NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
This service has been filmed during the period we are worshipping online only while our building undergoes repairs needed following storm damage. During this period and due to equipment limitations, we are unable to hold a complete worship service.
Humanizing the Demonized
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*This morning’s scripture is Matthew 10, and comes from the Message. Other scriptures may also be used and will be cited within the message.
God of grace, you invite the despised, you touch the unclean, you lift the head of those who are brought low: Give us hope against all hope for a world transformed by your healing touch; through Jesus Christ, the mercy of God.
People of God, tell it!
We are not alone! We are children of God!
People of Christ, tell it!
The Light has come in love and truth, teaching us to live in the Light.
People of the Spirit, tell it!
The Spirit of truth reveals hidden things, offering healing through honest confession.
People of God, tell it!
We are not alone! We are children of God!
Last week’s passage, which I repeated in part today, was about Christ’s motivation for his ministry – his compassion for the marginalized who were harassed and helpless, those he described as “sheep without a shepherd.”
In other words, Jesus sought to humanize the demonized … the outcast, the excluded, the othered, the ignored. And, in the passage, the mission discourse, Jesus instructed his disciples to start small … don’t jump out into the world … start right here “in the house” so to speak. Focus on the Jewish people … your own people, even your own families and villages … but be prepared to find out there are some you won’t be able to reach … even among your own people, your own families, your own villages. There are some who will reject you completely … even among your own people, your own families, your own villages.
Today’s passage is the remainder of Matthew 10. This final section of “the Mission Discourse” recognizes the courage, impact, and reward of faithful and active mission. To serve or, if you will, imitate Jesus’ mission, to be his hands and feet, meant and still means sharing the hostility and rejection that he experienced.
The religious leaders of his time called him Satan or Beelzebul which means “Lord of the Dwelling on High.” He doesn’t sugarcoat the work or the persecution they will suffer, but offers comfort and encouragement to remain faithful. Three times he tells them “Fear not.” He tells them God’s purpose, and he reminds them that God … not man, not empire … has control of not only the future, but the present. And he tells them that those disciples that remain courageous and faithful in mission, marked by hostility and persecution, will be vindicated in “the judgment.”
Let’s pause for just a moment and bring things into the perspective of today, into what we know and experience today, in how this mission discourse applies to the work the Body of Christ is … or at least I believe would … be called to today if Jesus were walking among us in the flesh doing what he did 1,990 years ago, and let’s look at it within our own people, our own families, our own villages.
I mean seriously think about it. The times are not all that different today than they were then. The Empire had created an economy that was rapidly expanding the category of “working poor” through taxation and the Temple culture, which required the purchase of animals for sacrifice and collected offerings, further added to that burden. Both the Empire and the religious leaders required strict adherence to their laws, and the punishment for violating the laws of either group were harsh. Both the Empire and the Temple Culture marginalized and even demonized entire groups of people as “unclean,” “unworthy,” “undesirable,” the Empire respecting no one except citizens of the Empire, and the Temple respecting no one who believed differently than the religious leaders declared they should believe.
The Empire of Jesus’ time was ruled by an Emperor and a Parliament of “senators.” The “emperor” was a self-declared deity, in his own eyes “the deity of all deities.” The “senators” were wealthy citizens of the Empire. Challenging the “emperor” could be a death sentence and, likewise, an emperor could fall out of grace with the parliament, a situation that was also a death sentence … for the emperor and anyone loyal to him. The emperor needed the senators’ cooperation to get the people to comply with whatever the emperor wanted them to do. The senators needed the emperor’s cooperation to get what they needed for the districts they represented. And the governors of those districts had no choice but to carry out the will of the emperor and senators to hold their positions, positions from which they often had aspirations of becoming a senator or even had an eye on the emperor’s throne. Disagreements were too often resolved through violence, coups, and assassinations.
The Temple had a fragile agreement with the Empire. Those people the Temple claimed as their own were allowed to worship as they always had without the insertion of the Empire’s “deity” into that worship or their temples or synagogues. The cost of that exchange was heavy taxation of the people the Temple claimed as their own.
The empire had their “police” in the form of the Roman guard. The Temple had its own police. And woe into anyone who in any way challenged the Empire or the Temple.
For Jesus, this was all in conflict with God’s intention, with God’s empire. God’s empire excluded no one. God’s empire was based on love, not fear or threat. God’s empire leaves no room for “human patriarchy.” And in God’s empire, God was the only judge of who was worthy.
Sound familiar? It should.
Because in today’s world looking at our own people, our own families, our own villages … we are seeing similar behavior.
Today the “Empire” is the government with one exception – our emperors, “senators (including representatives),” and governors are term-limited, chosen by “We, the Citizens, and there are, at least for the time being, provisions in place that are supposed to prevent any of them from becoming a dictator with authoritarian control. Although a few seem to be challenging those provisions or even ignoring them altogether through outright defiance or by manipulating the laws, legislators, etc.
Today, a portion of the Body of Christ has abandoned the way Christ taught us, declared themselves “the Temple,” and has entered into an agreement of sorts with those who represent and control the empire.
Today, the citizens are once again burdened, encumbered, and weighed down through unfair, inequitable taxation.
Today, those same forces – both within the empire and the self-proclaimed Temple – demand allegiance, declare who is considered “worthy” of respect and protection under their laws, and demonize anyone they consider unworthy or a threat, especially anyone who challenges the “protected classes,” they’ve established … classes that are based on race, net worth, gender, and adherence and capitulation to what is becoming an increasingly toxic theology and prejudicial morals. And anyone who challenges them are declared heretics, false prophets, and “woke.” Being “woke” is apparently the ultimate blasphemy as they see it.
Jesus said to start among your own people, your own families, your own villages … and warned that it would create division. And we’re seeing that, too.
This nation, our own people if you will, has never been more divided and even subdivided … at every single level. Families, communities and community entities like school and library boards, counties including the county entities and agencies, states … have all become battlegrounds. It has become so easy to distrust everyone, even those you’ve always been close to.
And the root of all this division and distrust is orchestrated false fears. Being taught to fear others through unwarranted, baseless demonization of those others.
We know from what the scriptures tell us that God is demanding, but also life-giving and indiscriminately merciful … His grace is extended to all … and y’all means ALL. We are repeatedly reminded that God is ever present. Jeremiah 23:24 tells us, “… “Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree— “and not a God far off? Can anyone hide out in a corner where I can’t see him?” God’s Decree. “Am I not present everywhere, whether seen or unseen?” God’s Decree.”
And yet … we have the hardest time trusting that, don’t we? We struggle to trust, believe, have faith that God is ever-present. And so, that baseless, unwarranted, false fear propagated by those who are gaining from all the division is able to take root because we don’t trust.
And it isn’t like Jesus didn’t warn us this would happen. He told us in Matthew 10:34-39 that the mission, the way he was teaching us, would divide families, that family loyalty would be subordinated, and that families would be redefined not by birth – his critique of social hierarchy sustained by lineage and hereditary wealth – but by doing God’s will.
Verse 37 tells us love for Jesus is primary. And verse 38 tells us this way of life he is teaching us is the way of the cross. Take up your cross and follow me. In other words, be willing to take all the heat – the shame, pain, social rejection, violence, humiliation, and marginalization of crucifixion. The Empire crucified those who threatened its control over society, such as traitors, violent criminals, and foreigners. The cross divided citizen from non-citizen, the accepted from the rejected.
To take up the cross is to identify with those who threaten the empire. It is to refuse to be intimidated into compliance. It is to be at cross-purposes with imperial commitments. And it is to recognize the limits of the empires power that could not keep the crucified Jesus dead!
Because on the third day, he rose from the dead!
That, friends, is our calling. If we truly want to call ourselves Christians … little Christs … followers of Christ … then we have to be willing to take up the cross. We have to be willing to challenge both the empire and those self-proclaimed “Temple” leaders that are joining forces with the empire.
It’s hard work. It’s difficult work. It’s counter-cultural work. It’s radical and rebellious work. And it’s necessary work. It doesn’t consist of defending God or our faith, but of living our faith … of preaching the gospel and only doing so with words if absolutely necessary. It means standing with the marginalized – the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the refugees both foreign and domestic, the hurting, the sick, the lost, the lonely, the prisoner – all those far too many try to victim-blame and label pariahs on “society.” It means not only defending the demonized, but doing everything in our power to humanize the demonized.
Someone commented on one of our Facebook posts recently, asking why there had been so strong a focus on the LGBTQ. The focus was there because 1) the LGBTQ are the most demonized group in this nation, a demonization of which is completely based on purposefully spread misinformation and lies, and 2) June is Pride Month and we are supporting and celebrating with our LGBTQ siblings.
Another commenter on another platform thought that our work to provide transitional housing for the homeless was the wrong solution, and that we should “go upstream and work on fixing whatever was causing them to fall in.”
No, friends, we should be doing both. The drowning person should be rescued, not left to fall-in while you focus only on why they fell in, and while rescuing the drowning, you should find out how it was they came to fall in, then do whatever you can to fix that problem as well.
It is no small wonder that the church is in decline when the loudest corner of “the church” is responsible for so much of the demonization that is happening to an ever-growing number of people. Those who are leaving and those who just said no to begin with … the Dones and the Nones … are seeing what can only be viewed as blatant hypocrisy. And I don’t blame them.
The thing is, when hate is loud, love cannot remain silent. It is our calling, our mission, to stand with the oppressed. It is our calling, our mission, to humanize the demonized, and to break the chains of human patriarchy and social hierarchy. It is our calling, our mission, to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
God who loves us and calls us,
We confess that we are not always open to receiving your call on our lives. We make excuses. We choose not to listen. We believe that others would do it better than we can.
Forgive us for all the times we say no–or nothing at all—to your call.
We confess that we value the false certainty of our own path over the uncertainty of journeying with you and one another on the path of discipleship.
Forgive us for all the ways we choose what we think we know over joining you in the holy unknown.
We confess that we value the calls of some over others, putting the paths of some up on pedestals while not recognizing the many who answer your call as quiet, behind-the-scenes disciples.
Forgive us for neglecting the beautiful and varied calls you place on each of our lives.
Forgive us, God, and free us to joyfully bear the weight of your call on our lives as members together of the Body of Christ, redeemed and united by your love.
- Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
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