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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18C

Track 1: Reshaped in God’s Hands

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Today’s Old Testament reading presents us a graphic picture of our creator God:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.   (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

God is the potter and we are the clay. That must mean that God is in charge of our lives when we yield to him. But a popular teaching in today’s church is that God will bless whatever we are doing as long as we have the faith that he will. In other words, we may be able to influence and manage God if we have the right formula.

The psalmist wrote in the Old Testament a very New Testament message:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”   (Psalm 2:4-9)

What the psalmist is saying that God the Father has turned over his potter’s wheel to his Son. Jesus has the right and authority to mold us as he will. In order to do that he may first have to break some of us and then remold us.

Many people were initially attracted to Jesus and followed him. But did they understand the cost to them of what that meant. In today’s Gospel message Jesus made this shocking statement:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-33)

Families are important. Jesus loved his family as he loves us all. We remember there was a time, however, when the family of Jesus wanted to stop his ministry and make him come home. From the Gospel of Mark:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”   (Mark 3:31-35)

Members of the true family of God are the ones on the master potter’s wheel. Those who are not on the wheel may call us out. They may attempt to convince us to get off the wheel, leaving us to decide: o we love God more than anything or anyone, including our own family members?

When true Christian discipleship is involved tensions may arise. The temptation may be do whatever is required to keep the peace. But here is what the Prince of Peace has proclaimed:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”   (Luke 12:51-53)

There is only one master potter. Are we ready to go down to the potter’s house along with Jeremiah? God wants to mold us in his image. He is the potter, we are the clay. Or, like some, do we wish to change the image of God to our liking?

 

 

Track 2: Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

This was the last chance for Moses to speak to the children of Israel. They would soon enter the promise land, but Moses would not be going with them. Nonetheless, Moses had a word from God that they should take with them. It was a vital word that rings down to they day:

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”   (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

The psalmist wrote about the benefits of obeying the word of God:

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.   (Psalm 1:1-2)

But, as we know, Israel did not always walk in God’s ways, observing his commandments. Because of their disobedience, Israel paid a high price. But that was the Old Covenant. What about the New Covenant? What has Jesus asked us to do? From today’s Gospel reading:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-27)

Choosing God’s way is not a casual decision. It should be a sobering one. Moses present the choice as a life and death situation. If we do choose God’s way then we must be willing to follow through on our choice. Jesus spoke of a king preparing for war:

What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. your possessions.   (Luke 14:31-32)

God makes demands on us. If we are to become disciples of Christ we must understand what those demands might mean. Many so-called “seeker churches” may want to minimize those demands. They may just scare too many church prospects away. We can talk about them later, sometime. No. Jesus is saying those demands must be considered up front. He concludes his parable of the king preparing for war this way:

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all.   (Luke 14:33)

Let us consider what God gave up. He gave up his only eternal Son:

 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

God wants to give us everything. We must be willing to open our hearts and hands to him. He is saying to us: Choose life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

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Labor Day

The Dignity of Work 

Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a
Psalm 107:1-9 or Psalm 90:1-2, 16-17
1 Corinthians 3:10-14
Matthew 6:19-24

God is our creator. He is the master craftsman of the universe. We are made in his image. Thus, a large part of our life on earth is the discovery of the God-given talent and creativity which he has placed within us. This discovery gives us joy but also contributes to the wellbeing of others.

King Solomon wrote about the skills of the potter:

He molds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln. All these rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.   (Ecclesiasticus 38:29-32)

We are familiar with King Solomon. He was the wisest and the most wealthy ruler of his time, or perhaps of any time. Yet, Solomon found that all that material wealth was “vanity and striving after wind.” It did not satisfy. Again he wrote:

So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22)

Solomon was saving the our work itself should provide us satisfaction. The doing is more rewarding than the wages and what they can provide. Thus, whatever we do, let us do it unto the Lord, offering him praise and thanksgiving.

This Labor Day let us pause and rest. But let us also enjoy and appreciate our work and that of others. If we are still on the discovery to find our God-given vocation, we should not give us. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.   (Psalm 90:17)

There is great dignity in any kind of work. All work if for the betterment of society. To not work is a drag on society and on others. The Apostle Paul warned:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.   (2 Thessalonians 3:7-11)

While on the earth Jesus never stopped working:

“My Father is still working, and I also am working.”   (John 5:17)
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”   (John 9:4-5)
We need to follow his example. Soon the darkness will come upon us. We want to be working up to that day in the Kingdom of God. Then we will be prepared to work for him in his millennial reign.
Today, let us pause and give thanks for all our workers and citizen saints who keep us going.

 

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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Planted by Streams of Water

The psalmist wondered why the wicked seemed to prosper and not the upright:

Truly God is good to the upright,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant;
    I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
    and their tongues range over the earth.   (Psalm 73:1-9)

If we are looking for worldly success then the psalmist seems to suggest that God may not be the best mentor. The Apostle Paul wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.   (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Paul seems to be saying that life may be more difficult for the Christian disciple than anyone else. It surely was for many in the Early Church, especially the apostles.

God’s “blessings” may not be the type of blessings that the world seeks. In fact, they may be what the world is trying very hard to avoid. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.   (Luke 6:20-23)

If one is looking for quick success, he or she may be tempted to take short cuts by compromising their ethics or morals.

The psalmist who observed the prosperity of the wicked had second thoughts:

But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!   (Psalm 73:16-19)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned:

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.   (Luke 6:24-25)

In today’s appointed psalm we read that those who follow the law of God will bear fruit “in due season.”

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.   (Psalm 1:1-3)

Difficult times are coming. They will tell us where we are really rooted and grounded. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.   (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

What is our time frame of reference? Are we prepared for the long haul? Are we planted by streams of water? That water is God’s holy Word. Jesus, the Word made flesh. His sacrifice on the cross is our guarantee for an eternal salvation in the presence of God. That is the promise we are offered in Christ. Christ’s success becomes our success by faith. We are able to stand firm in him no matter what circumstances may come our way. Today’s psalmist concludes:
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

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