at them every chance he can get. Patch himself receives such treatment, over and over again. Each time going in hopeful that he will get through to Bill, and release him from the anger and pain that is affecting every relationship around him, even with his family. In one of the more poignant scenes of the movie, Patch enters Bill’s room one last time adorned with angelic robe and wings and says, “Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, Demised, departed And defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God's way of saying, "Slow down.” To which Bill responds, “To check out. To head for the happy hunting ground. To find oneself without breath. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.” In naming death, in speaking of it, even in a humorous way, Patch is able to release Bill from the pain, anger, and fear that until that moment held him captive. From the moment of his diagnosis to that moment, he though still alive was dead, after that moment though dying he was filled again with laughter, life, and peace.
It seems to me that is the same thing that is going on in our second lesson from Romans this morning and the Apostle Paul. This passage is a foundational one for us Lutherans as it helps to comprise our baptismal theology and also our funeral rite. If you were listening carefully you would have heard in 11 verses, St. Paul speak of death, died, dying, or dead 13 times! Over and over St. Paul in repetitive refrain speaks of the reality of baptism in the life of the Christian. It is death. It is the death of death, the death of sin, the death of the devil, the death of the powers of this world. But why speak of these things on this Sunday, the 2nd after Pentecost? For on the Day of Pentecost a few weeks ago we spoke of the power of the endless life of God, through the Holy Spirit, pouring out upon the disciples and upon us. Last week on Trinity Sunday we spoke of our life being lived in the life of God. This Sunday, we seem to be going backwards a bit in hearing from St. Paul about death. Yet it seems to me the reason that we hear from Romans 6 this morning is found in its paring with the Gospel Lesson.
At the end of Chapter 9, Jesus is there standing with his disciples and he asks of them what will be a rather ironic thing. He tells them, The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. In rather rapid fashion, in the very first verses of chapter 10, the Lord of the Harvest responds by calling His laborers to His side to work in His field, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. The irony is found in that those disciples that were praying for laborers, turn out to be the very laborers for which they were praying. For Jesus sends them out with the word of His power, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” Our Lord sends out His disciples with the power and gift of faith to do His work in the world, to be harvesters of His field bringing life to death. His words this morning from Matthew are the continuation of that instruction to His disciples, warning them of the fate that will likely befall them for being associated with Him. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they call those of his household. They are words of loving warning from Jesus to the reality of the Gospel in the world. It will be rejected, mocked, spit upon, denied, crucified and pierced. Just as the world will do to Christ himself. So will His disciples too find themselves mocked, derided, spat upon, crucified and pierced either by the instruments of persecution or by the words and looks of their peers or even their own family.
What sin, death, and the devil do to the very Son of God, the Father himself will undue. For the Father knows the very number of the hairs on the head of His beloved Son and he will not let Him go un-vindicated or without justice. He will raise Him from the dead. He will clothe Him with life. This the Father does for all those who confess Him before the world. This He does for all the disciples of His Son, those who by faith cling to the mercy and grace of the cross. In this both Jesus and St. Paul reiterate that the final word for the Christian is a word of resurrected life. Thus St. Paul writes, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus Jesus repeats in three-fold refrain, Do not fear. For though the world will reject your message and though your family might reject you for your faith, the Father will never let you out of His grasp. Being dead to sin, death, and the devil, you are forever God’s, a child in his kingdom and a laborer in his field.
This is why these words come to us on the second Sunday after Pentecost, as the focus of the Church’s calendar and year has now switched, from following closely the events of our Lord’s life to the life of the Church. It is why the color has changed from white to green, the color of the growing branches in the vine of Christ, the color of the verdant work of the Holy Spirit among the life of the faithful. The time after Pentecost, follows naturally having celebrated the Victory of our Lord’s defeat of death during Eastertide and having celebrated the church’s clothing with power and life from the Holy Spirit, to the work of the disciples in the harvest of the Lord, preaching the kingdom, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and raising the dead. This is the mission, the commission of the Church from Jesus himself as we heard last week. It is the natural praise of Christ and the sharing of his word that follows naturally from having received everything from Him. It is the gift and work of every disciple.
I know many of us having been praying for Reformation, for her growth and outreach, for her ministries to continue to thrive and be faithful, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that we are like those 12 men caught unawares of who they were truly praying for. For in praying for the work of our congregation, for people come and join our congregation and work in the kingdom, in Christ we find that we are praying for no one else, but ourselves. It is not someone else’s calling, it is our calling. It is not someone else’s job, it is our job. It is not someone outside to help grow our congregation, but rather it is our own names that Jesus himself calls to His side and calls to his work of laboring in His field, working in his harvest. Thus the Gospel of the Lord is read this morning and proclaimed to us all, Do not fear….you are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For though we may find His word a fearful thing, there is nothing to fear for God in Christ has defeated every enemy. Though we may find His word to go out into all nations, even out into our own homes to share His Gospel hard difficult and painful, it is the only true and everlasting joy we will ever know. Though we may even die, push up daisies, buy the farm, and kick the bucket for His sake and the sake of His gospel, we will nevertheless find our life with His, died, buried, resurrected and ascended to be with Him and the Father and Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.