Sermon for Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 21, 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 20:7–13 | Psalm 69:7–10 [11–15] 16–18 | Romans 6:1b–11 | Matthew 10:24–39
Jeremiah the prophet feels pretty strongly about how hard it is—to speak what God would say through him: revealing the state of things and also what’s coming down the road: “Violence and destruction!” Which clearly, no one wants to hear… in the 600s B.C. or the 2000s A.D. We see Jeremiah nearly inconsolable here, broken by the vulnerability and courage that God has required of him. Even his close friends turn and plot against him: How alone he feels in this task of challenging a status quo that really isn’t working—but that so many defend. If only he could just let it go.
But this is a thing that will not let go of him. It is like fire shut up in his bones—and he cannot hold it in any longer. What God has to say through him for the sake of transforming the people—is too important. What’s too important are these things (stated over and over in 52 chapters of the book of Jeremiah):
People who know God and act like they don’t. They pick and choose what they want to be true because it supports their own beliefs, not what IS true. (5:2 Although they say, “As the Lord lives,” yet they swear falsely. 3O Lord, do your eyes not look for truth? Intertwined with that, they worship idols.)
They violate communal trust by ignoring the social contract of caring for one another with the 10 commandments. (7:9)
And more fundamentally, they violate God’s justice which has been made very clear here and elsewhere: They oppress the foreigner, the orphan and the widow; and, they shed innocent blood. (7:5-6)
God challenges Jeremiah to find just one person who acts justly and seeks truth. (5:1)
On top of that, the people deny what is happening and participate in falsehood by saying “Peace, peace, when there is no peace; treating the wound of my people lightly.” (6:14)
They are greedy for unjust gain and deal falsely. (6:13) They have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness, they do not judge with justice (again) the cause of the orphan to make it prosper and they do not defend the rights of the needy. (5:27-28)
They think they will never suffer the consequences of their ways. (5:11)
They are blind and deaf; 5:21 “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear."
And perhaps the most heartbreaking: They have deprived themselves of good. (5:25.)
Note that these are pointed words for the whole of society: And because of the stronger influence of leadership, the words are to be heard particularly by people with power; as the prophets often address the “shepherds.” Power is often bestowed upon/ taken by people who have privileged birth—whether by name, royal happenstance, nation or ethnicity—as well as those who have wealth, or who feel they are deserving. People are by default leaders as heads of government and corporations—but it is also any of us with privilege. And leadership is called in particular to respond: (It is—ironically—what the foreign nation of Ninevah does wholeheartedly in the book of Jonah, but that God’s people in Scripture never do as a collective “Put on sackcloth, roll in ashes and make mourning as for an only child, most bitter lamentation.” (Jer. 6:25) Only acknowledge your guilt…, says God. For this must happen so that restoration with God and a move toward the goodness of the world that God intends, can even begin (3:13).
There IS violence and destruction closer to home than we think—even if we don’t personally experience it—and our societies and communities are hurting when they don’t have good leadership and justice. God cares about all this. The prophet’s job is to pass on God’s insistence that we open our ears and our eyes—to really hear and see—even when we don’t want to. Right now, that means listening to the prophetic voices that speak. It means hearing and reading about black people’s experience in this country. There are many opportunities… I was struck by the words of W.E.B. DuBois from some years ago, who described what he calls the “double consciousness” of the African-American in this country—as “the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on with amused contempt and pity. One ever feels this two-ness—an American, a negro. Two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body; whose dogged strength keeps it from being torn asunder.” People of color talk about how exhausting it is to be in settings that are mainly “white”—whether that be schools, neighborhoods, businesses. For those of us who don’t have to think twice about how people will judge us based on our skin color, or feel split in two because we are trying to live in a world that constantly judges us—may we SEE and HEAR the difficult experience that God’s people are having even now.
Be assured: God knows what we are like and how hard it is for us to change; especially when we hold on to the life we think we’ve earned with an iron grip and fear it being taken from us: Although by our silent collaboration—believing “truths” that aren’t true; and our self-protecting ways—violence and destruction are already present. No wonder Jesus keeps saying that the only way to find life is to lose it. Paul says in Romans, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” “We 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.”
Jesus tells those whom he sends out to “proclaim the good news, [by saying] “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Seeing the weak gain strength will meet with resistance. People may not like you challenging the status quo—maybe your own family and friends—because we love our old selves and our old ways. Hence the need for a sword, not peace. But here’s the reassurance: “… have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops…” As we die, so too we live with Jesus. There is so much good- good news, good - ness, that God would have us know. May we see and hear. Thanks be to God. Amen.