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Now the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah - 02/03/2019

Now the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

And Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 

But the Lord said to him, “Do not say ‘I am only a boy.’ For you will go to all to whom I send you. And you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them for I am here to deliver you.”

Then the Lord put out a hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth, and said to him, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Word of God. Word of Life.

 

You see, the problem is people don’t really want to hear what the prophet is saying. God’s word through Jeremiah was wide-reaching … bitter … brutally honest and called for the people to submit to an uncomfortable corrective.

The truth and the coming Divine judgments were not what the people wanted to hear …

… not the priests who failed to direct all eyes and hearts to God

… not the legal eagles of God’s law who shaped and molded the law to their own benefit

… not the political rulers who deemed themselves above God’s law or the false prophets who enticed people with the false gods we humans tend to create, like Ba-al

… and not the people who blindly followed, walking farther and farther away from the God of the Covenant.

“But my people have (exchanged) their glory for something that does not profit,” God said through Jeremiah. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate … for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2: 11a-13)

In other words, they have walked away from the Covenant and created their own gods to do the impossible job of filling in for where they have evicted the One-True God from their lives. But these gods of their creation hold water like cracked water tanks.

So Jeremiah comes along, reluctantly, from the time he is a boy perhaps as young as 8-years-old, telling the people they must repent. Speaking the Word God has placed in his mouth, Jeremiah says:

“Return, faithless Israel … I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful … I will not be angry for ever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you have rebelled against the Lord your God, and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree, and have not obeyed my voice…” (3:12b-13)

Sent by God, Jeremiah speaks God’s judgment on them “‘On that day,’ says the Lord, ‘courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.’ Then (Jeremiah) said, ‘Ah, Lord God, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ even while the sword is at the throat!” (4:9-10)

So maybe we can see why the people really don’t want to hear what the prophet is saying. It’s a jagged pill to swallow, it will not be the popular or the easy way, it will not permit blind obedience to other ba-als.

Fast forward to the scene in our gospel story some 600+ years later, and things haven’t changed in many ways.

The people still really don’t want to hear what the prophet is saying.

This is the second installment of this story of the time Jesus went home to Nazareth to preach in his home congregation.

Remember Jesus starts this lesson in the synagogue with readings from scripture. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because (God) has anointed me to bring good news to the poor … to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke4:18-19)

And then Jesus pronounces: “Today in your hearing this scripture has been fulfilled.”

At first this is well received. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” (v.22)

Jesus is in the self-described role of prophet here. And while he speaks a Word of fulfilled prophecy to the faithful Jews of his home synagogue, it isn’t long before he pushes them a little farther then they can handle and it brings about a quick change of attitude.

This shift happens when Jesus continues to proclaim that this fulfillment of the scripture is not only for them. The people turn against Jesus when they realize that he is establishing a Jubilee of the Year of the Lord’s Favor for everyone. Everyone and everyone’s land would rest in an extended Sabbath time. Everyone, Jews & Gentiles, would enjoy forgiveness of debt. All would see reconnection and reconciliation and be returned to ancestral lands. As I said last week, it was like the slate was wiped clean. Anyone who was trapped in poverty or debt, slavery, oppression or homelessness got a fresh start.

But Jesus’ hometown crowd expects to get treated a little differently by their hometown celebrity. Jesus seems to know they were poised to hoard the Good News he brought and that they just wanted to see him do some good tricks they could brag about later when he left again.

Maybe that’s why Jesus pushes them so confrontationally by reminding them of the crushing years of famine in Elijah’s time, when the Word of the Lord and life-giving bread came only to a foreign widow and her son in a heathen country. Or how in the time of Elisha, when leprosy was afflicting the people without mercy, God sent healing through a prophet only to a commander of a foreign army.

So don’t get too comfortable and complacent, folks, Jesus is saying. God doesn’t only fight for them. God fights for, and sometimes even seems to favor, those outside their synagogue doors.

Well, it was too much for the people of Jesus’ hometown to comprehend. God is starting to stretch their hearts and minds a lot and they resist. They turn on Jesus and intend to kill him. They don’t really want to hear what this prophet is saying. God’s Word through Jesus was wide-reaching … bitter … brutally honest and called for the people to submit to an uncomfortable corrective.

I think we can still see these kinds of reactions to God’s Word through prophets new and old, and Jesus, of course. Maybe we hear a Jeremiah-like call to repentance and a message of divine judgement in response to the human-made gods we tend to create … like superstars and celebrities, money and material things, flags and political parties, disagreements and ideologies.

I think we can recognize ourselves being pushed over a line when we are face-to-face with what Jesus truly means when he says he is here to fulfill these scriptures not just for us, but for everyone. For people like us gathered in ELCA congregations and in other Christian houses … and also for those gathered in mosques and synagogues; for those who say they are spiritual, but not religious; for those who say they do not worship the one-true God and end up worshiping the ba-als of our time … because everyone worships something.

All of this might stretch our hearts and minds more than what is comfortable – we may feel or hear ourselves resist. It may make that verse from John 1:16 feel like a jagged pill. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” All received? Really? Even the one who hurt me or the one who I disagree with on pretty much everything, or the one who just infuriates me …. Even them?

The answer, Jesus says, is “Yes, even them.” Actually, Jesus would probably say to us “Yes, especially them.”

That’s what the prophetic words of Jesus and other prophets of God’s Word do to us. They constantly push us beyond our comfort zones and farther and farther into the wider realm of God’s love where all the little ba-als of our creation wither and show themselves as nothing in comparison.

So there’s Good News in all these uncomfortable and even painful places God leads us when we are called to repent and bear God’s corrective action in our lives. Which leads us to one more note. There are words of relief in these prophetic messages to us.

Yes the prophets are sent to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow. But it never ends there with our God.

In Jeremiah we are reminded that God continues to work when all the corrective plucking and destruction is done.

“For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.” (Jer 30.3)

And in Jesus, of course, that Divine pattern continues, for the sake of those gathered with him in his hometown and for us too. This is what Jesus went to the cross for, after all – to pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow the sin that binds us and separates us from God, and to make way for the building and planting of the wider realm of God’s love in our hearts and minds. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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