A week after Houston and the Gulf Region were hit by Hurricane Harvey, Texans are still reeling… Devastating floods. Overcrowded, inadequate shelters. People taking advantage of the most vulnerable – those marginalized by circumstance, by their situation.
There’s a great line in our lesson from Jeremiah this morning – there in verse 17, “…under the weight of your hand (God), I sat alone, filled with indignation.”
That’s the theme that runs through our lessons today. In a world where we so desperately struggle to fit in, God’s Word today calls us to stand out and stand up for the Gospel; for Christ; for the hurting world that surrounds us. And understand, that when we do, it’s not going to make people happy. Because the powerful, the rich, the comfortable, want to keep it that way.
Jeremiah feels beaten, battered, and is angry with God. He talks about how hard it is to stand alone when everyone else is going the other way. Wondering what’s going on as he’s been obedient and faithful … God doesn’t allow Jeremiah to remain trapped in that darkness within himself… Instead God responds with a word of grace, gives him a gentle nudge, and sends him back out to work. It comes with the territory; after all, the call of a prophet is one that includes the ability to recognize what’s going on around him – to raise the warning flag and face confrontation – to lead the charge – to mediate and advance the cause – to be the suffering servant. Jeremiah was the first prophet of his era called to be counter-cultural and to face [the] social justice issues of his day. He was called to confront the civil and religious status quo.
The church is called to do that as well – at least that’s what it’s supposed to do – to be God’s voice for those who are broken and hurting and share the Gospel in the world. To be counter-cultural wasn’t easy for Jeremiah and no doubt it’s not easy for us today – either as individuals or as a community. We live in a world that struggles in its identity – with groups that are fractured; that divide, rather than rebuild and grow…
What the church offers instead is the invitation to be a community that engages in the struggle of Christ in this time and this place. The church is the way we live with the crucified Christ that gives life and hope. It reaches beyond the walls that surround us – and is expressed through the care and comfort of others. It’s expressed in the gesture of hospitality – and in radical hospitality that stands up for justice for all of God’s children.
There were a number of stories that appeared this week about the church’s response in the Gulf Region. Some not at all positive. A particular mega-church reluctant to open its doors, despite having the capacity to help thousands.
Lutheran Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas – Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod shared regular updates throughout the week … He talked about his frustrations. The challenges facing some churches in the Synod forced to close – struggling and overcome with their own loss and devastation. He also shared stories of other congregations doing their part, serving as shelters – others opening their doors for nursing homes and residents that were evacuated. The mission of the church clear – helping care for community.
Our Gospel message reminds us that life in Christ strengthens us to face the pain in this world and what we fear most. Matthew reminds us that to follow Jesus is by no means easy. When confronted by Peter, Jesus doesn’t turn away from pain and loss, but offers hope to his people on his journey to the cross. A Christian’s life is about caring for others…even when it means we need to stand, to sit, to speak, to act, alone. As we continue to read through Romans, Paul gives very practical advice on life and lifestyle for us. Our lesson concludes, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And it serves as a good blueprint for faith.
Just last year my Book Group decided to re-read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Such a wonderful book. It is the story of Atticus Finch who stands and speaks and acts with integrity, with morality, with dignity. He finds himself often alone in his hateful, racist society. One of the great quotes in that book is simply this…”The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Indeed, as the church we come together as a community, bound by our baptisms. That’s how God calls us, to be who our baptisms tell us we are…servants of Jesus Christ. Following Christ affirms God’s promises of new life and Easter hope – what better gift and Gospel message. Amen.