In the gospel passage for today, Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (10:32-33). Today we will explore what it means to acknowledge Jesus Christ. To do so, however, we first have to put this statement of Jesus in context.
This statement about acknowledging or denying Jesus comes in a section of the Gospel According to Matthew in which Jesus is sending his twelve disciples out on a mission trip. He is giving them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness (10:1). Before sending them out he tells them what they are to expect as they go about doing his work. He says that they should expect to suffer persecutions (10:16-25). He urges them to be courageous while being persecuted (10:26). He tells them to take strength from the fact that those who will persecute them may be able to kill their bodies, but they are not able to kill their souls (10:28). Their souls belong to God and are under God’s care. God cares for them so much that God counts even all the hairs on their heads (10:31). And then Jesus says the two verses we are considering today: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (10:32-33). Just what does Jesus mean when he talks about acknowledging him?
If we consider the context in which this statement is set, we get a clue about what acknowledging Jesus is all about. His disciples are being sent out on a mission trip to cast out unclean spirits and to cure disease and sickness. In other words, they are to do what Jesus has done when he has been on a mission trip. Jesus taught in the synagogues, preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, and healed people, and that’s what the disciples are to do. They are disciples of Jesus and they are to do what Jesus did. Acknowledging Jesus, then, is about doing what Jesus did.
We in the twenty-first century can have a hard time relating to casting out unclean spirits and curing disease and sickness in that way. We know about the science of illness. We know about germs, bacteria, and viruses. But people in Jesus’ day and age didn’t have the scientific knowledge that we have today, so they called the cause of illness “unclean spirits.”
Just because our culture now has scientific knowledge and uses a different language to describe illness, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t relate to what Jesus was saying. The idea that there are “evil forces in the world that manifest themselves in various ways” is still a valid idea. We know when we’re around someone or something that has negative, destructive, life-killing energy. And we know when we’re around someone or something that has positive, creative, life-giving energy. Love is, basically, energy, either feeling energy or action energy. And hate is, basically, energy, either feeling energy or action energy. When you are praying for someone you are, essentially, loving that person – you are sending her loving energy. And, when you are cursing someone you are, essentially, hating that person – you are sending him hateful energy. When Jesus spoke of unclean spirits, he was talking about negative, destructive, life-killing energy.
Jesus gave the disciples authority over unclean spirits, which means he gave them authority over negative, destructive, life-killing energy. And he asked them to cast out this energy and to heal the illness it had created. We tend to think of this illness as physical illness, but it could just as easily be emotional illness, psychological illness, spiritual illness, or social illness. The disciples were to cast out any negative, destructive, life-killing energy with which they came into contact and they were to heal any illness that energy had caused. In this way, they would be acknowledging Jesus; they would be doing what he would do; they would be fulfilling his mission.
To acknowledge Jesus, then, is to be a faithful disciple. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master” (10:24-25). If we are to acknowledge Jesus, we are to be like him.
Jesus was the supreme manifestation of the love of God. He brought all that positive, creative, life-giving energy of the love of God to earth. Hildegaard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess who lived in the 12th Century, described Jesus as,
“Love appearing in a human form, the Love of our heavenly Father . . . Love – in the power of the everlasting Godhead, full of exquisite beauty, marvelous in its mysterious gifts.”
And, in a vision, the figure of Love she described spoke to her and said,
“I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every spark of life, and I emit nothing that is deadly. I decide on all reality. With my lofty wings I fly above the globe. With wisdom I have rightly put the universe in order. I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows. I gleam in the waters. I burn in the sun, moon and stars. With every breeze, as with invisible life that contains everything, I awaken everything to life.”
While Jesus was alive, those who came into contact with that positive, creative, life-giving energy of the love of God who wanted to be made well were made well. But those who came into contact with that energy who did not want to be made well remained ill. Think of the many people Jesus healed: the Gerasene demoniac, the woman with a hemorrhage, the Centurion’s servant, the official’s daughter. They sought him out, received the energy of the love of God he gave them, and were made well. But think of the many who opposed him: the Pharisees, the scribes, the Roman authorities. They loved their power and position more than they loved God, which means that they were spiritually sick. They fought against the energy of the love of God that Jesus offered them and remained ill. And, in their illness, they killed Jesus.
This is why Jesus warned the disciples that they would be the victims of persecution if they acknowledged him as he asked them to do. Essentially, he said, “If you go out into the world and proclaim the love of God with your voice and with your actions there will be people who won’t like it. They will love their power and position, their safety and comfort more than they love God. They will try to silence your voice and stop your actions. In the process, they may hurt you. They may even kill you. But be strong. For, though they may kill your body, they may not kill your soul. As long as you are acknowledging me by proclaiming the love of God, your soul will be alive and well.” Paul the apostle said in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. . . . So you . . . must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:3-4, 11).” Our souls are alive to God in Christ Jesus, and no human being can kill them. They belong to God and God will care for them.
When we witness the negative, destructive, life-killing energy that manifests itself in various ways in our world and we do not try to cast it out and heal the illness it has caused, we are denying Jesus. We are not being faithful disciples. We are not participating in his mission. Jesus said, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:38). This is a painful thought because, like the first disciples, if we do as Jesus asks us to do and acknowledge him, there will be people who won’t like it, and who will not like us, and who will try to stop us. Jesus is asking us, his present-day disciples, to take up the cross of his mission, which is a challenging, difficult, and, perhaps, even painful thing to do. But he promises that, in doing so, we will find life, life as God wants to give it to us. Jesus said, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39).
As faithful disciples we must look around us and see where the negative, destructive, life-killing energy – the energy that Jesus called “unclean spirits” – is manifesting itself. And then we must do what we have to do to cast it out and to cure the illness it has caused. This is what Jesus asks us to do. Doing so can be as simple as caring for someone who is sick, making sure that they see a doctor and picking up their prescriptions for them, or as complex as insuring that our healthcare system insures that those people who, for whatever reason, don’t have the means to see a doctor or buy prescriptions, can get the health care they need to survive and thrive. It can be as simple as fulfilling the recycling regulations in our community so that we cut down on pollution, or as complex as forcing manufacturing companies to be responsible toward the environment through legislation. It can be as simple as educating ourselves about political candidates and their views and then voting responsibly, or as complex as starting and managing a letter writing campaign to our representatives on an important issue. It can be as simple as donating food to a shelter, or as complex as figuring out why there are homeless people in our community and then doing something about the cause of homelessness. However the “unclean spirits” are manifesting themselves, we are to cast them out and heal the wounds they have caused. This is what we are to do if we want to participate in the positive, creative, life-giving energy that was with God from the beginning, that was concentrated in Jesus while he was on earth, and that lives on in the movement of the Holy Spirit and the light of Christ.
We are about to sing the hymn, “I Danced in the Morning.” It is written in the first person, and the speaker is Jesus Christ. The hymn begins with, “I danced in the morning when the world was begun, and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth; at Bethlehem I had my birth,” and it ends with, “They cut me down and I leap up high; I am the life that will never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in Me: I am the Lord of the Dance, said He. Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said He, and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He.”
Jesus will lead us in the Dance of Life, the Dance that the unclean spirits can never, never stop; the Life that the unclean spirits can never, never kill. Jesus will lead us, if we will only acknowledge him as he asks us to do. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Sunday, June 12, 20016, the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost.
 James M. Efird. In The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition. Paul J. Achtemeier, General Editor, with the Society of Biblical Literature. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 236-237.
 Matthew Fox. Illuminations of Hildegaard of Bingen. Santa Fe: Bear & Company, 1985, 39.
 Fox, 39-40.