June 28, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jun 28, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8A)

June 28, 2020

So often we have better hindsight than in-the-moment insight. Hearing from the prophet Jeremiah today makes us temped to think the truth should have been obvious to them, as undoubtably future generations will say about us, about this pandemic, about racism, about our leaders. Jeremiah has told them the truth. Prophets aren’t known for popularity or sugar-coating the message; the real ones tell the truth even when painful to hear and contrary to what people want. Hananiah on the other hand is telling them what they want to hear. He may believe the message he carries is from God, as he advocates what the restless and frustrated want to hear. The appeal of his message and lure of its near-time promised hope pulls them into his wake stirring their yearning to rebel. Jeremiah employs no such inducements; he bravely proclaims the message he hears from God even though it is met with distain. As one who preaches, the temptation to lead with what people are more likely to want to hear can slip in too easily. True, it warms a preacher’s heart to hear positive response to a sermon – yet even more so when we know it has left people thinking, unsettled, sorting out what makes us faithful, reflecting on what makes us uncomfortable, what makes us disciples. I think of it like my daughter Annie as a teenager, being transfixed to a rather disturbing Salvador Dali painting in a museum. As I stood quietly by she said, “I don’t — like it, it’s not pretty, but I can’t walk away from it.” When something truly speaks truth to us, even in a powerful and difficult way, something within us stops. We do well to pause to let it take hold or reveal itself, or ourselves, further. I think hearing a prophet of God like Jeremiah would be of similar effect. We may not like it, but we can’t quite walk away from it either.

Both Hananiah and Jeremiah have people who listen to them and are likely of two very different minds, each thinking ‘their prophet’ spoke God’s truth, and that the others were false prophets or wrong. (And we thought charges of ‘fake news’ was a 21st century construct!) We enter the scene after the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597 but before the horrendous destruction ten years later. Hananiah says Judah should fight back, resist, and hold onto the vision of soon overcoming the Babylonians. It’s a message of hope, it taps into the urge to fight now and think things through later. Surely, they couldn’t lose if God was on their side. Cheering the underdog makes a winning outcome look bigger and taste better, right? His encouragement to push back and resist is inspiring and stirs their zeal! But this isn’t about us feeling righteous or powerful.

Far less dazzling are Jeremiah’s words, and harder to embrace. They should be faithful to God and look at the long game, prepare for this exile to take the time it takes and learn to work with it for the good of the whole. Certainly, none of them want this, including himself; “Amen!” he says to Hananiah, “May the Lord do so…” and restore all to their former glory and places. Yes, who wouldn’t want to go back to the way things used to be? We can certainly relate to that, as we remember to wear face masks, plan each outing carefully, abstain from touch, travel, and so on. None of them want to be in such a place, and they will recoil from Jeremiah’s words in the next chapter as he tells them to deal with their present situation and build houses, plant food to eat, live where they are. It might sound like an attractive plan to our ears, but to them it was resignation and felt like admitting protracted defeat.

Jeremiah didn’t give a ‘rah-rah’ message that got them all up and cheering, he was trying to help them make the best of things while they waited for God’s next saving act. I’m sure it didn’t sound triumphant or proactive to listen to him, in fact his words might have felt too passive a response or like compliant subservience. Yet in that hindsight we’re so good at, we know it was Jeremiah who was God’s prophet. Those who stand in a time of competing voices casting visions or making promises can’t always know who the truth-teller is, who is right or wrong – The people of Judah didn’t know in that moment, and wouldn’t know for two more years. Yet holding our breath and doing nothing isn’t possible either, we all make choices about whom to believe or follow. For this moment in Judah’s life Jeremiah was the prophet of God, and making themselves wait it out, accepting things as were while making the best of a bad situation was the faithful thing to do. That isn’t the faithful answer every time. Sometimes pushing forward, rebelling, and raising critical awareness is what we are called do to change that which is wrong into what is of God. We try to be faithful to and follow Christ’s teachings, knowing sometimes it means stepping back, praying, listening, discerning, waiting—and sometimes it is in boldly striding forth against that which is evil to build the kingdom of God.

We all wish the answers were clear and the path gentle, and since that never holds for long, we want to become better discerners of who is the prophetic truth-teller even if it’s not what we want to hear, and recognize a voice courting us with false hope and easy promises. So God guides us through scripture, gives us minds to recognize wisdom, feel the Spirit moving, and yes – employ that hindsight too, whereby we can look back at history and not to keep making the same mistakes. You no doubt recognize this as the strength of the Anglican three-legged stool; scripture, tradition, and reason. It gives us a firm place to work from, not easy answers. At the end of Jeremiah’s speaking he acknowledges that the prophets who proceeded both of them “from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence…” and certainly they could look back and see some of those prophesies came about. What he says next is the hope that defies their imagination. He says, “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” When peace is prophesied and then occurs, we will know it is of God.

We may wait a long time to see it, and yet that’s the vision Christ casts for us. We help bring it in long strides and in small steps. Matthew hears Jesus’ words for his disciples, and then in those post-resurrection days it is also what Matthew wants his people to receive and carry with them. This will take time and many footsteps. Not everyone will welcome you, so those who do are welcoming Jesus too. For the past several weeks we’ve had readings from this chapter as the disciples are readied to go out on their own for the first time. Jesus warns them, teaches them, prepares them, and challenges them on their mission. Yet this lesson is not anything they can do—its something they need to await and then recognize the divine truth of it; holy welcome. The genuine reception of holy hospitality. It is not the disciples who will arrive and teach this, it’s for them to keep watch for and receive it, to recognize in that simple act their host’s welcome to them is receiving God too. Offering that cup of cold water to one of those ‘little ones’ tends to make us think he means ‘children.’ Rather, naming them as little ones is acknowledging their vulnerability, that they will be ‘little’ or few, among the many they will encounter. A cup of cold water offered is more than it appears.

Hearing this also carries the message of a chain of succession or faith-lineage, one that reaches all the way to us.  Matthew’s followers were said to be called ‘the little ones’ and in using the phrase here we can see the first two generations of receivers. We first imagine Jesus teaching his disciples to go out and to recognize the grace the gift of others accepting, welcoming them, —and then one of those disciples, Matthew, teaching the same thing to his disciples as he sends them out. In this way it has been handed down for some 80-odd generations, and we pass it to those coming after us. I pray when they look in the rearview mirror at our ways, and the 80 generations before plus Jesus himself, it will strengthen and inform and inspire their vision of God’s kingdom. Could Jesus or Matthew have imagined our holy hospitality in live-streamed worship and virtual coffee hour? Maybe not, but I’ll bet they would have immediately recognized in it that God is with us and being received by others!

For Jesus said, “—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”


© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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