Sunday 17th February 2019
Jeremiah 17.5-10 and Luke 6.17-25
May I speak in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
I was so pleased when I saw the readings for today because I have to confess that Jeremiah is my favourite prophet and just as Jeremiah predicted the coming of a messianic King and the joys of future salvation for all people, a new covenant with God, so we can see Jeremiah in Jesus’ discourse with His disciples. We can identify his life in Jesus’ words about the treatment of His followers and the prophets in terms of blessings and woes.
I love Jeremiah’s relationship with God, from his very first calling in Jerusalem to the time spent in exile in Egypt, where he sadly died. He never returned to his beloved Jerusalem. But while the city was under siege he bought a piece of land in faith, to symbolise his hope in God’s desire for salvation and restoration; this was achieved for Jeremiah through God’s forgiveness of His people and the return from exile and for us, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Let’s put this wonderful young man, loved and called by God, even before his birth, into the context of his day. He prophesied to the last kings of Judah, 4 in all listened unwillingly to his words. He came about 100 years after Hosea warned the Kingdom of Israel of their impending punishment. Those Kings didn’t listen either and Israel fell, never to rise again.
Jeremiah was a youth, maybe 20, when the Lord first called him. He was born of priestly family whose original lands were in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but he now lived in Jerusalem in Judah. Because of the fate of his home lands, Jeremiah knew only too well that God is true to His word and if the nation’s repentance does not follow the prophet’s warnings, disaster will overtake them.
Jeremiah protested that he was too young for the task ahead but he became a great prophet, a prolific writer over many years, a poet, song writer and someone who shared his ponderings, doubts, triumphs and losses with his readers: his is the longest and most diverse book of the Bible. He lived about 600years before Jesus was born and told of the destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple of Solomon. It was hard for him because Judah at that time was prosperous and rich, sovereign and with no recent wars to raise a memory of fear. But they disobeyed God, worshipped idols and were socially cruel and immoral; there was little justice for the poor.
Heed the words of Jesus in Luke about those who rely on their wealth and comforts, the tide will turn in favour of the weak. Jesus uses the word “Woe” regarding these people and in Hebrew this implies not anger but compassion and pity. Jesus is sad for these wasted lives built on such precarious things as wealth and success. How quickly fortunes can change. And they did for Judah as Jeremiah’s words came to pass and he watched the city fall and the Temple pulled down stone by stone. Babylon took Judah completely. And Jesus told the Pharisees that just the same thing would happen to Jerusalem and the beautiful new Temple, if they didn’t change their hearts. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and so did Jeremiah. He is sometimes called the “weeping prophet” because he mirrored God’s deep sorrow at the way His people turned from Him and broke their covenant with Him. A covenant is a promise, binding on both sides.
Jeremiah suffered for his message, he was beaten and imprisoned, ridiculed and outcast. Even his own family and friends tried to kill him. This upset him greatly and he said with such heart warming honesty to the Lord, “You are like a deceitful brook! You deliver flood or no water at all, where are you when I am being attacked and hunted?” Imagine! But God replied, “stop this foolish talk; if you don’t return to trusting me, I won’t let you continue to be my spokesperson! You must influence them and not let them influence you!” and He also said, “I will protect you and deliver you, they will not conquer you.” Such an encouraging promise which our Lord kept in spite of everything.
Jeremiah, like Jesus and other great prophets, was concerned about social injustice and like Jesus, he rebuked those who practised an empty religion and showed no mercy or justice in their everyday lives. He is called the “prophet to the nations” because God spoke through him to tell of the fate of all the great nations of his time, how they too would be punished for their cruelty and enslavement of the people of Judah. Jeremiah looked forward to a time when the Temple would no longer be important but that God’s Laws would be written in men’s hearts and they would long to please Him. It would be a time of restoration and salvation. What Jesus gifted to us in His Holy Spirit, Jeremiah longed for and that hope anchored his messages from God.
God shared many of His thoughts about men and women through Jeremiah, our foolishness at worshipping gods of stone and wood fashioned by human hand, unseeing and unknowing and yet attributed with such power. He talked with Jeremiah and Jeremiah shared God’s sorrow and longing for His people to return to Him. Jeremiah saw how angry the people made God and they deserved His anger and wrath but he also saw this caused God much sadness because in His great love, He didn’t want to punish or destroy them but to give them every chance to repent and change. But there was a cut off point and once crossed, judgment fell. Jeremiah saw Judah prospering and enlarging its territories and he is telling them of impending destruction and enslavement; the message didn’t fit with how they saw the world around them. Just as for Jesus, He came to bring the Kingdom of God, restoration and salvation, but the people saw only the oppressive Roman conquerors and wanted a warrior King to tear down their rule. They didn’t see the Son of God and judgement fell and so did the Temple, just as it did for Judah 600 years before. Maybe we don’t always heed God’s message as it doesn’t fit well with our lives and plans.
God warned Judah that their lives would change if they continued to trust in their wealth, just as Jesus did the people of His day, and Jeremiah uses the beautiful images of the strong tree rooted deeply near a stream which need not fear storms or drought. Jesus uses the same imagery, He is the Living water, the Vine, we are to be rooted in Him not what we possess and or how the world sees us. We need the daily water from His Word and our roots to sink deep into His love. All our nourishment and life should come from Him, not from what the world says we need.
Jesus says “Blessed” are those who are poor, hungry and mourning. And some translate this as “happy”, but that misses the deep meaning of the word in Hebrew. Prayers said every day by Jesus and Jeremiah and all Jews even to today, start with Blessing the Lord. We sing this too “Bless the Lord O my soul” and other lovely worship songs. It seems strange because we would think God blesses us but the word Jesus and Jeremiah use has a deeper meaning for them as they bless God Himself. “To bless” is related to the word for “knee”. So the deeper meaning is that when we bless God, we mentally kneel before Him in worship, acknowledging Him as the source of all blessing. A blessing is a giving of thanks for all God does and for trust in His total provision of our every need. So the poor who inherit the kingdom of God and the hungry who are fed and those who mourn are indeed blessed, for God is acknowledged as providing for them completely. But for Jesus and Jeremiah, those who feel they have everything and don’t need God, are people who will feel woe, sorrow, and the pity of others.
These readings go together like strawberries and cream and teach us, that without doubt, however life seems to us, whatever our circumstances, whether rich or poor, healthy or unwell, our deepest need is not in the temporary things of this world but in a trusting close relationship with God that He will provide everything we really need, throughout our lives and as Paul teaches us, beyond, to life eternal. Nothing can match the love of God and nothing can separate us from Jesus as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives. We may get cross with God when things seem tough, but that’s OK, He knows our hearts and like Jeremiah, He loves and desires our honesty and trust.