8.26.2008

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

You want me to do WHAT?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to be part of the state church in Nazi Germany during World War II. He pushed and he fought and he named the evil that he saw. He began an underground movement and encouraged others to hold on to true discipleship. And he died – at the hands of the Nazis – for the living the kind of discipleship he was calling others to live.

Maybe it all started at creation when the creator saw that it was good, and gave "dominion" to human creation. God doesn't ask for favors. God doesn't assign small tasks. We're not called to do simple things. The readings this week point us in an alarming, frightening, empowering and motivating direction – we're called to radical discipleship.

You might be sputtering a bit. Really, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was part of plots to kill Adolph Hitler. And as you read through the lectionary this week, while that might seem like a radical call, it also works against the radical peace that Paul calls the Romans to. Context is everything, isn't it?

Last week (while we were on vacation with the Lectionary) we met a new character in the history of the development of Israel-Moses. The leaders of Egypt changed, Joseph fell out of favor, the Israelites became enslaved to the Egypitians, the children of Israel started having children of their own in astounding numbers, and the new Pharaoh began attempting to control the Israelite population by killing male babies (has this ever worked in history?). By the cunning of his mother and sister, the courage of the Egyptian midwifes, and the compassion of Pharaoh's daughter, Moses is born and grows up in the house of the Pharaoh. This week we meet Moses out tending flocks and he encounters God in the form of a bush that will not be consumed. God asks – no - he commands Moses to take a stand and help the children of Israel get out from under the Pharaoh and out of Egypt. All of this is a conversation. Moses doesn't see the face of the voice, only the vision of a burning bush. Moses pushes back, "who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. God doesn't really answer, only assures Moses that God will be with him. Moses continues to prod – instead of saying who am I, he really asks who God is. God's answer, I AM who I AM, is a bit of a poke. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. I will be whatever I will be – I'm God, get it? What is Moses to do?

We see the writer of the Psalm doing what he seems to do best...recounting history in his poetry. He gives reasons to believe and trust God by using illustrations from the history of Israel's relationship with God. He touches parts of the story from Abraham to Moses...he tells the story of where they were and how they got to where they are.

In Paul's letter the the church in Rome, we see a different way of calling folks to new / different / risky / unusual things. This passage is a little reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount or even some sections of Proverbs because it is sort of a litany of instruction. He is encouraging people to be different from the rest of the world. He is encouraging them to respond to others and to God in ways that are not normal / natural. He is asking them to go against their normal responses because it offers a better way to live....not an easier way, but a better way. And what he is asking is hard. Live in harmony, answer evil with good, bless your persecutors. This is hard, hard stuff – difficult to human nature.

In Matthew's account of the life of Jesus, we see Jesus making what seems to be a fairly harsh / direct message. He is telling them that what they have signed on for.....what they are heading toward is not a simple or easy path. Following Jesus is not just a cushy occupation, it is a life / vocation choice that has cosmic / eternal reverbations. In steps Peter (of course he does), calling into question the dire future Jesus describes for himself and his followers. And in keeping with the relationship between these two, Jesus scolds Peter harshly, accusing him of being caught up in his own context...earthly matters, not the divine. We always like to imagine the look on Peter's face after these sorts of exchanges. Does he have one of those WHAM experiences (remember from 2 weeks ago), a moment when all that he has seen and heard and done for the preceeding weeks and months suddenly coalesces into a clear vision of who Jesus is and what is happening around them? Jesus is reminding them that this isn't a political battle, it's not a socio-economic squirmish. At stake here is nothing less than the Kingdom of God – God's vision for creation fulfilled.

Sometimes, when we're overwhelmed, it's hard to focus on "the one thing." And then sometimes, the one things seems so unbelievable, so reprehensible, so undoable, that we prefer wallowing in our overwhelmed state. God doesn't ask for simple things. We're not simple creation. We are created in his image, and expected to stretch our abilities toward the fulfillment of a Kingdom vision.

· In what radical way are you being called?
· If you have not responded to that call, what is keeping you from responding?
· What earthy matters bog you down in responding to God's call on your life?

"The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion. All the time we thought we had enjoyed a direct relation with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience. Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothres and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, direct relationships are impossible...we cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him (Jesus), through his word, and through our following of him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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