Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 15/9/2019
Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28; & St Luke 15: 1-10
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.
Inhabiting the Wastelands
The poet T.S. Eliot, writing after the colossal devastation of WWI, where all scientific and modern machinery were deployed in one of the most deadly wars of all time; penned his famous poem The Wasteland. The poem captures the fragmentation and alienation of a world that has been torn apart, where violence has shaken humanity to its core.
Eliot evokes the tragic absurdity of a world gone wrong, describing it as ‘a heap of broken images, where the sun beats’, ‘And the dead tree gives no shelter […] And the dry stone no sound of water’.
Eliot poetically describes a world which is far removed from the ideal of Eden; and in many ways it bears similarities with the poetry of Jeremiah chapter 4. As we read in verse 11, God’s judgement is depicted as a ‘hot wind’ blowing out ‘of the bare heights in the desert’ towards his people.
The indictment of God’s people is devastating: they are described as ‘foolish’, of not ‘knowing God’, having ‘no understanding’, ‘skilled in doing evil’ and not knowing ‘how to do good’.
It is as though the world has gone back to a primordial era of chaos, as we read in verse 23, where the creative acts of God in Genesis 1 have regressed:
I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void;
And the heavens, they had no light.
24 I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled,
And all the hills moved back and forth.
25 I beheld, and indeed there was no man,
And all the birds of the heavens had fled.
26 I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were broken down
At the presence of the Lord,
By His fierce anger.
27 For thus says the Lord:
“The whole land shall be desolate;
Yet I will not make a full end.
We know all too well from history and looking at our world today, how we humans have a capacity for destruction unparalleled by any other living creature. We have not learnt the ways of peace. We have not sought for the wellbeing of others above our own needs. We have plundered our planet, and have all too often harboured seeds of bitterness, division, exclusivity, privilege, self-righteousness and entitlement; and the expense of our fellow human beings and the fragile earth in which we live.
But this not only affects our world and those around us, but our souls. We cannot exempt ourselves from these words of rebuke and judgement in Jeremiah 4; for are we not at times foolish? Do we not naturally tend towards doing that which is evil, rather than doing good? Are there not times in our own lives, when we lack understanding? Are there not times, when our lives do not reflect the goodness of God?
… When we live like this, it is as if we are already living under the ‘hot wind of God’s judgement’.
When we, who are made in the image of God, and called to be his witnesses on this earth, turn away from the source of life, we become like a barren wasteland where nothing grows.
But as our gospel passage reminds us, it is to people such as us that our God comes. In Luke 15:1 we read of how Jesus was amongst the ‘sinners and tax collectors’. Tax collectors were some of the most unpopular people around. Why? Because they took more than what was their fair share.
Before we point the finger, we must examine our own hearts. For do we not hoard-up more than what we need? Do we not consume more of the planet’s resources than we should? Are we not more preoccupied with ourselves and our needs than those of others? We too are like the lost sheep, which has wandered away from the flock, and we need to be brought home.
The Good Shepherd comes out to seek all who are lost.
He does not teat us according to what our sin deserves, but comes in grace, freeing us from the judgement that we bring upon ourselves, when we wander away from the green pastures of his presence and inhabit the wastelands of despair and emptiness.
But the image of the lost sheep, can also be interpreted on another level. The lost sheep can also be representative of all those who are lonely, vulnerable, exposed to the dangers of a world which can be cruel.
Our Saviour comes to all those on the margins. He comes in grace. He comes in mercy. He comes with healing, with forgiveness. He comes to bring us back into the fold.
He does this because he knows, more than anyone, what it means to be exposed and abandoned; for he went to the place of abandonment, desolation and death, to associate with all of suffering humanity, and to show us a way back, to be enfolded in the eternal love of God.
Pope Francis says: Jesus, the one Good Shepherd, who with deep compassion for all […] the outcasts of this earth, wearied and oppressed like sheep without a shepherd, […] wants to remain with us […] remaining firm in the Lord, in the certainty that he does not abandon us, walking in hope, working to build a better world, despite the difficulties and sad circumstances that mark our personal and collective existence is what really counts; it is how the Christian community is called to encounter the day of the Lord.
Let us follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, our savior and Lord; who gave himself, and continues to give himself again and again, that we may be brought home, that we may be restored.
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.