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Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (2019)

Sep 01, 2019

Passage: Jeremiah 2:4-13

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (2019)
September 1st, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)
(Odessa and Midland shooting)

Jeremiah 2:4-13     Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

Last week, we took a look at the prophet Jeremiah and the whole idea of what it means to be worthy; the basic idea being that even though we are not always comfortable with the idea, it’s God who makes us worthy. If you remember from last week, the prophet Jeremiah didn’t think he should be a prophet, and he even gave an excuse that can be seen as his profession of unworthiness, but God declared him to be worthy and then set him to work. And this morning, we get a look at the message that Jeremiah was sent to preach. And it’s not a very comforting message. It’s essentially an accusation. If you’ve ever before read the entire book of the prophet Jeremiah, then you probably can understand why he’s often described as grumpy. The whole book is an extended criticism. In fact, we even have a word in english: jeremiad - which means a a long list of complaints - that is taken from the overall scope of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. But I don’t think we need to see Jeremiah as just a grumpy nay-sayer. 

Over the course of the next few Sundays, we’re going to hear more of the hard words Jeremiah prophesied against the kingdom of Judah, and I think it is important for us all to understand Jeremiah’s context so that we can have a deeper appreciation for why the book of Jeremiah is accorded the status of sacred scripture and included in the narrative of God’s plan of salvation. 

So for a bit of background…Jeremiah’s career as a prophet is thought to have spanned the 7th & 6th centuries BCE, and he was called by God to warn the people of Judah about their impending defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. This fate was to come about because the people had turned their backs on God and had adopted the idolatrous practices of surrounding nations. And Jeremiah’s job was to make the people aware of the meaning behind what was to come. 

But Jeremiah role as a prophet was not just to predict the future. Prophecy in Jeremiah’s day was not  just about fortune telling. Prophecy in ancient Judaism meant warning about what the future will be because of a path that the people have chosen to follow. The future was not this fixed thing that could not be changed. The role of the prophet was to challenge people to think and behave differently so that things could change for the better instead of getting worse. 

Prophets were supposed to challenge the status quo and to speak in such a way that it would get the people’s attention so that they would make the changes necessary for their own good. The problem that prophets often encountered, however, was that, much like today, a lot of people don’t like hearing critiques about the way things are, and the more the prophets insisted that things needed to change, the more people thought their message was just grumpy nay-saying, and the more fiercely resistant they were to change. But the reason why we remember the prophets is not because they were grumpy. It’s because their prophecies proved true. In the case of Jeremiah, the kingdom of Judah was defeated at the hands of the Babylonians, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people did go into exile. And by the time it all happened, it was too late to change. 

I highlight this background here not merely to encourage our appreciation for the words of scripture. I also think that this background can help us to make sense of why speaking hard truths remains unpopular. Because, for instance, I do not doubt that for many, the latest tragic news coming this time out of Odessa and Midland is not yet more evidence of a problem that we all need to pay attention to and actually address if we want it to get better; instead, for many, this news is just an inconvenient distraction that we’ll all soon forget about because really everything is fine. And it’s unpopular to say that, barring any change, time will tell whether everything indeed is fine. 

As I am sure we all know, speaking and hearing the truth is not always easy or pleasant. And sometimes it flies in the face of what makes us comfortable, especially when speaking or hearing the truth requires us to change. But if we are serious about joy - and many of you have heard me say before that our identity as Christians is to be deeply serious about joy - then there is good news in the call to change. 

In just a few moments, we will celebrate the Eucharist, and once again, my hope is that the words of our prayer will resonate with those of you who have come here this morning with a heavy heart and seeking a word of hope - not just because of the recent tragedy in Texas but because of whatever in your life needs healing and wholeness.   

In the Eucharistic prayer, we will ask God to deliver us from the presumption of coming to the table for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal. What that prayer is saying is that we do come here to receive solace and pardon - comfort in the face of the harshness of life, and forgiveness for our part in not making things better. But it’s not JUST to get those things that we come here. We come here to be changed.  

Gathering as the church is not meant to be a weekly hour of affirmation where we can come and hear comforting words and then go back out to get battered and bruised by the harshness world - only to come back in a week to get our fill of softness and comfort. Gathering here as a church community is supposed to fire us up to go out into the world to proclaim that there is good news. That life isn’t just to be got through as best we can; but that we can all make the world a better place for everyone in it: if we’re willing to do some hard work; if we are willing to hear the truth and let the presence of Christ among us transform us into something better. 

My hope for us this morning - and every morning - is that we will be strengthened and renewed in our calling to proclaim hope in a world that needs desperately to hear the message that there still is something to hope for; and to proclaim joy in a world that needs desperately to know that it’s not too late to find joy. In that sense, we are all called to be prophets.

God save us.