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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 06/22/2014

My first reaction when I read this week’s gospel was, thank goodness Father’s Day was last Sunday, not today, what with Jesus talking about setting a son against his father, a daughter against her mother and so forth. I guess it would have provided a connection between the lectionary and Father’s Day, an unpleasant one to be sure but still a connection, but…if you read the Bible or come to church looking for warm fuzzy, feel good stuff, this isn’t it.

Jesus said a lot of things that challenged the accepted cultural norms and that’s obviously true in this case. His words didn’t fit then and still don’t fit with what we think of as family values, they don’t fit with our sense of how important family is, but it’s more than that that we find upsetting; it’s more than a difference of opinion. For many people these verses and others like them cross a line. Even if we’re able to accept that the Bible isn’t all sweetness and light, that Jesus isn’t all sweetness and light, even if we acknowledge that our view of the family may be a bit naïve, based more on Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best than the Bible, this goes too far. We understand the commitment Jesus is asking for, but still, he shouldn’t say this, he shouldn’t put it in these terms.

It also doesn’t help all that much to be told that Jesus isn’t actually preaching on his view of the family here but that this is part of his message to his disciples as he sends them out into the world. Based on the pitch he offers, Jesus wouldn’t make it as a recruiter. There’s nothing about how if you follow him you’ll be well off, worry free or successful by any worldly standard; quite the opposite actually. Instead he promises persecutions and rejection and division.

Whatever spin you put on it, verses like this are upsetting, probably not what you were hoping to hear today, so maybe about now you tune it out and start to think about coffee hour and what you’re going to have for lunch and what you’re going to do this afternoon. Maybe you can do that, but maybe as much as you might like to, you can’t; Jesus words upset you but can’t tune them out, they kind of haunt you.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and with that, the story from Acts told of the people gathered in Jerusalem being filled with the Holy Spirit. Texts like this one today though, make me think that being filled with the Holy Spirit can sometimes be more like being haunted by the Holy Spirit, the evidence of that haunting being that you can’t just tune out these difficult sayings of Jesus; they bother you.

Maybe you remember houses or buildings in your neighborhood or in town that everyone said were haunted so you kept your distance or only approached them on a dare because you weren’t sure what you might be getting into? That’s the way it is with parts of the Bible, in particular with some of the things Jesus said. We’d just as soon keep our distance and not think too much about it, because we’re not sure we agree with Jesus, but we’re also afraid that he might be right. Experience tells us that there’s truth in what Jesus said about how following him would lead to divisions in the family, but it’s an unpleasant truth so we would prefer to tread lightly and keep our distance, not talk too much about it…

…or…we could take the route of Jeremiah. Haunted would be a pretty accurate adjective in describing Jeremiah. He is portrayed as someone to whom the Lord had delivered a message of truth to be proclaimed to people who didn’t want to hear it. In his call from the Lord, Jeremiah was told that what he said would be “against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you,” he was told.

Jeremiah was haunted by this call but he didn’t keep his distance, from the people or from the Lord. Jeremiah went after the Lord! He complained, he lamented, he accused with today’s first reading being an example: “You enticed me,” he says to the Lord. “You overpowered me; you’ve made me a laughingstock; everyone mocks me.” No treading lightly for Jeremiah. He didn’t like what the Lord said, he didn’t like what the Lord was calling him to preach so he came back at him, Jeremiah let the Lord know he didn’t like it and he addressed the Lord as an equal! He wasn’t afraid; he didn’t keep his distance or his composure. Jeremiah didn’t want to say what the Lord told him to say, but ultimately, he couldn’t stop; he was haunted. As the text says, the words of the Lord were like a fire in his bones that he couldn’t hold in.

What Jeremiah does here is he offers another approach to words of the Lord that we don’t like, another approach to words that haunt us, words that we even find offensive like what we get today from Jesus about the family and about being unworthy. Jeremiah would say to us, “Don’t tread lightly; don’t keep your distance; challenge the Lord! Tell the Lord that you know you’re unworthy, but you don’t want to be told it’s because you love your children or your parents too much.” As nice Christians that confrontational approach tends to bother us, but examples like that of Jeremiah show us that it’s a time honored approach and that the Lord can take it, and that it might be an approach that leads to better understanding of the words that do haunt us. Jeremiah provides an alternative approach to keeping your distance.

I also thought of yet another approach to texts like these, but first some true confessions. I said my first reaction on reading today’s gospel was, at least it’s not Father’s Day but side by side with that thought was “I’m sick of this text and others like it where Jesus beats up on the family. Even though I know that it’s not really about the family but more about the commitment involved in true discipleship and even though I know that “the family” can be something of an idol in our society, even though the words do haunt me a little bit, this week I just don’t want to deal with it.”

And you know what? I don’t have to, and neither do you, at least not today if you don’t want to. There are times when we should knock on the door of those haunted houses, but there are also times that for the sake of our faith and perhaps our sanity, maybe it’s better to keep our distance. I think this might have been good advice for Jeremiah too.

We should be haunted by the Holy Spirit, haunted by the words of the Lord, sometimes. But maybe when Jeremiah went into one of his rants someone should have told him to slow down, to get up early tomorrow morning and go outside as the sun in coming up, listen to the birds announce the day, walk through the marketplace as the merchants make their preparations, then go down to the river and just sit for awhile and watch the water go by. Notice the little things, a flower growing out of the rocks, a lady bug crawling along the edge of a leaf. At night find a little hill and go by yourself and just sit with the moon and the stars surrounding you.

Maybe the best spiritual advice I can give you today is to savor that cup of coffee after worship, enjoy the people you’re with. Then, appreciate the little things, whatever they may be, the rest of the day. Mind you, none of this saves you, but it doesn’t have to. That has already been taken care of. Because of that our religious life and faith doesn’t always have to be about wrestling with heavy theological questions about who we are and who God is and it certainly isn’t always about considering how unworthy we are. Sometimes it’s just about being, about slowing down and paying attention, and it may be those times that enable us to better understand what God is calling us to do, it may be those times that bring us closer to the God who does save us.

Following Jesus can be a struggle, a challenge and it should be, sometimes. But other times, it’s best to just step away to consider and accept the gift of life and the gift of grace you’ve been given.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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