A sermon given by the Rev. Teri Daily on June 21, 2020 on Matthew 10:24-39…
Arthur Orton is one of the most famous imposters in history, trying to pass himself off as Sir Roger Tichborne in England during the Victorian Era. The story goes like this…
Roger Tichborne was born into the British aristocracy in the year 1829. As a young adult, he fell madly in love with his first cousin Katherine Doughty, and she loved him back. But their families were not happy at the prospect of the two first cousins marrying one another. It’s not clear whether Roger was sent away by his family so that the love he and Katherine shared could dissipate naturally over time, or whether he chose to leave England. But the result was that, in 1853, Roger Tichborne found himself on a boat heading to South America, where he would spend ten months traveling and exploring. The last positive sightings of Sir Roger took place in Rio de Janeiro, where on April 20, 1854 he boarded a ship called Bella and headed for Jamaica. When pieces of the Bella were found at sea four days later, it was assumed that the ship had sunk, along with all the crew and travelers.
But Mrs. Tichborne, Sir Roger’s mother, remained convinced that her eldest son was still alive and, in 1863, began placing ads in newspapers offering a reward to anyone who had information about the fate of the ship Bella and the whereabouts of Sir Roger Tichborne. Two years later a butcher living in Australia and going y the name Thomas Castro came forward, claiming to be the long lost Sir Roger Tichborne. Although Castro was shorter and wider than Tichborne was remembered to be, did not know French (which had been Sir Roger’s first language), and confused Latin with Greek, still Mrs Tichborne was convinced that here was her son. She died before the identity of the man and the disposition of the inheritance in question could be decided in a court of law, and later Arthur Orton (who had used the aliases Thomas Castro and Roger Tichborne) was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for perjury.
So why wasn’t it enough for a court of law that Mrs. Tichborne had (while living) recognized and accepted this butcher from Australia as be her son Roger Tichborne? Shouldn’t that be enough for identification, enough to forego a year-long trial? Well, perhaps the jurors understood the incredible ability human beings have to delude ourselves – to live in denial, in a fantasy world.
Just think of Stephen Colbert’s word “truthiness”, which refers to the way we see certain ideas or concepts as true just because we want them to be true, despite any factual or historical or empirical evidence to the contrary. We have a shocking capacity to live in a false world, to ignore the way things really are.
We have as today’s gospel reading the second half of the missionary discourse; we heard the first half last week. Jesus speaks of the way the gospel, when truly heard, can dispel so many of the lies we tell ourselves to fit into a society constructed around false power – be that the power of Ceasar in first century Palestine, or the power of possessions and prestige and perceived security that we elevate in today’s society. As Jesus instructs the disciples on how they should travel around proclaiming the gospel, he tells them “nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” The gospel has the power to take so much of what passes for truth and to reveal it as the deceptive fiction that it really is.
Maybe you, too, have had that experience where, in a momentary flash, you glimpse a whole new way of seeing things – it’s a conversion of sorts. Perhaps an outer piety is at last recognized as the antidote to a deeper shame that lies deep within us. Or perhaps a penchant for tidiness is not so much because cleanliness is next to godliness, but because we have a need to control our surroundings. Or perhaps we suddenly grasp that true power lies not with those who can kill the body, but with the one who lovingly knows the number of hairs on our head. Or perhaps we realize that God’s grace and love does not work only in those of us who claim the Bible as our book, but that God is at work in the lives of each and every person, even when we know nothing of it – after all, it’s been said that “God has other stories, too.” Or perhaps underneath all the news headlines that pit Christians against Muslims and Republicans against Democrats and young black men against white police officers, we glimpse the loving arms that hold us all. Or perhaps despite a culture that teaches us to fear death to such an extent that we end up killing the spirit, we finally come to know the freedom a deep trust in resurrection brings.
The gospel at work in our hearts and our lives and our community uncovers all the false narratives that rule our thoughts and our actions. But here’s the thing: the longest distance we travel is often the distance between one way of seeing the world and another way of seeing the world – the longest journey we take is often one of heart and mind. As Jesus knew, it’s a distance so great that it can separate a man from his father, or a daughter from her mother, or a daughter-in-law from her mother-in-law, or someone from his or her entire family. Jesus says in this passage that he comes not to bring peace but to bring a sword – and a sword is not necessarily just an instrument of violence, it’s an instrument that cuts and divides. Once we take the gospel to be the deepest truth about the world we live in and the God who loves us all, we can never be quite at home in a world where tribalism, fear, shame, and coercion rule the day.
When we let the gospel take root in us, it changes who we are; it brings about a conversion of mind and heart; it uncovers the falsehoods that go unquestioned in our lives. The nature of an assumption is that it’s usually below the level of conscious reflection. But this week, I invite us to unearth some of the assumptions that determine how we live in this world. What does the gospel have to say about those assumptions? Do we allow our experience of God to inform our expectations? Where do we need the gospel to uncover the falsehoods of our own lives? Jesus promises that in letting the false narratives of our lives die, we will find nothing less than abundant, grace-filled life.
 “Tichborne Case,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tichborne_case.