Proper 17 (August 31, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Jer. 15:15-21; Ps. 26:1-8; Rom. 12:9-21; Matt. 16:21-28
This was a quiet week, but rich for building relationships. We visited with several partners to discuss upcoming projects and with new friends in the area who wanted to learn about MCC.
In the region this week, two boats carrying some 40 peace activists penetrated an Israeli naval blockade and arrived in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 23. Jeff Halper, an Israeli on board, was detained by Israeli security when he sought to re-enter Israel. On Aug. 28, the boats returned to Cyprus, with several Palestinian passengers, including a 10-year-old boy in need of medical treatment.
On Aug. 26, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made her 7th trip this year to the region, seeking to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before the Bush administration leaves office in January 2009. In a pattern that has become typical for these visits, the Israeli government announced the release of some 200 Palestinian prisoners just as Sec. Rice arrived.
At the same time, Peace Now, a Jewish advocacy group, released data showing that the number of Israeli settlement housing starts this year is double that for the same period last year. The settlements – built on West Bank land in violation of international law – are widely believed to be one of the greatest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.
The Common Lectionary readings this week draw a clear distinction between God’s role and ours.
Jeremiah laments his poor treatment as a prophet. He is persecuted and suffers insults (Jer. 15:15), he sits alone under the weight of God’s hand (v.16) and suffers unceasing pain and an incurable wound (v.18). But rather than seek retribution, Jeremiah is instructed to turn back to God and speak what is precious (v.19). It is God who will deliver Jeremiah and redeem him “from the grasp of the ruthless” (v.21).
In the Psalm, it is David’s role to walk with integrity and in faithfulness (Ps. 26:1, 3) and trust God without wavering (v.2). It is God who will vindicate David in the midst of evildoers (v.1).
In the Epistle reading, Paul says that our role is to: “hold fast to what is good” (v.9), “be patient in suffering” (v.12), “bless those who persecute us” (v. 14), “live peaceably with all” (v.18), feed and give drink to our enemies (v.20) and “overcome evil with good” (v.21). It is given to God alone to avenge and repay wrongdoers (v.19).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus calls his disciples to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). When we seek to “save our life” or to “gain the whole world” we end up losing our life (v.25-26). Only when we lose our life for Christ do we truly find it. It is God who will repay everyone for what they have done (v.27).
Living in a world filled with injustice and wrongdoing, it is so easy to take matters into our own hands. It is tempting to try to outwit or get even with our enemies – those who threaten us or make our lives difficult. But the Lectionary readings make clear that ultimate outcomes are in God’s hands alone.
Still, we have an important role to play. The late Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador for his faith witness, said it best:
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.