If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. – words from our first reading.
Many churches tell you that they speak on behalf of God but do they really! They use phrases like “prophetic word of the Lord”. But the reading in Jeremiah tells us that is not the case. Martin Luther one day went unprepared to the pulpit, confident that God would give him the right words. Someone asked him: “Did God speak?” “Yes” he said: “Martin you have been a very lazy man this week”. Speech permeates our lives. Prime ministers, professors, and archbishops make speeches. The media is filled with talking heads. The government makes a profession out of rhetorical speech. Advertisers study what makes speech work on people. Americans exercise their right to free speech. We have to take some effort to speak Gods word. It is easy to speak our minds on a daily basis: on social media and in our interaction with other people. Are it always good words? Probably not! I guess we all fail at times. And letter we regret it of course.
Jeremiah’s call begins with a delightful discovery. God’s words “were found.” Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; v. 16 He internalized it. He does not immediately publish his findings. He held his tongue. Holding his tongue begins to produce a range of emotional responses in Jeremiah. He feels angry, isolated, and wounded. Jeremiah has a choice. God indicates that Jeremiah could offer the world two kinds of speech: worthless speech or precious speech. “Worthless” speech is the kind of speech that is not productive: anger, despair, that what causes division. Jeremiah chose not to deliver worthless speech but weighty words. Words that are building up but do not cater to the public opinion or are political correct. Jeremiah was not being known for being political correct. Prophetic speech is not simply inspired opinion, popular sentiment, social justice or ideology. Prophetic speech comes from an encounter with God. We can learn from Jeremiah and his practice of restraint. Jeremiah offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on precious speech, or speech that holds weight. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth.
Peter could have learned from it as well. Today we are witnessing the fall of Peter from grace in some kind of way. Last week Jesus praised him and now he denounces him. Not because Jesus does not understand our human limitations but because we need to do what God wants. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Peter reacts in an impulsive manner, like we all do at times. It is human to burst out against something we not agree with it. Nobody is perfect, even not the prince of the apostles. Peter reacts on the devastating news Jesus is announcing. Namely: his beloved friend and teacher needs to suffer and be killed to enter into his Glory. Just like many of us Peter is troubled by the suffering part of that message. Suffering and pain is something we encounter often with fear and denial. Everyone that went through some kind of grieve can tell you that. But Jesus answer must shock us a little. He says: “get behind me Satan, you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus calls Peter a stumbling block. Peter is only looking at the short term, Jesus looks on the long term. Jesus tells him that “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
There is a great and glorious future after the suffering. Jesus instructs Peter to focus on divine things. There is more to come after suffering and death. Don’t look at Good Friday but look at the Glory of Easter Sunday. But to get there Good Friday is necessary. That is the way it is. Of course Peter knows this. He just called Jesus “the son of the living God’ and Jesus complimented him on his faith. In Peter we find the great paradox of our faith. He shows us how to be faithful but also the fact that we are sinners redeemed by God. He shows us that in our human identity we can fall but also that we can rise up again. We believe that one day all the suffering will be over. That time that “the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” We live in a hurting and suffering world as well. Jesus is our beacon in the world and in working among the poor, the hungry, the sick, the destitute, the dying. We have to follow him in loving God and our neighbor. In a way we focus both human and Divine matters. We to live with the paradox of faith. One of the great paradoxes of Christianity is that the Messiah must suffer and die before he is raised to eternal life. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from Nazi prison, as he suffered but at the same time had great faith. This is both the divine and human way to approach it. This is the mystery and paradox of our Christian faith. Nothing is easy!
We are not offered an easy path but the destination is worth running the race. Peter rescued the infant church through the new Covenant of the Cross. Jesus tells us that we are called to be outside our buildings, called into danger. We are called to a new life in Christ. God wants to do great things through the cross-bearing church. We have to focus on the Divine and our humanity. Our humanity will help us to act with more compassion and loving when people are hit by disaster. But we not to despair and become a stumbling block to God. We have to go the way God wants us to go, no matter how hard it is. He wants to free us from our limited perspectives and we on our turn need to free others every day again. Amen.