Jeremiah 20:7-13, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

“A Rock and a Hard Place”

P   Hello, Beaky and Munchie, how are you today?

M  I’m good!

B  I’m okay.

P   You don’t sound too sure about that, Beaky.

M  Yeah, how come you’re not good like me?

B  Well, I was all excited, because my cousin invited me to go on vacation with them.

M  Really?!? Where?

B  A bunch of places.  We’d be camping, and swimming, and living in the sunshine, and, well, other stuff.

M  That sounds awesome!  Especially after being just here for so long.

B  Yeah, well…

P   I’m guessing there’s a little more to it than the chance to get out and about.

M  Maybe Beaky would miss ME too much!

(Short silence)

B  I guess that’s part of it, too.

P   But it’s not the biggest part, is it?

B  No.  But missing Munchie makes it even worse!

P   How long a trip is this?

B  It’s only a couple weeks, but…

M  But what? A whole two weeks is a long time for you to be gone, and for me not to see you!

B  But that’s just it.  It wouldn’t be just two weeks.  Mom said if I go along on that trip, when I get back I’d have to stay in my room all by myself for ANOTHER two weeks.

M  You’d starve!

P   Beaky’s family would still provide food, but Beaky’s talking about quarantine.

M  Why would Beaky have to quarantine?

B  Because it’s the best way to protect Grampa from whatever I might bring home.

P   That’s a really hard decision.  You have to decide between a vacation that sounds really fun, and seeing your Grandpa, and Munchie, for nearly a month.

M  Yikes!

P   Some people describe needing to make decisions like that as being between a rock and a hard place, because no matter what you decide, it’s going to hurt at least a little bit.

M  And maybe a lot!

B  I think I’m not going.  But now my cousin’s going to be mad at me.

M  THAT sounds familiar!

B  Why?

M  Well…

P   You were listening to the readings again, weren’t you?

M  (nods)

P   The readings today describe how sometimes even people of the same family work against one another.

M  That they fight, and how mean they can be!

B  I don’t think my cousin’ll be mean!  At least I HOPE not…

P   But we don’t like to disappoint those we care about, and who care about us.

B  Right.

P   But Jeremiah found that it’s better to do the right thing, even when people would rather you pretended that the wrong thing was okay.

M  Yeah, and sometimes, it’s not easy to figure out WHICH is right.

P   And sometimes, even the best answer in the circumstances hurts.

M  And SOMEtimes, people think different answers are the best ones, and they FIGHT!

P   which puts us all…

All     Between a rock and a hard place!

B  But Jesus promises to walk with us, even when we go the way that’s different than everyone else.

P   Yes, Jesus walks with us, always, so we don’t need to be afraid, even when it feels like we’re all alone.

M  Even when everything hurts.

B  Thanks. I feel a bit better now.  I don’t really want to be gone from my Grandpa for so long.

M  Or me?

B  Or you!

P   Let’s pray. Dear Jesus, help us to remember that you are with us, especially when things are hard, hard on every side. Keep us in your sight, and in your care, and help us to choose the best decisions, and to work for the best no matter what happens.  Amen

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I speak the desire for peace as I begin nearly every message I preach.  This declaration, this desire for peace is included in many letters of the Bible, probably because peace is experienced so rarely by those living in the time these letters or other books of our Bibles were written.

I have to admit that my personal life was rather peaceful growing up.  Even with two sisters which whom I did not always agree, and friends who were sometimes at odds with me or with one another, life was pretty peaceful.

The war in Viet Nam and the protests associated with it did not rile the small North Dakota towns in which I lived, at least not in ways that were evident to me.  The racial rallies and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches were treated in our home as matter-of-fact, and the realities of the struggles were difficult to observe from such a protected region.

I know now that things were not as peaceful as I believed them to be.  I know that there were people even in North Dakota who suffered from violence and abuse, not only on the streets in racial or gang-related confrontations, but also within their own homes, places that were supposed to be havens of safety.

One person raised a question either Friday or Saturday whether there would ever really be peace on earth.  This person noted conflicts throughout recent history, and did not included all of them.  The question seemed to me to be one of despair, and betrayal.  Did not the angels promise peace on earth?  What happened?

Here, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus seems to contradict that angelic proclamation, speaking of setting a man against his father, and this we read on the day we celebrate fatherhood in this country!  Of course, Jesus’ words are not limited to Fathers and sons, but bring in some of the most contentious of familial relationships, and I don’t believe he is speaking of the abuse that is in these days coming more to light, though abuse is serious and must be halted and prevented if at all possible.

What Jesus is presenting, I believe, is more akin to the partisan politics we see from MSNBC, FoxNews, the New York Post, and CNN, each of which might be described as somewhat biased, in one way or another, either mildly or more extremely.   The elders among us might recall the sitcom characters of Archie Bunker and his son-in-law Michael as prime examples of partisan contention. 

Jesus cautioned people that others might not accept their faith in him, and that they would be more interested in protecting themselves from governmental persecution than in protecting their radical family members from the consequences of going against the flow, which they believe ought to have been expected.

Complications arise when we become convinced that only one way is the right way, and that everyone else is wrong.

We see it today, with people coming up with differing explanations for things so that they can dismiss what others believe as being uninformed. 

We see some talking about inflating CoronaVirus numbers as an excuse to quit wearing masks.  We see some trying to convince everyone it’s all a hoax.  And we see churches tied to outbreaks, even though people wore masks and distanced from one another.  Why has the infection rate not decreased in this country as it has in others?  One reason given is dismissive, that it’s just only because of increased testing.  Apparently if you don’t know you have it that’s somehow better…

We in Superior live in a place where there have been relatively few infections, yet we are trying to be cautious, because if it really has not been here yet, then when it comes in more extensively we’re even more vulnerable.  We do have an outdoor worship gathering planned for July 12 (weather permitting), but will not be singing.  Everyone present is to wear a mask to reduce the likelihood of spreading any infection.

We live in a time of chaos.  Nobody knows everything and everybody knows something and what each of us knows is sure to conflict with what somebody else knows.

So what do we do with this chaos?  In the beginning, the creation story of Genesis one tells us how God brought order out of the chaos of the formless void, and it was good.  As soon as people are introduced into the mix, chaos comes back, because it seems we people know it all, and we are so certain we’ve got everything all figured out that we fail to see how good God created things, and how good it is to base everything we do on love for others, both God and neighbor.  Like the toddler craving independence, we want to “do it myself” instead of in community. 

Chaos will exist as long as people exist, because we are always living in the already and not yet place of God’s grace and inspiration.  We continue to sin, sometimes purposefully, and often in ignorance or carelessness.  Yet, God forgives.  Let us strive as Paul encourages to live our lives to God, living God’s love for this creation and for the people of creation rather than striving primarily for self-promotion.  Let us find our lives in Christ, and spread God’s love in a world that needs every bit of it.  You are forgiven.  Rise up and live life with Christ’s love for all.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen