Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Are we listening?

I’m in the middle of reading Jeremiah. He had been talking about the fall of Jerusalem for decades, but no-one was listening. Finally, with the Babylonians at the gates of the city, he is approached for advice. First king Zedekiah. God sword to him through Jeremiah is that the city will fall, best for him and his family if he surrenders, then his life and the life of his family will be spared (Jer 38). Zedekiah listened, but didn’t heed those words. When the Babylonians captured him, they killed his family in front of him and then put out his eyes. (ch 39)

A few months on and everything Jeremiah has said has come true. You would have thought that his credibility would rise. And it had – risen enough for him to be consulted. Unfortunately not enough for his words to be heeded. Again a delegation of officers escaping the Babylonians came to him, headed up by Johanan son of Kareah, an army officer. They ask Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for guidance over whether to flee to Egypt or to sit out the occupation in Judah. Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’” Jer 42:10-12

He goes on to say that if they go to Egypt, the Babylonians will surely follow and overthrow Egypt as well. Once again they ignore his advice, dragging Jeremiah to Egypt with them.

Twice, the leaders have consulted God (through Jeremiah) but not obeyed. in both cases they have already got a plan and consult as a way of gaining a Divine approval of what they were going to do anyway. Don Carson has this to say on the subject:

“Most movements that spring up from the fertile soil of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God too deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the ways we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods….”

Think crusades. Think the angry street preacher pronouncing hell and judgement. He goes on:

“God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (with either never arise, or, if the do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people top be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorise out tearless harshness and ruthless condescension”

Think Westboro Baptist Church with their tasteless picketing.

“There wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God that what we need to sanction our preferences.”

Are we asking God to bless what we are going to do anyway, or are we seeking his will on it, even if we don’t like it?

Hope in darkness

My two passages today are from Jeremiah and Matthew. In Jeremiah 14, God has promised calamity in there form of famine on the land, and there is no way out. The hearts of the people have been too far away from him for too long.

Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us!
This is what the Lord says about this people: “They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.” (Jeremiah 14:9, 10 NIV)

Yet still, although they know that punishment will come, the only place to place their hope is in the One from whom it is coming. There is no point following anyone else.

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this. (Jeremiah 14:22 NIV)

We cling on in the darkness to the source of our hope.

The second passage also began in a dark place. In Matthew 28 the women are walking to the tomb to put spices on Jesus body. They don’t have much hope. There were witnesses to his death by crucifixion just two days earlier. Yet their hope is restored. The stone guarding the tomb is rolled away, and it is empty. An angel appears to say that Jesus has risen, and soon Jesus himself appears to them.

This is hope from darkness. The full realisation and implications of what has happened has not yet dawned on them, yet they realise their darkness is over. God has been faithful; Jesus has been truthful.

In one passage, they cling on to hope knowing they can do nothing else. In the next, they see God’s marvelous plan coming to light, pulling them out of their darkness.

At which point are we in our Christian journey? Do ewe have the courage to keep hoping regardless of whether we are seeing God working in the present or not?

Faithfulness

I’m preaching on God’s faithfulness in a couple of weeks and this is what has first come to mind.

I most often associate faithfulness with devotion, loyalty, and promises kept or fulfilled. A long-term relationship or marriage.

What promises has God made? In the Old Testament he made lots of promises first to Noah then to Abraham and his descendants. But even before that there was an implicit promise to Adam and Eve that he would protect and provide for them, be in relationship and would be co-creator with God, provided they trust him implicitly.

After the fall, Abraham and Sarah were an old childless couple yet God promised to them that their descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, that they would be blessed, and they would be a blessing to the whole world. Later, God promised those descendants that they would be his people and they would live in a land of their own.

That was all in the Old Testament, but what promises has God made to us, today? The New Testament confidently asserts (in 2 Cor 1:20) that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ’. In other words, Christ is the fulfilment of God’s promises. Those things that were promised to his people in the Old Testament come to us through Jesus. What does this mean? All the benefits of being ‘God’s people’ come to those who identify with him. This does not mean that Christians will get an easy life – nowhere does God promise health, wealth, prosperity. Even happiness and the absence of suffering are not promised to us. But we go get guidance, comfort, forgiveness, mercy – all those things associated with a relationship with God, as well as hope and a purpose. But we do get a promise that He will never let us go:

 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (1 Cor 5:21-22)

There is also a startling promise which I came across in my devotions this morning from 1 John 5, echoed from elsewhere, that all we ask for in God’ will will be given to us.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)

Being in tune with the will of God is one thing, and this comes out of close relationship with him.

I like the passage from Jeremiah 29 when he is writing to the newly exiled Jews in Babylon. There are some false prophecies flying around that say that the Jews will be back in their land within a couple of years. Jeremiah corrects them and gives them a message of hope. They will be back, but not soon. But God has not forgotten:

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer 29 10-13)

He has plans to give hope and a future, plans to prosper. They will seek with all their heart – perhaps a new thing – and He will reveal himself. In the meantime (v5-9) they are to settle down, build houses, work hard, get married and raise their kids, and seek the best for the place where they are living. Above all: Pray to the LORD.

This strikes me as being not dissimilar to what we are to do in the here and now – seek the God’s best for the place we’re in, contribute to it, pray and remain faithful. And in that God promises that when we seek him, we will find him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8)

And now for some Martyn Joseph:

 

Prophetic Bishops – John Sentamu

There’s an excellent post over on Maggi Dawn’s blog about prophetic actions speaking louder than words. Near the end she relates it to the media’s desire for soundbite – something that contributed to the misunderstandings over Rowan Williams’ comments about Sharai law in the past week. Prophetic actions get people’s attention, speak louder than words and leave people open to hearing what they are about. Her full text follows…

The Archbishop of York and Jeremiah’s underpants

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has developed something of a public image as a man of prophetic action. A few years back he was made Bishop of Birmingham, but during the ceremony, instead of sitting on the Bishop’s Chair himself, he invited twelve local schoolchildren to come forward, gave each of them a golden crown to wear, and then as each of them sat on the Chair in turn, he washed their feet. He then preached about the ministry of a Bishop being that of a servant, not of a Lord. After moving to York, he set up his own prayer tent in the Minster and spent a week publicly fasting and praying. Then three months ago, Archbishop Sentamu appeared live on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, and talked about his objection to Mr Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. He said Mr Mugabe had “taken people’s identity” and “cut it to pieces”. He then removed his clerical collar – a symbol, he said, of his own identity as an Anglican and a priest – took a large pair of scissors and cut the collar to pieces. He declared that he would not wear a collar again until Mugabe is out of office. He has been a critic of Mr Mugabe for long enough, but it was this visual act on the TV which, though it may have seemed a little bizarre, caught the national imagination.Last week, speaking in Synod on the meaning of Covenant, Dr Sentamu gave the Archbishop of Canterbury a gift – a four-foot ebony “chief stick” he had brought back from a humanitarian visit to Kenya. This symbolic gesture of respect for Dr Williams’ authority and leadership was all the more powerful after the row in recent days over the “sharia law” lecture and interview (a row which, incidentally, has been reported in blogland to have been largely a media set-up).

So what’s with all this dramatic action? Is the Archbishop of York just playing for media attention? Cynics might think so. But there is a long history of prophetic action in the Jewish-Christian tradition, perhaps its most colourful exponent being the prophet Jeremiah, who once took off his underpants to make a point. In the thirteenth chapter of his book, Jeremiah tells a bizarre story of how he went to buy a new linen loincloth, wore it for a while, and then went down to the riverbank, took it off and buried it. Some time later he went to dig up the underpants, only to find that they had gone rotten. This he used as a sign to show his community how they had become distant from God. They should, he said, have been as intimately close to God as a pair of underpants. But separated from God, they had become rotten and useless.

Jeremiah could, of course, have delivered an elegant speech, using sophisticated religious, political or philosophical language. Or he could have preached a fiery sermon, or written a poem or a song – he could have got the idea across in a number of ways. But it seems that Jeremiah was talking to people who had stopped listening to his words. Jeremiah’s book is littered with stories like this – stories of prophetic, visual actions that take everyday objects and turn them into pictures of what was happening in his world.

There have been a lot of words written and spoken about the other Archbishop in the last ten days, some of them in a fearful and angry response to a taboo subject, many more in a cynical way, apparently planned for media effect. Instead of engaging with the issues, many of the arguments were reduced to nothing more than taking sides. “Are you for the Archbishop of Canterbury, or against him?” a visitor asked me in my Vestry last week. Once last week’s row had reached a pitch where words were no longer being heard, still less change anyone’s mind, the Archbishop of York’s gift of a chief-stick was a moving, visual image that transcended the argument, instead simply placing himself in solidarity with his brother and colleague. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words.

I for one am glad that we do not have dumbed-down Archbishops. The last thing the Church needs is mere symbols of power; what we have in these two leaders is two people who refuse to be tamed into mere institutional bureaucrats; they set the tone for Christians who want to engage properly with thoroughgoing thinking and appropriate action, not simply reduce everything to a soundbite.

Come and hear both Archbishops speak in Cambridge this week on the relationship between faith and society. A World To Believe In, Cambridge, 20-22 Feb