Sheep Among Wolves

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Romans 5:1-8, St. Matthew 9:35-10:23


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the one who strengthens us to endure until the end. Amen.

We are justified, Paul tells us, by grace through faith in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. But to what end? In this season after Pentecost, reading the Epistle to the Romans in light of Christ’s Ascension, the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles, and last week’s Trinity Sunday command for the Church to go forth, what does our salvation really mean?

It’s not some object to be put up on a shelf like a trophy in order that we might boast about how special we are. Rather, in Christ’s death, we are invited to live into the peace of the coming Kingdom, a restored creation. In our justification, we are given the grace to be the people God created us to be, to live the lives that our Lord always intended for us.

Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, that new life is flowing through us, transforming us, strengthening us to live into our salvation, to live holy lives worthy of our calling.

And in sending out the apostles, Christ tells us what such holy living looks like: the freedom to go out into the world, to be laborers in the harvest. It’s authority over unclean spirits, to point towards the cure of this sin-sick world. We have been sent with the power to cast out the demonic powers, to invite those dead in sin to live in Christ.

This mission is dangerous. We are like sheep in the midst of wolves. We saw in Buffalo this past week the dangers even in our own nation, when Catholic activist Martin Gugino was shoved to the ground by police who left him in a pool of his own blood. We’ve seen priests attacked by police on church grounds at Saint John’s at Lafeyette Park.

It’s a long, tragic tradition among the saints. This week, we will lament the fifth anniversary of the death of the Rev. Clem Pinckney and eight other martyrs at Mother Emanuel who died in their own church at the hands of an unabashed white supremacist (and we mourn, knowing that their murderer came from among us, raised and confirmed in an ELCA congregation). Saint Oscar Romero was murdered at the Altar while celebrating the Eucharist. John Lewis and the Rev. Hosea Williams, along with more than five hundred marchers, were beaten to near-death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Sixteen hundred years before that, Saint John Chrysostom was banished from Constantinople for speaking on behalf of the poor. And three centuries prior to that, Saint Paul and Silas were imprisoned for casting out a demon from an enslaved woman, enraging those who profited from this woman’s bondage to man and demon. To denounce the cruel, fallen powers of this world and to affirm that Christ is Lord – it’s a dangerous mission.

Our Lord was clear in his warning to the first apostles: you will be handed “over to councils [and flogged]; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me….Brother will betray brother to death…and you will be hated by all because of me.”

And so today, when we do the difficult-but-grace-filled work of living into the restored creation, when we proclaim the Kingdom of God, when we say that black lives matter, that despite inequality before the law, our black and brown kindred are just as worth as respect, are just as beloved by God as any one of us, when we decry police brutality, we do so in the full knowledge that it is a costly act of discipleship.

But, our Lord tells us, the saints will endure: through ill speech and slander, through tasers and tear gas, through attack dogs and rubber bullets, through beating and flogging, even through beheading and crucifixion, we have the sure confidence that Christ gives us life. The glory of that life triumphs over any evil the powers and principalities can throw at us.

And because the glorious promise of life in Christ triumphs over the powers of sin and death, we can boast even in our suffering. In suffering, we endure by the grace of God, and in enduring, we see the hope of all: Jesus the Christ our Lord has vanquished death and shall set all things to right.

Amen.

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