I.Theme – What does God’s Call Mean for Us ?
"Carrying the Cross of Christ"– Gabriel Loire (1904-1996)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
The lectionary this week is about two questions. “What does God’s call mean for us? What can we expect when we receive God’s call?” The key words this week are integrity(Jeremiah), transformation (Romans) and self-denial(Matthew).
In the Gospel, we are all called to follow Christ to be liberators of others, serving and loving all people, including our enemies, and that as we respond to this call we must be willing to lay our lives down and embrace the inevitable suffering that and sacrifice that will come. Yet, even in the midst of this tough word is a light of hope. It is in this self-giving love that we find our ‘souls’ (our true, God-given selves) and we discover true, abundant life.
Questions of identity from last week continue in the Gospel reading. In Matthew, along with last week’s readings, we find lots of questions about the identity of Jesus. There are the many names given to Jesus – Messiah/Christ, Son of the living God, Son of Man. There is also an identity crisis for Peter, who has gone from the rock on which Jesus’ church will be built, to the Satan who is a stumbling block to Jesus.
The Gospel goes beyond “who he is” last week to consider issues of transformation of “whom they are”. In Matthew, Jesus is trying to turn upside-down the rules people apply when they observe his life, and the life of his followers. Seeing a man die in agony on a cross will be transformed from a sign of shame and failure into a sign of new life and hope.
Our call is to take up the cross, denying ourselves – our self -interest, our own desires, wants and needs. Seeing Jesus’ followers denying their own needs, in order to serve God and other people, will be a sign of true discipleship. What God sees and will judge by is very different from the status and standing of a world obsessed with power and prosperity.
Romans is a laundry list of how one can be transformed so that we can transform our communities. Paul encourages the believers to be committed to a life of love for one another and even for enemies – seeking to bless and not curse, and to conquer evil with good. They are marks of the Christian. Most stretch the love wider – loving enemies, strangers and those who persecute (all of whom may be inside or outside the church).
All of this is quite counter-cultural within Roman society – social status is to be ignored, honor is to be shown to all, vengeance is to be put aside, strangers and enemies are to be welcomed and offered hospitality. And it all comes quick and fast, as short phrases with great energy, explicitly and implicitly invoking zeal and ardent service.
Jeremiah’s proclamation to the people in exile–that Babylon was the instrument of God’s judgment upon the people and that Judah should not resist–caused him to be regarded as a traitor by his own people. He has prayed for his enemies (14:7-11), but they have not listened to God’s message. Now the prophet’s concern for them is exhausted and he cries out for the lord to take vengeance upon them. Jeremiah’s plea for God’s vindication in the Old Testament echoes Jesus’ own suffering in spite of his innocence.
Jeremiah pleads with God to act immediately and decisively on his behalf. The prophet can approach God with such confidence because he has demonstrated fidelity to his God as both a messenger of God’s words, but also in his life.
Whereas Jeremiah approached service to God with an attitude of delight he has only received indignation, anger, and bitterness in return. For this reason the prophet can accuse God of deceiving him in verse.
God reminds Jeremiah that the suffering he has experienced is as advertised. Jeremiah then, is not to crumble in the face of adversity but rather redouble his commitment to being a prophet. Persecution has not derailed God’s promise to deliver and vindicate, and God reminds Jeremiah that his perseverance is the very vehicle by which the people are won over to repentance. In the midst of injustice, Jeremiah is not to allow evil to overcome good. The reward for Jeremiah’s faithful service is not relief from suffering but more service.
The Psalms both express praise for God’s salvation and the plea for God to recognize the innocence of the Psalmist and God’s people – even as Jesus suffered though innocent. Psalm 26:1-8 echoes the lament and call of Jeremiah by the author calling out to God for deliverance, telling God that they have stayed true to God’s ways and that they do not take company with people who have turned away from God’s ways. Psalm 26 is likely best understood as presenting a sobering statement of the requirements for priestly entrance into God’s holy presence.
Old Testament – Jeremiah 15:15-21
Jeremiah is often cast as the “weeping prophet” since no other prophetic book contains as much description of the prophet’s woes. These passages resemble lament psalms which typically contain the elements of a cry to God, description of suffering, questions to God, condemnation of enemies, petition for deliverance, confession of trust, and a divine response.
True in form, Jeremiah 15:15-21 is a lament by the prophet Jeremiah, protesting what is happening to himself, reminding God that he stayed true to God’s word. The reply by God is included, calling Jeremiah to serve as God’s mouthpiece, to be God’s action in the world. God declares that God is with Jeremiah, to save and deliver him.
Jeremiah 15:15 begins with the prophet addressing God with unusual candor and directness, “You! O LORD you know”. The lament that follows contains the following three elements: the petition (15b), an argument for the prophet’s deliverance (15c-17), and complaint (18). In the petition the prophet calls upon God to “remember,” “visit,” bring retribution,” and “not take away.” The plea to “remember” is common to lament psalms.
In Jeremiah’s day, the people believed that God controlled the outcome of worldly affairs–that God allowed Israel to be conquered as punishment for the people turning away from God and worshiping false gods. But Jeremiah and the other prophets also showed that when the people turned their backs on the poor and the widowed and the orphaned, they turned away from God. It is not God turning away from them.
And in Jeremiah’s day, there were false gods that provided that kind of comfort–one could worship a different god and not be concerned with their neighbor’s needs, or the care of the poor, or justice for the widow or orphan. But one could not truly follow the God who is being without caring for the human beings around them. Through Moses, God acted by giving commandments that secured ways of living with God’s presence and being present to others, commandments of not stealing, not coveting what others had, and remembering God first and foremost. By remembering God who is being, we remember our neighbors who are beings. Our relationship with others is intertwined with our relationship with God. We cannot love God and not love our neighbor.
The message is clear: Jeremiah pleads with God to act immediately and decisively on his behalf. The prophet can approach God with such confidence because he has demonstrated fidelity to his God.
According to verses 15c-17 it is because of the LORD’s sake Jeremiah suffers. Verse 16 recalls the fact that when Jeremiah was called by God into service in chapter 1 his attitude was one of joyful obedience. The “eating” of God’s words in verse 16 illustrates that Jeremiah did not only serve as a reliable messenger of God’s words, but he also embodied them in his life.
Whereas Jeremiah approached service to God with an attitude of delight (verse 16), he has only received indignation, anger, and bitterness in return (verse 17). For this reason the prophet can accuse God of deceiving him in verse 18. Like a brook that has run dry, so too the promise of God’s blessing has come up empty. The prophet assumed that God would support him should he obey the call to ministry, yet instead he has only experienced abandonment.
In Jeremiah 15:19-21 God offers a response to the prophet’s complaint. As is often the case in Scripture, God answers the prayers of the people not with the response they want to hear.
God reminds Jeremiah that the suffering he has experienced is as advertised. Jeremiah then, is not to crumble in the face of adversity but rather redouble his commitment to his prophetic vocation. Persecution has not derailed God’s promise to deliver and vindicate (verse 20), and God reminds Jeremiah that his perseverance is the very vehicle by which the people are won over to repentance (verse 19). In the midst of injustice, Jeremiah is not to allow evil to overcome good.
Jeremiah 15:15-21 teaches that honesty and faithfulness in the midst of suffering are the hallmarks of prophetic ministry. The prophet’s recommitment to his initial calling is the means by which God effects redemption in the world and reaffirms the promises of deliverance.
Psalm – Psalm 26:1-8 Page 616, BCP
Psalm 26 relates to other readings for this Sunday, which touch on matters of integrity (Jeremiah 15), self-denial (Matthew 16) and transformation (Romans 12).
Psalm 26:1-8 echoes the lament and call of Jeremiah by the author calling out to God for deliverance, telling God that they have stayed true to God’s ways and that they do not take company with people who have turned away from God’s ways.
Psalm 26, by virtue of its significant parallels with Psalms 15 and 24, is likely best understood as presenting a sobering statement of the requirements for priestly entrance into God’s holy presence.
The whole psalm can be divided into the five parts, three in the lectionary reading . After the initial request for Yahweh to act on the individual’s behalf (verses 1-2), Psalm 26 makes bold assertions about the moral integrity (verses 3-5) and religious integrity (verses 6-8) of the individual. A confident statement of faith and a commitment to worship Yahweh (verse 12) follows a second request for Yahweh to act on the individual’s behalf (verses 9-11).
1. Opening pleas (verses 1-3)
The opening words of Psalm 26, "Vindicate me, O Lord," petition Yahweh to act on behalf of the author. The author is confident that he had engaged in in personal integrity and unwavering trust in God, The author’s appeal to integrity does not presume a perfect life. Rather, " I have lived with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord." He is so confident that he asks God to test him.
2. Evidence of Moral Integrity (verses 3-5)
Using human actions of looking, walking, sitting, and consorting the author presents evidence of moral integrity. First, the author sees the love of Yahweh continually, not occasionally (verse 3a). Yahweh’s love is present no matter what happens, and Yahweh’s commitment becomes the impetus for the author to craft a journey around faithfulness to Yahweh (verse 3b).
Because the author is walking in faithfulness to Yahweh, the author is not sitting with the worthless (verse 4a) or the wicked (verse 5b)." This infers that while the author does not have lasting and potentially harmful relationships with the wicked, cursory or redemptive relationships are not negated.
Just as the author rejects sitting with the worthless and wicked, so does the author reject consorting with hypocrites (verse 4b) and the company of evildoers (verse 5a). The double rejection of the wicked in verses 4-5 creates a strong statement that the author not only walks with Yahweh, but moves in the opposite direction with the above named.
3. Assurance of Religious Integrity (verses 6-8)
Verses 6-8 shift this psalm’s focus from moral integrity to religious integrity. In verses 3-5, the author created distance from the evildoers. In verses 6-8, the author creates further distance from the outside world — this time through worship.
Washing hands with water was a rite of purification that symbolized innocence (verse 6). It prepared the worshiper to enter the presence of Yahweh and join the assembly in worship. In worship the author did what was right before Yahweh: sing a song of thanksgiving and tell of Yahweh’s wondrous deeds (verse 7). Presumably, this included thanksgiving for Yahweh’s involvement in the author’s personal life as well as recounting Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel.
Before returning to pleas that close Psalm 26, the author makes one final statement of love and dedication to the place where Yahweh and Yahweh’s glory reside. Surely Yahweh’s abode is more pleasant than the abode of the wicked.
Epistle – Romans 12:9-21
This may be described as how to live a righteous, beneficial life as he challenges his Christian community.
In the preceding chapters, Paul has told us about the “mercies of God” (v. 1), i.e. what God has done for those who have faith in him. In vv. 1-8, outside of the lectionary, he began to explain what our response should be to the “mercies of God”, what is involved in living the ethical life, what obedience to God means, what Christian ethics is, what serving the Lord (v. 11) is.
Paul now says what pursuing “what is good” (v. 9) requires in our attitude to those beyond the community. They are marks of the true Christian. The virtues beginning in V9 described are nearly all ones that concern our relationships with others.
Most stretch the love wider – loving enemies, strangers and those who persecute (all of whom may be inside or outside the church). Some of this seems to harness the competitive instinct, or at least the accountability, of community.
The images are powerful: let your love be heartfelt; be eager to show each other honor; be set on fire by the Spirit; be devoted to prayer; contribute to — literally “participate in” — the needs of the saints, and pursue hospitality. To “participate in” others’ needs is to give of yourself and your own resources for their material needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. True love is fervent, relentless, and practical.
All of this is quite counter-cultural within Roman society – social status is to be ignored, honur is to be shown to all, vengeance is to be put aside, strangers and enemies are to be welcomed and offered hospitality. And it all comes quick and fast, as short phrases with great energy, explicitly and implicitly invoking zeal and ardent service.
Paul addresses how to love those outside the Christian community, by living in such a way that fosters peace. Verses 17 and 21 act like bookends, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil.” These ideas are connected: we ourselves are overcome by evil when we let spite infect and spread through us like a disease.
Notice that Paul is not asking his audience simply to practice self-control when provoked. They are to do more than refrain from repaying evil; they are to initiate doing good to opponents. This is much harder. But in doing so, Christians overcome evil with good, showing that they “cling to what is good,” expressing the definition of true love.
1. “Let love be genuine” (v. 9) introduces instructions on what it means to be loving towards others. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.
2. V. 10 can be rendered: Have brotherly love for your fellow Christian; treat him or her with the greatest honor. In V16 sympathize with your neighbor – rejoice with those who find a need to do so and “weep with those who weep.”
3. V. 11-12: do not allow your “zeal” for Christ to slacken; be fervent in the Holy Spirit; “serve the Lord”. Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, looking beyond the present suffering to the future, keep praying.
4. We are to share with (“Contribute to”, v. 13) the “saints”, the holy ones, our fellow Christians. Practicing hospitality to Christians from other places (“strangers”, v. 13) was important in the early Church, public accommodation being infested with prostitutes and bandits.
5. V. 14 is in the Sermon on the Mount.
6. V. 16 Hold all in mutual esteem, not thinking oneself better than others.
7. V. 17 Seek out what is “noble” (v. 17) in others.
8. To the extent that you can control the situation, “live peaceably with all” (v. 18).
9. Never even desire revenge (v. 19); leave handling sin to God (at the end of time). Their job is to show love, not to act as judge don’t be worried about vengeance and whether someone will get what is coming to them–do your part to live with others as Christ has called us to do.
10. V20 says that by shaming “your enemies” they may come round, repent. Vengeance should be held back.
11. Do good when faced with evil (v. 21).
Gospel – Matthew 16:21-28
This passage follows on from Jesus’ discussion of his identity with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi last week. Simon Peter has named him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus has been instructing his disciples about the mission they are to carry out on his behalf, about telling the good news. Now for the bad news!
His message to them shifts to teaching them that he, the Messiah, must (per God’s will and purpose), undergo great suffering – something inconceivable to most Jews. (“Jerusalem” is the city where prophets are put to death.) Peter grasped that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”, (v. 16) but he cannot yet deal with the impending death of the Messiah, rather than his direct ascendance to glory.
The reason for Peter’s objection is never stated, but we can imagine three possibilities: his love for Jesus, his own unwillingness to suffer, and his misunderstanding of the nature of Jesus’ messianic mission. The latter is probably the controlling element, but the other two may play a part as well.
Peter’s standing rising to new heights last week declaring Jesus as the Messiah falls this week in trying to talk Jesus out of this fate. Jesus’ reproach is anything but subtle: “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter thus moves from the heights of recognition to the depths of rejection. He is a temptation to all to let things go as part of the status quo rather than acknowledge God’s mission for Jesus.
Peter is acting as Satan – the deceiver. Peter is deceiving himself and the disciples – and Peter offers an argument that might have been very tempting for Jesus to hear, as he prepared himself for the road ahead. Peter goes from being a rock to a stumbling block.
First-century Judaism’s idea of a Messiah was that this person would usher in a new era under God, overthrowing those who were oppressing the people of Israel (at that time, the Romans), setting them free to live and worship God. Those expectations did not include arrest, torture, or shameful execution by the occupying forces. All have endured suffering and dying under the Romans, prophet and ordinary person alike. Jesus are supposed to be different. Jesus is supposed to save us from all our enemies!
So the writer of Matthew’s gospel shows us Jesus trying to open his disciples minds to different possibilities for the Messiah – for even if the label was correct, the ideas they had were not. Jesus needed to teach a new understanding, for God’s love would not overcome evil through displays of power and might, but through being prepared to be powerless, to suffer the worst human actions, and face death. Only then could that worst be overcome. This passage marks the turn of Matthew’s gospel towards Jerusalem and the cross.
Jesus then continues to upturn conventional expectations – this time, for his followers. Goodness and righteousness will not earn people prosperity, but will bring them to struggle and suffering. Worldly progress and power are not the measure of success or true life.
Instead , they must deny themselves and take up the cross. We must deny the part of us that is rooted to the ways of this world, the part of us that is concerned about worldly matters–human things, which include the necessity of survival, of one conquering over another. It is a legitimate call to self-sacrifice on behalf of others and the common good.
Jesus calls us to a different way, a way of self-denial, of denying the need to conquer over another, to have power over another, to save our own life no matter the cost. We have life when we are living fully into Christ. Christ is with us in the difficult times of life.
The confrontation with oppressive power in fact affirms their selfhood in its deepest sense. When Jesus asks the rhetorical question, “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”, he is underscoring the fact that the giving of life in one sense leads to self-fulfillment in another sense.
The word for ‘life’ that is used here has two meanings and Jesus plays on the difference between them. ‘Life’ can mean just our earthly span of existence or it can mean that spirit within us that will live beyond the grave into eternal life. Those who are physically killed for Jesus’ sake will actually find that other life – the hope of resurrection, the promise of eternal life.
The disciples are not just witnesses of Jesus’ suffering but participants in it. They just don’t get to tell about it. They actually will live through Jesus’ suffering in their own bodies. What does it look like to follow the Messiah, the anointed of God? That path is lined with crosses and paved with Jesus’ passion. This is a matter of life and death for his followers as much as it is for Jesus.
Fortunately, there will be more than suffering in the future. The Son of Man will return and bring justice in his wake. Such justice is not merely the paying off of old debts or the settling of bitter scores. Instead, this judgment is a promise of deliverance. Verse 28 suggests that time was coming soon – which was definitely the expectation of the early church. The cross will appear to span finality. The cross will appear to be the end of the story for us all but it is not.
In last week’s text, v13-20, Jesus is referred to as “The Messiah” (in Greek “The Christ”), “the Son of the living God,” and this week we add to those “the Son of Man,” (v27-8).
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm – Psalm 26:1-8
Epistle – Romans 12:9-21
Gospel – Matthew 16:21-28