Jeremiah 20:7-13 – O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 – Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress-make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.
Romans 6:1b-11 – 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Matthew 10:24-39 – Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. …and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
We now move into the long green time after Pentecost. It’s always good to somehow break up the time; which, aside from a few festival Sundays, will be with us until November 16th. I have often changed the liturgy setting 3 times during the season. And perhaps some kind of – or several – sermon series could be based on the gospel readings. Here’s what’s coming up between now and the end of August.
|6/22||10:24-39||Not peace, but a sword…|
|6/29||10:40-42||Welcomes you, welcomes me…|
|7/6||11:16-19, 25-30||Come to me all who are weary…|
|A sower went out…|
|7/20||13:24-30, 36-43||Enemy sowing weeds…|
|7/27||13:31-33, 44-52||Mustard seed, treasure, pearl…|
|8/3||14:13-21||Feeding the 5000…|
|8/10||14:22-33||Jesus walks on water, Peter sinks…|
|8/17||15:10-28||What defiles a person…|
|8/24||16:13-20||Peter’s confession of Christ…|
|8/31||16:21-28||Take up your cross and follow…|
In Matthew, both John and Jesus come proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew is all about Jesus – the new Moses – teaching what discipleship and life in the kingdom of heaven is all about. As we heard in the gospel for Holy Trinity, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
I think a series of sermons that help people think about the “now and not yet” kingdom of heaven would be useful. What is their vision of and for it? How do they as individuals and a congregation participate in it? What are the kingdom’s challenges and the assurances? Jesus’ message in Matthew was about the kingdom of heaven. Question: “Do we sometimes run the risk of truncating Jesus’ message about the kingdom into a message about Jesus?”
It’s not insignificant that when you Google images for “Kingdom of Heaven” the first pages are filled with stills from the 2005 movie of the same name; directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” and “Blackhawk Down” fame. This movie is equally combative with the crusaders being the protagonists and the Muslims being the antagonists as they fight over which “vision” of the kingdom will prevail. Yes, it’s just a movie, but I think that there is precisely this understanding of the kingdom among some Christians. (Others, of course, project the whole thing into an afterlife.) It brings to mind the line from a hymn which serves as a counterpoint, “For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”
I probably won’t do a “sermon series” per se, but there will be the red thread of the “kingdom of heaven” running through my sermons this summer – and not a subtle thread at that!
The assigned text is one of Jeremiah’s complaints. He doesn’t want to bring the word against Pashhur because he suffers for it when he does. And yet, God has a hold on him, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'”
Like the prophet Jonah, a part of him wants to get away – far away. And yet, when he tries, “…then within me there is something life a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary holding it in, and I cannot.”
What an apt reflection of our life as disciples in and for the kingdom of heaven! It’s just like when Matthew ends his gospel with his ascension and great commission account; which we had last week for Holy Trinity: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” The Greek for “but some doubted” is οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν; “edistasan” – they “two stood”; shifted from on stance to another; were conflicted; perhaps “ambivalent”.
That’s the way it is when we encounter and are touched by the kingdom of heaven. Part of us wants to embrace it; part of us wants to run away. The kingdom of heaven generates within each of us the ultimate “approach avoidance conflict“; which brings us to the gospel reading.
“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! … Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. … and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Now there’s a recruitment campaign for discipleship! And the words probably reflect what that was going in within synagogues and families as the tension increased between those that worshipped and followed Jesus as Messiah and those that waited for another. In many ways – as they would later learn – “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) is a rose with thorns on its stem.
But in the midst of Jesus’ ominous words also comes this assurance, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
There you have it: the approach avoidance conflict that is the kingdom of heaven. That’s where we live; at least, that’s where I live. And I think that, if we are going to start an ongoing sermonic focus on the kingdom of heaven, I think we should be up front and honest about our “two footed ambivalence”. The kingdom of heaven, because of who we are and because of our bondage to sin, is both appealing and appalling. So…
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Don Carlson