Lectionary blog for June 25
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18;
Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:5-11)
I live in what poet, novelist and English professor James Dickey called “the land of three-fingered people and ‘Fear God!’ signs”—the southern Appalachian Mountains. Indeed, on my way back and forth to Athens every week, I drive through the part of North Georgia where the movie based on his novel “Deliverance” was filmed. And every week I take note of the various hand-painted iterations of the “Fear God” sign posted in yards and nailed to trees.
“Jesus is Coming Soon” is popular, with the unspoken idea that one should “straighten up and fly right, by golly.”
“Get Right with God” is a frequent sight. I’ve often thought about putting a “Get Left with God” sign in my yard, but I imagine it would be more confusing than funny—people would be scratching their heads and saying, “I wonder what he meant by that?” While I’m thinking religiously about the whole “Left Behind” thing, these days most people would take it politically—and I am NOT going to go there.
The other day I noticed a little sign in a front yard flower garden. I’m sure it’s been there a long time, but I had never noticed it. Just two words, “Try Jesus.” Like my “Get Left with God” idea, it’s a little hard to know what the sign means. I can think of at least three possibilities.
One is what it most likely means—life is difficult, confusing, downright frightening. We experiment with things we hope will make our lives better, will help us “make it through the night”—philosophies, diets, exercise regimens, financial plans, gurus. In our more dysfunctional moments we use and abuse drugs or alcohol or unhealthy relationships. And most of the time, most of it doesn’t work. At least not always and not well. The sign encourages us to forget all that and “try Jesus.” This feels a little like an ad: “Do you have difficulty in your life? Have you had trouble winning friends and influencing people? Try Jesus! Guaranteed to change your life and make it better.” Which is fine, I guess, except is seems to miss the whole “Take up your cross and follow me” thing that Jesus said.
A second meaning could be “Test Jesus,” like Pilate and the Sanhedrin. Put Jesus, God and the gospel on trial. Christian writer C.S. Lewis had a book of essays titled “God in the Dock” based on the idea that the modern world had made God (and Jesus) a defendant in a trial, accusing God of a failure to either be good or be strong. This is the idea of taking what are sometimes referred to as the “truth claims” of the Christian faith and holding them up to the cold, harsh light of reason. I remember a book about Christianity that was popular when I was in college—“Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” We all do this, deciding what parts of the received faith make sense to us, what parts don’t.
We do not have to get “right with God” because Jesus has made things right upon the cross.
A third meaning is related to what my grandma meant when she stopped me in my tracks, stood akimbo with hands on hips, stared deeply into my eyes and said, “You are trying my patience today young man.” The person who put up the sign was unlikely to have been recommending that we make an effort to try Jesus’ patience. But the sign got me to thinking; no matter what the author meant, the most likely truth here is that we all do try Jesus, a lot, often, almost every day. We try the Lord with our failure to be the good and loving people we were made to be, indeed that we want and try to be.
And the good news of the gospel is that despite the aggravation we cause, Jesus stills loves us. We do not have to get “right with God” because Jesus has made things right upon the cross. And even though Jesus is indeed “Coming Soon,” we have nothing to “fear from God.” We have received “Deliverance” and can live secure in the grace and love of God.
For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Amen and amen.