Friday, February 26, 2016

Gentle and Wise (Matthew 10:16-23) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Before going to Europe on business, a man drove his Rolls-Royce to a downtown New York City bank and went in to ask for a loan of $5,000.  The loan officer asked if he had collateral.  The man replied, "Here are the keys to my Rolls-Royce."  The surprised loan officer had the car driven into the bank's underground parking for safe-keeping and gave him $5,000.

One week later, the man walked through the bank's doors and asked to settle up his loan and get his car back. "That will be $5,000 in principal and $15.40 in interest," the loan officer said. The man wrote out a check and started to walk away.  "Wait sir," the loan officer said. "While you were gone, I found out you're a millionaire.   Why in the world would you need to borrow $5,000?"  The man smiled. "Where else could I safely park my Rolls-Royce in Manhattan for one week and only pay $15.40?"

Yes, in this life it doesn't hurt be clever, to be adroit, to be shrewd, to be on guard.  We are wary of scams today, like identity theft scams, telephone scams, internet investment scams, lottery scams, credit card scams, vacation/holiday trip scams and elder abuse swindles.  Have you ever been the victim of a scam?  I have.  You feel like a fool.

In our lesson from Matthew, Jesus calls the twelve disciples together to send them out on a mission in the world.  To prepare them, Jesus gives them a pep talk, but unlike any pep talk I've heard before.  It's not Come on guys, you can do it, I'm with you, your the best, your the greatest, get out there and give it your all.”  It's more like a reality check, a sober warning about their future.  Jesus says: “I’m sending you out just like sheep among wolves.  So be wise as snakes and gentle as doves.”  Other translations read: “Be shrewd or cautious as snakes and innocent as doves.”  “Beware!  Be vigilant!  Watch out!  Keep your wits about you!  Be kind!  Be gentle, keep your eyes open and don't be led astray.”

Jesus juxtaposes snakes and doves and exhorts his followers to imitate them.  A cute little gentle warm dove and a cold blooded reptile.  Anyone here like snakes?  A snake is not exactly a warm-fuzzy figure of speech.  I want you disciples to be like snakes and doves.  I don't know if Jesus could have found a more striking contrast in metaphors.  Boxer Muhammad Ali used to say:  “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”  Similar figures of speech don't you think?

Jesus says: “I’m sending you out into a dangerous world.  You are like sheep among wolves.”   Jesus is being realistic, not pessimistic.   He knew his followers would be persecuted in his name.  He knew people would try to fool and deceive them.  He knew they would be harassed by political and religious leaders.  He knew they would be condemned by people.   He knew that they would face spiritual warfare from Satan.   He deeply loved the disciples.  He had trained them for three years.  He had traveled with them from town to town.  He wanted to give them a sobering picture of what they would face in their mission.

It reminds me of when we went white water river rafting in CO.  You first sign a release on your life.  The guide then gathers the group together and spends ten minutes telling you of all the dangers you could face on the river, like crashing into huge boulders, large branches that can tear into your raft, getting caught in floating debris and being pulled under your raft, being thrown out of the raft and drowning and then she would say:  “OK is everyone already for an adventure?”

What is Jesus saying?  Strike a balance in your Christian faith and life.  Strive to find that balance.  It's a worthy goal.  And this takes time, it takes experiences, it takes spiritual maturity.  Finding that balance is a mark of spiritual maturity.  It takes prayer, turning to God, asking God to help you find that balance in terms of how you deal with people.   A balance between wisdom and compassion, between using cold hard logic and being gentle, between your brain and your heart, in order to accomplish God’s purpose in your life.    Jesus is saying walk the line between the two extremes of being a snake and a dove.   Both are necessary in life.

Jesus is further saying examine your own life.  Where are you too much like a snake and not enough like a dove?  Where are you too much like a dove and not enough like a snake?  If you only act like a snake toward others what’s the problem?  You will become cynical, closed-minded and not trust anyone. You will become unfeeling and lack empathy.  You will be constantly on guard and wary, ready to pounce on someone if you feel they are a threat. You will become hard and unmerciful so that you won’t be an effective witness to Jesus.

But if you only act like an innocent dove toward others, you will be gullible, na├»ve, easily taken advantage of and fooled by people.  You will lose respect and you won’t be an effective witness to Christ. You must have tough minds and tender hearts.  How is your mind?  How is your heart?

We encounter perplexing and complicated challenges today and the right decision is not always  clear.  We meet all kinds of people, moral and immoral, in this life and we must make judgments about them.  I remember Judi Hauser informing our Women’s Association of the latest scam toward the elderly.  The phone rings: “Hi, grandma, this is your grandson, I’m in trouble, please send me a check.”  Except it isn't your grandson.  Texans have a saying when someone tries to pull a fast one and sneak something by them: "This ain't my first rodeo."

Do Jesus' words apply today?  Clearly they do.  There are people who will use or abuse you, or prey upon you or manipulate you or deceive you.  Don’t be gullible or fooled.   On the other hand there are people in genuine need of our Christ-centered kindness and mercy and generosity and gentleness as well.   Jesus is saying when you follow me, you must embody these antitheses in your life – be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

Jesus' words apply to me.  I recall some years ago when Nancy and I invested some money into a real estate project.  I spoke to the CEO who told me he was a former Lutheran pastor, that we would get a good return on our investment, that there was nothing to worry about and that we would be receiving monthly dividends.  When no checks came I tried to reach him but he was always out and never returned my phone calls.  I finally spoke to a lawyer in my congregation.  He asked:  “Did you vet him?  Did you research him and his company?”  I said “No, he told me he was a former Lutheran pastor and that was enough for me.”  My lawyer friend shook his head and said, “Alan, stick to pastoring and preaching, why didn't you call me, from now on get my advice before you do any more investing.”   I felt like a fool.

Jesus' words apply to grandparents.  I recall when our 2 &1/2 year old grandson Wyatt said, “Grampa, let's race.”  I said, “OK.  Wyatt.”   He said: “I'll count to three and then run.”  He counted to three and I started running.  I looked to my side and didn't see him, so I looked behind me, and there he was looking back at me, laughing and running in the opposite direction.  He had tricked grampa.   I learned about that little guy that day.  I was a little wiser.

Jesus' words apply to parents.  Being a parent is a rewarding and joyful role and a responsible and demanding one.  Don’t let pride keep you from asking others for advice or help on occasion.  Be wise in setting and holding to boundaries, persevere in disciplining when needed and holding kids accountable, so they learn responsibility and respect and consequences.  Be constant in loving and encouraging, in being patient and compassionate.   Be devoted despite the culture, to raising them in the Lord, and in imparting to them your values, convictions and faith.

Jesus words apply to children.  It's sad but necessary to teach our children to be careful and not to talk to strangers.  We send children mixed messages and yet we must - to trust people and not to trust people.   Why?  There are unscrupulous folks who count on our gullibility, on our credulousness, who bet on the chance that we will believe their false story and trust them.  But on the other hand, as parents, we want our children to grow to be confident, self-assured, kind, courageous and willing to try new things, we don't want our children to be afraid of everyone and everything.

Jesus words apply to young people.  Unquestionably, peer pressure is a reality.  Peer pressure can be positive or negative.  Peer pressure for sports or academic excellence or school activities or church or family or following Jesus is one thing.  Pressure to do get involved with drugs, smoking, drinking, sex, cheating, not studying, dropping out of school, vandalism, gangs is something else.

Young people need to be wise and turn away from peer pressure which run counter to their basic faith and values?   They need the wisdom to ask for help or support from parents or adults whom they trust.   They need the faith to go to God for guidance and strength.

Jesus says to all who follow Him: “Be wise in your Christian witness.”  Be of good courage.  Stand up for Jesus.  Speak up for Jesus.  Look for opportunities to pray or say a word about your faith. But when you witness and when you serve, do it with kindness, humility, gentleness, and compassion.

Jesus demonstrated a tough-mindedness and tender-heartedness throughout his ministry.  He traveled to villages healing people racked with disease and sickness.   Jesus said to the crowd who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery, and were quoting from the Law, “Let anyone among you who has not sinned cast the first stone.”  And one by one, people in the crowd left.  Then Jesus said to the woman: “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one sir.”  And Jesus said:  “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way and from now on do not sin again.

Jesus' teaching applies to your families, your friends, your colleagues and neighbors.  When we can no longer feel the pain of others, when we are no longer moved by human suffering because we have grown callous and hard our own humanity is at stake.  And we need to repent and pray to God to warm our hearts and help us feel once again and be able to show tenderness so Christ can use us for His glory.

A woman wrote about being visited by a Christian friend: “You come to me, one who is hurting; you help to soothe my pain.  You comfort me, feelings not skirting, and help me make issues plain.  You bend to me the helpful, listening ear, confusion flees as birds.  You help me make my many thoughts clear by your reflective words.  When I faced a very difficult woe, it helped knowing you cared.  Your fine encouragement helped me grow as love with me you shared.   When I was in the middle of grief, you weren’t ashamed of tears.  You gave me such relief and helped release my fears.  Your kindness was shown, for through you came advice from God above.  You gave honor to God’s holy name and showed me God’s great love.  You brought a blessing to this my place.  God worked in me through you.  I am saved entirely by his grace, and he has made me new.”

Where in your life do you need to be wise?  Where in your life do you need to be gentle?   A French Philosopher said: “No one is strong, unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.  Pray for God‘s blessing to find that balance in your life, so you can be an effective witness to Jesus Christ in your mission.  Amen!

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