Readings: Jeremiah 28: 1 – 9; Romans 6: 12 – 23 & Matthew 10: 40 – 42
We have all had to make certain choices during this strange time of lockdown and they have been more limited than previously when we could come and go as we wished. Most people have chosen to follow the advice of the authorities to stay at home and only go out for essential shopping and exercise. At long last we are beginning to see the Covid-19 infection rate and daily death numbers fall. The choice most people made to follow government and medical advice proved to be the right one but there is a consequent economic cost to lockdown which is yet to be fully understood.
The people of Judah in 594 BC were also faced with a difficult choice which was not without future consequences. The question was: should they believe the prophet Hananiah or the prophet Jeremiah? Hananiah told the people what they wanted to hear – that King Nebuchadnezzar would be defeated within two years and the looted temple treasures and exiles would return. Whereas Jeremiah advised that the people must accept the domination of the foreign power of Babylon for a while longer. Refusal to accede to the rule of Babylon would result in sword, famine and plague (27:8). Jeremiah’s politically unpopular message was rejected by Hananiah who broke Jeremiah’s symbolic wooden yoke of oppression in two! The message for us seems to be that we are unwise to trust the word of a honey-tongued leader or prophet. Unwise to trust the word of one who ONLY brings us a comforting and reassuring message devoid of realism and challenge. So, we must beware and be alert at all times.
Today’s passage from Romans reminds us of the choice we make every day with respect to our personal conduct. Are we going to be slaves to sin or slaves to God? Romans chapters 6 & 7 present us with the uncomfortable reality of the human condition. With forensic skill Paul dissects the human heart: “What I do is NOT the good I want to do; no, the evil I do NOT want to do – this I keep on doing.” (7:19). its a sorry state of affairs for human nature, and ultimately a hopeless state of affairs without the help of Christ. The good news is that there is an abundance of God’s grace which, if called upon, can counteract the human tendency to sin. Our problem is often our failure to call upon God to help us resist temptation and reject the way of sin. We forget that as followers of Jesus God is now our new master. We need not let sin reign over us any longer! (6:12) Of course, it’s easier said than done. Following Jesus is a daily battle and we suffer defeats as well as victories.
Thirdly, the gospel reading reminds us that all people have the choice of welcoming God’s messengers or not. Even giving a cup of cold water to the disciples on their mission was not without its significance or reward. We take water for granted – it’s literally ‘on tap’ whenever we need it. However, for the weary traveller in the hot climate of the Holy Land a drink of fresh water meant everything. We who have so much have a choice and quite a challenge: do we use our resources to support those seeking to provide fresh drinking water to those who have none? Yes, there are many good and worthy causes; but few so basic as supporting those who seek to provide clean water to those who have none. In the parable of the sheep of the goats (Matthew 25) those who saw Christ in the face of the thirsty were welcomed into the kingdom: “for I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
Revd Terry Spencer