Sunday, July 2, 2017
Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 6:1-23; Matthew 10:40-41
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Last Saturday I was playing softball in Boston. I noticed the right fielder playing shallow, and I know that I can at times go to the opposite field, and so I tried to pop one over his head. I swung and the ball took off like a rocket right over the outfielder just like I had intended.
Since we don’t play on fields with fences, if you can just get it past the outfielders and let it roll, you have a good chance of a homerun.That was on my mind as I raced around first base … raced around second base …but as I approached third base a startling thing happened.
My Third Base coach told me to stop! I was stunned. What do you mean, stop?!!?
Of course, like any good base runner I did what my coach told me to do. I stopped, and as I stood stunned on third base, I watched as the throw came in from the outfield, and the runner ahead of me was thrown out at home plate!
If I had been bullheaded and insisted on the glory of a homerun, the play would have ended in an embarrassing double play. Even though I had my heart set on a homerun, the message to stop was the right one.
Our scripture readings today, invite us to consider what we do with messages we receive in life. Do we insist on reaching the destinations that we have in our minds, and blow past signals we are getting that tell us to stop, or change direction, or consider another option?
Or, do we receive the messenger and the message that comes to us to challenge us and invite us down another path?
Today’s first reading describes a rather dramatic showdown between two prophets. Unfortunately, our reading is just 5 verses from the middle of the Chapter. To get the full story, I invite you to read the entire 28th Chapter of the Book of Jeremiah.
In the one corner, in this showdown between prophets, is the prophet Hananiah. We might understand him as a “Feel-Good Prophet.” Hananiah’s message to the people was “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right. In two years time, the holy vessels that had been carried off into captivity will be returned, and the exiles now imprisoned in foreign lands will come home.”
If we assigned a theme song to the prophet Hananiah it might be: “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
In the other corner, is the prophet Jeremiah. We might understand him as a “Doom & Gloom Prophet.” He had hard and painful messages for the people that burned in his bones and that he couldn’t stop from sharing. He disagreed with Hananiah’s assessment of the situation.
Oh that Hananiah was right, mocked Jeremiah. But he knew in his gut that things were different. Things were not going to turn out so right so quickly. Instead of the people’s yoke broken, he instead had to prophesy to the people about a new iron yoke placed upon the people to serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
Jeremiah’s message invited the people to see that God could work in the world outside of, and beyond, the people’s comforts, hopes and dreams. Jeremiah didn’t promise the people want they wanted, rather, he invited the people into deeper faith and trust in God who was bringing about for the people, not what they wanted, but what God felt they needed.
The showdown between Hananiah and Jeremiah also plays itself out in our second reading for today. Our second reading from Romans is Paul offering an answer to the question about how to respond to the message of the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ.
As Paul wrote in verse 13: “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”
Shall we just sin because God will forgive us? Feel good prophets like Hananiah might say SURE! “Go ahead and live your life how you want,” they might say. “In the end God will forgive you through Jesus and it will all be all right.”
But Paul, in the tradition of Jeremiah, offers the warning and into a deeper understanding. I actually think it’s a rather insightful warning that echoes the teaching of Jesus who in the gospels taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Paul basically said, when we present ourselves to sin – death is the result. “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul warned. When we present ourselves to sin, as we turn away from relationship with God and relationship with our neighbors, we leave the path of life, and turn down the dead end road that only leads to death.
The punishment we receive because of sin comes not from God. Rather, it is self-inflicted punishment. The natural consequence of living for self, rather than living for others.
But, Paul said, when we turn ourselves to Christ through faith, then we are turning ourselves to the free gift of God. The free gift of God that is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As Paul wrote elsewhere, to turn to living in Christ by serving our neighbors, we turn to life that really is life. To sin, to turn away from our neighbors is not life, it is death.
Again, our readings today present us with the choice.
To listen to the Hananiah’s of the world – hoping that everything will turn out Ok, believing what we want to believe, setting our minds on our own hopes and dreams, and in the end, just living for ourselves …
Or, humbling ourselves and receiving the messages that come from the Jeremiah’s of our lives … the messages that call us out of ourselves and beyond ourselves …that call us deeper into faith in God’s work in Christ, the work of healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, resurrection, and rebirth …
Here’s an example of how I believe this is played out in society.
Sometimes, on the issue of racial equality in the United States, white people sound a lot like the prophet Hananiah.
“Hey, racism is over. Slavery was abolished over 150 years ago. Segregation was ended over 50 years ago. 9 years ago we elected, and then re-elected a black President. Everything is OK. What are black people complaining about?”
But prophets descending from the family tree of Jeremiah tell us a different story.
These prophets tell us that everything is not OK. They point out that black people are incarcerated at higher rates than white people, that white privilege and systemic & structural racism exist throughout society.
These Jeremiah prophets tell us we can’t take the easy road and just assume that everything is going to be ok. Instead, they call us out of ourselves and into deep listening and humility, into a greater understanding. They are bold to tell us it is not God’s will that we would ignore the problem, and hope that everything turns out ok. It is, instead, God’s will that we would do the necessary, difficult, and perhaps painful work to address the problem.
Brothers and sisters in Christ … The Good News message today, is not the good news of easy, feel-good answers. It is not news that affirms our hopes, our dreams, or what we already think life. Rather, is the Good News, of the cross of Jesus Christ.
The cross that proclaims God’s work in the death and resurrection of Christ. The cross that announces the deep, profound, and life-giving mystery of Christ transforming and healing us through the pattern of death and resurrection and by his promise of abiding with us.
Christ does not always bring easy answers, nor does he offer a shield or escape from suffering. Instead, by willingly accepting the cross, he brings hope and salvation to us now, by abiding with us. Even when there are no answers to be found … when there is no reconciliation with a family member … when the cancer has spread too far … when the bills are piled higher than the income …
In those times, and in all times, the Good News is our savior on the cross, enduring with us and suffering alongside of us. Becoming our savior as he holds us in his nail-pierced hands.
This is our hope in a world of simple, feel good answers.
Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling ..
And so … friends in Christ, in those times you have your heart set on reaching homebase and the glory of a homerun … May the Holy Spirit grant you the courage to STOP and settle for a triple when you receive the message to STOP.
When you are tempted to believe in the easy answer, to hope that everything will be ok, even when you know in your gut that means avoiding important work and opportunities to grow deeper in faith … May the Holy Spirit grant you the strength to listen to the Jeremiah’s in your life calling you deeper into God’s plan.
And finally, in those times when you are lost, broken, and suffering, when you yearn for good news of relief and hope when none seems to be found … May the Holy Spirit grant you faith to believe in Christ – to trust that Christ is with you, that Christ is for you, and because of that you may endure all things.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.