Depending on the Bible you have, todays gospel lesson may contain a couple of jarring section headings. Mine says, “Coming Persecutions” and “Whom to fear.” These instructions that Jesus gives as he sends out his first apostles are nothing short of harrowing. They are not just warning of things that may happen, but rather foreknowledge of what will happen. They are honest and direct ways of describing what it is that the apostles would very soon face. James and John whom we remember today did indeed drink the cup of suffering for the gospel, and the faithful of every generation have found these warnings an apt description of their own experience when they were sent.
The followers of Christ in every age have had to contend with their own most pressing issues. Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves have never been without challenge. There have often been warring political factions that demand utmost purity and allegiance. Our skin, our bodies, our place in society, have often been the battlegrounds of human conflict. Today they have their own particular slogans, banners, and champions.
There is a frenetic and caustic energy in our public discourse. With a primary allegiance to Christ, I find it impossible to subsume all my loyalties in one political party or another, even ostensibly noble social causes seem to demand a rigid purity that I can’t muster. To support one group means that I turn my back on another but in-action leaves me complicit in abuse, oppression, and injustice. The triangulation of warring factions offers no real peace in appeasing one over the other. Trying to sort it all out amidst the stultifying effects of pandemic lockdown leaves me perplexed, weary, and discouraged.
In 1965, the Episcopal Priest Malcolm Boyd published a book of prayers; hot in the work of another civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, and a cultural turning point when it seemed like everything was being turned inside out. Trying his best to be the light of Christ in the world he prayed this:
-It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.
-I’ve got to move fast…get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more.
-I just don’t feel like it. What I really want to do is get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep. All I seem to want today is the big sleep, and here I’ve got to run all over again.
-Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot.
-So I’ll follow along, OK? But lead, please. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?
That achingly honest question, “Are you running with me, Jesus?” It rings out to me today with deep potency.
“I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves,” Jesus says. Be wise and serpents and innocent as doves. Christ himself sends us out vulnerable in the midst of ravenous beasts. Cautions us to be wise like serpents, that we might not be deceived as our first parents were in the garden. Innocent as doves, that we might not harm one another the way fallen humanity is prone to do.
And even still brother will betray brother and families will turn in on themselves. It’s a lot to try to keep in balance and when things seem to go sideways all the effort seems for naught. When we look around and wonder, is it making any difference? Am I running blind? Am I running in place? Are you running with me Jesus?
That moment is a chance to pause, it may be more than a pause, a long night, a dark season, striving grinds to a halt and all that’s left is a prayer of abandonment. Here, Jesus’ words catch up, “have no fear, what you hear in the dark, tell in the light; the hairs of your head are all counted, you are of much value. And so is your neighbor” In that still darkness and I can perceive again the loving gaze of the Father, the stirring power of the Spirit, and Brother Jesus’ hand grabs mine and leads me on.
So take heart, dear ones, Our gracious Father sees you, each freckle in weary eyes. The Spirit stands ready to intercede with power for you. And Jesus Christ, our brother and Lord is not only with us but has gone before us to win victory over sin and death.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
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