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Pentecost 3A – June 21, 2020
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.
If you did not observe the Commemoration of the Emanuel Nine last week and wish to this week, there are some reflections in my post from last week: Remembering the Emanuel Nine. That post also has a summary of the texts in the Revised Common Lectionary for this summer. They can also be found on my blog under Lectionary A.
We are into the time after Pentecost that has traditionally been called Ordinary Time. These times, however, are far from ordinary.
7O 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. 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 long. 9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” 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 he 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 he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.
This seems like a good time to reflect on the prophetic voice. The prophets speak up for the poor and marginalized: for the orphan, the widow and the alien. This doesn’t make them popular. As someone once said, “If you aspire to be a prophet, first make sure you look good on wood.”
Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, is a reluctant prophet. The Word of the Lord had come to him, 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.” Jeremiah tried everything to get out of it. “I’m not a very good speaker… I’m too young…” (1:5)
Jeremiah is a pre-exilic, Southern Kingdom prophet. Called at age 20 (626 BC) to prophecy the fall of the southern kingdom, his book in the Bible is written by his secretary Baruch (36:4-32). The events of Jeremiah cover 20 years (626-585 BC), under kings Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, until the fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (chapter 52). This is a political book. Judah is being squeezed by Egypt to the Southwest, Assyria in the North, and Babylon to the East. It is an anxious time.
Jeremiah denounced the king, political leaders and the clergy.
- He denounced extramarital affairs.
- He denounced the rich for exploiting the poor.
- He denounced the people’s love for chasing after the newest god, and newest religion.
- He denounced the religion of the Temple, saying that if they thought all that mumbo jumbo would get them closer to God, they had another thing coming.
- When some of them started indulging in human sacrifice, he took a clay pot and smashed it to smithereens, telling them that was what God was going to do to them if they kept it up.
- He told them that the Babylonians were going to come and rip them to shreds, which they did in 586 B.C.
- He told them if they were so crazy about circumcision, they ought to think above their navels, and try circumcising their hearts.
- The only hope he saw for them is that someday God would put the Law in their hearts instead of in books.
By chapter 20, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is threatening to overrun the country. Jeremiah is issuing warnings, and for this he is taking heat. What we hear in this text is Jeremiah’s lament. No one is listening. I am a laughingstock. You got me into this. I didn’t ask for this. You enticed me. You overpowered me.
Being a prophet is no easy business. Just ask those who were stoned to death. Ask Jesus. Ask Martin Luther King, Jr. You don’t get into this business because it seems like a fun line of work. It could lead to a vocational crisis, as it has for Jeremiah, according to Luther Seminary prof Terence Fretheim. Pastors and deacons often find themselves in this bind. God has placed a word on your heart that your people don’t want to hear, but they pay your salary. If you sense that you are called to be a prophet you might check to see if it comes with dental.
Tired of his own message of “violence and destruction,” the Word of the Lord has become a vexing burden for him. He would rather preach a sermon on the “Four steps to a joyful life,” but these are not the times, and that is not the message he has been given.
Jeremiah considers abandoning his prophetic vocation, but when he tries, there is something like a burning fire in his bones. He tries to hold it in but cannot. Have you ever felt that way? The message within you cannot be contained? One recalls similar words from the apostle Paul: “An obligation has been placed upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
What message has God placed on your heart? What is the word that is so compelling it must be spoken, even if you’d frankly rather not? How can that word be spoken in a way that it can be heard? How can we speak the truth in love? Will we preach sermons about things that matter?
What then are we to say? Should 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 him 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.
Paul may have written Romans during the winter of 56-57 AD, during his third missionary journey, while staying at the home of Gaius. We know Romans was written after he had taken his collection for Jerusalem, but before he had delivered it. (Romans 15:25-29). This means it was written after the Corinthian correspondence. In 16:1 Paul commends to the Romans Deacon Phoebe of Cenchreae (a seaport of Corinth), so it seems he could very well be writing Romans from Corinth, where he stayed the winter before his Spring trip to Jerusalem.
Rome is a city of 400,000 people. Around 10% are Jewish. Paul is writing to Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 AD, but then died in 54. When Nero took over, he probably rescinded the order. Still, the Jewish population of Rome had probably been hampered by the long-lasting effects of Claudius’ racist policies.
Luther said Romans was the most important book in the New Testament. Paul is not writing a systematic theology. All his letters are occasional, written for a purpose. The Letter to the Romans, however, reflects a substantial amount of Paul’s theology, which has evolved in the two decades since his conversion. Like many of his letters, Paul focuses on law and gospel, a sticking point between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
In Romans 1:15-16 Paul gives what Ben Witherington III says is his propositio (theme statement if you will):
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek. For the righteousness of God has been revealed from faith unto faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith shall live.”
The gospel is the power of God, for Jews (first) and Greeks (second). The righteousness of God has been disclosed through faith. In chapters 1-4 Paul focuses on Jewish Christians, criticizing religious hypocrisy and presenting Abraham as the father of a universal religion. In chapters 5-8 Paul focuses on Gentile Christians, presenting Adam as the father of universal sin, Christ as the source of salvation, and the Christian’s life in the Spirit.
This passage from Romans, from the second section, is often read as a part of the funeral liturgy. Through baptism, humanity makes its transition from sin to grace, according to Israel Kamudzandu, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Saint Paul School of Theology
in Kansas City, Mo.
In baptism we die the only death that matters. We are buried with Christ in our baptism. If we are united with Christ in his death, then we are united with him in his resurrection. Our old self is crucified, and therefore has died to sin. So, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. This doesn’t mean Christians are magically free from sin. Paul will expound on this problem at length in Romans 7. For Paul, death and sin are no longer a concern, because they have been taken care of in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our attempts to obey the law and keep sin at bay always have failed and always will. Instead, the Christian focuses on faith in Christ, and trusts that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us.
Given the events of recent months, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I begin to wonder if one way to see beyond the racism that is embedded in our culture is to focus on faith in Christ, and seeing Christ in every person. How might we teach our people to daily practice seeing the image of God in every person they encounter?
“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 his 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 him 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. 34“Do 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 man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 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.
No doubt, people will hear “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” They will also hear, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” We need to hear these sentences in the context of the larger paragraph, and message that Jesus is presenting in Matthew.
Matthew is composed of five sections, like the five books of the Torah. Each section has a narrative (stories) and discourse (speech). Matthew 10 is the discourse from the second section of Matthew. It is a missionary discourse. Jesus is sending out the 12 to extend his ministry. He coaches them on what to expect. Some will welcome you. Others will not. Some will persecute you. Tie this to Jeremiah’s struggle at the beginning of this post. Jesus is preparing them to understand that not everyone will just love what they have to say.
If they have called Jesus “Beelzebul,” a Philistine god considered a major demon by Jesus’ detractors, they will certainly treat Jesus’ disciples the same. Do not fear those who kill the body. They cannot steal your soul. God loves you like the sparrows. The hairs on your head are numbered. This passage is clearly drawn from the same material in Matthew 6: Do not worry about your life…
And the persecution you encounter may even come from your own family. Don’t be surprised by this. Jesus may be the Prince of Peace, but not all who hear this message will respond peacefully. In fact, they will crucify Jesus himself. Isn’t it ironic that those who proclaim peace, those who preach a message of non-violence, are often killed? Think Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Something about their message is terrifying to some.
Following Christ may lead to persecution as it did for Jeremiah, for Paul, and for the apostles. Your family might object. There will be a point of decision. We are not promised it will be easy.
We are promised some things though. There is good news: God calls. For reasons we cannot fully understand, God, through the Holy Spirit, places the Word on our hearts. This word, as Jeremiah promised, is not written on stone tablets, or in books of the law, but on our hearts. It is compelling. We are enticed. Blessings to all who are caught in the powerful wind of God’s Spirit, so strong that we cannot not proclaim the Word.
Second, we are promised that in baptism, we die the only death that matters. If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. This baptism into Christ, and our faith in Christ, invites us to let go of our fear of others, our fear of sin, and our fear of death.
Finally, we are promised that God loves us with an everlasting love. The God of the sparrows, holds you in the palm of his hand. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. This God knew you before you were in your mother’s womb. You are of inestimable value in God’s eyes. Therefore, listen carefully to your calling, and follow it fearlessly.
If you are using the narrative lectionary, in July you will be in 2 Corinthians. Consider using A Heart for Reconciliation with your congregation, which has 40 days of devotions.
- 7/12/2020: 2 Cor 1:1-11 – Consolation
- 7/19/2020: 2 Cor 2:1-10 – Forgiveness
- 7/26/2020: 2 Cor 4:1-18 – Treasure in Clay Jars
- 8/2/2020: 2 Cor 5:1-21 – Walk by Faith not Sight
- 8/9/2020: 2 Cor 8:1-15 – Generosity
- June 14 – Genesis 18:1-15
- June 21 – Genesis 21:8-21
- June 28 – Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham tested by God.
- July 5 – Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 Isaac and Rebekah. “So he put a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arm… Then Isaac took her into his mother’s tent… and she became his wife… And he loved her.”
- July 12 – Genesis 25:19-34 Jacob swindles Esau’s birthright, with red stew.
- July 19 – Genesis 28:10-19a Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, at Bethel
- July 26 – Genesis 29:15-28 Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel.
- August 2 – Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with God/the angel
- August 9 – Genesis 37 Joseph’s dreams and his brothers’ plot. “Here comes this dreamer. Let us kill him and throw him into a pit… and see what will become of his dreams.”
- August 16 – Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.
Summer-Epistles-at-a-Glance, Romans 6-14
- June 14 – Rom. 5:1-8 Justified. Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.
- June 21 – Rom. 6:1b-11 Baptized. Baptized into Christ’s death, we rise with him.
- June 28 – Rom. 6:12-23 Freedom. Shall we sin now that we are not under the law?
- July 5 – Rom. 7:15-25a Sin. Paul’s dilemma: The good I want to do, I don’t do.
- July 12 – Rom. 8:1-11 Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life.
- July 19 – Rom. 8:12-25 Glory. cannot be compared to suffering now.
- July 26 – Rom. 8:26-39 Confidence: Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
- August 2 – Rom. 9:1-5 The Jews: Paul grieves his people have rejected Christ. But theirs are adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises, patriarchs and Messiah.
- August 9 – Rom. 10:5-15 The Jews: Justified by Faith just like the Greeks. But who can believe without hearing? So blessed is the proclaimer.
- August 16 – Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32 The Jews: God has not rejected his people. God has imprisoned all in disobedience, in order that all might have mercy.
- August 23 – Rom. 12:1-8 Gifts: One body; many members. Conform not. Be transformed.
- August 30 – Rom.12:9-21 Life in the Body. Love one another. Live in harmony. Never seek vengeance.
- Sept 6 – Rom. 13:8-14 Love in the Body. The whole law is summed up in a single word: Love one another.
- Sept 13 – Rom. 14:1-12 Conflict in the Body. Don’t quarrel. Welcome one another. Don’t pass judgment on one another. Tolerate differences in piety.
2020 Summer-Gospels-at-a-Glance, Matthew 10-18
- June 14 – Matthew 9:35-10:8. Mission. Jesus sends the 12. Harvest plentiful. Laborers few.
- June 21 – Matthew 10:24-39. Commitment. Not peace. Sword. Find life by losing it.
- June 30 – Mt. 10:40-42 Hospitality. Whoever gives a cup of water in my name…
- July 5 – Mt. 11:16-19, 25-30 Repentance and Comfort. Come to me all weary…
- July 12 – Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23 Parable of the Sower. Birds, rocks, thorns, good soil.
- July 19 – Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43 Parable of Wheat and Tares. Let them grow together.
- July 26 – Mt. 13:31-33, 44-52 Parables: Mustard Seed, Yeast, Treasure, Pearls, Net.
- August 2 – Mt. 14:13-21 Jesus Feeds the 5,000. Send the crowds away…
- August 9 – Mt. 14:22-33 Jesus Walks on the Sea. Command me to come to you…
- August 16 – Mt. 15:[10-20] 21-28 (Blind Guides.) Jesus heals the Canaanite Woman.
- August 23 – Mt. 16:13-20 Peter Confesses Jesus. On this rock I will build my church.
- August 30 – Mt. 16:21-28 Jesus rebukes Peter. If you follow me, take up your cross.
- Sept 6 – Mt. 18:15-20 Jesus teaches on Conflict. If a member sins against you…