First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
7O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed; you were too powerful for me,and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.8For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long9If I say, “I will not mention the Lord, or speak any more in the name of the Lord,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
10For I hear many whispering:“Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.“Perhaps Jeremiah can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”
11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For the Lord has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.
As I read this verse during the past week I was surprised at how much I identified with the prophet and with the people in this passage. Lately I have felt that every time I preach I am preaching into a world of violence and destruction; that every Sunday there seems to be an event of magnitude that must be addressed. I confess that it has felt to me lately that I have been feeling weary. I also identify with the people in this passage who are tired of hearing about the current events and want only good news. Yet, the verse that sticks in my being is verse 9: If I say, “I will not mention the Lord, or speak any more in the name of the Lord,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” I am weary of holding it in. Our world is changing, Covid-19 is forcing us to think about what loving our neighbor looks like in an age of pandemic, and stretching our limits when it comes to worshipping together; the recent riots and protests have a renewed energy that seems to suggest that those of us who are part of the dominant culture are truly, honestly, beginning to look at the racism that exists and that we are beginning the difficult and real work of owning our part and working to change. God is changing us, moving through this world in a way that challenges us to go beyond our boundaries and the things we have always known. God is placing a message in us that we cannot ignore or keep silent about!
It may seem as though each message, each week is heavy and difficult to sit with; but isn’t that the work of faith? We are called to live in the world and when the way we have always done things comes up against what Jesus tells us we are called to do we are called to wrestle, and do the difficult work of repentance and change. We are called to speak to God’s fire of love and justice–we cannot hold it in. This week I wonder, what are we called to change in our lives? What are we called to proclaim and live out?
Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
1bShould we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore 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.
5For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
This passage follows the thread of change. When we are brought into the family of God through Christ we die to our old selves; because Christ died for the entire Kosmos, the world itself also dies to sin. What is the sin that we find our society dying to? The recent unrest has shown us that we have not fully reconciled ourselves with our past–we the American people have not done the work of acknowledging and atoning for our own sins toward those whose skin is different than ours. We have had moments when we have tried this work, moments of pain and of growth in our country when we have worked to become better. This is one of those moments. We know from scripture, from Jesus’ own words, that the Kingdom of God has no place for hatred or inequality. We know that God’s Kingdom is one in which we are all valued and loved as beloved of God in Christ Jesus. We know that God calls us to work toward this kind of justice in the world we live in now.
We followers of Christ are called to die to our own sin and to be part of the death of systems that oppress others. We are called to proclaim God’s justice and we are invited to be workers alongside Christ in the Kingdom. In this time of reform, let us be part of the renewal. Let us take strength from Christ and work together for the renewal of our world, let us die to inequality, injustice and hatred and let us rise to see all people as part of the Body of Christ.
Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
[Jesus said:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of the master’s household!”
26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For I have come to set a son against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and in-laws against one another;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Change is never easy. What is the saying, “nothing worth doing is ever easy”. In this passage Jesus not only reminds us that following him is not easy, he reminds us that it is not peaceful either. Here Jesus is stating that he is not a peaceful figure–at least not in the way that we think–he didn’t come thinking that following him would be easy or acceptable. He is proclaiming that the will of God is contrary to the will of this world. He is proclaiming that to follow him means to be constantly at odds with the world and with the values of the world.
Jesus is divisive if we take him seriously. If we take the Gospel seriously and dedicate ourselves to following a God who elevates the poor and schools the over-religious, if we dedicate ourselves to a God who would become human and frail in order to for us to become righteous, we are dedicating ourselves to a God who will divide the world.
For this God, the God of grace and truth, calls us to die to our old selves and promises the upheaval of the status quo. With his very actions of healing the hurting, engaging with the “untouchable” and talking to the outcast Jesus demonstrates that God does not hold to our rules, but instead shatters our boundaries and challenges us to live out God’s radical love.
This is bound to cause conflict
Not just with others who may disagree, but within ourselves. If we are to be followers of Christ then we must be willing to accept that we have been the Pharisees, the Pharoah’s, the wicked selfish ones and the ignorant ones. We have been the oppressors and the willfully ignorant as much as we have been the wounded in need of God’s grace. To be truly changed we experience the conflict within ourselves that comes with realizing that we have not lived as God would have us live, and to be truly changed we must undertake the work of change.
In all of our readings today we are shown that God is the One who transforms the world, who destroys evil and injustice and who calls us to die to our own sin so that we may have new life as beloved of God in Christ.