Jeremiah 15:15-21, Matthew 16:21-end
In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen
Early September has a new beginnings and changing times feel to it, as people pick up the strings of activities and groups after the summer break, our children and young people return to school, the light evenings are drawing in and in the natural world (the summer wanes, and niche insects start to appear the daddy longlegs and the giant moths (including the one currently terrorising my shower room!))
Change is in the air but God’s love for us is a constant and we must not lose sight of that. We need to tune in to what is going on around us, and find what God has for us at this time. This may be how we want things to be or think they should be, or we may find ourselves in circumstances where we don’t understand or can’t see a way through – relying solely on God’s love for us – which is enduring and everlasting cutting through all the challenges and trials we may be experiencing.
Today in our first reading we encounter Jeremiah having a very tough time. He is in a tight spot. Jeremiah prophesied at a time of suffering; Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians in the lead-up to the city’s destruction and the exile to Babylon. Jeremiah expresses the anguish of facing condemnation for sharing the words God has given him. He is in an impossible situation, unable to remain silent but persecuted by those around him for what he says.
In the first part of that reading, we get a sense of jeopardy Jeremiah is feeling
On the one hand, his heart was joyful to be God’s messenger where it says: your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. On the other hand the consequences of sharing his messages from God have left him alone and isolated – where it says I did not sit with the merrymakers nor did I rejoice. He is both angry about his situation and clearly suffering with some kind of incurable wound too. We would say he is suffering, or to use the words of Jesus in our gospel reading he had taken up his cross in following what God wanted of him.
The second half of the Jeremiah reading is God reassuring him, that it is for good that Jeremiah is doing what he is doing. God remains faithful to those who serve him. Even though the going is clearly going to be tough, God says to Jeremiah things like – They shall not prevail over you, I am with you to save you and deliver you. He predicts the people in Jeremiah’s day will turn to him as a fortified wall of bronze.
This is a message to us about the going getting tough and keeping going. Not to give in or turn away from where God is leading us. To be honest with God about how we are feeling and to lean into God’s support for us. I have talked about lament several times over the last few months, and here again Jeremiah is lamenting, and God will take his prayer seriously and bring change to his heart and situation in the time and in the way God has for him.
I think it is also about remembering to take a longer perspective, to take a step back and not judge things immediately. This is difficult for us, as our culture is swift to conclusions and very instant, the ways of God sometimes only make sense to us weeks, months or even years ahead. Sometimes they may even never make the sense we want them to, as what we want is not what is on God’s heart.
Sometimes we are not in the place to make sense of anything too when the going gets really tough, or we are in deep pain following a traumatic experience or a life-changing bereavement. The important thing is to take each day as it comes, resting in God’s love for us in the moment, and keeping thankful for the tiny joys and pleasures we experience if we open our eyes to the love God has for us.
Praying for the spiritual fruit of patience, and for courage to hold onto what God wants of us is important too. Turning to our gospel reading, Jesus is very short with Peter, when he wants to future to be different from what it had to be. It’s a natural response to hearing that someone must undergo ‘great suffering’ as was the path ahead for Jesus, to want to avoid that. Jesus calls Peter ‘a stumbling block’ hindering his progress and what was necessary at that time, and to bring us all in the loving heart of God. As is often the case Peter seems to have only heard the negative – the suffering and the death part of it, and not that on the third day Jesus would be raised.
The simple truth is that we cannot have resurrection (and the power that changed everything) without the death part. This is one of the reasons why if we want to celebrate Easter fully, we must also linger at the cross and take onboard the cost and the pain Jesus suffered for us, to fully understand the power of God’s love for us. There is also the obvious truth that many of us have experienced, that our growth in faith is greater when the going is tough than when the going is easy. I am not wishing tough times on anybody, but they are a fact of life which cannot be all roses and apple pie.
A clue here on how to approach life is in the words Jesus says to Peter about where he was setting his mind. He was setting it at human things rather than on divine things. This is back to the question of perspective – ours or Gods? God’s perspective is timeless and omnipotent, and knows the future, the present and the past for us. We can be very blinkered by what we want and when we want it (even more so in a society that is very instant and very consumerist). We can confuse what we think is best, with what God thinks is best for us very readily, especially when things don’t work out for us or don’t go the way we want.
Taking space to dwell with God each day, to pray, to be and to be thankful is very important, to be honest with God about how we are feeling, and to know in our hearts his presence and peace. To keep going with this kind of discipline is important too, even when we feel isolated and angry as Jeremiah was feeling. God’s love will save us, deliver us and redeem us. We are precious in God’s sight, and his love for us is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. Love in this life and endless eternal love when our time comes.
I am going to end with the collect for today which very much captures what I have been trying to say today about resting and relying on God, not expecting the going to be easy.
Let us pray
Almighty God, you search us and know us, may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness now and in all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, some material reproduced with permission from © www.rootsontheweb.com, Some material is copyright Church House Publishing © 2000-2023