Sunday 1st of September 2019 (Year C)
Rev Dr John McCulloch
Jeremiah 2:4-13 & Luke 14:1, 7-14
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
Renewed by grace
In our OT reading from Jeremiah chapter 2, the prophet is speaking on behalf of God to the children of Israel. The text is deliberately written in the form of a lawsuit, accusing the children of Israel of breaking the covenant. The indictment against them is clear and hard-hitting.:
In verse 4 we read that their ancestors ‘went after worthless things and became worthless in themselves’.
In verse 6 we are told of how they forsook Yahweh and did not recall how He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and fed them in the wilderness.
In verse 7 they are accused of defiling God’s land.
In verse 8 the priests are criticized for not seeking the Lord; the rulers have transgressed and the prophets have ‘prophesized by Baal and gone after things that do not profit’
In verse 11 the prophet Jeremiah denounces them for ‘changing their gods’
And in verses 12 & 13 we read of God’s judgement on his people for breaking the covenant with Him:
Be appalled at this, you heavens,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Much of the pattern of the OT goes like this: Yahweh intervenes on his people’s behalf, liberating them from slavery, delivering them from their enemies. The children of Israel then forget his ways, they seek comfort in other things and even worship other gods.
Yahweh then expresses righteous anger, but most of the time raises up a prophet to call them back to his ways.
In todays lectionary Psalm (which we did not read; Psalm 81) we hear these words of longing and lament from Yahweh (vv.13-15):
O that my people would listen to me,
That Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
And turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
And their doom would last forever.
Throughout the OT, we observe a cycle of God’s liberation and favour with his chosen people, followed by Israel’s sin & rebellion, resulting in judgment and a call to repentance.
Before we become too critical of the children of Israel, let us examine our own hearts; for the Hebrew Scriptures are the living word of God, which speak into our lives and our world.
In his book We Drink from our own Wells, Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez says:
Conversion implies that we recognize the presence of sin in our lives and world. In other words, we see and admit what is vitiating our relationship with God and our solidarity with others, what, in consequence, is also hindering the creation of a just and human society […] to sin is to deny love, to resist the kingdom of God.
The sins of the children of Israel decried by Jeremiah, are because they went after worthless things, they forgot how God had rescued them in the past, they defiled the land, they did not seek God, they called on Baal instead of Yahweh, they forsook God, they made for themselves broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Jeremiah is prophesying just before the destruction of Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem are dying of thirst, the Babylonians have laid siege to Jerusalem cutting off its supplies, the cisterns are broken. It is a picture of devastation and desperation.
But we would do well not to point the finger, but to examine our own hearts. For do we not at times follow after things that are worthless, things that do not lead to life?
Are we not quick to forget the grace of God in our own lives, and how God has rescued us in the past, freed us from sin and forgiven and cleansed us, and yet we so often go back to our old ways?
Have we not defiled the land, by taking more than what we need, by consuming more than our fair share, as our planet strains under the pressure we have placed upon it?
Have we not forsaken seeking after God, and instead followed after the Baals of this world? Those things that promise us wellbeing, instant gratification, recognition and adulation?
Are our lives, not at times like broken cisterns, where the water of God’s life all too often seeps out?
Conversion is not simply something that happens to us at one given moment in time. Real conversion is when we enter into daily communion with God, so that we are transformed into his image. It is an ongoing process. As Gustavo Gutierrez says: We have been made by love and for love. Only by loving, then, can we fulfill ourselves as persons; that is how we respond to the initiative taken by God’s love.
When we remember what God has done for us, in not treating us according to what we deserve, his work of grace in our lives deepens. We forsake and walk away from Him all the time; but He calls us back by his grace. We are cold and ungrateful, but He comes by his Spirit to renew and fill us with gratitude.
When this happens, the very life of God flows out and affects all those around us. It enables the kingdom of God to be built here on earth, a Kingdom (as we are reminded of in our gospel passage from St Luke 7 that does not seek after position, recognition and rank; but reaches out to those who live on the margins of society).
In St Luke 7, Jesus says that when you are invited to dinner, sit in the lowest place. This is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry of incarnation; for our King was not born into a palace, but a lowly stable.
And in verses 12 – 14 Jesus says that when you host a dinner, don’t invite the rich or privileged who can repay you, but invite those who cannot repay you: invite the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
God associates with that which the world despises and rejects.
So if you are feeling on the outside this morning, God’s grace is here for you. If you feel that your life is full of disappointments, his mercy is here for you. God’s power is perfected in weakness.
So let us draw near to the fountain of life anew. Let us drink deep from the wells of his love. May the broken cisterns of our lives find healing, restoration and forgiveness; that we may be filled again with the water of life, which will flow out to our broken world.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and evermore shall be. Amen.