Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3
Luke 12:49-53 (54-56)
Yahweh of Armies says, Donít listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you: they teach you vanity; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of Yahweh.
Jeremiah had a lonely life. He was a prophet who had a very unpopular message. The other prophets of the day were promising good times to the people. They were promising sunshine and roses, peace and prosperity while Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction. He was persecuted and rejected because he did not speak words the people wanted to hear. Would we have been any different? After all, it is much better to hear about peace and prosperity rather than destruction. How many preachers today are guilty of similar warm fuzzies when they should be calling people to repentance?
Motherís have this way of knowing what is going on without even having eyes on the situation. I have been known to tell my children that I have eyes on the back of my head. The children often believe this because we seem to know things we should not know. We are able to see things beyond the reasonable scope of our senses. We are really not omniscient, but we hope they will believe that we can see everything and that it will make them think twice about doing something disobedient when they grow older. We canít be everywhere, however. Step by step they grow up and move on without us, often testing the limits of our omniscience.
Unfortunately, we do the same thing with God. Weíd rather think of Him with limited scope and sight. This is why the gods of the early people were local entities, more like extraordinary humans than divine beings. They looked to them as greater and looked to them for help and salvation, but it was convenient that they were just local gods. They could be ignored by those outside their jurisdiction. We do not need to deal with a rain god if the weather is just right. We do not need to honor some god of the fields if our fields are producing well. The Lord God Almighty is greater than human beings, but we often give Him the same limited characteristics of those local gods. We think that we can ignore Him when we do not need anything or hide from Him when we are doing something wrong.
When we discount the Lord God Almighty and make Him less than He is, we easily fall prey to those who would use and abuse His power for their own benefit. In Jeremiahís days there were prophets on every corner, prophets who claimed to know Godís mind and His intensions. They cried, ďI had a dreamĒ and interpreted the dream to their advantage. By claiming to have received their message directly from God, they sought to gain power and influence over people. Yet, their message was lacking. It led people astray. It sent people to the altars of the false gods and made people forget the Creator and Redeemer God.
How do we tell the difference? There are many people today who claim to be prophets and who say that they have been given a special message from God. These messages often come in the form of dreams, but they also say, ďGod told me.Ē While it is important to hear what they have to say, we are to always remember that Godís Word does not contradict itself.
In the passage from Jeremiah, God asked, ďWhat is the straw to the wheat?Ē Straw is part of the wheat; it is the stem that is left after the wheat kernels are taken. Straw has value: it can be used for bedding, for warmth, for building. Yet, straw is limited. Wheat, on the other hand, is life giving. The kernels can be used for food or they can be planted to grow more wheat. Godís word as compared to that of the false prophets is life giving. It is forgiving. It is filled with grace and hope and peace. Godís word might be demanding. It might be powerful, like the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, but it is healing and it is transforming. Most of all, Godís Word reveals His faithfulness.
Who do we believe? This is a question we have to ask ourselves daily. Which news is real news? It is becoming very difficult to know what is true. Iíve watched too many videos of people who canít answer simple questions correctly because theyíve trusted what they have heard without searching for the truth. People will continually repeat misinformation until it becomes ďknown factĒ despite being untrue. With the viral character of the Internet, this type of misinformation can ruin peopleís lives and reputations.
How many of you have said, ďGod will not give you any more than you can handle,Ē believing that you have spoken a word of scriptural truth? We have heard this throughout our lives and are led to believe that life will never be difficult. Ask Jeremiah if God gives people more than they can handle. Life was rough. It was lonely to be persecuted and rejected. Jeremiah remained faithful not because he thought God would away the difficulty but because he knew that God would get him through. We believe this word because we want to be in control. This is not a statement of trust in God; it is a statement of trust in our ability to make things right in our own lives. We know, by the Gospel through the scriptures, that we could never make things right. Thatís why we needed Jesus Christ to die for our sake.
Our scriptures lately have focused on our trust in God and having patience to wait for His will to be clearly known in our life. We looked at Abram and Sarai whose faith in Godís promises gave them a vision of the future that they would never see during their lives. They saw the beginning - the birth of their son Isaac - but they would never truly see the offspring who were as numerous as the stars in the sky, at least not in this life. They still had faith. We are amazed by the examples of faith we have been given in the scriptures, almost to the point of wondering if they are truly historic stories or just merely myths to give us confidence to live in faith.
I think the point that makes these stories real to me is the fact that these saintly, divinely inspired faithful people were not perfect. They failed. Even after Abram was given the promise over and over again, he went to Hagar for a child. In the list of the faithful given to us by the writer of Hebrews, we see others who were faithful but who also failed to be perfect. Rahab was of questionable morality. Gideon repeatedly demanded proof from God. Barak demanded things to be done his own way rather than according to Godís will. Samson fell to the temptress. Jephthah made a deal with God which meant the death of his beloved daughter. Davidís indiscretion brought the death of a husband and a child. The people who crossed the Red Sea did not remain faithful to God. Samuel and the prophets failed in their own ways.
In the story of Jericho we see that sometimes the patience with which we wait is accompanied by a period of repetition, experiencing the same things over and over again until we reach the point of truly trusting in God. Would the walls have tumbled down if the Israelites had played the horns on the first day? No, God called them to a period of patience and obedience despite their inability to see how it might be worthwhile. In the end, they believed and the walls fell.
So it is with us. By repetition we learn what we are doing wrong and we learn how to do it right. Our life of faith is a growing, maturing journey that lasts our entire lifetime. We have the advantage over those people of faith in days gone by because we know that the promise has been made real and eternal in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but we still fail. We still forget Godís promises and need to be reminded. We still have doubts. We still have to learn. We go through the same problems over and over again until we get it right and then God will move us on to a new phase of our journey. Unfortunately, trusting God with such faith can lead to a life like Jeremiahís.
Jesus said, ďI came to throw fire on the earth. I wish it were already kindled.Ē This sounds almost like the boast of a warrior king who has come to bring destruction and wrath. Jesusí message becomes more difficult to hear as He moves closer to the cross. Life in Godís Kingdom will not always be easy; there will be persecution. The Gospel is not a unifier, it is a divider. But Jesus comforts His disciples with the promise that they will not be alone.
Last week Jesus warned His disciples to be ready. Ready for what? The religious leaders were already pressing Jesus to catch Him in some crime so that they could be rid of Him. The inevitable end of Jesusí ministry would be on the cross. Jesus certainly wanted the disciples to be ready for what was soon to come because His passion and death would be trying on them as well. But Jesus constantly reminds them not to be afraid. ďThey canít really kill you because your Father in Heaven is willing to save you.Ē No matter how wonderful this message sounds to us, there are too many who do not hear and believe.
Thatís the dividing that comes with the fire Jesusí throws on earth. He divides hearts; some are inflamed with the divine love of God, others are left cold. The fire is not a fire that destroys, but one that fills the hearts of Godís people with His love. Jesus wishes that it was already burning, but it would take something very radical for it to happen. Jesus had to die on the cross, and then after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit could be thrown upon Godís people, filling them with everything God has promised to those who believe.
Living fully and faithfully in Godís divine love means turning away from the expectations of the world. It means being at odds with those who would make vices acceptable and prosperity the goal. It means dwelling in Godís grace and being transformed into the person that God has created and redeemed you to be.
Sadly, many in Jesusí day did not recognize the signs of His coming. They didnít see that He was the fulfillment of Godís promises. They didnít recognize the signs of the coming age because of their spiritual emptiness. It is no wonder that Jesus wanted to fill them with the fire so that they could hear and understand His teaching that Godís Kingdom had arrived. They wanted God to fulfill His promises in their way and they could not hear what Jesus was saying. There are many who continue to live like that today. Prophets preach messages that sound good to listening ears, but are not truly from God. They are messages that offer peace and prosperity rather than a call to repentance.
God does not always lead us into a path of wealth and happiness. The lives described in the passage from Hebrews were not lives most of us would choose; the faithful throughout Godís story did not find peace. However, the descriptions of the martyred saints throughout the history of the church are pictures of people who died with faces filled with joy and peace, even if they were burned or beheaded for their faith.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the faithful throughout history did not see the promises of God fulfilled. Abraham had a child, but he never saw the multitudes that God said would be His offspring. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph never saw what would come. Moses never entered the Promised Land. The writer of Hebrews lists many other faithful people who accomplished great things but never fully saw what was to come. The promise of Jesus was always there, in their words and in their hope, but they didnít live to see the day. Even the earliest Christians, many of whom knew Jesus personally, did not see the ultimate fulfillment of His work on earth. They lived in faith knowing that God was faithful, trusting that God would, in His own time and way, be faithful. We are still waiting for that day, the day when He comes again to make everything right. We are waiting for the day when we will all be welcomed back into the Garden to dwell in His presence forever.
Weíll make mistakes. Weíll follow the wrong voice and follow the wrong path. Weíll choose that path that seems best to us even when another path might be even better. We are afraid. We doubt. We are uncertain about which voice is real. The promise of God is not peaches and cream. It is peace and joy unlike anything we can experience in this world.
What does it mean to have the peace of God? We might like to think that peace is a life without conflict. We might like to think that joy is a life without sadness. But that is not what God promises. Jesus was a man of peace, but the peace He brought was a peace that passes human understanding. It is a peace in the heart, a peace with God. It is a peace that is not dependent on human effort. The Christianís life does not always appear peaceful or joyful, but there is something about their attitude that manifests before others. Those who live in the passion of Christ often have lives that look like His own passion, but they face those difficulties with thanksgiving and praise. They walk in faith, trusting that God is with them every step of the way.
Through Jeremiah God speaks to us, ďAm I a God at hand, says Yahweh, and not a God afar off? 24 Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him?Ē God is not penned up in our buildings. He dwells in Heaven so He can see the bigger picture. We canít hide from Him. We canít go about our own way expecting that God will ignore it. Those faithful in the passage from Hebrews knew God and He knew them. He knew their hearts and He knew their failures. He knew their sins and He loved them because they had faith. Though they failed to be perfect, they trusted in God.
Dr. Derek Nelson said, ďThe revelation of God is embodied and concealed.Ē God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and yet continues to be a mystery to our human minds. God is both at hand and far off. He sees us even if we canít see Him. He is so close, but we will never be able to keep Him under control. He is far away, but knows every hair on our head. God is with us. He is in our hearts and in our lives. We can know the difference between the false prophets and those who are faithfully speaking Godís message to the world, because God helps us to hear with ears of faith. His true word brings life and growth and hope.
In the Gospel lesson Jesus said, ďYou hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you donít interpret this time?Ē They knew what the temporal signs meant for their lives. Their agricultural livelihood depended on knowing the right time to plant and the right time to reap. The desert heat can be dangerous for travelers who might be on a dusty road for days at a time. Knowing the signs meant the difference between life and death.
We look at the stories of Jesus and wonder how they could have been so foolish. He was right there, close to them. Jesus did miraculous things; He made a difference in so many lives. However, there were many miracle workers and people claiming to be the Messiah. They could not recognize the real because they had seen so many false prophets. They had become cynical. Besides, Jesus did not fit their expectations. He was not the Messiah they were looking for. He was not the Savior they predicted. They couldnít read the signs because they were looking for all the wrong things.
Jesus said that they did not know how to interpret the signs. Certainly He did many miraculous things, but there were others who did miraculous things. What they missed was that Jesus did things that no other person could do. His signs were not just miracles, they pointed to something greater. His work pointed to the grace of God, to the salvation that He promised and that He would faithfully provide for those who heard and saw Godís presence in Jesus. They believed the signs according to their own interpretation, but they had a skewed understanding of God. Do we have a similarly skewed understanding of God? If we look at the signs of our times, it is easy to wonder if Jesus is speaking to us, too.
We are called to repentance, to live the life of faith in peace that might not be so peaceful. Our passion for Jesus Christ might bring discord even among our families. The world will not approve of the choices we make. We might suffer. We might die. But we are being called to take our faith into the world no matter what might happen. This means acting as Jesus taught us to act, doing what Jesus commanded us to do. Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps, even though the circumstances may be difficult. The world cannot take the peace we have in Jesus Christ. We might suffer persecution, even persecution from those we love in this world, but let us walk in the passion we have for Jesus and let our faith flow. He has called us to call sinners to repentance so that those who are dying might receive the grace and forgiveness that saves so that they might have eternal life in the family of God.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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