Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Iíve had a bad day. It was a bad day because I let myself become annoyed over a situation with my devotionals and web site. See, I posted a page on my web site a number of years ago with a drama that I had received over the Internet via email and used with one of my Bible studies. I received an email from a gentleman who says he wrote the story and that I had given credit to the wrong writer. Unfortunately, he says he wrote the story long after I had used it. I donít know what happened, but I could not in good conscience change the credit because it was impossible for me to use a story six years before it was written.

I then received a letter from the manís daughter who also assured me that he was the author. Despite my detailed explanation when and where I heard and used the story as well as details about how I learned the name of the original writer (all dates before the man wrote the story), the daughter insisted that her father should sue me for copyright infringement. It does not matter to them that the story is found dozens of times on the Internet, in what they claim is edited form, on web pages that are dated before his claim. They believe he wrote the story. I decided that it would be better for all concerned to simply remove the drama from my website. The story has been available on the Internet for at least a dozen years. There may be slight changes from version to version, but the idea is the same. It is impossible at this point to prove the authorship of the story, so it is better to let it go.

This isnít the first time I have had trouble with my web site. Those experiences were inconvenient and disturbing and they usually upset my focus for a day or so. Thatís certainly what happened here today. I have been uninspired, working hard to prove my case to strangers rather than doing the work God called me to do. I donít know how he managed to write such a similar story six years after I used it in my study, or how he came up with such a close replica without ever having seen it or heard it before, but I knew I had to speak the truth to him. He could not have been the original writer because the story had been seen, heard and posted on the Internet many times before the date he claims he wrote it. I felt bad being so bluntly honest with him, but I could not give him credit for a story Iíd used long before he says he wrote it.

We donít like to hear bad news. It is natural for people to prefer good news. None of us like to hear that our plans have failed or that we have done something wrong. We donít like to hear that we are going in the wrong direction. The same was true of the people of Israel in Jeremiahís time. They preferred good news. The prophets of the day learned quickly that they would do much better if they gave the people, especially the kings and leaders, words that they wanted to hear. If they thought the king wanted peace, they spoke of peace as if it were coming right from the mouth of God. If they thought the king wanted to go to war, they promised that God was behind the war and that they would be victorious.

Jeremiah had no good news for the people. As a matter of fact, the words which God had given him to speak were hard for the people to hear. The words were so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for a man to speak such truth when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of prophets speaking something different. We like to assume that the truth is found in the numbers. Surely the majority would be right? But that is not always true when it comes to Godís word, especially since His judgment comes with the consequences of disobedience.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah surely had no idea how hard it would be. How much easier it would have been for him to be a prophet like the others. In this message, Jeremiah is bold in his blaspheme against God. The New International Version translates the first line, ďO Lord, you deceived me.Ē Perhaps Jeremiah was expecting the job of prophet to be an easy one. Yet, despite Jeremiahís hard words against God, he still had faith. Despite the persecution he faced by the world to which he was called to speak, Jeremiah still believed in Godís grace. He really wanted to stop being a prophet, but he knew there was no way he could stop speaking Godís word to the world. In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people in the end.

There are times when I know it would be much easier if I just let this whole ministry go and work at doing something else. I think it would be more fun to write romance stories or historical fiction. Perhaps some day I will have that opportunity. I know that sometimes I would rather live a life of quiet anonymity. For now, however, Iím called to do this, to write daily and weekly devotions, to proclaim Godís grace through the written word so that the world might hear and believe. This ministry might cause me difficulty sometimes, but I can only go on as I believe God is leading.

I can imagine the prophets of God throughout the ages felt the same way. Though blessed with a gift, they saw the gift as something which would cause them trouble. Just like Jeremiah in the Old Testament message, the psalmist knows that it is his calling to be Godís servant. As a servant, the prophet receives the same scorn as the one from whom he is sent. When a prophet is persecuted, it is the God who called the prophet who is persecuted. For the psalmist, the persecution comes even from his own family as well as the leaders at the gate and the drunkards on the street. But the servant is willing to endure the persecution for the sake of the God whom he serves.

The psalmist prays on, seeking Godís blessing and protection. ďBut as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Jehovah, in an acceptable time: O God, in the abundance of thy loving kindness, answer me in the truth of thy salvation.Ē Three is hope in the midst of the travail. There is promise even while there is persecution. The psalmist is able to praise Godís tender mercy even as he is suffering at the hands of his enemies. This is the kind of life that Jesus lived, and the kind of life He calls us to live for His sake. Our words do not always land pleasantly on the ears of those who hear, and the response is not always welcome. However, God is with the ones who speak His word into the world, those who stand fast to the truth and speak as they are called.

Unfortunately, it is easy to fall into temptation, as I did today. Instead of speaking the truth and moving on, I lingered on my troubles and focused on proving myself right. I put so many other things aside and lost sight of the will and purpose of God. I learned as I continued in the conversation that I can get caught up in myself and in my troubles. Iím still drawn to the situation, not knowing how to leave it behind.

My mother worked at an ice cream shop when she was a young adult. The owner of the shop understood the temptation of his product to those young employees. He had a policy that the employees could eat as much ice cream as they wanted. He learned quickly that it was better to allow them to overindulge when they began working at the shop because they soon got tired of eating the product. Within a few days, the employees were no longer tempted with every scoop and they were more productive during their shifts. They learned what happened when they overindulgedóthey got sick of the ice cream and perhaps even got sick to their stomachs.

We all face temptation. God knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our bodies, minds and spirits. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy. In Christ, we have the freedom to live in the grace of God. We can certainly go out and overindulge in the temptations we face, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ forgives us. But in our baptism we were buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. We are no longer slaves to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus and called to live in the newness of life that comes from grace.

Even worse than falling to temptation, we think that our failure canít be forgiven. We forget Godís amazing grace and wallow in our pity. We hand on to the control of our situation instead of handing it over to God, ignoring Godís promises by working to prove ourselves right. When we suffer, we think that God must have abandoned us. When we face persecution and dis-ease, we wallow in self-pity. Jesus reminds us, however, that He suffered the same persecution. ďA disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord.Ē We will experience the same things that Jesus experienced, face the same rejection and oppression when we stand firm in His Word. This does not mean God has abandoned us. On the contrary, God stands with those who do His work in this world.

Jesus says, ďAre not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.Ē Iím not sure they are sparrows, but we have dozens of small birds that hang out in front of my window. We have a small bird feeder filled with seed that they love to visit. They spend their days eating and playing in our bushes. Since there are so many birds they purposely through some of the seed on the ground. Then they all can have their share.

It is fun to watch, especially for the cats. They sit in the window meowing at the birds that not only gather in the bush, but also sit on the sill just outside the window. It would be very dangerous for the birds to be so close to the cats, but the window protects them. Unfortunately, the window is also a danger. When the sun is shining and the sky is reflected in the glass, the birds think they can fly in that direction. We hear small birds fly against the window several times a day. They usually fly off to safety in a tree until they recover and quickly come back for more seed.

God knows each time those tiny birds hit my window. He knows their pain and He rejoices when they are able to fly again. Sparrows could be purchased in the marketplace in Jesusí time for just two for a penny. They were used as food, although a sparrow could not make much of a meal. Human beings were created and charged with the rule of all Godís creation. We are His crown. As Jesus says, ďFear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.Ē This does not mean that God will cover the entire world with bubble wrap so that we will not suffer the pain of injury. We might even experience the persecution that comes from those who do not believe in the Lord God, but this is not a sign of abandonment. God is with us through the good times and the bad. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us, the ones who follow Him.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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