Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture
June 21, 2020

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Jeremiah 20:7-13 + Matthew 10:24-39

Every now and then, there’s a child that comes up for the children’s sermon who has something to say.  It’s as if a switch has been turned on.  As soon as you ask a simple question, like, “Can any of you explain the doctrine of the Trinity?” their hand will shoot up so fast.

“My brother is having a birthday party today.  We blew up balloons and we’re going to play games.”

We always listen, and then gently move on.  But the hand shoots up again.

“He’s going to be six.  I’m four.”

You nod your head and tell them that’s wonderful, and you move into the complexities of systematic theology at an appropriately developmental level, and the hand shoots up again.  By this time, a parent is heading down the side aisle for an intervention.

“I’m going to have a party for my birthday, too.  I’m going to be five. We’re going to have water balloons because it will be summer.”

It’s as if a Word is on their hearts.  They can’t sit still. What’s inside; what they’re dreaming about simply has to be spoken.  And it’s before the world begins to tell that child to be quiet, to get in line, to draw a box around their identity, to have their goals shaped by wealth, power, and white culture.  In that moment at the time with children, all the wonder, delight, joy, and excitement—the building blocks that create compassion, peace, and justice—are on fire.

Did you notice in the Jeremiah reading that he, too, cannot stay silent? He feels compelled to speak.

9If I say, “I will not mention God,
or speak any more in their 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.[1]

Jeremiah is one of the major prophets in the Old Testament.  Sometimes called the weeping prophet. He lived about six hundred years before Jesus, and he saw his country going off the rails.  Leaders were making deals with other nations behind the scenes, putting their own interests ahead of the people.  The elite in the capital made policies that enriched them, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. The religion, so precious to the nation’s past, became a prop for military power.

And Jeremiah couldn’t stand it.  He had to speak out.  He constantly got in trouble.  He was thrown in a pit, put in stocks, beaten, laughed at.  But God had given him an imagination to see a world that was grounded in justice, love, wonder, delight.  Walter Brueggemann summarized what Jeremiah believed would delight God:

steadfast love as solidarity with the purposes of God,

justice as the sharing of resources, and

righteousness as investing in communal wellbeing.[2]

Basically, he tells his country, if you keep going like you are, everything will fall apart.  You won’t make it.  You’ll rot from within, and you will fall to powers that will destroy you.

Fast forward from Jeremiah to Jesus, to the gospel lesson for today. Jesus had the same imagination as Jeremiah.  His ministry became an embodiment of Jeremiah’s dream.  That’s what helps understand the gospel text for today, which is a collection of Jesus’ sayings that take seriously what happens when you can’t help but hold up God’s dream for the world.

There’s still a counter-cultural element to the message of Jesus.  The logic of God’s reign still comes to us as an outside voice, or maybe a voice from deep within, placed within us at the moment of our first breath:

sharing provides more security than accumulation;

forgiving brings more possibilities than getting even;

serving provides more joy than being served;

vulnerability has more power than brute strength;

losing is winning,

dying to self is truly living,

picking up the cross is finding resurrection

I have a hunch that this message still divides families, or friendships.  It’s still risky to practice those qualities in our work or our schools or around our dining room tables.  People still deride the weak.  Many of us feel fearful about speaking into the face of racism, or politics, or even our church life.

Yet, these days call for a people that cannot stay silent; a people that speak, not only what Christ has done for our souls, but what it means for people living in community.  What does gospel love mean for people of color; what does it mean for people privileged by whiteness;  what does gospel love mean as we consider policing and security; what does gospel love mean as we live through a pandemic; what does gospel love mean as we debate the future of our country; what does gospel love mean as we navigate almost daily changes to our reality.

Justice is what love looks like in public.

But let’s acknowledge that this message to speak, even when it divides, is hard; to have this burning message inside that can’t be silenced.  Many of us absolutely overwhelmed simply making it day to day right now.  Our jobs have radically changed.  Our families are sheltered in our homes with us, and we’ve done one too many puzzles.  Our incomes have been affected. Our cities are in turmoil.  Buildings burned to the ground.  The virus setting us on an uncertain path for a very long time.  And the memory of George Floyd calls us not to retreat but to engage, to dismantle, to build a whole new system of caring and protecting one another.

I think it’s why Jesus said, “Yeah, it’s a lot. Don’t be afraid.  God sees all of this.  God notices what you’re going through.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without God’s attention.  God’s attention never wavers; it’s never absent; it’s always there for us to hold on to.  That grace, the love of God, is not far, but near.  In fact, it’s within you.

The dream that captured Jeremiah, and Jesus—the wonder and joy of God’s presence—is more true than oppression or depression.

Angela Davis calls it the radical imagination. “[The] fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen. I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.”[3]

God’s radical imagination. Jeremiah believed that.  Jesus gave his life for it.  And now it’s been placed upon our hearts. The switch has been flipped.  For that, all we can say is “Thanks be to God!”

[1] Jeremiah 20:9, NRSV

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “Mrs. Thompson’s Call for Honest Grief, Church Anew Website, June 18, 2020.  https://churchanew.org/blog/walter-brueggemann/mrs-thompsons-call-for-honest-grief

 

[3] Angela Davis, quoted by Veronica Chambers in “Freedom Is In The Claiming,” New York Times, June 19, 2020, online. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/18/style/juneteenth-celebration.html?utm_source=Onsite&utm_medium=Banner&utm_campaign=Juneteenth&dclid=CMKvlsP2jeoCFRUzAQod-jEO0Q.