Rev. Deacon Tom Bates
August 18, 2019
The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
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Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; help us to know you love us; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I thought today we would talk a little bit about each of the four readings and come up with a clear statement at the end of the Good News. Or as parson Linda would hope for a bumper sticker thought that you would remember from the readings.
The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah. We probably know more about Jeremiah than any other prophet except David. In his long book fifty-two chapters, Jeremiah tells us a lot about himself as well as his friend and secretary, Baruch. Jeremiah had no desire to prophesy and in today’s reading, he is very critical of the false prophets who were prevalent in Jeremiah’s time. Jeremiah was a prophet during the reign of three kings: Josiah whom he honored for his attempts at reform; Jehoikim, whom he scorned and despised for his violence and oppression and Zedikiah, the last king of Judah, who he lived to see blinded and taken to Babylon in chains by Nebuchadnezzar. Because of his prophesy, Jeremiah was hated and mocked. He was forced to flee to Egypt where tradition has it that he was stoned to death by angry Judeans whom it continued to rebuke for their cowardice and folly. The sentence from Jeremiah that jumped out at me was “ Ïs not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” Maybe the reason that sentence caught my attention because I was recently reminded by Soren Kierkegarard that Jesus is the word of God which gives the sentence a little different meaning.
Psalm 82 is a song of Asaph. God is praised as being the supreme ruler and Asaph prays that God will judge the wicked. The wicked being those who have treated others unfairly. My Bible trivia question for you is who was Asaph? Asaph was a contemporary of David and the author of 12 of the Psalms. Of the 150 Psalms, I think 117 are attributed to David. Asaph is also the name of one of the three families of Temple musicians.
If we had followed the readings from Tract 1 instead of tract 2, we would have read the Song of the Vineyard from Isaiah. In the Song of the Vineyard, the Israelites bear bad fruit. So in Isaiah like Psalm 82, we hear a little about justice and treating others fairly. In Isaiah, we also get a little bit of the history that we talked about in Jeremiah, that is, that when Israel produced bad fruit, God allowed the vineyard to be trampled. He allowed Assyria and Babylon to conquer both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. Jesus said that we will be recognized by our fruits. READ ISAIAH 5:1-7.
The twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews is the Great Faith Chapter and in it we are reminded that we are surround by a great cloud of witnesses and we are encouraged to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Part of the cloud of witnesses were the martyrs. Jeremiah was one that was mocked and stoned to death. As I recall Isaiah was the one sawn in two. In the Forward Day by Day, we are told that we too are part of the great cloud – set apart in our own way to live as faithfully as we can.
We talk a lot about faith. Both Parson Linda and I have recently preached on faith. I have been reading Kierkegaard and in his writings titled “Philosophical Fragments” he talks about faith. The Kierkegaard readings were selected by Robert Van De Weyer and according to Weyer, Kierkegaard’s writings have done more to shape modern Christian attitudes than any other single thinker. According to Weyer, as a philosopher Kierkegaard would like to have been able to prove the truth of Christianity. But his honesty compelled him to recognize that, far from being rational; becoming a Christian requires a “leap of faith” taking one beyond the realm of logic. This leap can only be made by the individual, responding to the spirit with him.
Soren Kierkegaard’s father was obsessed with his own sins and terrified of God’s judgment. He apparently instilled in Soren the same terror of which Soren never entirely escaped. Soren rebelled against his father’s morality and began drinking heavily and frequenting the sleazier brothels of Copenhagen.
I have a dear friend who was raised by a father somewhat like Soren’s. She was raised Episcopalian, but is an atheist today because of the morality of her father. She was a best friend of Jane’s and she calls me most days to see how I’m doing. The other day, I read to her this passage from Soren Kierkegaard: “The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned is not that his father should be an atheist or even a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in his being a pious, God fearing man, and yet who nonetheless has deep in his soul unrest and discontent which neither piety nor fear of God can calm. The child will observe this, and conclude that God is not infinite love.” Now she didn’t visit sleazy brothels or drink heavily, but avoids religious gatherings. She won’t even go to Rotary because we bless the food. So for the first time in the 27 years that I’ve know her, we talked about faith without her becoming offended. She understood that my believe in God might be a leap in faith and maybe not a totally logical, rational process.
Except for verse 50, the Gospel Reading is a difficult one. This verse clearly asserts that Jesus’ mission cannot be accomplished except by his death and for many is one of the most deeply moving sayings in the gospels; I think because of God’s great love for us.
The Gospel reading is one of those that we preachers hope we do not draw as it’s too hard to preach on. In today’s reading we are told by Jesus that he did not come to bring peace but a sword and that families are going to be divided against one another. Mathew’s version is similar. The conflict is the younger generation against the older. And Mathew explains why Jesus is saying what he says. Mathew adds: Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us about disunity. A couple of Sundays ago, Jesus warned us about greed, about thinking that our lives depend upon the abundance of our possessions. Last Sunday we were told to provide purses for ourselves that do not wear out, in other words, treasures in heaven. Jesus also warns us in the same chapter not to worry. I think Jesus is telling us all these things, warning us for our own good. I think Jesus, like God, wants us to have life and have life abundant. That he wants us to be happy and we can best do that by following his teachings, by hearing his warnings and by being prepared for disunity between the generations and being prepared for his second coming. He loves us and wants what is best for us. And that’s the Good News that I would like you to take home with you. God loves us and wants to enjoy an abundant life. God is love Amen.