22nd Sun Ord time, 9-3-17
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm: 63:2-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Our readings today could easily be titled: The Four Steps of Attitude Adjustment. Let me explain what I mean. We start with The Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading. This is step one. Like most of us when we are compelled to do something we don’t want to do, Jeremiah is whining. He blames God; he says he was “duped”/ “seduced”/ “misled”. Jeremiah wants God to know that he is doing this job as a prophet against his will. He is frightened by the threats made against him. He is tired of being ridiculed. He himself thinks the message God has given him to share with the people is a message of violence; he is disguised with himself for delivering the message.
So why does he continue to be a prophet for God? Jeremiah has tried to stop. He promised himself he would stop. But then the message “becomes like a fire burning in my heart”; he says he cannot hold the words in, he feels weak and out of control. The way Jeremiah describes his situation is almost like compulsive behavior or addiction; he is full of negativity and resistance.
The next situation, step two, starts off well. We look at is the apostle Simon Peter in the Gospel. Peter has just been given the name of “Peter”, or the solid, stone foundation for the Church. Peter is given the keys to heaven, and great authority; it seems impressive. But then, in just a few moments, it goes from ideal to awful. Jesus begins to talk about suffering and being killed. What had sounded glorious has turned grisly.
Peter is so full of himself that he tries to set Jesus straight; he says Jesus is wrong, mistaken. Surely the Son of God will not allow himself to be victimized by the chief priests, of all people! Peter had been thinking that he was strong enough to stand in his own power, but that illusion is swept away. Jesus calls him the Devil. Ouch!! Jesus persists, saying that Peter must expect to take up his cross!! Had Peter signed up for crucifixion?? He would lose his life? OMG!
Step 3 starts off badly, with our Psalmist saying, “my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” He clearly is not in control of his situation, either. He sounds like a guy in real trouble. But he is actually seeking greater power than himself. Suddenly it changes; everything changes. He looks into the temple and sees a vision of the power and glory of God. He sees kindness so intense it is a greater good than life itself.
Praise for God comes out of his mouth without thinking – he blesses God, lifts up his hands in worship and calls out for God. He is no longer hungry or thirsty – he feels as if he is at the richest and most abundant of banquets, where every possible desire for food and drink will be satisfied. He feels sheltered; he clings to God as a steady and reliable force for his life and is filled with joy.
Finally, we read from St. Paul, who has already suffered a stoning and beatings for teaching the Good News of Jesus. He does not even consider his own strength or power. He offers instead the “mercies of God.” He tells us the attitude of success is one of offering our self to God, like a living sacrifice, and offering worship to God. Paul adds that we do not need to behave like the people around us, but rather our attitude needs to tune into God, changing and renewing us, enabling us to know the will of God. Then we will understand what really is good and pleasing to God. Instead of trying to control a situation, or bend a situation to our desires and benefit, we should choose to be molded into a new direction, a different understanding, where we can begin to understand how to be loving and just and true.
Jeremiah wanted life to be easy and pleasant. He just wants to fit in, have some buddies, and go with the flow. He is very conflicted; God is cramping his style.
Peter is a good man. Power and authority also sound good to him, but only if he’s on the winning side. He loves Jesus; but he’s hoping for maybe a little upward mobility? He wants God to defeat the Roman army and take charge.
Next our Psalm writer is looking for God, even in the midst of thirst and hunger. He goes to the temple, and finds a spirit of glory and kindness. Without one bite of food, he feels filled and satisfied. Without any power of his own, he feels safe and joyful with God.
Last is Paul, who can open himself fully to God’s plan, and wants to conform to God’s ways; he is ready, and urges us, to commit – body, soul, and mind.
This is not a process that necessarily comes from intelligence, maturity, experience or background. It is not a program where you just follow 4 easy steps. It is a gift of the Spirit which we can choose to nurture and follow. For each person, the path is unique; ironically blissful and demanding at the same time. Yes, the retirement plan is outstanding, but living the Godly life is unexpectedly and deeply rewarding.
My friends, keep up the good work.