June 25, 2023
When I looked at the lectionary scriptures for this Sunday my first thought was to skip the lectionary! -They seemed so negative, so troubled and despairing. I thought, there is no way I can relate these to my last sermon here in Baldwinville! After I thought about it for a while, I decided the contrast and connections with the passages were too great to pass up.
Jeremiah is the consummate prophet. He feels the weight of God’s message heavy on him. To say the least, he is not popular. The leaders of the nation see him as disloyal, to the extent that they consider him being something of a traitor. He counseled surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar after all. He said that it was inevitable that the Babylonians would conquer them and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in the process. He said it was God’s judgement for the spiritual failure of the nation; the failure to be just and caring, and remain true to God.
He was ridiculed, beaten, and imprisoned, but he kept preaching. Finally at the last minute he escaped to Egypt. Few clergy are treated as roughly as Jeremiah. -I have known a couple of clergy people who were run out of town over the years for religious/political views, or anti-war sentiment, but nothing like the O.T. prophet. Then again few of us are quite as provocative and daring as Jeremiah.
Certainly, my time here in Baldwinville has been relatively peaceful. From the moment Jim, un-officially, but publicly and exuberantly welcomed me as minister in 2012, -before vote was even taken. I felt a welcome here and an affinity with you. His welcome was perhaps symbolic of your embrace.
While some churches had conflict over the proper response to COVID, we did not. In the strident political climate of the last few years some have found conflict in families and in churches. We have kept that on the sidelines, and you have allowed me to speak the truth as I understand it. Some might have felt I was too measured in my political speech, some might have felt I was a little too direct, but on the whole there was respect for differing views. And I always received more support and thanks for my sermons than disagreement. Ultimately, we all have been confronted by the biblical prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea who saw that political decisions that involved moral choices around justice and equality were also religious decisions that required our best spiritual insight in decision making. Thank you for being a congregation willing to look at some of those moral/spiritual issues.
When I look at the Matthew passage, I can’t help but wonder at the pain and division that first century church must have gone through. Families torn apart over religion! -In some cases, it was Jewish families finding children, or other members, leaving the synagogue for this new variant of the faith which seemed to disrespect all the traditional rules for kosher.
In other cases, it was pagan families upset that some were joining what they judged to be a new exclusivist cult, where worshiping at a shrine to the emperor was forbidden! -You couldn’t even call the emperor “Lord.” –That all seemed unpatriotic and in fact became illegal! Some friends, and even families, were so divided that they turned others in to the authorities because of these traitorous beliefs! –And, of course, some of those friends and family were tortured and put to death for the ardency of their beliefs. Can you imagine a little house church with a dozen or two people trying to hold it together having to go through that kind of tension and struggle?
No wonder Matthew quotes Jesus saying something like, “Don’t expect discipleship to be easy! -It won’t be. It will be hard.”
But Matthew goes on to remind them that God is with them, and that Jesus presence is always in their midst. Of course, they cannot know that in another 200 years that Christianity will become the official religion of the empire. In fact I’m sure they couldn’t imagine it. It ought to remind us, as we struggle with the dwindling resources and the dwindling significance of the church in society that we can’t see the future either; we are just called to be faithful and to share God’s Good News with the world.
The next few years aren’t likely to be easy for small churches there will be changes and uncertainty, but God is still God, and God’s Spirit may yet be breathing new life into the church’s future.
I pray that you may feel God’s presence strength as you work towards that unknown future and rejoice in the hope of God’s Kingdom.