[This sermon is part of a series looking at call narratives in the Old Testament. This week it was Jeremiah 1.1-10. Following Thursday's EU referendum I try within to offer some response]
The book of Jeremiah begins with the words:
‘The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah,
one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.’
Not anything particularly special,
its not to dissimilar to how other books of the prophets begin.
But – you knew there was a but coming! -
it says Jeremiah is from Anathoth.
Not a well known place,
but it has a minor history in the story of Israel.
Anathoth is the place where the priest Abiathar
is banished by king Solomon (1 Kings 2.26)
for not supporting Solomon’s claim to the throne.
Here in Anathoth, a rural village,
away from the urban centre of Jerusalem
and all that is going wrong there, as king after king
fail to rule in the ways of Moses.
Here in Anathoth, it is not forgotten,
a memory, a story, a covenant is passed on and
now 400 hundred years later,
Jeremiah comes to Jerusalem
as one carrying the word of the Lord
with warning and ending.
From the exiled margins,
outside of Jerusalem,
God raises up Jeremiah,
known by God, appointed by God,
even before he was born.
Are we to see here an example of the patience of God?
Oh how we need patience in the coming days and months.
What there is no doubt about, is that once again we see God has a plan and a
purpose and it involves us.
God has habit and it's a habit of calling men and women into his purposes,
into his story
and where we live our lives in the context of one life span – ninety years or so –
God works over centuries …
bits of God’s story go on pause and then they get reactivated.
Its time for the descendants of Abiathar to re-enter the story
and Jeremiah is the one appointed to take centre stage.
The Bible displays a God who is always interrupting lives,
calling them to something that was not in their sights,
or in their plans.
Our lives are not our personal projects,
forget about your career goals,
refuse to write your own life story.
Instead start listening for the summons,
For God comes to call
and our lives will find themselves
in constant reference to the one who alone is sovereign.
Look at Jeremiah:
he has no ambition to be a prophet.
Unlike most young people who are always saying they are old enough
for whatever it is they want to watch, or wherever they want to go,
Jeremiah says I’m too young.
Age is not a factor when it comes to the call of God.
Some of you listening,
think you’re too young for God to bother to give you a task,
well remember Samuel and Jeremiah!
Some of you listening think you’re too old,
but God does not believe in retirement,
just remember Abraham and Sarah!
Some of you listening think its ok, you’re neither old or young,
but in the middle, hidden in the masses,
where you might hope to avoid God’s call.
Here’s what I would say:
Jesus follows Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations,
as one set apart,
as one known to God
and as those who follow Jesus,
we share in his prophetic ministry:
The church are called, set apart,
appointed to the nations
and so to each one of us we pick up the mantle
of Jeremiah via Jesus.
In these days we need to recover
what it is to be prophetic communities.
And to each one of us,
The word of God says:
You must go to everyone I send you to
and say whatever I command you to.
And to each one of us,
The word of God says,
Do not be afraid,
for I am with you and I will rescue you.
The claim that God is with us,
of course is echoed in Jesus own words to his disciples:
‘surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’ (Matt 28.20).
An Old Testament scholar by the name of Walter Brueggemann,
reflecting on Jeremiah says:
‘Jeremiah’s life consists in coming to terms with the word of God,
finding ways to articulate it to his contemporaries
and living with the hazardous consequences of that reality.’ [i]
Isn’t that an apt description of the Christian life?
We try and come to terms with the living word of God who is Jesus
and we try and find ways to share that with the world and our friends
and we live with the hazardous –
that is, the challenging, risky, unsafe –
consequences of having being called by Christ.
In a divided nation with an uncertain future,
the church stands.
The call to Jeremiah
is replayed in every life that responds to way of Jesus.
Speaking truth to power,
challenging lies and injustice,
working for the good of all,
refusing to accept the status quo,
believing in the kingdom of God,
is to open up ourselves to ridicule,
to claims of being unpatriotic,
and to the threat of violence –
all things Jeremiah faced,
and in some places the church still faces today.
Listen again to what God says to Jeremiah:
‘I appoint you over nations
to uproot and tear down
to destroy and overthrow
to build and to plant.’
This is a summons to declare the end of one world
and to proclaim the beginning of a new world.
In other words, God calls Jeremiah
to the work of the gospel.
Like Jeremiah, as the church we too are watching the termination of a world we have loved too long and lost: [ii]
a world in which everything has been shaken up
and we can react like Israel did and either pretend its not happening
and claim everything is ok
or we can give in to rage and anxiety and find someone to blame
and cling to a nostalgia of an unspoiled past.
The church and national politics does both!
Nostalgia and indifference are the great enemies of the church,
for they refuse to embrace what God is doing
and God is always uprooting and tearing down,
that he might build and plant.
In one sense, regardless of Thursday’s decision,
the church continues to be the church,
shaped by the call of God in Christ,
caught by the vision of God’s new creation,
which is neither an England on its own or one joined to the EU.
The institutions and structures that frame our politics are not eternal,
and so our ultimate hope and faith is not in
Westminster, Brussels or Washington,
but in a new Jerusalem,
on its way from the heavens (Rev 21.2).
How does Jeremiah live out his call? [iii]
He has a robust view of God.
A God who is free and sovereign,
alive, passionate and without dullness.
Jeremiah does not pander to God,
and equally God does not make Jeremiah’s life comfortable.
In the midst of turmoil, uncertainty and fear,
we cling to God, who is not bound by our decisions.
Jeremiah has a sense of the large public issues.
He is alert and engaged with what is happening in the world.
He is a prophet and a pastor,
they are joined together
Too many Christians are either prophets with no pastoral care
or pastors with no prophetic voice.
What do I mean by that?
Jeremiah does not shirk from the message God gives him,
a message of judgement and uprooting
but it is comes with deep pastoral concern for those being judged.
Prophets with no pastoral care or
pastors with no prophetic voice are easy to ignore.
The first because they lack grace,
the second because they lack truth.
Jeremiah has a vigorous sense of his own call.
He finds the summons of God an irresistible power in his life.
He is called and not in the sense of some general vocation,
but with a particular purpose and commission.
We struggle to identify with this because
we think we get to make up our lives,
we believe that our lives are the result of our free choices.
What would it mean to understand our lives as called,
as one given over freely and obediently to the purposes of God?
Ask yourself how and where is God calling me
to share in his work of speaking truth?
Jeremiah accepts that his call causes conflict
that he does not have a settled life,
It his was a life lived in conflict with those who would not listen.
We yearn for a settled life, an easy life, a lived in balance,
but I wonder if this side of eternity there can be such a life,
especially a life that is faithful to the call of God.
It is not that we seek conflict or hope for turmoil,
but that is the consequence of naming
our sins of greed, violence and hate.
Lastly, Jeremiah is profoundly a prophet of hope.
If you read Jeremiah would could be led to thinking
that he is more a prophet of doom.
Yet while much of his work as a prophet is of the kind
that spoke of plucking and tearing down,
he remembered his full call,
which ended with a word about planting and building.
Jeremiah has the capacity to speak hope,
The newness of God out of death.
There is no newness without loss.
There is no resurrection without the cross,
but there is resurrection.
The prophetic call of the church is a serious work,
it must not dull down or make its message more palatable,
at the same it’s message must be one ultimately of hope,
Of profound hope.
Where is our hope today?
I suggest you don’t place it in Cameron, Corbyn, Johnson
and please definitely not Farage.
As Christians, our reason for hope is nothing less that Jesus Christ.
Leaders and governments will come and go,
Economies will rise and fall,
Lives will begin and end,
but Jesus remains the same, yesterday, today and for ever (Heb. 13.8).
Hope begins and ends in Jesus.
This is our profound hope.
We hope in a world that Jesus loves.
We hope for a world that Jesus redeems.
We share in this hope every time we break bread and share it.
We overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We demonstrate this hope every time we gather around this table
and refuse to let politics divide us.
We declare this hope when we confront narratives of ‘us and them’.
We proclaim this hope when we commitment ourselves
to a seek the common good for all.
In joy or in grief come to this table
because you are called.
Be filled with hope
that we might be prophets to our nation.
[i] Walter Brueggemann, Like Fire in the Bones, p.4ff.
[ii] Brueggemann, Like Fire in the Bones, p.27.
[iii] From this point on I am borrowing from Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination, pp.14-23, 29-30.