Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: O merciful Father in Heaven: You give the knowledge of your saving help-- a comfort to your people. Feed our hearts with your Holy Word, and make our hearts instruments of your glory, today and all days.
I learned something this week that I didn’t know before. I learned this week that Paul was from North Dakota! You’re surprised to hear that? So was I -- but there it is, right there in our text. Paul is writing to the church at Rome, and he says to them, “Don-cha no?” Amazing.
Today, the Word of God comes straight to us from North Dakota with words we need to hear: “Don’t you know?”
They are words that you and I need to hear.
And they are words for you and me to speak.
And when Paul speaks these words, he is pointing us to the gospel-- the good news that changes everything.
You probably are aware how important it is to have all the information before making an important decision. It is so often the case that we even have a saying: “If I knew then what I know now...”
<<story of deliberate introduction of Kudzu as a “great” ground cover>>
Important information is important because it changes things. It changes how we view something. It changes what we decide to do.
You and I live in a world where things are not always as they seem. Sometimes that’s good-- and sometimes that’s bad. When it comes to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, the facts are ALWAYS important.
Jeremiah knew a lot of things.
•He knew that the people were on a path to destruction.
•that God called them to another way
•He knew that he had to speak what he knew.
•He knew that God is good and
•He knew that God’s will is sovereign and that God would prevail-- that evil will not stand.
But what he may have forgotten— or at least didn’t want to believe— is that people don’t always accept criticism well.
It seems to me that one of the worst possible fates is to become “unteachable”-- but that is exactly what happens so easily. And in my experience, becoming unteachable usually goes hand-in-hand with being angry or afraid or both.
Unteachable means “blind”-- it means unreceptive to anything new and unable to change and grow.
Jeremiah may not have remembered that people don’t like to be told they’re doing it wrong. Or perhaps he didn’t forget and knew all along that people don’t like to be told they can’t have it their way all the time.
Jeremiah says to them, “Don’t you know that what you’re doing is wrong?”
What shocked and hurt Jeremiah was when the people replied, “Don’t you know we don’t care? Don’t you know that we want you to shut up-- and that if you DON’T shut up, we’re going to beat you until you either shut up or die?”
That’s a lesson the world teaches us all. Don’t you know…
•That those who do good don’t always get rewarded?
•That right doesn’t always win?
•That whoever kicks and fights the hardest rules over everyone else?
•That if you stand with the weak and vulnerable, that you’ll get trampled along with them?
•That if you stand up to the bullies, they’re going to tear into you with everything they’ve got?
That’s the wisdom of the world-- lessons from the school of hard knocks, as my Father-in-law used to say. And only a fool doesn’t know these things.
But today we have new information. Information that SOUNDS foolish in the light of this world. Paul tells us what we ought to know already, but too often forget:
“Don’t you know-- That all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Don’t you know that all that other stuff you learned from the world is yesterday’s news? YOU-- live in a new light where new rules govern. Don’t you know?-- You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
Don’t be afraid.
Words that we need to hear.
Jesus selects 12 disciples from his followers-- which must have made them feel pretty important-- and then he sits them down and says to them:
“Don’t you know? I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.
“Don’t you know that they’re going to eat you alive? Watch what they’re going to do to me. Do you think they’ll treat you any better?
“Don’t you know that Jesus is the light of the world-- but that when the light entered the world, the world loved darkness more than the light?
“Don’t you know” he as-much-as said to the disciples, “that to follow me puts you at odds with the world-- and that because of me the world will hate you?”
That is still true today-- and it is just as hard to accept. Don’t expect to be praised for doing the right thing. In a world governed by the rules of “survival of the fittest,” there will always be rich and poor, weak and strong, oppressors and victims.
When I worked with Lutheran Family Services, it was a reality that walked through my door every day.
Each week we had a steady stream of people-- individuals and families with dozens of people who arrived as refugees.
According to the United Nations there are approximately 30 million people around the world who have been forced to flee from violence. They are the victims of war and religious or political or racial prejudice. They are the world’s living casualties of greed and hate. Few of us can even remotely imagine the terrible things they have witnessed and endured, nor the fear that has overshadowed their lives.
A woman from Cambodia tells me about how the soldiers came to their village and she saw her father and brothers murdered with machetes before her eyes.
Women from Darfur tell of rape and mutilations and of the murder of babies.
There is unspeakable evil living in the hearts of the world’s people-- and the seeds of hatred are in our own hearts as well.
Sometimes it seems that the evil is too great and the good too small; that evil will utterly wipe out hope. The peacemakers are always hated by the tyrants. When you follow Jesus, you are guaranteed a cross.
But don’t be afraid. Don’t you know?-- you are loved by the maker of heaven and earth. Have faith in that love.
Can you hear that these words are being spoken to you?
They are words we need to hear-- over and over again-- to be re-learned. Re-known by us.
And words we need to say. Because, don’t you know…
•That we were buried with Christ Jesus so that we might live a new life with him?
•Don’t you know that because you are loved by the maker of heaven and earth, you belong to him and not to the world?
•Don’t you know that because you have a new life in Christ you have a mission.
•Don’t you know that the love of God is remaking us in the image of God, our lives are becoming a reflection of the heart of God.
Don’t you know that you are from North Dakota? That you’re supposed to be saying “Don-’cha no” to the world?
And these two things that we need to know-- go together. In fact, they can’t be separated.
To know the love of God for you is to be changed by it so that, like Jeremiah, if you try to shut it up, it is like a fire in your bones. It simply has to come out. To know me is to love me, says Jesus-- and to love me is to follow me.
It’s hard to remember the good news. In the wake of our own sinfulness, we need to re-learn everyday the good news of God’s grace. Don’t you know you are loved?
And we need to learn again to have faith in that love so that it is the love of God that shapes our days and actions, rather than our fear of the world or our shame for our sins.
•Don’t let what is wrong in the world determine who you are or what you will do.
•Don’t you know that we are to live by faith in God’s grace?
A couple of weeks ago I shared the Bishop’s Challenge that 70% of Lutheran congregations in NC will be directly involved with resettling refugees by the end of this year. The refugees are there whether we get involved or not. It would be easy enough to pretend they aren’t there and that they have nothing to do with you and me. But Bishop Smith— and Lutherans across the country— have said “no” to that. And so they are coming here to NC because we have opened the door to them. We can’t take away what has been done to them. But we can welcome them into our NC home with loving arms.
We can give them a safe place where hope can be reborn.
We can offer them a hand to hold so they will know they are not alone or forgotten.
We can speak to them with our best North Dakota accent and assure them: “Don’t you know? Even the hairs on your head are numbered. Don’t be afraid. Don’t you know you are of more value than many sparrows.”
They have been living the world’s saddest stories. But when we live by faith in these words ourselves, you and I become the agents of God’s grace. You and I become the instruments in God’s hands as God brings healing to the broken-hearted.
Two weeks ago the congregation council heard the appeal for help with resettling refugees and asked me to reach out to congregations in the area to see how we might partner with them to do this. I have already gotten some response and will continue to keep you informed as the opportunities develop.
Today, words are spoken that you need to hear. And you need to say to others. Because don’t you know that the love of God is washing you clean every day-- and remaking you. In this meal, Jesus comes to embrace you and strengthen you and sends you. Don’t you know, he says to us, I am making all things new. I am making you new. The Word of God is speaking to you. The Word of God is calling to you, Don’t You Know.