Sunday, August 30, 2020

Moriah Hurst, Paula Stoltzfus, and Phil Kniss: Reflections

“Holding fast to the good”
Jeremiah 15:15-21; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

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Jeremiah 15:15-21
15 Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
16 When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
17 I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

19 Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
20 I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

This week we are thinking about some of the faith we want to hand on to our children. What is that big rock for us and for them? What do we cling to like holding onto a rock face or griping tightly as we climb over boulders along a ridge. Holding on for dear life.

When I think of “holding fast to the good” in this passage, I see us being held in God’s care and understanding. That sits next to the fact that we can tell God about our suffering. I want all of us to remember that, and for our children to hear that we can take our complaints to God honestly, even if it comes out in gripping language.

The next thing I want us to hear is that God’s word, God’s presence, God’s guidance is so good we want to gobble it up. How do we let ourselves and our children long for God? What joy and delight does that bring? As we approach faith together throughout the generations, how can we learn from each other how to see God in these complex ways, instead of a God who is just there when we want to ask for a favor.

Because we are known completely by God, named and held in God’s very image.

Can we repent of our misguided longings and distancing ourselves from God? This passage offers that with repentance comes restoration and in that restoration we are freed to serve God.

What do we need to put down so that we have space to pick up and hold this important rock?

Romans 12:9-21
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The words from Paul in this passage are full of exhortation, recommendations on how to live.  If I were to pull out the rocks that we want to cling to, especially in this time living in a culture of division, they would be love and peace.
At the risk of sounding too simplistic, I’m going to jump into its complexity.
It begins with the word love. Love in verse 9 is translated from the word agape. In verse 10, it comes from phileo.  Both love, but two root words. These two words encapsulate both unconditional and companioning love.  It is a full-bodied love, as exemplified in Jesus, seeing everyone as created in God’s image. It is generously given when another is unkind. It is compassionate in the face of anger and hate. 
How are we not conforming to the world of divisive language and politics?  How are we teaching our children to love everyone, especially those with whom we differ?
Then we come to, “as far as it depends on each one of us, live at peace with one another.”  What does peace look like in the face of injustice?  What does peace sound like in the midst of language meant to stoke hate and fear, that labels people as the evil “other?”
Peace is an act of bridging.  In John Powell’s words, “only bridging can heal a world of breaking.”  How are we actively bridging with those we consider the “other?”
This kind of love and work for peace, takes everything we have, a reliance on the Creator of us all, and a faith that grounds us in the way of Jesus.

Matthew 16:13-26
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart.
Peter learned it the hard way.
One minute he gave Jesus the right answer—
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”—
and Jesus praised him for his wisdom and courage,
and promised him the keys of heaven.
In the next breath, Peter got it wrong.
He pushed back at Jesus for talking about suffering,
and Jesus rebuked him for being the devil incarnate—
“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we should cling to, in our walk with Jesus,
and what we should release,
is not always obvious to us.

In Peter’s mind, both his statements were absolutely consistent,
and absolutely correct—
1. You are the Messiah.
2. You don’t suffer and die for the cause.

He learned only much later,
after many more miscues,
that the first answer—You are the Messiah—was the one to cling to.
And the other—you should not suffer—
needed to be discarded from his moral and ethical framework.

That is the call of the church community.
To listen for the voice of God together,
and discern—guided by scripture, and spirit, and community—
which of our practices and assumptions to cling to,
and which to release.

We must be humble in this undertaking.
Because, like Peter,
what seems so very clear to us right now,
might look different after we travel a little further down the road,
and see it from a different angle.

We need wisdom.
We need patience and love and grace from each other.
And we need the courage to keep at it.

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