Rev. Michael Clang
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Once again, I am so delighted to be with you all this morning. I was speaking with Gordon and trolling around on your web site and I really admire what you all are doing now with your “whiteboard grace”.
Picking a different word from Scripture and then meditating and reflecting on it each week. What a wonderful individual AND collective spiritual exercise for you all to embark upon to grow in your faith.
As I reflected on these words today from the prophet Jeremiah, the word that kept jumping out at me was “ENTICE”. Entice. What is it to be “enticed”?
“O’ Lord, you have enticed me and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me”. Sounds like he is blaming God for his problems.
The word that Jeremiah uses in Hebrew is PATHAH (pronounced paw-thaw). Its root meaning is “to allure”. If you look up this verse in different Bible translations you might see . . . seduced, deceived, persuaded, coerced, and enticed. I think if we asked Jeremiah which English word he would have chosen he probably would have chosen all of them!
Were you seduced? Yes. Were you deceived? Yes. Enticed? Definitely!
State Farm Insurance ran a commercial this year that was either during the Super Bowl or the Final Four that was one part Hallmark and three parts public service. Some of you may have seen it.
It shows this younger man who is going about his daily life . . . you know . . . riding the train to work; dinner out with friends; walking the neighborhood; playing some weekend sports. Typical day to day stuff.
In each scene he will see a flyer or a news article. . . first it’s about rescue dogs; then about homeless veterans; then the escalating high school dropout rates. Then each scene will come alive.
The dog in the flyer is sitting next to him on the train; the homeless vet is right next to him; the high school dropout is looking over his shoulder. And soon there are more dogs; more homeless vets; more dropouts.
The song “Following” by Joy Williams is playing and we hear the words, “I need a miracle” and “I need you right now” and eventually our young man ends up walking through the doors of an afterschool tutoring center to help out. The ad says, “you can lift the weight of caring by doing”. It’s a touching commercial with absolutely nothing to do about insurance but it seems to get a bit at this idea of being “enticed” or “persuaded”.
Webster defines Entice . . . “to lead on by exciting hope”. That should be good, right? Exciting HOPE. Cause isn’t it hope that often leads us to faith in God? Isn’t it the hope of a better future that gets us though some really tough times?
It is, and this is what must have initially inspired Jeremiah. That HOPE that all is going to be okay. That HOPE that if I say these words and do these things, that everything will turn out okay. This city that I love . . . this beautiful Jerusalem will not fall into the hands of the enemy but rather will once again proclaim God’s glory! HOPE!
God’s spirit came over Jeremiah in such a way that, that (if you will allow me a double negative) he cannot NOT proclaim his message. It’s was that strong. He could not NOT share it. But as we heard, he is not feeling the love right now. It seems that every time he speaks these WORDS . . . he encounters hostility.
So he gets frustrated and thinks “no more . . . I quit”. But here is the thing, every time he decides to STOP speaking . . . the words from God burn inside of him and he gets no peace either. It’s that “fire in his bones” that won’t let go.
Have you all felt that before? Something inside of you; that feeling down deep inside that just won’t go away; that you just have to do something with.
Jeremiah is doubting and struggling and wrestling with his calling, which is what we all do at times, isn’t it? It would be nice to say that the life of faith was always peaceful and serene, but we know different. It’s often a struggle with God and God’s will in all aspects of our life, no matter what our specific vocation or calling.
My wife Tracie works as a consultant in the Healthcare world and the other day she was sharing with me how she was going to be speaking to her Board and other Senior Leaders about some of those “issues” that they never want to talk about. You know, those “scared cows” that we hope can stay hidden. I said, “you’re a prophet”. She looked at me funny but it’s true.
Kathleen Norris, in her book The Cloister Walk defines a prophet as, “one who reveals the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day”.
Jeremiah was poking at these fault lines; these national myths; and it was leading to all the hostility against him. Jesus did the same. He shook up the establishment that wanted to hide behind the lies and delusions of control and security.
His counter-cultural message of the Kingdom of God ultimately led to his death. And it’s what Matthew’s community in our Gospel lesson must have been dealing with too.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and ones foes will be members of one’s own household.”
Jeez. These words from Jesus seem so “anti-Jesus”. The Prince of Peace is declaring that he did not come to bring peace. Families not living in harmony but rather becoming your greatest foes! Makes my gut hurt. For those of you who know the enneagram personality test, I am a classic number 9 . . . the “peacemaker” . . . so not having harmony in a family does not sit well with me.
So, Matthew’s community, just like Jeremiah, must have felt “enticed” by God to share the Gospel message but now they were struggling as they were being rejected, not just from outsiders but from their families too.
These words from Jesus would offer some solace. Some comfort to know that as one shares kingdom truths; as one is speaking prophetic words; that support from those we love the most may be lacking.
Let me share with you a story about “Susan”. When she was an undergraduate, she ran in the "pre-professional" crowd. Her friends were pre-med, pre-law, pre-hedge fund manager. Everyone assumed she was one of them. But Susan was also involved in campus ministry and in her local church.
She loved mission trips and often volunteered to run the church nursery during committee meetings. She participated in worship leadership and loved simply being in church. She would invite her friends to join her, but she was often on her own. Those experiences and feelings and urgings slowly began to be shaped into a sense of call to ministry. The burning began deep within Susan's bones until the call simply became irresistible
Now sensing the call is one thing; telling others about it is another. Perhaps she expected folks to be excited for her, but that was rarely the response. As she shared with friends, they often thought she was joking. She was on the fast track and headed toward "the big bucks." Why would she throw it all away to become a pastor? Most of her friends thought it was just a phase and that she would eventually come to her senses. It was not until she entered seminary that they realized she was serious.
For some, Susan's sense of call changed their friendship dramatically, and not for the better. Perhaps most painful was the response from her parents. It was the summer before her senior year. Her parents began the "next steps" conversation with her, wondering where their amazing young daughter was headed in life.
She had so many options, so many opportunities. They talked about the exciting things her friends were doing and wondered who might accompany her on her journey. It did not escape Susan's notice that seminary was not one of the options her parents listed.
She took a deep breath and plunged in: "Mom. Dad. I plan to go to seminary in a year. I feel called to be a pastor." Silence. A couple of blinks. Still nothing. Finally, her father spoke. "Young lady, we have invested over $100,000 in one of the finest private colleges in the country. You are not going to waste it by going into the ministry!"
The Lord had enticed her, overpowered her, drawn her into the life and leadership of the church. It was not so much a choice as it was a fire in her bones, something she could not possibly hold in. However, all of her close friends, even her family, thought she had already stumbled, fallen short of her promise.
Today, Susan has been ordained and has served the church for almost five years; however, it’s not been an easy journey. When things get difficult she can all too easily hear her friends’ voices again . . . you know those “tapes” that play in your head . . . “what are you doing”? She can even see her father’s anger.
Nevertheless, every Sunday she still stands before her congregation, her community, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, because she cannot help but speak it. Her bones would be incinerated if she did not speak. Her life is not without its challenges, and yet she could not live without it.
Susan's ministry is not what we might describe as prophetic. It is profoundly pastoral. And yet her decision to follow her sense of call is in and of itself a prophetic act. And such acts are not limited to ordained ministry.
The doctor who chooses to serve a rural or urban community; the lawyer who takes on the cases her partners will not touch because there are no billable hours in them; the teacher who, although he was trained as an accountant, falls in love with the four-year-old preschool class and simply cannot not respond
It’s running your pre-school; it’s opening up Grace Café with the promise to feed ANYONE who walks in the door.
So . . . are you feeling enticed? God can and will overwhelm us, sometimes for just a moment, sometimes for a lifetime. And in those moments, it is possible that those who know and love us may not cheer us on. But Jesus offered more comforting words. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father . . . so do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”.
Capital One commercials always seem to end with that question “what’s in your wallet”? My question today is “what’s on your heart”? What words or actions is God inspiring you to say or do today? As Christians, God is “enticing us” to love justice; to do kindness; to be that counter-cultural voice in the World; we just have to respond . . . What is God calling you to do?