Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Thus said God to Jeremiah. In the late 500’s and the early 600’s B.C., Jeremiah was a true prophet of God. At the same time there were prophets who tried to veer people from God by talking about their own “dreams.” God said to Jeremiah, “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God uses wheat and straw as an analogy for the true prophets versus the false prophets. God says what does one have to do with another? This is interesting because straw and wheat are part of the same plant until they are separated at harvest. God created all people; some of whom become false prophets, some of whom stay faithful and true to God’s word. God continues to Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire … and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
So there it is. We can follow the true word, the true God or we can follow our own god whatever that may be. We can be from the same creator but we have a choice. At least, some of us believe we have choices. How true to God will we be? How will this choice affect our lives? Will we be part of the current social activities and thinking and acting or will we be different? The persons, who choose to be different, maintain their walk toward God instead of toward the way of the world. Let us take a good look at the way of the world.
First, we shall look at our checking book and our credit card statement. Where has our money gone – not only the amount but for what? Then we shall look at our date books or electronic calendars – no fair deleting the time we spend in a bar to relax. Surely spending time in a bar is not the only way to relax. Surely spending time in a bar is not the best way to find a mate. Spending time in a bar is going the path of the world. What can we do as an alternative? We could find someone who chose the different path, the path which faces God. We could politely ask if we could accompany that person. We would probably soon learn that this person leads us to more people who have chosen the different path. Something like following one bee and suddenly finding a swarm of bees. Following one person on the different path leads us to a swarm of different-path people. If we are not careful we will find ourselves transformed.
This swarm could be likened to our Hebrews passage, Hebrews 11:29 to 12:2 in which the author uses “cloud of witnesses” instead of “swarm of witnesses.” It reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus showed the different path to us. He agreed to follow the plan of the Father, not only as a model, but as a Savior, the only Savior, of ourselves. It is great that we have a cloud of witnesses as models and as pathbreakers. These persons who went before us, even our own parents perhaps, were true prophets, not the prophets who shared their personal dreams and prophecies and weak wisdom. We do not need to clear the path of tall weeds or huge jungle plants. No, the path has been cleared by this cloud of witnesses. We simply need to keep our feet on the path, encouraging others to walk with us and after us or that path will close with persistent re-growth. It is our responsibility to keep that path open.
We need to become part of the cloud of witnesses. Yes, even us, with faults galore. If we are walking that path, facing God, we are a model for our friends and our own children. Yes, we can be models for other people in our congregation. Or, better still, we need to watch the people in our congregation who are already on the path, who are already models for us. We can be the followers. We need to thank these witnesses. Have we thanked our Sunday School teachers? Have we thanked our pastor? Have we thanked the quiet person who sits at the other end of our pew?
Or, we may think that we can hide from all of this talk about the different path but remember that God can see us. God is watching us. No matter how lazy we are in things important, we cannot hide just because we are not in church. God is everywhere. God can see us in the deepest hiding places.
God needs us to be prophets for him. Are you saying that you have not heard God speaking to you? You think that God thinks that you are not worthy to be a prophet for him. Mmmmm! Well, maybe we have not heard the call. Then again does that mean that we should be walking away from God? We would be the losers even though the path that is different may not be easy.
Anna is a friend of mine who seems to be on the different path, being a model for me. But, she is having repeated hardships and severe disappointments. “Is not my word like fire,” says the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” “Oh, is that how it is!” I say. Anna says quietly, “Sometimes we need to be broken and melted. To be refined by God is a great honor. Coming out of the furnace as a shining and strong work of God is a powerful gift. It is faith that carries me through the furnace and the crushing hammer.” So says Anna, my friend.
I know a person who chooses to follow the path of the world. He declared loudly that he did not need church or God. God was far away. What did God care about this one man on earth? “Come with me,” he said. “This bar is the best there is. Did you try this new bourbon? Say, that new casino is supposed to be really neat. I heard of someone who won a hundred thousand.” And so it went. Did I tell you that this man actually had a wife and young children? No. Well, he did. He had a family waiting to be made whole. This one father could have made this family whole. This person finally lost his job because alcohol won his devotion. His family wisely decided that they were being hammered into pieces and that they knew a better path – the different path. They mercifully knew that God did care about them and was with them. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” said the Lord.
Anna is the wheat. The other person is the straw. But is all hope lost? Straw is not worthless. Straw has worth as bedding for animals, for filling cloth to be a mattress for humans. Straw has a bit of food value for animals. Straw can soak oil spills or it can cover areas of mud. Straw can be used to make bricks. Straw is not as soft as hay or not as succulent as good hay (hay being dried grass). Straw is not as nutritious as wheat; the wheat that grew on the stalks called straw.
But God values every bit of his creation. Remember the sparrow. Remember the hairs on our heads of which God knows the number. So this person to whom I referred as straw, can be redeemed – if this person wishes. Sometimes we do hear of a person being transformed because other people prayed. Mostly, though the person needs to come to a point of decision. “Yes, I will change my path, yes I will look toward God and allow myself to be drawn closer on this different path.”
How does this different path look? Psalm 82 admonishes us to save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked. That is part of the different path. Is that the only experience – helping these pitiable people? The writer of Hebrews gives us another picture – the picture of a conveyor belt; a conveyor belt of “faith.” Faith in this mighty but loving God pulled numerous people, in Old and New Testament times, through fearful and difficult experiences. Why should we have this faith? Because the cloud of witnesses had their faces on God and there was joy there. This joy may have been subtle but it was there. Listen to this verse from Hebrews 12:2: “… looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” So said the writer of Hebrews.
How can we be sure about something in heaven? How can we trust that Jesus is really seated on the right hand of God? Do you know the phrase, “The Bible tells me so?” But you may be wondering how everything in the Bible can be true; it is so contradictory. Many of us believe that God was present when humans wrote the separate books of the Bible. Even though we may not believe that God dictated every word, we believe that the Holy Spirit person of God was present in all the writing. When we look at all of these separately written books that we call Bible, we see consistency as a thread running from the beginning to the ending. This thread shows the consistency of the idea that Jesus Christ is returned to the Father in heaven. Whether Jesus is seated or if he is greeting people as they arrive is irrelevant. The thread shows him returned to the Father person of God. So we have the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit who is God’s presence everywhere, absolutely everywhere. This different path will eventually lead us to be in the actual presence of this threesome, this Trinity, in heaven.
But what about our gospel – Luke 12:49-56? God is talking big splits in families. Family members need to make their own choices. “Which path will I take?” each person needs to ask.
Family members should not follow each other blindly. Each person is accountable for himself or herself. “If this causes friction,” says Jesus, “so let it be.” Jesus also is saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but you don’t understand things spiritual and eternal.
It is not easy to follow the different path. We need to follow this cloud of witnesses. As each foot follows the other foot, faith develops. Faith is the gathering ingredient for this group of witnesses. We are invited to let this faith fill us and give us wings. We need to become part of the cloud of witnesses so that other people will see the path and follow. Amen