Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost 2020
Jeremiah 20:7-13 Psalm 69:7-18 Romans 6:1b-11 Matthew 10:24-39
Two hunters fly to Kenya, where they bag six gazelles. As the crew was loading the small plane to return, the pilot says the aircraft can take only four gazelles back. “Last time, the pilot let us take six, and he had the same plane as yours,” argues the first hunter. Reluctantly, the pilot gives in and they take off. But the little plane is too heavy, and goes down. Climbing out of the wreckage, the second hunter turns to the other, “Any idea where we are?” The first hunter replies, “From the surroundings, I’d say we’re pretty close to where we crashed last time.”
God will be the one to supply both the words and the strength for us to write our own story. God is still God – judge of heaven and earth, ruling with justice and righteousness. God will not be mocked. We do not have God in our back pocket. Oh, there are other prophets in the land, with other words - false prophets. They said that if folks just went to worship at the Temple, their lives would be secure. It did not matter much what you did the rest of the week. Just worship at the Temple and God will protect you.
Today, we wonder how we are tempted like the people of Jeremiah’s time. How are we deceived into thinking that we can be secure simply by attending a place of worship (virtual or in-person) and then doing whatever else we want the rest of the time? What deception do we buy? In what do we place our security? How do we try to domesticate God?
Our God is not safe. God is free, sovereign, Lord of all. God will not be manipulated, domesticated. This God is on the loose. This God will change us, fill our whole life, guide all our choices, move into every nook and cranny of our being. But, no, this God will not fit nicely into our back pocket. But, finally, this is the only God we would want. For you see, a domesticated God can’t save; a tame God can’t overthrow evil and create a new covenant. A God created in our own image can’t bring life out of death, resurrection out of crucifixion. Only the sovereign God of the universe can work the astonishing miracle of grace – grace that overcomes sin, death, and evil. No, God is not safe. But God is very, very good.
The Psalm reminds us that we all have moments, days or weeks when we want to ask God, “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you?” They are usually times when we feel picked on, no matter what we say or do, we think that no one, not even God is listening. We can feel as if we have done all we are supposed to do, and still we are disconnected from both God and the community of faith. The good news and there is always good news with God, is that we are not alone in our feelings, because people of faith have struggled through similar feelings from our beginning.
When you think about our lives, we can live without an appendix, tonsils, adenoids, spleen, gall bladder, and thyroid, but you can’t live without a heart. But we know people who do. They have hardened their hearts so that they are not connected to anyone or anything. They hold grudges and unforgiveness tightly in their clutched fists, in their frozen hearts. They close themselves off from the world, from joys and sorrows.
We all have hearts, but there is also the collective heart of our faith community - a heart that races with excitement when we are engaged and active in going about God’s work in the world. Our heartbeat is enlivened by the joys of others. Our collective heartbeat worked overtime this week to begin to prepare for in-person worship. It is a complicated process with lots of details to keep us all safe. We appreciate the contributions of gloves and masks and hand sanitizer and cleaning products. A new tradition will be established to keep us all safe. A new tradition to embrace in this church. A step, no a leap forward for the family of God.
And when we suffer loss, or pain, or death, the heartbeat slows to a mournful pace with the illness and death of our loved ones. We affect and are affected by life around us. We are all on the path to God, to being disciples of Christ, of loving each other.
Listen to the Gospel reading from the Message - “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect? “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.
“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands. “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.
“Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you? “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.
“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
So what about our harvest hands…what about our living into our faith in this faith community – in this community – in our families and work places? Matthew’s dominant theme is fearlessness. This isn’t the carefree bliss of being clueless, but the tough-minded courage of those who have taken a stand with the full understanding of the risks involved. The community of disciples wants to form a community of people who are not easily intimidated. They want folks whose spirit within has been embolden by God.
So, where do we fall in that assessment of discipleship? These questions echo in our minds and hearts. First off, Jesus should be our teacher. That means we pay attention to the teaching of Jesus – not Facebook or politics or national news or fortune tellers. We pay attention to Jesus. In the Gospel reading, Jesus turns down the role of perpetual do-gooder, and so should we. There are times when he stood outside the role of mister nice guy. There are times we should stand up, speak up when something isn’t right – isn’t right for the people of God.
The church is not immune to this kind of questioning and educating. We know about Jesus, who preferred the company of misfits to that of religious people. We believe in a Lord who cares for the stranger and who comes to us as a stranger, reminding us over and over again that while he is with us he does not belong to us. We can’t put Jesus in our back pocket. In the church, we are dared to believe that it is God who makes us a community and not we ourselves, and that our differences are God’s best tools for opening us up to the truth that is bigger than we are.
The disciples of Jesus are faced with the question of who Christ is. The question remains for us. Christ is not only the one who comforts and rescues us, but also the one who challenges and upsets us, telling us the truth so clearly that we will do appalling things to quiet him. If we do not believe that, then maybe we don’t recognize Christ in some of the offensive people God has sent our way. Not all of them, but some of them, God has sent to pull us out of our complacency, to upset our equilibrium so we do not confuse our own ideas of God with God.
The demands of Jesus, the prince of peace, may very well feel like a sword cutting through those parts of our lives, our relationships that pull us away from God. When the sword makes a clean cut to eliminate something not helpful in our lives, we must be open for something to fill that space. That’s when listening to God – being in relationship with God – really matters. And one of the most basic and powerful ways to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention, and especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they are saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it or solving their problem. When we hear someone’s story, we realize our connection. We are all one story - the story of the family of God.
Today’s account leaves a lingering tension in the air. What are we to do? God speaks to us in a language we can understand. At the same time, the mystery and the reality of the saving realm and reign of God continue to be beyond every human reality we know. But we can stand firm in knowing that God wants to be in relationship with us. God is pursuing us. We can be clear that we experience God’s grace every day, even when we forget to water and fertilize the seeds we have planted, even when we lose sight of the birds nesting in our branches. God’s grace is present…God’s love carries us.
When we worship, we respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us God’s beloved. God is a powerful force, breaking into every corner of our lives, filling and transforming every hour of every day. God is much bigger than we thought – ruling heaven and earth, seeking justice for all creation – a God from whom we can neither run nor hide.
So as many of us have found out, we are called to uncover, discover our heart’s desire. We are to learn, to know, to grow in our understanding of God. And in knowing, we are to scatter seeds for God to water and tend while we go about our lives. So the hope is in the question: “What is God’s kingdom like? No one answer will ever exhaust the meaning of the question, but the pulse of Jesus’ words, Jesus’ deeds, his death and resurrection points to the secret hidden from a distracted, hopeless world.
This pulse is the heartbeat of God, whose rule and reign is coming with the speed of mercy and compassion. And ever present is God’s grace calling to us, claiming us and empowering us to continue to plant those seeds of kindness, compassion, inclusivity, forgiveness, and love. Recently, in a graduation speech, I heard that there are two important days in each of our lives, the day we are born and the day we discover why we were born. Where is God calling you? What seeds do you have to sow? Where are our harvest hands to begin to work?
On this day, we honor our fathers – Father’s Day Prayer
Holy and gracious God, Bless every father and every grandfather with the best of your spiritual blessings today. Let him know he is not alone in the tasks you have given him to provide for and support those under his care. Show him how much you delight in his work, and affirm the value of whatever You have given him to do—both as a father or grandfather and as a child of Yours. Confirm his worth daily so he has no reason to doubt whether he is loved in the eyes of his Heavenly Father.
Create in him a deep sense of trust in You, knowing that he can count on You to help him lead and protect those dependent on him. Let him know that every unselfish act of love and encouragement he has offered has been a gift that You receive gladly. Show him how effective the prayers of a godly man really are, and what a difference he has and can make to those around him, no matter how big or small the assignment.
Demonstrate to him Your amazing grace and forgiveness as he seeks to love and to know You with all of his heart, soul, and mind. Release him from unwanted burdens of false guilt, and bless him for his willingness to keep short accounts with You, forgiving both himself and others. Help him to see his children or grandchildren through Your eyes, realizing that in Your hands is the safest place they can ever be. Strengthen his confidence in the Only One who can bring good out of any situation. Amen.