- The Revd Camellia Flanagan
The God who draws near
190825 Pentecost 11C Jeremiah 1:4-10 Ps 71:1-6 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
After King Solomon’s death the united kingdom of Israel had split into rival northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel, and the southern kingdom was known as Judah. The prophet Jeremiah was from Anatoth, only a few kilometres north of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. He lived and prophesied during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah. This was a chaotic time; politically, morally and spiritually. As Babylon, Egypt and Assyria battled for world supremacy, Judah found itself caught in the middle of the triangle. Although Jeremiah prophesied for 40 years, he never saw his people heed his words and turn from their sins.
God appointed Jeremiah to bring his word to nations and to kingdoms and to warn not only the Jews but all the nations of the known world about God’s judgment on sin. Jeremiah had to brace himself for action. God’s message is one of condemnation for disloyalty, of judgment and punishment. This message of the truth about the people would, as reported in both the book of Jeremiah and Luke’s gospel, reap the people’s rejection and hostility -
They were hypocrites. And they were shamed. But in the work of Jeremiah and Jesus are two integral components of Divine love. God is at once just and merciful. In the limitations of our literary forms of preaching and storytelling sometimes we find that the authors of the biblical texts need to focus on one or the other of God’s attributes.
But within the divinity they form a seamless unity with all the other qualities that the bible attributes to God.
It is an authentic manifestation of God’s loyalty to the people – his unending love for his people, that sins are exposed and condemned, and that the truth be spoken about them, otherwise God is not just. Our theology must portray God as intolerant of evil, otherwise the theology of a just God can have no foundation. We may well ask “Why should westrive to be just if our God, as portrayed in our faith, is soft on injustice?
The merciful aspect of the divine God means that God always seeks what is best for his people, and what will enhance their loyalty and love as disciples. To make God the centre of their lives is the best thing for God’s people, and as God’s people in this age, it’s the best thing for us as well.
Old Testament prophetic preaching announces that God will remove the destructive force of evil and chaos from among the people and the land. In a bold and risky move, prophets claimed that invasions by the foreign powers were God’s just punishment of the people and were designed to eliminate evil and recreate people and land as they are meant to be. In prophetic preaching, invasion was not the irruption of chaos, but God’s well-ordered punishment. God will be re-established as the centre of a properly ordered world, ordered in the dynamic sense of being able to function as God intended it. Punishment will last a certain time -seventy years according to Jeremiah – but the covenant relationship with God would remain unbroken.
God knows us, as he knew Jeremiah, long before we were born or even conceived. He thought about us and planned for us. When we feel discouraged or inadequate, remember that God has always thought of each human being as valuable and that he has a purpose in mind for all of us. Jeremiah was appointed by God as a prophet to the nations. God has a purpose for each Christian, but some people are appointed by God for specific kinds of work. Samson, King David, John the Baptist and Paul were all called to do particular jobs for God.
Can whatever work we do be done for the glory of God? If God has given us a specific task, can we accept it cheerfully and do it with diligence? If we feel that God has not given us a specific call or assignment, then can we seek to fulfil the mission common to all believers, to love, obey and serve God until his guidance becomes clearer. Jeremiah initially struggled with lack of confidence and many of us find being “out there” a challenge because of lack of self-confidence and inexperience. Jeremiah thought he was too young and inexperienced to be God’s spokesperson to the world, but God promised to be with him. God also promised to rescue Jeremiah from trouble, but not to keep trouble from coming. And in our own lives we find that God does not insulate us from encountering life’s storms. but he will see us through them. In fact, God walks through these storms with us and rescues us.
When we look more closely at the portion of the writings to the Hebrew Christians, we notice the contrast between the ancient people’s terrified approach to God at Mount Sinai and their joyful approach to God at Mount Zion in the time of Christ. What a difference Jesus has made! Before Jesus came God seemed distant and threatening.
After Jesus has come, God welcomes us through Jesus into his presence.
As Christians we are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem right now, because Christ rules our lives. The Holy Spirit is always with us, and we experience close fellowship with other believers, and with God.
Eventually the world will crumble, and only God’s kingdom will last. Those who follow Christ are part of this unshakable kingdom and they will withstand the shaking, sifting, and burning. When we feel unsure about the future, can we take confidence, that no matter what happens here, our future is built on a solid foundation that cannot be destroyed.
We have available to us God’s constant help from childhood to old age through the gift of the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us. So, can our lives be a testimony to what God has done for us?
Can we also remember that our God is just, and a God of compassion and love?