Guest Minister -Rev. Caesar J. David, Pastor, Union Park United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa
I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones. O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
“ March forward”This passage from Matthew contains the account of Jesus calling and sending out the Twelve Apostles. When we read further in the passage (v. 16ff), Jesus lets them know that it is not an easy task that they have been given. They will have to face persecutions and hardships.
It is like soldiers being sent out to battle. And talking of battles an d soldiers, we have a very beautiful Hymn that you will be singing in this service. It’s called “Onward Christian Soldiers”. It’s a sort of controversial hymn.
The hymn began as no more than a simple processional song, something for children to sing as they crossed the village of Horbury Bridge to the parish church (Yorkshire, England). The author, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) who was a school master, later became a Pastor, in writing this hymn set the scene for the spiritual conflict between Jesus and the devil. It became controversial because of the perceived militarism in text and music (“St. Gertrude” which is the second tune used in an arrangement by George Sullivan in 1871). Now, we won’t get into the details of the Anglican / Roman Catholic ecclesial understanding of the states of Church – the Church Militant, Church Penitent and Church Triumphant, but let’s just say that history had some chapters like the Crusades, holy wars and other wars and so on. And it wasn’t easy to ignore the nationalistic and militaristic overtones of this Hymn.
It comes as little surprise, then, to learn that “Onward, Christian Soldiers” was initially to be excluded from The United Methodist Hymnal (1989). The decision was picked up by local newspapers and national broadcasters, unleashing a wave of protest from across The United Methodist Church (some eleven thousand pieces of mail were sent to the hymnal committee).
The restoration of the hymn resulted from a course of healthy debate over the use of military imagery, and recognizing its biblical and early Christian origins. People still thought that it may be dangerous in perpetuating the acceptability of religious warfare — metaphorical or otherwise.
Professor of Preaching Emeritus Thomas Long’s 2012 article in The Christian Century, “The absurd in worship,” suggests another meaning to the hymn — not in viewing the church as an entity able to militaristically destroy its enemies, but as one that “makes no advance except that of love, and has no enemy but that which undermines God’s hope for human flourishing.”
Today, if we are to consider ourselves as soldiers – Christian soldiers that are at war, it would not be incorrect, for we are indeed at war. Of what kind? Let’s see. The theme of spiritual warfare is deep in the Bible. Many Christian denominations still speak of “The Church Militant”. The Methodists define it as those “engaged in constant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil…Ephesians 6 talks about the battle gear! It says ‘put on the whole armor of God’ and it goes on to mention (Ephesians 6:10-20):
Belt of Truth. Breastplate of Righteousness.
Feet fitted with readiness to proclaim the Gospel of Peace.
Shield of Faith.
Helmet of Salvation.
Sword of the Spirit — The Word of God.
Notice who we’re fighting. Eph 6:12 says: For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Coming back to our text (I want to focus on Matthew 10:8), Jesus sent out his Apostles with very specific instructions:
Mat t 10:8a – Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
No doubt, Jesus also healed physical ailments and expects those He sends on His behalf to do the same, but there’s a deeper spiritual dimension to this and we need to understand that in the larger, scheme of Jesus’ teaching and ministry about justice, gender-justice, peace, equality, affirmative action, call to faith and service, affirmation of the Reign of God, socio-economic sensitivity and so on – what these might further mean.1. Cure the sick.
One of the main signs of being sick is being weak. And it works both ways: weakness can lead to sickness, and sickness can lead to weakness. In any case, there is a close connection for us to know that the people who are weak are sick or close to being sick. Going beyond the physical affliction and understanding it metaphorically as well, we can see that people can be weakened in the sense of being disempowered and disenfranchised. People can be divested of their power to make choices, weakened to the point of subsistence or even substandard living, or forced by circumstances to not have the strength or opportunity to make changes to lift themselves out of those circumstances.The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a great comfort in seeking to address these struggles. The Good news is that God is interested in our affairs and struggles with us for justice and peace.As people ‘called out’ and ‘sent’ to heal and cure the sick, we need to l ook at how we may bring healing to the lives of the people afflicted in every way, not only physical, but spiritual, social and economic too. Our efforts to do that may take us into the area of charity, social justice, advocacy and focusing on people in the margins of our society. It’s not easy and we may find ourselves indeed contending with the ‘powers and principalities’ of this world.2. Raise the dead
There is the obvious message for people ‘dead’ in sin – so mired in sin that this condition has removed people far from the source of life and light. If we are in that state, we can rejoice in the hope we have in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ that gives life.When we see others in this condition, we need to reflect and shine the light of Christ in a way that they are brought to the saving and life-giving knowledge of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.We may also be dead in the sense that we don’t feel anything – nothing moves us. We lose our sensitivity, our conscious is dead. If we find people around us in that state, may be, our efforts could be towards building awareness so that we would all be alive and alert to what ails us as a society and what our responsibility should be to contribute to the health of our society and world.
If we have become dispassionate or come across apathy, let’s make efforts to reignite the passion for the kind of life that God meant for us all to have as His created beings. The Good News of Jesus Christ includes abundant life for all.3. Cleanse the lepers
We know that lepers were considered unclean. They had to live on the outskirts of the town. They were not allowed to use the same resources as other people. Today, we may or may not have people around us that are afflicted with the disease of leprosy, but in our social treatment of some people we certainly have ‘social lepers’ – people that we keep far from us. And we’re not talking only about the redlining of neighborhoods. This can perhaps educate us about those that are ostracized, marginalized and relegated to live in shame or fear on the periphery of our mainstream society. Who could these people be? May be those that are of a different orientation, or people with a different skin color, or a certain race / nationality, may be disabled, may be those that hold a different ideology, and so on. When we observe systems and people that discriminate and exclude some people from mainstream activity, we must counter that with actively building up inclusive, democratic and participatory processes towards a more egalitarian society. That will cleanse the leprosy and there won’t be lepers. Can we understand that as as we do a social reading of the Gospel message?4. Cast out demons
A demon-possessed person was a person in the grip of an evil power; he or she was no longer in control of himself/herself and of their actions. The various manifestations of evil can be seen in the diabolical crimes and atrocities we see committed. For example, there are crimes against women and children, violence and injustice that are really demonic and represent forces of evil, death and destruction. When we make efforts to root out these evils, we’re participating in building up the Kingdom of God, because then we’re replacing these dark things with the Reign of God – replacing hatred with love, revenge with tolerance, selfishness with compassion, suspicion with trust, greed with caring and so on. We can bring faith, hope and love to counter the demons of our society.I hope that we are able to see what an important task we have in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world that really needs it. As we understand our responsibilities as followers of Jesus and as His apostles, we will have a sense of being at war. It indeed is! We have been given authority. We have been equipped. Let’s march in faith. Let’s march in His love and His strength. Onward Christian soldiers!God bless you.