reflections on Jeremiah 23:16-32 and Mark 8:31-9:1
One of the best parts about being a priest is that every week I get to proclaim the Gospel. Every week it happens. And I am not talking about my preaching. Our eucharistic canon (the prayers we pray) are a summary of the Good News. Who God is. What we are. How God has acted, is acting and will act on our behalf. The whole message of grace and salvation.
Often times, Good News is equated with being "positive" or "upbeat." The entertainment culture infects the preaching culture (and probably always has). People know what they want to hear, so they think the preacher better say it. Sometimes, it is easy to equate "happy" with "grace" (and grace does produce happiness!) but in the end, grace is always about Truth.
Jeremiah was an energetic critic of the preaching in his own day. He rebuked those contemporaries who had a message which had great appeal then (and now), but was not the word of God. A sampling of Jeremiah's message:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes; they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord."
So what is up here? (see 2 Kings for information), Jeremiah was born during Josiah's reforms. Prior to that there had been massive apostasy and infidelity. Josiah died young and his sons were failures as well. Hope for renewal was replaced by renewed evil. The religion of Israel mixed in pagan practices and idolatry. Yet the prophets were preaching "it shall be well with you" to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart."
God said, "I did not send them."
Grace defined, I titled today's blog, because the good news (about which I have written much the last few days) is only Good News if it is true. Truth, not content, determines whether or not a message is worth hearing. The prophets told the people what they wanted to hear. It was a pleasant message. The problem is, the message had no basis in reality.
The definition of grace is not telling people "it is okay."
The definition of grace is not "choices and behaviors do not matter."
The definition of grace is not, "God is a softie, He is so desperate to be your buddy that you can walk all over Him and He will accept it."
Grace is acceptance into a Kingdom where God is the King. It is a place of unconditional love and acceptance (you are loved, period) but an invitation to a covenant ("will you be my people?"). It is a call to join a people, to be part of a clan, a family, a tribe. It is a call to live together and love the others as God loves you. Grace is abounding in all of this. Grace, however, is not indifference. Grace is not God turning a blind eye to infidelity and injustice.
The prophets who perverted God's covenant grace were called out by Jeremiah. God rejects their lies. So, you and I are also called to reject the lies of grace which is no grace. This principle is at work in Mark, as well. Jesus told the disciples that He must suffer and die. And He said it plainly. Peter rebukes the Lord for saying that. Suffering and death are not upbeat! Rejection is not good news. Peter wants something happy-clappy to celebrate, like getting crowned as King and being in charge, not this "downer message of rejection and death." Jesus makes clear what His assessment of Peter's critique is. Get behind me satan... Peter, the best apostle, was a mouthpiece of the evil one! The truth is, Jesus was going to die, and the truth is what matters.
I end with Jesus' own words to define grace. Grace, God's unmerited love and forgiveness, God's offer of life in abundance.
Jesus said, "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever lose his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
Grace? Yes it is. Saving, amazing grace. God rescues us from all the sin and death. God provides us with life eternal. God makes us a citizen in His kingdom. God adopts us as His child. It is worth so much more than we could ever pay. It is worth more than we have to offer, but..... it costs all that we have. That is the truth.