The Rev. Canon Barbara T. Duncan, D.Min.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be wholly acceptable in God’s sight. Amen.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah has a story to tell. Some might call it whining. Nevertheless, it is his story of fear, of isolation from his people and sometimes alienation from God. The situation in which he finds himself is not good. Folks all around are criticizing him for doing his “job.” Some of us can relate to that. Not always is the job we do going to make everybody comfortable or happy. But we attempt to be faithful to the task for the good of all concerned.
Jeremiah found himself between the proverbial rock and hard place. God had called him to be his messenger and to prophesy to the people of Judah. With every breath in his body, Jeremiah was trying to keep his promise to do the will of God. But it wasn’t easy. And now here he was, just recently released from the stocks, confronting and laying curse on Pashhur the priest and the people of Judah. Indeed he gave them the message from God that Pashhur would be exiled into Babylon, to die and be buried there.
That confrontation with the priest was enough to place him on the therapist’s couch for years. And so it was that Jeremiah turned to God with his complaint. He had been a faithful servant, doing what God had asked him. Nobody wanted to hear his messages. At the moment, he was feeling that even God’s back had been turned to him. What was he supposed to do? There was only so much that he could take and though he wanted to remain faithful, he was being squeezed on every side. The emotional pain was great and the pain of the physical beating that he had just incurred was still clear.
Standing for what is right and good in our Lord’s sight can sometimes become extremely taxing on our faith. On the one hand, there are the supporters who encourage us in the small, everyday encounters–that speaking the truth and not compromising the tenants of the faith are wonderful and noble. Indeed it is. But it often has its own price.
Recently, high school seniors who wanted to have prayer at their graduation and were refused by the administration because of the “no prayer in the public schools” rule, had to forgo marching with their class. They missed the joy in the culmination of what had been years of study and preparation for this day. We may well say that they knew what was coming. So would Jeremiah. But they refused to compromise their beliefs that God should be a part of this momentous time in their lives. But for the sake of their cross, they stood firm. It was not an easy decision when there were those who were sure that they had made a poor choice. No doubt there were those who criticized them severely.
- The cost of discipleship is high.
- The road of discipleship is rocky.
- The risk of discipleship is dangerous.
Discipleship is about paying whatever price is necessary that the Good News of God, as manifested in Christ, is preached and heard. We have been equipped through our baptism to prophesy in our own voices of God calling us into peace and acceptance of one another. Our worth or call is not related to status or material goods. Alan Keyes, a political conservative who has a strong Christian identity, is quoted from the July/August 1995 issue of The Door. He says, “relationship with God doesn’t depend on external circumstances–not on how rich or educated you are, not on how much power you have in the world. None of that can affect what’s most important: your ultimate salvation.
In John’s account of the Gospel, discipleship knows no status. Everyone is equal in the eyes and work of God. Jesus gave examples of the troubles that association and faithfulness may bring. He sought to reassure us that God cared not only for the world but also cared for them individually. The disciples probably did not think much about being placed in the same category as the sparrows. But if they took the risk of standing for God’s truth and justice, then there was nothing to fear from the world.
A common misunderstanding that too many of us have is that all will be well with us if we live our lives faithfully. We interpret God’s interest and care for us as immunization from suffering or a safeguard for our happiness. When the moments of trial do come, many people have turned from the Christian faith feeling deserted. Jesus makes no such promises as we hear in today’s Gospel. Rather, he gives notice that discipleship has its cost.
We have the beautiful moments to celebrate and remember at Christmas of love coming down to earth to dwell among us. We pull out all of the stops–beautiful music to sing to God’s glory; we shop ‘til we drop to share gifts with family and friends; and trees, tinsel and flowers abound to make our homes and communities as festive as possible. In the next three to four months following, we celebrate the glorious inheritance of Easter and the resurrection of a Savior who faced the criticism of the world and the pain of the cross for you and me. What difference has it made in our lives and those of other people?
Knowing who we are as Christians, the people of God and followers of Christ, is to accept responsibility for making a difference in our little corner of the earth. It isn’t “politically correct” to share how God has acted in our lives or to tell others that God loves them unconditionally. It has its price. Jeremiah would agree. And we hear in Paul’s letter to the Romans that the road that will bring us eternal safety has land mines. Not much has changed over the centuries.
We can determine today how Jesus has touched our lives and has brought about a metanoia–a transformation that at some period in our lives, opened our eyes and hearts to a new way of being with and responding to others. How do we make that a lasting behavior as testimony to the love of Jesus?
A woman tells of her desire to be more like Christ, not only in thought but in word and deed. She worked in a large corporation and had become friends with another Christian woman. They met before work for prayer together and shared concerns about their lives in the workplace. They mutually agreed that what upset them the most was the gossip, backbiting and off color jokes, usually at the expense of a racial or ethic group of people. What they would do about it became a part of their prayer time.
After some discussion, they decided to claim their courage and ask their coworkers not to share the offensive jokes. They ask them to think of how they were causing harm and pain to those about whom they were gossiping. And these two women questioned the guilty parties as to why it was necessary to put someone else down to get ahead. Well, after a while these two women were shunned. It seemed that they were going to become isolated from their colleagues permanently.
But the two were not discouraged. They continued to meet before work to check in with each other and to pray. About six months later, they began to notice a slow transformation in their department. People began to talk to them again instead of lowering their eyes when passing. No longer were they observing heads together with juicy little tidbits being shared about coworkers. The jokes were no longer at the expense of others. But what they thought most important–people began to engage each other with care and concern and the atmosphere in the workplace was changed little by little by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Each of us has a story to tell. Sometimes we complain, sometimes we rejoice. Sometimes we, like Jeremiah, experience the fear and isolation when we take a stand for God’s righteousness. Yet, it is in the living of our lives as testaments to God that we experience metanoia and can begin to transform our little corner of the earth.
Discipleship is not easy but God is steadfast and good. Take risks for the sake of our Lord and don’t be discouraged. It is about bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth. On Friday evening in this Cathedral, Coretta Scott King summed it up. It’s all about becoming “a symphony of sisterhood and brotherhood.” The instruments are different, the parts are different, but after practice together there is glorious music to play to the glory of God. The God of Jeremiah, of Paul and of all the disciples since their time continues to have the last say. May we hear on the last day, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” Amen.</P