First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
7O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
10For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.
“Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.”
11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.
12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.
The Word of the Lord.
Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
7Surely, for your sake I have suffered reproach,
and shame has covered my face.
8I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.
9Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
10I humbled myself with fasting,
but that was turned to my reproach.
11I put on sackcloth also,
and became a byword among them.
12Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
13But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord:
“In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help.
14Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
15Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up;
do not let the pit shut its mouth upon me.
] 16Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind;
in your great compassion, turn to me.
17Hide not your face from your servant;
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.
18Draw near to me and redeem me;
because of my enemies deliver me.
Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
1bShould we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
The Word of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 10:24-39
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For 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;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our father and from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
In his acceptance speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, Holocaust survivor Sir Elie Wiesel perfectly demonstrated his understanding of today’s lessons for us all. He so eloquently stated “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” In such a simple phrase, this Jewish man, who -as 15-16 year old boy- had survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he lost both of his parents and his younger sister to the whims of pure evil, perfectly encapsulated the message of Christ in today’s Gospel, the faith of Jeremiah in our first lesson and the words of encouragement by St. Paul in his letter to the newly forming church in Rome as well as any pastor, Pope, philosopher or even Luther himself ever could.
Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you.
Our Lord could not be more clear in his message for us today with his words quoted in the book of Matthew. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Peace is easy. Peace is acquiescence, Peace is complicitness. Yet the sword that Christ yields is not one to kill, maim or control others but is instead the sword of God’s eternal judgment of those who oppose him and resist His will for us in our time on this earth. Sitting passively on the sidelines while others are being oppressed is very clearly not an option.
Doing our fallible best to obey the 10 Commandments so as not to harm others in our daily lives is admirable and a solid cornerstone for a functioning society. Jesus himself knew well and often spoke of the merits the “old laws” that were mostly divinely inspired and written long before his arrival. Yet when directly challenged as to which was the most important, three of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke recount that he did not waver: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” He did not leave it there, however. Those same three Gospels, along with the addition of John explicitly state that Jesus quickly followed his declaration with his own “new” directive. “Love your neighbor” -not only as you love yourself- but also “as I have first loved you.”
Wow. Those are powerful words. The most palatable and sanitized interpretation of that seemingly simple directive is summarized in the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The essence of this maxim has been around since times long before the birth of Christ. It is pretty simple to grasp, “If you wouldn’t want it to happen to you, don’t do it to anyone else.” But that is not what our Lord has said. He said “Love your neighbor AS I HAVE FIRST LOVED YOU.” Model my love for you in the way you treat others occupying this planet with you. And, just to be clear, he is not only speaking of the people with whom you have chosen to live next door, across the street, down the block or even in the same part of town. They don’t have to think like you, look like you, live anywhere near you or even believe the same things you believe. They alone are not all of our “neighbors.” The neighbors Christ refers to are ALL of those individuals that share the basic property of being human on this big blue planet spinning around our sun as a part of billions and billions of galaxies in God’s universe. Every race of people in every corner of this planet has no more than 1/10 of 1% difference in their DNA. We all are one people. Jesus knew nothing about genetics, but he absolutely knew this.
His directive for us was not simply “Do no harm.” That is easy. No, Christ’s message is to love other people, including those that we do not even know, AS HE AS FIRST LOVED US. There should be no misinterpretation in understanding that he means caring for others so strongly that we would be willing to lay our very lives on the line to give them a chance for theirs to be better. That was the love He showed to us. He had no interest in His personal gain. He was sent to Earth to be a model of love for us to emulate. His love for everyone, even those who actually killed him, led to his death. But, of course, that was part of God’s plan.
So when Jesus challenges us as in today’s Gospel to “take up the cross and follow me” while fully acknowledging that those who do so will put themselves, their lives and even others they personally love in peril, he does so knowingly, emphasizing the significance of the instruction. When He says “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” he is saying that when you know in the deepest part of your soul that something is wrong, you MUST speak out and even act against it. Do not keep silent. But do so with the assurance that you are acting under the complete shelter and comfort of a faith in the one true God that has blessed us all with eternal protection for doing his will. He doesn’t promise that there will be no consequences for doing so; only that we must do it.
In the second lesson today Paul assures us that the lives we live as baptized believers in and workers with Christ are lives that have been blessed through the trials He faced. And through His resurrection over death ours are therefore lives that are to be dedicated to doing the will of God here on Earth.
Doing the will of God.
For the overwhelming majority of us, my friends, this is a terrifying notion. Most of us have found or even labored extensively to create pockets of great comfort for ourselves and those we know and love in our own personal worlds. The idea of putting those treasures at risk to speak out against injustices for people we do not even know, or instances we barely understand is nothing short of horrifying. Yet, may we all find the faith of Jeremiah as demonstrated in our first lesson. While Jeremiah is lamenting the mockery, derisions and physical risks that are cast upon him by even his closest friends for speaking God’s will amongst an unreceptive audience he does so with a faith and confidence that he knows God sees his heart and will reward him in the end.
We are Lutherans. Specifically, we are Lutherans as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In some ways, since the formation of the ELCA by consecutive votes in 1982 and 1986 (the first of which was held here in Louisville coordinated by my father and our former Pastor Tom Swasko and the second one I got to attend as a youth delegate in Milwaukee) I’ve skeptically questioned the inclusion of the word “evangelical” in that name. You see, as a stereotype, Lutherans are not really known for our will to “evangelize” in the active sense of the verb.
Evangelize: to spread the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
We’re more of a “We’re so glad you’re here! Please come back and see us and we’ll share more of God’s love with you when you do! (But please don’t sit in “my” seat when you come back.)” kind of church. As a “rule” speaking out is not our forte. That is not to say there are not some AMAZING individuals actively doing God’s will and publicly sharing God’s love in His name on a daily basis. As a whole, however, we as Lutherans just don’t tend to do it in a way that frequently garners attention.
Yet our national church is very clear, and our Church Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a call to us to do just what our Gospel today commands. Look within. Stand up. Speak out. We are blessed. Her words to us this week specifically referenced the unnecessary tragedy here in Louisville that took Breonna Taylor’s life. She then went on to call us to not be silent; for silence is acceptance. “As church, together we must work to condemn white supremacy in all forms and recommit ourselves to confront and exorcize the sins of injustice, racism and white supremacy in church and society and within ourselves as individuals and households.” Those are uncomfortable words. “Within ourselves? OUR households?” – Not me! – I don’t think… But empowered by the unfathomable love that Christ has freely given to us we are blessed with an unmeasurable ability to dig even deeper and find that place from which we can share that love with ALL of God’s people. If we do not work in our own ways to undo injustice when we see it in front of our own faces, we are in the words of Elie Wiesel, “helping the oppressor” and “encouraging the tormentor.” In the words of our Lord in todays’ Gospel, that silence is walking past the cross laying on the ground and not taking it up to follow the will of God.
To close with a final quote from Sir Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”
Stand up. You are blessed. You have been called. Do not be ashamed nor afraid. Speak. Act. Fight for those who cannot. It is not about you. God calls us.
And now, may the peace and LOVE of God, which surpasses ALL our understanding, keep your hearts, minds, words and deeds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
- written and shared by Dr. Paul J. Kiser