Worship for Sunday, August 30, 2020

Jeremiah 15:15-21

O Lord, you know;
   remember me and visit me,
   and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance do not take me away;
   know that on your account I suffer insult.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
   and your words became to me a joy
   and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
   O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
   nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
   for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
   my wound incurable,
   refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
   like waters that fail.

Therefore, thus says the Lord:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
   and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
   you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
   not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
   a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
   but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you to save you and deliver you,

says the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
   and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

The Word of our Lord.

Psalm 26:1-8

Vindicate me, O Lord,
   for I have walked in my integrity,
   and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
   test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
   and I walk in faithfulness to you.

I do not sit with the worthless,
   nor do I consort with hypocrites;
I hate the company of evildoers,
   and will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence,
   and go around your altar, O Lord,
singing aloud a song of thanksgiving,
   and telling all your wondrous deeds.

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
   and the place where your glory abides.  Amen!

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Word of our Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Relationships can be complicated can’t they?  Even with people we love a lot – relationships can be challenging.  Sometimes they can be incredibly challenging.

I love my extended family so very much.  But I must confess we have disagreements sometimes.  And occasionally the disagreements can be quite passionate!   We have been known to roll our eyes at one another and even to engage in verbal sparing matches a time or two . . . hundred!

These are my people – “issues” and all!

Shockingly some of us disagree on truly fundamental issues like how much ice cream and chocolate the McFarland sons should be permitted to consume for breakfast.  Or if green gummy bears really are a serving of fruit.  After all – they are both green and lime flavored!  Don’t even get me started on politics!  And those are just the “issues” I have with my brother-in-law John!

I have a vivid memory of a truly passionate vow of revenge that was made almost a decade ago. 

Our Jack is almost 4 years older than his cousin Nic.  They spend tons of time together – because our family is so close.  But like all human beings they have had disagreements over the years.

Nic was only about 4 at the time of this particular incident.  So at 8 Jack was bigger – stronger – faster and more agile than Nic.  On this long ago day – Jack did something that made Nic furiously angry.  Because Jack was so much bigger – there was nothing Nic could do about it.  So Nic looked at Jack and declared with a stone cold fury – “You may be bigger now – but someday – I WILL be bigger than you.  And I WILL get you back!”

Time has passed.  At 13 – Nic has a beautiful smile – sparkling eyes – an infectious laugh – and a thatch of cute curly hair.  But Nic is officially getting bigger than Jack now.  So perhaps – it is time for Jack to start watching his back.  I know that I am keeping my eye on both of them . . .

I am not sure why they locked themselves in the dog’s kennel – but it was nice and quiet while it lasted . . .

Sadly – my wonderful nephew is not alone in considering revenge.  Or in acting out angrily.  Think of those stories of people harming others over things like face masks and social distancing!

Just a few weeks ago a young man working at The Sesame Street Amusement Park was attacked for asking a visitor to wear a mask!  He needed surgery to repair his jaw . . .

In France a bus driver was killed while trying to enforce France’s face mask mandate. 

And sadly these aren’t the only news stories this summer involving people seeking revenge against those they think of as their enemies.  The news always has plenty of tragic stories of people seeking revenge.  The desire for revenge runs deep.

We may not take our desire for revenge as far as some folks.  But we have all had moments of anger.  Moments when revenge at least crossed our minds.

And yet – Saint Paul stands before us today and declares – “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Talk about a challenging message.  Don’t repay evil with evil?  Really?  But it comes so naturally to us . . . And Paul doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to say – “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if your enemies are thirsty, give them something to drink.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

One way that members of Saint Stephen bless others.

Seriously?!?  Paul’s words go against our most basic human instincts.  Our guts tell us to hate our enemies and do everything in our power to get back at them.  We tend to think revenge is sweet and payback is a worthwhile goal – even if we might be loathe to admit it in church. 

In fact – one of the most frequently quoted verses from the Old Testament is “an eye for an eye – a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exodus 21:24-25). 

But we conveniently forget what Jesus had to say about it.  Jesus said – “you have heard it was said – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  But I tell you if someone strikes you on the right cheek – turn to him the other also.”  And Jesus didn’t stop there – he goes on the say – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39 and ff.)

Another way that Saint Stephen members bless others!

Feed our enemies.  Love and pray for our enemies. Turn the other cheek.  Wow. . . perhaps you are even thinking – no thank you!

Clearly we are being asked to see those we call our enemies in a new way.  Jesus doesn’t tell us loving our enemies will be easy.  But he does tell us it is possible.  We can be more loving – more compassionate – kinder and more gracious.  We can be more forgiving.

Jesus has shown us how.  Jesus has taught us how to live lives of love and grace.  So how did Jesus do this?  How did Jesus love his enemies and everyone else too? 

Everyone is wearing their masks – yet another blessing!

Loving one another does not mean we will always agree with each other.  Jesus did not agree with the Pharisees and Sadducees on much of anything.  But even though they disagreed on just about everything – Jesus still loved them.  Jesus did not often like what they had to say – but he loved them anyway. 

The same is true for us.  We are called to love even people with whom we disagree.  Jesus showed us quite clearly that you can disagree with someone and still love her.  Which I plan on reminding myself every time I see someone out in public who isn’t wearing a mask or social distancing!

It is important for us to see also Jesus didn’t say nasty things about the people who disagreed with him.  Jesus didn’t gossip or call people names.  Not even when they couldn’t hear him . . .

Another blessing!

Jesus assumed the best about people.  Jesus assumed people’s intentions were good.  That they were doing their best and trying their hardest. 

Jesus loved everyone – absolutely – positively everyone.  Jesus loved Judas – even after Judas betrayed him.  Jesus loved the men who were crucified with him.  Jesus loved Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross.  Jesus loved all people – even people we might call enemies.

And the same is true for us.  We are called to love all people – even people who disappoint us – even people who annoy us – even the people we call enemies.  Jesus loved everyone and so can we. 

More blessings!

Love is about sharing what we have and giving to others.  Jesus shared what he had.  He fed the hungry – healed the sick – and cared for people.  Loving other people means being generous.

Most importantly Jesus showed us loving other people means telling them about God’s grace, love, and mercy.  Jesus knew the most loving thing you could ever do for someone was to tell her about God.  And the same is true for us.  Loving people means sharing the Good News of God’s love, grace, and mercy with them.  We are called to love everyone – no exceptions – no excuses – no attempts at justification.  Our Lord has shown us the way. It can be done.  And truly this is Good News.  Amen.

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