I. Theme – The connection between speaking out for God and making enemies
National Cathedral – "Fire Window"
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Today’s readings recognize the connection between speaking out for God and making enemies. In Jeremiah , God denounces those false prophets who tell lies in God’s name. The author of Hebrews urges believers to accept hardship as a divine aid to discipline. There are no guarantees that the faithful will thrive. They may be the objects of persecution and violence, but even in adverse situations, their hearts and minds are focused on God’s realm. This may minimize the emotional impact of persecution. Jesus warns that his ministry will bring a time of spiritual crisis.
When we ignore the poor, when we turn away from the cries of injustice in this world, we turn away from Jesus himself. In Jesus’ day, the religious hypocrites would claim to follow God’s ways but had no concern for the very ones God declared concern for through the prophets. To this day, we end up being concerned more about right belief and right doctrine than how we live out our faith. When we look to the prophets and to Jesus, we see God hearing the cries of the poor, the widows and the orphans. We see Jesus eating among the sinners and tax collectors and the prostitutes. We hear the rejection of Jesus by others being a rejection of God’s love for all people, but especially the marginalized and outcasts. This same rejection happens today—we fashion Jesus into being concerned about right belief, when Jesus seems clearly to be concerned with how we love one another. We continue to miss the mark, transforming a love for all, especially those on the margins, into a love for a few who are obedient to a set of rules.
In the maelstrom of conflicting positions and cultural divisions, Jesus challenges us to interpret the signs of the times. Awareness opens us to see the connection between injustice and violence and consumerism and ecological destruction. The causal network has a degree of inexorability: although we are agents who shape the world, we do reap what we sow.
First Reading – Jeremiah 23:23-29
Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in 627 BC, and ended it about 580 BC. His career spanned the period culminating in the Kingdom of Judah’s final defeat by the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple, and the exile of the major part of the population. In the time before the final defeat, some prophets advocated resistance while Jeremiah counseled submission to Babylonian rule as being God’s will.
Jeremiah was blunt about what was right and what was not, and he suffered at the hands of the powerful because of his outspokenness. Judah’s defeats at the hands of foreign enemies were the result, Jeremiah insisted, of the bad faith of the king and other leaders among the people. This and similar statements seemed seditious to some. They were still reluctant to kill him outright, so they got the king to order Jeremiah thrown into a pit and kept there. Then someone else got the ear of the wishy-washy king, and successfully argued for Jeremiah’s release
In these passages, Jeremiah ponders what it is that constitutes true prophetic work, and determines that it is proclaiming the word (of God) faithfully. . Jeremiah’s 23rd chapter is a compendium of commentary on the work of the prophets. They are compared to evil shepherds, and liars.
Jeremiah 23:23-39 shows God’s faithfulness through the covenant with Israel. Through Jeremiah, we are reminded that our God is a God who is close to us, not far away. Our God is the creator, the God who is faithful to all of creation. Many of the prophets in Jeremiah’s day have gone astray and just prophesy what the people want to hear, but the true prophet will speak in faithfulness. Though this passage may seem dark words from Jeremiah, we are reminded that God continues to be faithful, God continues to be very near, and God’s word is like fire that purifies, a hammer that breaks through the rock of stubbornness, the rock of oppression.
God is fully aware of the activities of these false prophets and brings them to judgment. God is no local deity easily hoodwinked, but transcendent and omnipresent. God is not revealed in dreams, but in visionary experiences (the classical prophetic tradition distinguished strongly between dreams and visions). God’s word does not result in the forgetting of God’s name. Its impact is challenging, not soothing. The final result is never complacency but radical obedience.
Psalm – Psalm 82
Psalm 82 shows that God is the God of justice. This psalm celebrates Israel’s God as the ruler over all the nations and their protective deities
This psalm assumes a heavenly court of other gods, in which God cries out for justice against the unjust gods. God removes their power, making them powerless, and instead gives power to the powerless ones, the weak, the widow, the orphan, and the needy. God is the God of the oppressed, the God of the marginalized, and God will not rest until they receive justice.
The psalmist sees justice as being foundational. It is justice that allows the earth “to be” – “all the foundations of the earth are shaken”, when justice is not allowed to have its way. Even God’s own realization is shaken. “I thought that you were gods”. Now there is a different understanding on God’s part. “You shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” The powers that were thought to rule life are found to be wanting. It is God who will rise and judge the earth.
Epistle- Hebrews 11:29-12:2
This letter was written for the sake of Jews who had become Christians, and who were promptly rejected by other Jews. Kicked out of synagogue and cut off from family and old friends, from the comforting rituals and institutions they had known, these folks needed their faith bolstered
The letter to the Hebrews bolsters the faith of Jewish converts who missed the rituals and institutions of Judaism. The author wants his audience to think of themselves as athletes in a race in a stadium. The fans cheering for them are ancestors who struggled for the faith in the past. Jesus, on the other hand, is not a cheering witness, but the supreme example. The sentences describing his fidelity are not just images; they’re strong and direct statements
The author recalls examples of faith from throughout Israel’s history. He recalls the experience of the early Israelites during their exodus from Egypt and their trek through the wilderness to the promised land. He alludes to the Judges, the kings and the prophets whose faith provided and protected the nation. Many were rejected and killed for what they believed in. These heroes of the faith, these witnesses give us strength and hope. Through many trials and persecutions, these ancestors persevered because of their trust in God. However, they “did not receive what was promised,” because God had an unexpected surprise in store through Jesus, who will be the perfect model of faith. Ultimately it is Jesus who gave himself for us, who let go of himself to die and live for us.
Verse 12:2 is a brief hymn, summing up Christ’s work as model and perfecter of faith. Christ sets up the race, an appropriate Hellenistic model, as the metaphor for life. That life might include difficulties is exactly the connection that the author wishes to make with the life of Christ Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to suffering and in turn reaped the reward of resurrection and exaltation to the place of honor at God’s right hand. His example is the model for any suffering that we might need to endure in order to arrive where he, as leader, has gone before us
Gospel – Luke 12:49-56
Today’s gospel reading again expresses the sense of imminent crisis in Jesus’ own ministry and in the life of the nation. There are two central images.
Jesus speaks of his ministry, through which he intended to reveal and establish right relationships, as being “to set the earth on fire.” Fire is an apt image of God’s transforming presence because it leaves nothing that it touches the same as before. Fire destroys but with it also purifies. A second image is baptism in which water can be death or life.
All of these images are pointing to the passion, and this aspect will serve as a dividing point for many. Jesus speaks to the difficulty of God’s judgment, that people will become divided because of it, even within the family, even within what is supposed to be one, units of sometime comfort and closeness.
Jesus has come to reconcile all people to God, but that reconciliation will cause some to reject God. There are those who cannot accept a God who accepts and loves all people. They will reject Jesus, and in turn reject the very God who loves them. And those who do reject Jesus do not understand what they are doing, they do not understand the signs of the times for them.
The peace Jesus has come to bring by establishing right relationships demands a complete revaluation and transformation of oneself and one’s relationships .