This was the message that I presented at Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church (Mason, TN) on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), August 24, 1977. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10 – 11) 22 – 30, 41 – 43; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; and John 6: 56 – 69
When I first read the Gospel and Epistle readings for today, my first thought was that being a Christian was a dangerous thing to be. But then, I thought about what Christ asks of us each day and I knew that I would call this sermon, “You Knew the Job Was Dangerous When You Took It.”
Now I must admit, and it brings embarrassment to my daughters and possibly my brothers and sister, that I am a fan of “George of the Jungle.” Now I am not talking about the movie of the same name, though I hope to see it soon, but rather the cartoon show from which the movie took its name. When I was in college, the only thing that got me out of bed on Saturday mornings was this cartoon show. As I recall, each week one of the vignettes during the half-hour show involved Superchicken and his faithful companion, Fred.
Now, no matter what happened during each episode, you could be assured that Fred would either get run over , blown up, or beaten up while the hero, Superchicken, would always walk away unscathed. And whenever Fred complained abought this obvious disparity in treatment, Superchicken would always say “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”
Even with Christians being persecuted in other countries and openly being a Christian bring ridicule in this country, being a Christian today should not be viewed as dangerous. Yes, Jesus warned us and his early followers that it would not be easy when we first go out on missions.
“I send you out like sheep among wolves; be wary as serpents, innocent as doves. Be on your guard, for you will be handed over to the courts, they will flog you in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings on my account, to testify before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10: 16 – 18)
But we certainly do not have to face the dangers that either the early Christians nor the early Methodist ministers had to face when they began preaching some two hundred years ago. Stephen was stoned for preaching the salvation from sins through Christ.
Not only were early Methodist ministers barred from preaching in the churches of England, they were also subject to crowds throwing stones at them as they preached in the open fields of 18th century England. Even John Wesley bore with pride the bruises caused by a well-thrown stones. Yet, because these ministers were in the fields preaching the Gospel, more people heard the Gospel.
Despite all this, despite the ridicule, despite the obvious persecution, the dangers we face today come more from within, because when faced with the uncertainty of tomorrow, when faced with what seems to be an impossible task, many people will choose the easy way out.
When Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan tempted him with the easy way out. But Jesus knew, as we know today, that His Kingdom could not be reached by giving in and taking the easy way, will not give us that which we seek. His message is a difficult to hear and understand if your focus is on avoiding the hard path.
This was the case for many of the early followers of Jesus. Jesus spoke of the bread of life and how it brings the gift of eternal life. Many of his disciples could not accept this teaching.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
The message of God’s love for us, of our salvation from sin by the Grace of God did not often fit with the desire of some of these early followers for an earthly king who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Wanting freedom from the oppressive Roman government, they were not willing to seek the heavenly kingdom and freedom from sin that Christ offered. Faced with the unknown, faced with the challenge of understanding Jesus’ message, many followers just were not willing to continue following Jesus. So they took the easy way out and left his group.
Understanding Jesus’ message is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, our best choice is not to leave but to stay. Consider what Peter said to Jesus in response to Jesus’ asking if they wanted to leave as well.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus knew that not every one who began following him was going to be with him at the end. The mystery of faith is not always immediately obvious and often times we do not wish to make such leaps of faith. And in a society which likes to see its results now, having to wait is not the desired answer. But faith must be taken as it is. In Hebrews 11:1 we read “Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see”.
Each day, we face some new challenge and we must decide which way we are going to go. When the troubles of the world start getting to us, when it seems like there is nothing that we can do, how will we react?
One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid. To be afraid is doubly an injury to him. Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful. (From Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld)
And as Solomon noted in his dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem, God is always with us.
Secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear. Let us then have the faith that banishes fear. Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us. (Meditations of a Hermit by Charles de Foucauld)
When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, he closed with
“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name — for men will hear of your great name and your might hand and your outstretched arm — when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people of Israel, and may know that this house I have build bears your Name.
The temple was there for all who heard God speaking to them and the invitation to come to Christ was there even then. If we come to Christ, if we open our heart to Him, then we gain what we need to meet any dangers that we might encounter. Mother Theresa tells us
Put yourself completely under the influence of Jesus, so that he may think his thoughts in your mind, do his work through your hands, for you will be all-powerful with him to strengthen you. (A Gift for God by Mother Theresa)
Paul told the church at Ephesus, in a similar time of trouble and danger
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand. Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
When we open our hearts to Christ, we find that no matter what we face, we are able to face it with the confidence that the Lord is with us. The invitation to come to the Lord has been here since long before we were on this earth.
There are dangers in the world, even today. Being a Christian will do nothing to change that. But being a Christian, accepting Christ as our personal Savior means that no job will ever be a dangerous one and we can go forward secure in our lives.