Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 7
June 21, 2020
Lessons: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 (11-15) 16-18, Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn to die to themselves in order to find the abundant life Christ desires for all creation.
Key Scripture: Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:39
Are you ready to do some serious letting go? Jesus is pretty clear in this week’s gospel lesson that “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Letting go is both a hard and a beautiful thing. It’s hard because our culture proclaims a constant message of acquisition and scarcity. We are to amass in an effort to fill in the holes in our life, to try and make ourselves happier and more fulfilled. We’re hesitant to let go: What might happen if we don’t have what we need? Isn’t it prudent to take care of oneself and one’s family first?
Yes, it is important to meet our basic needs, but we often confuse basic needs (love, time, shelter, food, safety) with more stuff — and even more stuff! We want to be happy and fulfilled so we gravitate toward new stuff; anything that’s new, improved, or the latest model. We shower gifts on our children, knowing full well that the toys so grievously desired before Christmas have made their way to the back of the closet or bottom of the toy bin by Valentine’s Day. The desire for happiness and to give to our family members is good, but our responses are lacking, wrong-headed, and destined to prevent the fulfillment God desires.
If we curate the most desirable of lives with the requisite trappings, won’t that solve the problem of happiness and lack of fulfillment? Frankly, no, and there’s solid science to prove that more and more stuff won’t make us endlessly happier. A 2018 global study at Purdue University found that an annual income of $95,000 is the happiness saturation point and the ideal amount of income for emotional wellbeing ranges between $60,000 and $75,000.
COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for many to decouple the wealth-and-wellbeing formula. While stay-at-home orders, many people report increased appreciation for relationships, quiet time, and nature. Not being able to participate easily in retail therapy has proven beneficial for many consumers. Folks have also been decluttering during their time at home. Notice how parking lot charity bins are filled to overflowing as folks get rid of stuff. Yes, what does truly matter?
Perhaps we are learning the difference between a culture of acquisition and greedy power grabs and God’s vision for the Beloved Community that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lifted up. Maybe we really are finally serious about Black and brown bodies mattering, and we don’t get to glibly claim that all lives matter until we can truly prove it. Maybe this is why the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited a flame and galvanized a movement already long in labor pains. After more than two weeks of sustained protests in 750 U.S. cities and towns and more around the globe, the scent of hope and possibility of change is strong and sweet. Might we finally have set our nation on a course that truly aims to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people—no exceptions? Dare we hope? We will see. Jesus never promised this work would be easy or fast, but he does tell us “do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). There is still much work to be done, which brings us back to this week’s gospel lesson and the call of the church, Christ’s very body and beloved community.
Church, we cannot be silent and call ourselves Christ’s body when we continue to crucify Jesus in the form of black and brown bodies. Jesus calls us to love him above all others, including mother and father and children, saying “and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). Yes. Gulp. This is a tall order. It requires radical commitment rather than perchance pew perching. Letting go is hard holy work; the good news is that it gets easier as you go along. Letting go of societal expectations, norms, and perimeters can be a scary prospect, but is it ever freeing! So is living with way less stuff. And remember, if you’re headed toward retirement age, downsize now. Please don’t leave that pain and suffering for your children.
If your congregation is still talking about how to live into a new reality shaped by COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death and resulting protests, consider taking the “Life Losers Challenge” in the Taking Faith Home section below. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ in these times? You’ll never know until you let go and find out.
Blessings on your fearless and faithful preaching and teaching. May the world truly be about to turn.
Consider offering a coffee hour/town hall after or before worship this Sunday to ponder and discuss the following questions:
What have you had to let go of during COVID-19 quarantining? Has it bothered you to not be able to gather in person for worship, or has digital worship opened up a new world of possibilities to you? What have you missed most? Least? What has surprised you the most? Of what should your congregation let go? What one thing might you want to add? What is your purpose as Christ’s body in your particular context? What do you need to lose from your life in order to find what God really wants for you?
If you are meeting with your youth in person, even outside, please love your neighbor and insist on masks (be ready to provide some). Use this opportunity to discuss what it means for the Body of Christ (the church) to love its neighbors? Who are our neighbors? How far and how broad do we go? Invite your youth to brainstorm ways to let go in order to really live. Who do they see modeling that in the world around them? What prevents more people from letting go and living in Christ? How might our epistle lesson (Romans 6:1b-11) shed some light on the topic of letting go and living in Christ?
This week’s focus verse is Matthew 10:39 – Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
What in the world is Jesus talking about? Really? What does it mean to find my life only to lose it? And what does it mean for a person to lose their life for Jesus and find real life? What do you think it might mean?
I’m wondering if I go looking for my best life ever, I’m going to be so focused on myself and getting what I need and want and on finding the best and most that I may forget to look for Jesus. I may start to rely on my own hands and brain for my success. But here’s the thing: I’m not really in control even though I think I am. Everything I possess can be gone in an instant. I can literally lose “my life” and its worth.
On the other hand if I keep my focus on Jesus and his teachings and forget about my own wants and plans and ideas, then I may find just the life God desires for me. Christ will lead me to the places I need to be and to relationship with people I need to meet.
One way to show this idea of letting go of life to find it in Jesus is in how we will someday again make a circle holding hands. Right now we’re not actually going to do this—we’ll keep six feet in between each one of us—but imagine you reach out your left hand (palm up) to receive your neighbor’s hand. Now imagine you hold out your left hand facing down to give to your neighbor. In one action you both give and receive—you both let go and you live. Letting go to follow Jesus to real life may seem scary and bold, but Christians have been doing this for thousands of years, so we are in good company. Don’t lose heart. Trust Jesus. Love God and neighbor.
Let’s finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for calling us to let go (for calling us to let go). We know that Jesus leads us (We know that Jesus leads us) to real life (to real life). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful.). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Every single dollar makes a difference. Every single prayer changes lives. Every hour of your time helps someone else. Thank you. Together we are stronger and can make a real difference in a hurting world that so desperately needs the love of Jesus. If you have resources to share, please give via the following methods: (Fill in how your congregation receives gifts or add a QR code or link).
Stewardship at Home
Life Losers Challenge: I almost dubbed this the “greatest” loser challenge until I realized that set up a competition that Jesus wouldn’t envision for his beloved people. He just wants us to let go of anything and everything that gets in the way of our relationship with him. Jesus wants to be as important to us as every breath we take. How many things can you “lose” in order to gain real life in Jesus?
What will this challenge require?
- Total and complete honesty with yourself and others,
- A willingness to look deeply and unflinchingly within oneself, and
- A willingness to begin to make some changes and let go of things preventing you from real life.
How do we begin?
- Find an accountability partner(s). This could be done in a family, as a couple, or with friends or a small group.
- Covenant (write one and sign it) together what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. Keep your end goal big (i.e. full discipleship) but your steps to get there manageable. You might, for example, decide you need to let go of something tangible like a shopping habit. Or, you might choose to examine some of your biases that prevent you from faithfully following Jesus. White siblings might even covenant to explore racism and systemic racism in depth.
- Agree to meet once weekly for the entire summer. The meets can be digital or outdoors or however you need to meet to maintain safe social distancing.
- Ground your sessions in prayer and scripture.
How do we measure our progress?
- Discuss what you have learned about any given topic, whether its racism or consumerism or criminal justice reform. How has this caused you to lose some bias? How have you grown and changed in the process? What next step(s) will you take?
- Affirm each other’s efforts and hold one another accountable for full participation.
- Discuss how your personal growth and change might ripple outward into your congregation. How might you become a discipleship leader and encourager?
- Where do the world’s greatest needs and your greatest passion meet (Thank you, Frederick Buechner, for the original quote.)? What ministry and discipleship opportunities exist there? What concrete next steps can you take?
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/06/losers/
Images: Sebastian Appelt, Mark Turnaukas, and Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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