Sermon: Proper 7 RCL A – “Alligators in the Tub”

Photo by Jackson Jost on Unsplash

The comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag. Not knowing what to do with it, she placed it in the bathtub and then left for an appointment. When she returned home, she found this note from her housekeeper: “Dear Miss Allen: Sorry, but I have quit. I don’t work in houses where there is an alligator. I’d a told you this when I took on, but I never thought it would come up.”

I can actually appreciate that one, not that I’ve ever found an alligator in a bathtub, but these days have presented a great many things that I had never anticipated showing up in my job description. For example: did you know that when it comes to cables that run to microphones and headsets that there is the TS, the TRS, and the TRRS? Well, neither did I, which is why I invested an additional $30 on cables in trying to get the sound better. I had originally purchased the TRS when in fact I needed the TRRS—and for the record, they are not compatible. And don’t get me started on live streaming software. They keep saying “insert stream key” and I keep thinking, unless you decide to tell me where to insert the stream key, I’ma find you and use my imagination. Know what I mean. My goodness. Does that make we want to resign like Gracie Allen’s housekeeper? Not at all, because no matter the job, whether at home or in the world, there will always be those odd, unexpected, and sometimes irritable aspects of our job description and life in general. You roll with it. And these days, if you don’t roll with it, you’ll find yourself pulling out more hair than you’re losing, because the unexpected is the only thing we can expect (thankfully the murder hornet issue seems to have died off.)

We do, however, attempt to plan for the unexpected. If you try to map out every scenario and everything that could go wrong, then the only thing you’ll ever do is plan and not accomplish anything, but if you lay down some broad strokes and are charitable in defining them, you’ll at least have a starting place. That’s not only true for life in general, but also for our life with Christ and one another. St. Paul brought up baptism this morning, so let’s consider it in this context.

In the Rite of Baptism, the candidates (or their Godparents) are asked, “Do you desire to be baptized?” The response, “I do.” What does that “I do,” mean? Six questions are asked which define it: Will you renounce Satan, the evil powers of this world, your sinful nature… do you accept Jesus as your Savior, put your trust in Him and promise to follow and obey him as Lord. And the candidates respond to each of those questions, “I do.” Each one of those questions is a reaffirmation of the desire to be baptized. In saying, “I do,” you are taking on the responsibility, the “job,” of being a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. How you will accomplish the work of a disciple is given next in the Baptismal Covenant, a part of which is the Apostle’s Creed, stating what you believe, followed by the job description: continuing in the apostles’ teachings, the Eucharist, and the prayers; persevering in righteousness; proclaiming the Gospel with your life; serving others; and striving to raise up all people. This job description is laid down in very broad strokes, because it is meant to gather the entire life work of the disciple of Jesus. If we define them narrowly, we can show up to church on Sunday morning and call it good. If we define them charitably… “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is what Jesus was saying in our Gospel reading this morning.

Our reading today was from Chapter ten in Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter four we have the Temptation in the Wilderness, then Jesus calls his disciples, followed by much teaching: salt and light, lust, love of enemies, giving to the needy, The Lord’s Prayer, and more. There have also been healings and miracles: the leper, the centurion’s servant, calming the storm, the woman with demons; and then that great line: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus then gives the twelve disciples the authority to do the things that he has been doing. They too are to teach, heal, perform miracles, just as he has.

He has given them the job title: disciple. He has given them the job description: heal, teach. They have all they need to accomplish the work, so—in chapter ten, verse five—Jesus sends them out, with a few last minute instructions: go only to the lost sheep of Israel, accept no pay, take nothing extra, only one cloak, one pair of sandals, proclaim and heal in whatever village you arrive at. If they listen good, if not… thumb your nose at them and move on. They have the job title, job description and the knowledge on how to go about doing it. But remember he tells them, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In other words, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised if they think you’re the devil, they thought the same of me. Don’t be surprised if some die along the way, that also is expected (and by the way, don’t worry about it if you do, your Father in Heaven knows and loves you.) Don’t be caught off guard if your mother, father, brother, sister, friends and neighbors think you’ve slid off the cracker and want to do you harm. You should expect all these things to happen. You should expect to find alligators in the bathtub. These things are just a part of the job, but if you are faithful, “I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven.”

All this Jesus summed up in that final statement we read this morning: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who find a life apart from God—apart from the life of a disciple—will have the life they choose, but in the end they will lose it all. Those who are joined with God, becoming a true disciple, will lose—that is—freely and sacrificially give up the life they choose, so that they might have the life they were created for and fulfill the will of God.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, writes, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good… Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’”

Those twelve took the job of disciples, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be an easy road, but they gave themselves entirely in order to fulfill the will of God, because “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” You and I, we were baptized for the exact same reason as they were called, with the exact same job description. We are also called to give ourselves entirely to the fulfillment of God’s will, living testimonies to the “greater love,” remembering to expect the unexpected (like alligators in the tub!) and remembering that there will be difficulties along the way, but also knowing that Our Father in Heaven knows every hair on our heads and he loves and cares for us, therefore, as Jesus said in three different ways in this reading, “have no fear… do not fear… do not be afraid.” With boldness and without fear, fulfill the work of one who has been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perform the work of the disciple. As the Lord declared to the Psalmist (50:14-15):

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven, promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, graciously grant the same Holy Spirit to us, that Your Spirit may perfect in our souls the work of Your grace and love. Mark us, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and breathe in us all things necessary for the fulfillment of your will and our our salvation. Amen.

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