Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 28, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Jeremiah 28:5–9 | Psalm 89:1–4, 15–18 | Romans 6:15–19 | Matthew 10:40–42
Professor of New Testament, Israel Kamudzandu, who brings the African (Zimbabwe specifically) perspective to scripture in his academic work, aptly points to the issue that he sees jumping out in Paul’s letter to the Romans—the difficulty of hearing these words esp. by those who were brought to this country today in chains to do hard labor. (I hope you felt a bit of discomfort here as well.) In Bible-times—while mass, forced labor may have been used, like the Israelites in Egypt, “slaves”—or same word, “servants”—were people captured in war or who came from poor families and served in a household (this wasn’t a mass-production economy)—and were often more like indentured servants: That is, they could often earn their freedom or at least be paid. Along with the horrific history of slavery in our country, and a strong belief in individualism—this metaphor of Paul’s might not feel very helpful or edifying. Most of us at least think we don’t know what’s it’s like to be beholden to something without choosing to be; which I would say does happen when our allegiance and will is automatically bent on what is destructive- to one another and creation—that is, sin. (Singular- implies social.) Jesus came that our enslavement to sin be broken; our mindless adherence to thoughts and patterns—like not seeing the harm that continues form our country’s history of slavery. We are being freed. Freed to switch our allegiance to righteousness—God’s thing—AND just as compelling.
Righteousness: Tsedeq of the OT, along with mishpat and chesed. (Justice and lovingkindness) It’s the right-ness of God’s ways that demands what we heard from Jeremiah last week: Fairness and provision for the ones who have been left out and excluded from the bounty: The foreigner among you who might have issues with language and practices; the widow who was not allowed to own a thing as a woman and so was impoverished; the orphan who was susceptible to having to beg for a living- and to exploitation such being sold into slavery. These are sin.
We have a continuation from Jeremiah the prophet today as well: Here, the prophet, Hananiah, prematurely says “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” He is the one who “treats the wound of my people lightly.” God/ Jeremiah will have none of this. Release from the consequences of years of destructive behavior the exploits the poor and needy will not happen so quickly—and to say otherwise is to hide behind niceties, cover up what needs to be rooted out, perpetuate destructive behavior of the powerful, discount pain and willfully misunderstand: All of which continue in our world today as symptoms of what sociologist Robin DiAngelo calls in her work, “White Fragility.” She says we have a wonderful optimism in this country, AND we think as rugged individuals we are immune to socialization—and don’t think that there is a certain water we swim in; ideas and structure that we take for granted; things what work for the advantage of certain people (race, gender, etc.) and not so much for others. In scripture, “sanctification”—the transformation of us into a holy people built for Christ’s loving work in the world- happens by challenging the unhelpful aspects of life together that we ignore… No one said that self-reflection means we are going to find what we want. It also does not mean that we are not primarily good and kind people. But it identifies the harm that we ignore. As Paul says: “There’s grace, but we also don’t need to go on living in sin.”
When Jesus is giving his speech to the people he’s sending out to do the work of bringing the good news out and about, he uses the word “welcome.” We think this means being nice and hugs and maybe a meal—and it does!—but during this time of being apart, it might be a good time to re-examine this word: dechomai—take in, receive, accept, welcome; grant access to a visitor; not refuse contact or friendship. give ear to, not reject, make one’s own. Note that after people welcoming the messenger—so that they welcome both Jesus and God—we move on to welcoming the prophet. And that’s a little harder, because the prophet is most often sent to “afflict the comfortable” and do we really want that? THEN, we get to welcoming the righteous person- again, the person who is in line with God’s right-ness being mindful and caring of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan. And finally, the “welcome" talk from Jesus culminates in the basic act of giving a cup of cold water to one of these “little ones.”
This basic human act is a reminder that humility is our training ground as we are willing to put aside the need for certainty, quick fixes, and denial of suffering—in order to protect ourselves. To be in the mode of hospitality is to be both vulnerable and open. Think about a little one, (anyone who is at a disadvantage) and handing her or him a “give a glass of water.” It has a way of opening our eyes to one another; to what righteousness looks like and what the prophet is really saying. This welcoming process is not one of assessing and having everything figured out, but it is an openness of mind, heart, and will. AND…. keeping them open. And keeping them open some more. And having faith that we will be given a desire for righteousness and not sin; then we have welcomed not only the messenger, but the One behind the messenger. Who heals us of our sin; welcomes and receives us. Thanks be to God. Amen.