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Sermon for Sunday 25 June 2017

FIRST READING Jeremiah 20:7-13

7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12 O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. 13 Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.


Psalm 91:1-10 [11-16]

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty. 2He shall say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.” 3He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter and from the deadly pestilence. 4He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings; his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler. 5You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day; 6Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid day. 7A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you. 8Your eyes have only to behold to see the reward of the wicked. 9Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation, 10There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. [11For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. 12They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 13You shall tread upon the lion and adder; you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet. 14Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor. 16With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.


Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23

12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


GOSPEL Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

5a These twelve Jesus sent out instructing them: 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his 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 that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.



Back in the 70’s, Country music artist Lynn Anderson released the song Rose Garden. The chorus was one filled with reality. In part, it begins, “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain, sometime.” The lyrics continue with Lynn telling her sweetheart that she could promise him things like big diamond rings, the moon, or the world on a silver platter; but the only thing she can give is herself. She cannot promise “a rose garden,” because life is unpredictable and there are certain to be difficult times.
In a different setting, the same phrase I never promised you a rose garden, is also the title of a novel written by Hannah Green. It’s the story of a young woman, named Deborah, who struggles with mental illness. Over time, she has lost touch with reality and lives in a dream world. One reviewer says that Deborah is courageous and heroic, yet she might be any one of us. Her story gives belief and promise to those who are concerned with the human spirit. No rose garden is offered to Deborah, yet she slowly fights her way back to reality, to a world that’s often harsh and challenging. It’s the story of one young woman’s successful fight for health, and of the others around her who wage their own battles, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.
The book is a reminder that no one, no human being, can promise you that your life will be pleasant, comfortable, free from stress and from aches and pains all the way through. No one can guarantee that your life will be happy, successful or that it will fulfill all your dreams. Living in this world brings with it inherent risks. To see this, all we have to do is simply turn on the nightly news.
An esteemed seminary professor was lecturing to his church history class. He had just described some of the martyrs of the early church; people who lost their lives because of their faithfulness to the gospel. He closed his book and looked the students in the eye, and said, “You know, things haven’t changed a whole lot in many parts of the world. Some of you may be called on to defend the faith, and to lay your reputation on the line. It isn’t beyond the realm of imagination that some of you may one day be in the position to die for your faith.” God knows what sin can do and the effect it has on people, even innocent people. And God, in His word, bears this out. God, no where in the Bible, promises us that this life will be a rose garden; He never promised it would be easy. And as we read last week in our gospel reading, Jesus did however, promise to be with us, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20) Our Old Testament lesson for today is an example of some of the struggles God’s people may endure.
Of our first reading, one commentator said this: “This is one of the most powerful and impressive passages in the whole of prophetic literature.” To me, this is an understatement. He adds, “No other passage in all the prophetic literature expresses so clearly as this, the prophet’s sense of divine compulsion to his task.” Here, in this reading from Jeremiah, is a lament, a complaint, a prayer. The prophet Jeremiah is baring his soul to God. It’s almost as if we were walking by Jeremiah’s room, the door is open, and we hear him talking to God. Jeremiah describes himself as being compelled, confronted and committed.
Of being compelled, the prophet says, “God has deceived me … I have become a laughing-stock and a joke.” People are making fun of God’s prophet because he proclaims the Lord’s message, shouting “Violence and destruction!” One of Norman Rockwell’s classic Saturday Evening Post covers shows a boy all dressed up in a suit, pushing a baby buggy. He’s obviously unhappy, especially since two other boys are passing by, wearing their baseball uniforms, mocking him. No one likes to be laughed at.
Author, storyteller and host of the radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, reporting the news from Lake Wobegon, told in one of his broadcasts, how it felt to go to the county fair as a young boy, all dressed up and carrying a Bible. One of the first things he and the others did was to find a sack for their Bibles, so they wouldn’t be so obvious. It reminds me of the boy who went to camp. His mother was worried that he might be ridiculed if the other boys knew he was a Christian. When he returned, she asked him about it, and he said, “There was no problem, Mom; nobody found out that I was Christian.”
How many of us have ever felt foolish, or ashamed for being a Christian? I know I’ve felt guilty about claiming to be a Christian, based on my words and deeds. I’ve even felt angry because I couldn’t, quote, end quote, “have fun like other people.” Other people don’t seem to worry about what’s right or wrong. They just go on their merry way. But as a follower of Jesus, and growing up in a Christ centered home, I knew what they were doing was wrong, sinful and at times illegal. There were times when they wanted me to join in their fun. And like most temptations, it seemed innocent enough at the time, yet I wondered.
I didn’t feel right about joining in. And in my refusal, I felt as though I didn’t belong. Bearing the name of Christ involves taking responsibility for one’s thoughts, words and actions. At times, it can become frustrating to know just how much of the world one is responsible for. As conscientious Christians, we’re sitting ducks for guilt feelings and there are those who try to take advantage of those feelings. And when we do reach out in compassion, it seems that whatever we do, it isn’t quite enough. The transient who comes to the door of the church, and needs gas, or a meal, or a place to stay, knows what Christianity is supposed to be all about. Whether it’s temptation or being taken advantage of because you are a follower of Jesus, it doesn’t matter, we must, in everything we do share God’s love with the world.
The prophet Jeremiah describes his compelling urgency to speak the Word of God. He says, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Sometimes we try to put that compelling urgency of sharing God’s message with the world out of our minds, and we succeed. Sometimes, it seems, the only burning fire we feel is when we eat too much at the local buffet. And then there are those times when we pretend we’re speaking a word from God, but it turns out to be a self-motivated message.
If we’re honest, there are times when some of our compulsive speeches have come not from divine motivation, but from anger, quick reactions and hasty judgments. At times like these, we have no business claiming God’s inspiration for our angry outbursts. Righteousness indignation does have its place, but it never comes from a place of anger. What the prophet Jeremiah is talking about, is the compelling necessity to speak the word of God which may well produce enemies. People at times don’t want to hear the truth and speaking the truth in love can mean that they could very well vent their dislike on the speaker. But for God’s prophet, that’s the way it is.
When I think of our usual reluctance to speak an uncomfortable word, to speak the truth in love, I think of the following conversation: “No one at school likes me,” said the son to his mother. “The kids don’t, and the teachers feel the same way. I’d like to stay home.” “You have to go,” insisted his mother. “You’re not sick. You have a lot to learn. Besides, you’re 46 years old. You’re the principal, and you have to go to school.” At times, even when we speak the truth in love, it can result in a confrontation. Such was the case with Jeremiah.
The word “confronted” points in two directions. On the one hand, Jeremiah’s enemies are confronting him with threats and revenge. On the other hand, the Lord confronts the enemies and causes them to stumble. Being confronted by those who would oppose us isn’t a pleasant experience. I remember a boy in elementary school who somehow drew abuse and meanness from the other boys. As I look back, I’m not sure if it was his personality, or mannerisms or something else. But he was a victim, time and time again. Life must have been miserable for that boy. He was the object of derision.
Such is the experience of Jeremiah. He sees his enemies and some of his former friends waiting to pounce on him. They’re watching for his downfall, just waiting for him to slip. The word “terror” is used to describe the animosity toward Jeremiah. Although the term “terrorist” seems to have become commonly used only in recent years, the significance of the term has been around ever since people discovered how to frighten one another.
Even if we don’t have outright enemies, it’s possible to feel very much alone or isolated. Many of us have experience times in our lives when we’ve felt like no one cares. There was a woman in a large office who was trying to do her job, but finally ended up quitting because she couldn’t stand the constant criticism from her boss. There are so many subtle and effective ways for people to mistreat each other. And this subtle or even outright abuse can leave some people in fear. However, Jeremiah doesn’t need to fear his enemies, because the Lord is with him as a “dread warrior.”
For those who may not know what a dread warrior is, it’s a fearsome enhanced undead warrior that is created immediately after a warrior’s death. Basically, it’s a formidable Zombie-like soldier that can’t be overcome or killed. They’re single-minded when it comes to their mission to protect and they fight with a vengeance. Like an unstoppable and determined force, Jeremiah knows that the Lord looks after His own. He knows that his persecutors will stumble; they can’t win.
You could say that Jeremiah knew that his enemies were in a “No win” situation. This is the way it is when people try to oppose God. The advice of Gamaliel is still valid: “If this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:39) Like the prophet, we need to be obedient, committed, even in the face of opposition knowing that God is by our side.
I talked with an individual the other day who had endured several rounds of chemotherapy treatments, and was still being treated with oral medication in their cancer fight. What surprised me was that even with everything they had gone through, they were in good spirits. The individual said, “I’ve decided that I can’t carry this load all by myself. It’s in the Lord’s hands. Whatever His will is, it’s mine also.” You see, they knew that there is relief, and peace that defies understanding, when someone puts something in the Lord’s hands. Jeremiah said, “for to you have I committed my cause.” One version of the Bible translates it, “I’ve laid my case before you.”
The act of commitment has sound precedent. Jesus himself said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Jesus committed His way to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying “Your will, not mine be done.” The advice given in Psalm 37, “Commit your way to the Lord,” is among the best advice given for tension, anxiety or worry.
The Lord never promised any of us a rose garden. He has put us in this harsh world, where we must co-exist with problems derived from hate, jealousy, pride and greed. Our hope lies in what the Lord promised His people. He has promised to be with each one of us, no matter what, “I will never fail you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5), says the Lord.

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