For June 22, 2014: Proper 7, Year A

The Reading            Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah the prophet preached in hard times; he spoke truth to power, and got grief in return. In this Sunday’s reading, he as good as accuses God of seducing him to make him a laughingstock, and he complains that even his close friends have it in for him—and yet, he says, and yet: the Lord is with him and will deliver him.

The Response            Psalm 69:8-11, 18-20

Psalm 69 covers much the same ground as the lament of Jeremiah. Everything that the psalmist has done at the prompting of the Lord has brought the psalmist nothing but reproach, shame, alienation, and scorn. And yet, says the psalmist, and yet: the love of the Lord is kind, and the psalmist waits on God’s great compassion.

The Epistle            Romans 6:1b-11

The beginning of Romans 6 sets up and knocks down a straw man: that it is all right to keep on sinning because God’s grace will then abound. The epistle tells us that that view makes no sense. Baptism is the sign not only of our new life in Jesus but also of our own death—by crucifixion, yet—to the old life of sin.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39 is part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples as he sends them out into the world. He offers some comfort: the Father who knows when a mere sparrow falls is watching out for them. Much more, however, he warns them (and us) that, even with the love of God, the way ahead will be painful and full of conflict.

 

Ponderables

The ancient Jews considered an orderly, long, prosperous life a sign of godliness and God’s approval. In the 21st century, it’s easy to agree: the mega-wealthy Walton heirs appear more blessed than a homeless druggie in Wells Park, and the booming megachurch seems better at doing God’s will than the mainline parish with the shrinking attendance. This Sunday’s readings suggest differently, however. If Jeremiah preaches as he is called to, he is sneered at and his closest friends wait for him to fall, but not preaching leaves him burning inside. The psalmist, complaining of reproach and alienation, begs for God’s help—but it is not clear from the psalm what God’s answer is. The writer of Romans asserts that baptism, before it is a sign of grace and redemption, betokens death. Matthew’s Jesus prepares the twelve disciples for their first adventure without him by warning them that they may not intend to stir up trouble among family, friends, and neighbors, but trouble will surely find them.

Following Jesus thus does not land us in a protected bubble in which neither criticism nor illness nor disaster can touch us or those we love. Conversely, bad things—being criticized or even ostracized, falling ill, losing positions or reputations or loved ones—don’t mean that God no longer loves us. The great good news is that even the most horrible things we can imagine happening to us—or imagine doing—cannot make God stop loving us. It follows that nothing can make God stop loving anyone else.

So we are called to be followers of God. What if this entails that we’re not entitled to stop loving all God’s other children even when they reproach us, sneer at us, ignore our counsel, get sick or alienated in spite of us, or simply disagree with us?

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