Sunday, June 22, 2008
Seduced by God's grace
June 21, 2008
In the reading from Jeremiah today is a passage that many preachers identify with. The translation as it was read this morning is a bit more elegant that the Hebrew actually intends. The word enticed really has a more earthy sense to it. It would be better translated seduced. Jeremiah feels that he has been seduced into being a prophet by God. He has had to proclaim the doom that God will bring down on Judah to the scorn of those who laugh at him. Jeremiah in this passage laments his lot. He complains that he has to cry out to the people that the Babylonians will come and take Judah captive, but he cannot do otherwise. He tries to keep silent, but the truth burns in him until it must come out.
I understand Jeremiah’s lament. I know what it means to be seduced by God’s truth and love and to almost naively point out flaws or lack of integrity. Folks do not really like whistle blowers. The majority of folks do not appreciate those who find the chinks in the constructs of their businesses, political systems, organizations or churches. We like our world to be comfortable. And even though it doesn’t work quite the way that we want, we are willing to put up with the chinks if we don’t have to look at them too hard.
When I was a child living in Jim Crow South, there were two different colored water fountains in stores—one for white folks and one for “colored people”. For most white folks in Ft. Worth, those 2 drinking fountains were just part of the construction of society. For me, even when I was young, those 2 drinking fountains were signs that there was something radically wrong with society. Even as an 8 year old, I would drink from the “colored” fountain much to my mother’s embarrassment. As I grew older, that construct of society became more and more a sign of what was wrong about my society rather than something that I could ignore. I got kicked out of a high school history class because I was not outraged that white women didn’t get to vote before black men did. My radically southern and bigoted world history teacher was horrified that I might believe that black folk should be equal. After all she was a good Christian woman who went to church every Sunday! Something burned in me—it was not just orneriness. It wasn’t just a matter of being different. Something inside of me claimed a priority of Truth with a capital T.
Truth is a mysterious thing. We sometimes think that we know the truth of something because we recognize the facts about something. But the kind of Truth that Jeremiah had to deal with—the kind of proclamation that he had to make was not something that he could explain. It was something that burned inside of him. It allowed him to speak the truth that no one wanted to hear—that the leaders of his country were selling his nation down the primrose path. He had to proclaim like Jonah that if the people of Judah continued in the path that it would be to their destruction. He could not be silent even when he wanted to be.
One of the major criticisms of mainline Protestantism these days by the younger generations is that we don’t practice what we preach. We preach love and kindness, but often time our churches quarrel viciously. We say we are welcoming and big happy family, but we tend to include only those who look or act like us. I am not talking of St. Luke’s or even the Lutheran Church. But I am quoting what I am hearing from surveys of the 40 and younger crowd by various organizations about mainline churches throughout the country.
Part of the problem is that we are not familiarizing young people with what Truth is. We are not teaching people of all ages that what is honest is part of their own relationship with God. When we are baptized we enter into God’s understanding, God’s holiness and we will forever struggle with what is Truth, what is Holy, what is Right.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear those words that give us all pause:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
Jesus understood the call to integrity. He knew the call to be a whistle blower in the name of God. Jesus knew his disciples when they went out to spread the Gospel would not have to know exactly what to say or how to preach. But he did know that if they could be true to the voice inside them—be true to what was honest and true, that they would serve God as did he, as had Jeremiah, as had Moses or whatever saint that had preceded them.
We have all been seduced into believing that we can walk the Christian path simply by being good. But that is not what Jesus teaches us in this passage. Sometimes we have to color outside the lines. Sometimes we have to step outside of what is acceptable behavior to follow the Lord of Life. We must demand of ourselves a willingness to pay attention to the holiness that God has opened up within us. We have to be willing to not accept a lesser form of living than the integrity that Christ holds out to us.
For those of us who have embraced Christianity we must be willing to practice what we preach—we must be willing to look at how we respond to the Truth we find within us and how we live it out in out lives. The cost of discipleship can be severe. It may mean rejection by those we love the most. Peer pressure is not just a phenomenon of the young, you know. Peer pressure is “keeping up with the Jones”, “being part of the team”, “fitting in”, “go along to get along” or “just being one of the guys.” It is as much a problem for adults as it is for kids.
Paul reminds us in Romans that in our baptism we have died to all that is not of God. We have been renewed by God’s love in baptism. We have opened that space so that we can know what Truth is and we can live in the promise of that baptism here and now. Yes, it may cost us, but the reality of God’s promise is much greater.
I serve here at St. Luke’s because I spoke the Truth to my bishop. He did not like the Truth that I spoke and has forbidden me work in my own church. The cost of that truth telling almost broke my heart. And the loss of access to my beloved denominational home is painful to me still.
At the same time, God has called me here. God has opened new truths to me in a way that I could not have imagined 10 months ago. God has promised that his eye is on the sparrow. We need not fear what comes from being a disciple. The Gospel is the promise of new life every day—it may not be the life you were planning, but it is the life of living with integrity the life that God has given us in baptism.
I would charge you to look at the places in your lives where you are just “fitting in”. I would invite you to challenge yourselves to live the lives that God has opened for you in your baptism—lives that are drawn to the Truth that resonates within you. And I would invite you to live those lives with integrity, boldness and love. Our world needs to hear that Truth —the truth of our beings, the truth of our baptism, the truth of the Gospel. AMEN