How have we arrived at the end of August so quickly? Even with pandemic this summer has sped by at an alarming rate. Many of us might be on vacation this week; I am. For those of us who are preaching this week, the texts contain countless sermon possibilities. Admittedly, I am seeing them all from a social justice lens as I have preached a series this summer titled, “Power and Privilege in the Bible and in Our Lives.” While I did not include any of these passages in my series, I could have. They all have a message about what it means to follow God’s ways.
We begin with the well-known story of Moses and the burning bush. We all know Moses was a shepherd, tending his father-in-law’s sheep when his life was turned upside down. He went from being a regular person to being a reluctant prophet and leader of God’s people. First, he had to see the flames and hear the voice. Then he had to acknowledge he was standing on holy ground and remove his sandals. After that, Moses made excuses either because he didn’t feel like leading the people or, more likely, he believed he could not do it.
Friends, there are bushes burning all over the world and very few are recognizing them as God’s presence on earth. Fewer still are responding to God’s call to confront Pharaoh. Sometimes I think we should insist on worshiping barefoot so we remember that we are in the presence of God, the same God who spoke to Moses that long-ago day. Maybe, if we all were barefoot every time we gathered for worship, we might be more open to the possibility that we, too, are being called to set God’s people free from the Pharaoh’s of today. If we are to be the Body of Christ needed in the world today, then we ought to realize that we are sent into the world as agents of liberation, the kind of liberation that brings the possibility of justice and wholeness to all God’s people.
The passage from Jeremiah has a similar message. Jeremiah is complaining a bit at the beginning because God seems to have turned away from him. He is spewing out his good deeds and how he has not turned away from God’s ways. God’s response to him may not have been what Jeremiah was hoping for. God tells him that if Jeremiah turns back to God, then God will make him a leader of the people. There is no promise of an easy life. Jeremiah will become “a fortified wall of bronze” which implies that life for the people of God is going to be risky at the very least. However, if Jeremiah sticks with God’s people and leads them in God’s holy ways, then they will be delivered “out of the hand of the wicked” and redeemed “from the grasp of the ruthless.” If Jeremiah really wants to be close to God, life will be hard. There is not promise of bliss for Jeremiah or for us. Are we really doing everything we can to lead God’s people away from Pharaoh’s grasp?
If you are now wondering how we lead the people of God in ways that liberate, Romans has the perfect set of directions. These are guidelines for the Body of Christ and how we are to live with each other, and with all of our neighbors. It begins with letting “love be genuine” and moves through a list of behaviors that will only strengthen a community. It also tells us how to treat our “enemies.” We are to feed them and give them something to drink rather then treat them the way they might be treating us. These verses should be posted on all our sanctuary walls as well as the walls of our homes – right next to the sign that reminds us to remove our shoes because the ground is holy.
Now we come to the Gospel text, and it’s a powerful one. It reminds us that even Jesus was tempted by the easier road. Why else would he have called Peter “Satan”? Jesus goes on to remind us that following him means that we carry heavy burdens, though it is worth it. If we are able to let go of the things valued by the likes of Pharaoh and commit ourselves to the path of Love, we will have life – abundantly and eternally. We must turn aside from the easier road of following the crowds and avoiding challenging the ways of Empire. When we follow Jesus, we assume the responsibility of taking the harder path, the path that requires us to make room for all, the path that leads to justice and wholeness for all people. There is no better way, and, yet, it’s not a well-worn path. Now would be a good time for us to recommit to picking up our crosses and letting go of things that no longer serve, so that we may follow Jesus in a way that brings liberation for those who are oppressed.
These texts hold so many sermon possibilities. What are you preaching this week? Please join the conversation so that we may accompany one another and navigate the path together.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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