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.
Genesis 21:8-21 – Abraham and Sarah cast off Hagar, the slave woman and her child.
Psalm 86:1-10 – Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. In the day of trouble I call upon you, for you answer 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.
Many thanks to Pastor Don Carlson for preparing these reflections on the texts:
We now move into the long green time after Pentecost that has traditionally been called Ordinary Time. 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 three times during the season. And perhaps some kind of – or several – sermon series could be based on the gospel readings [see above].
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 do our people understand the reign of God to be? 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. U.S. Americans believe unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, that the reign of God, God’s justice will be brought about only by violence (others, of course, project the whole thing into an afterlife). We would do well to remember the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. 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.”
Even if you don’t do a “sermon series” per se, a red thread of the “kingdom of heaven” running through sermons this summer –would be wise – and not a subtle thread at that!
Throughout the summer there will be two options for the old testament text. One is a text that provides backdrop for the Gospel reading. The other is part of the continuous reading through for the Hebrew Scriptures.
One of the assigned texts is a sample 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 God’s call 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.
Ask your people: “What’s burning fire is shut up with your bones?”
“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.
Some will hear this text as a call to violence, but read in context with all of Jesus other saying it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking euphemistically about the struggle that people will have if they choose to engage the kingdom. Jesus scolds Peter for cutting off the soldier’s ear. He says those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus raises no army and advocates no violence for the kingdom. He simply recognizes what will be lived out in the crucifixion: proclaiming the gospel will stir stuff up.
Still, 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. If we are going to start an ongoing sermonic focus on the kingdom of heaven, we should be upfront 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.
“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.”