21 August 2022
Jeremiah 1, 4-10
This morning’s reading is about God empowering Jeremiah, God puts the divine words in Jeremiah’s mouth. This is known as word-event formula and although it is not found in earlier prophets it occurs 30 times in Jeremiah, 50 times in Ezekiel, and 12 times in the Deuteronomistic History. Maurice Andrew suggests that it indicates that Jeremiah is a prophet to the nations, like the servant in Isaiah, and he is also a Deuteronomy prophet like Moses.
Jeremiah is the prophet most identified with doom, and this is supported by verse 10 where he is commissioned ‘to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.’
Maurice Andrew says he often thought that Jeremiah is the journalist’s favourite prophet and he recalled a TV programme where Hamish Keith spoke of ‘the Jeremiahs of journalism. Keith was referring to predictions of the fall of the government of the time and indeed predicted the downfall of governments as journalists still do.
Dr. Andrew goes on to suggest that Jeremiah is really inclined to be a realist who can always see the potential for disaster.
Fred Craddock notes that to be at the synagogue on the Sabbath, which was a custom of Jesus, was to be at the very heart of Judaism. Furthermore, by the time Luke wrote his Gospel the Temple had been destroyed which gave the synagogue even greater significance. The stooped woman probably came to the synagogue for worship, but the synagogue leader accuses her of coming for healing. His reprimand is addressed to the people but is an indirect attack on Jesus for performing the healing and a strong reprimand to the people for coming for healing on the Sabbath.
Jesus’ response speaks directly to the leader whom he accuses of being a hypocrite and includes the leaders’ colleagues by using the plural ‘hypocrites’.
Jesus’ argument is based on the play on the words ‘bound’, and ‘loose’. The law permitted the loosing of a bound or tethered animal for watering on the Sabbath, so a daughter of Abraham was surely more important than an animal and entitled to be loosed from the affliction that bound her. Craddock adds:
‘The house is divided; his adversaries are put to shame, all the people rejoice.’ Such is the effect of the presence of Jesus and of a sign of the in-breaking of God’s reign over the forces of Satan’.
Dr Maurice Andrew suggests that, despite his reputation, Jeremiah was not so much a prophet of doom but someone whose message was ‘if you carry on like that, bad things will happen.’
That is a pretty good warning as we move on from the focus we have had on our building and look to our annual general meeting next month.
Furthermore, as we look at world politics, global warming, pandemic panic, conspiracy theories and threats to democracy our world does not just need Jeremiahs of journalism. We need Jeremiah economists, Jeremiah sociologists, Jeremiah anthropologists. But our readings suggest that we need even more public theologians empowered by the Risen Christ and such people may well be us.
Faced with our frightening world we may well feel like echoing Jerimiah and ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy’(Jerimiah 1:6) but the reading, and indeed the Gospel reading firmly rebuts that option .
Such a challenge is worth pondering as we move into the local body election campaign and remember that a large number of New Zealanders won’t bother to vote.
Certainly, there is a hope that a contested mayoral race which may encourage a bigger vote in Christchurch. There may be hope of greater participation as we look towards the general election that the dissatisfaction with the present government expressed in both mainline media and online might lead us to expect a high voter turnout. However, it is even more likely that dissatisfaction, along with racism and misogyny, will result in people expressing their frustration through disruption rather than voting.
Even more frightening the war between Russia and Ukraine and the China Taiwan brinkmanship exasperated by a United States politician. These and other world tensions show major powers more inclined to use violence than dialogue and diplomacy.
At the last change of Presidents in the United States armed protesters stormed the Capital Building and threatened to hang the outgoing vice president for conceding the election.
We then saw a copycat debacle at our own Parliament when the measures enacted to keep us safe from a deadly pandemic were seen as a threat to individual freedom.
Global warming and climate change becomes more of a reality with each wildfire and extreme weather event but, like the covid pandemic, people would rather persecute the scientists than alter their lifestyle or forgo the possibility of ever-increasing wealth.
All these trends not only should, but need, to inspire the Jeremiahs amongst us to say, ‘if you carry on like that, bad things will happen.’
As we vigorously debate the merits of the three waters restructuring, we have forgotten the suffering caused by the Havelock North gastroenteritis outbreak in August 2016. It was described as the largest waterborne contamination event to occur in New Zealand. More than 5000 people fell ill, 45 were hospitalised, it was possibly linked to three deaths, and to date an unknown number of people continued to suffer health complications.
Aging pipes, that local body public servants and elected councillors call horizontal infrastructure, are slowly corroding away beneath our streets and berms, poised not only to flood and contaminate but unleash a deluge of capital spending that could well make the overspending on the stadium look like petty cash.
Furthermore, expensive accidents like the fire at the Bromley treatment works or the earthquakes, which have left unhealed scars on our cityscape. Contemporary green Jeremiahs have already spoken of the need to retreat from flood prone areas and coastal settlements that are sinking as the sea rises up to meet them.
But valuable coastal homes are likely to stay put like King Canute until the tide rips apart their grand design. Meanwhile voter canvassing reveals the big concern of electors is the pothole in the road outside their homes, dissatisfaction at the recent 40km speed restriction in their street designed to keep their kids safe.
Public servants are diligent and well trained to do their jobs. But like scientist and doctors in a pandemic and prophets in the Bible their work is not always appreciated. Within organisation there is always a classic conflict between services and finance. Those whose expertise and passion to deliver the best possible services to citizens are likely to be in conflict with those charged with prudent use of funds and keeping the rates or taxes low Within such natural tensions it is the task of governance to balance all the opposing good intentions and not to just go and fill in the potholes themselves.
In a democracy, we believe that those charged with such governance should be elected.
If good people respond to the call to such leadership by saying ‘Truly I do not know how to speak,’ and the electorate is so apathetic it doesn’t bother to vote then bad things will most likely happen.
Winston Churchill said ‘Democracy is the worst form of government’ but he added, ‘except for all the others.’
Democracy offers hope in a dangerous world but for democracy to succeed people need the even greater hope we find in our faith.
It was under one of the other systems of government that Jeremiah wrote his criticism of his king’s foreign policy. Because the king had absolute power, he just shut Jeremiah down by putting him in a well.
That sort of censorship is alive and well in many nations in our world, even within the superpowers and those with nuclear weapons poised.
Such action stopped Jeremiah’s prophetic voice for a while, but it did not stop the Assyrians invading Jerusalem and taking their leadership back to Babylon as slaves.
Bad things happened but Jeremiah was able to offer hope for the future in the acted parable of buying a field. At the time of defeat and despondency he probably got it at a good price.
Even though Jeremiah’s warnings went unheeded the fact that he spoke, and his predictions of doom proved true his voice was more likely to be respected when he offered hope. Jeremiah showed the initial reluctance we all feel, but in answering the call, he was able to offer hope.
Hope is also part of our gospel reading. At the time of our Gospel reading Jesus’ ministry seemed advanced enough for the crippled women to seek him out as someone who could offer hope. The alternative view is that, in the affirmation of hope that is part of all our faith, she regularly attended the Synagogue and Jesus just happened there on that particular day.
Both assumptions suggest that the church needs the presence of Jesus, the presence of Christ, to fulfil its mission. Couple that hypothesis with our reading from the opening chapter of Jeremiah and we may well assume that it is up to us to bring Christ into the church.
We are called to be Christ to others in our world, but the church provides a place for both us and others to meet with Christ.
We can of course meet with Christ anywhere. Luke tells us we open ourselves to Christ as we discuss the scripture with a stranger along the way, and we meet with Christ when we share bread with the stranger.
But meeting with Christ on a mountain top or along a forest trail can be quite hit and miss occurrence. Therefore, we are part of a church in the expectation that we can meet with Christ in the church. The church is also there for others who, like the woman in the synagogue, seek Christ in a holy place. It is in church that we ritualise the Emmaus Road story as we symbolise a meeting with Christ and reaffirm our baptismal vows, but the reality is that neither us nor a stranger can meet with Christ in the church unless we bring Christ into the Church.
That is what we are called to do and why the church was called into being. That is how the church gives hope in a troubled world of war, pandemic, threatened democracy and crumbling city infrastructure.
We might like to echo Jeremiah and say ‘Truly I do not know how to speak’ but we are called to be Christ filled people and the church is the way we share that calling. We are called into the church to be sent out from the church to bring Christ into our world.
Jeremiah claimed he couldn’t speak because he was only a boy and there are not too many of us here today who could claim that impediment. More significantly age was not a limitation from the divine perspective for Jerimiah and that probably holds true for any age.
Our call is to participate. In our local body elections and in next year’s general election, we are through the blessings of a hard-won democratic system like Jeremiah, appointed over nations and kingdoms.
Called to pluck up and pulled down, to destroy and to overthrow, but more significantly to build up and to plant.
As a church we offer our world the hope of the crippled woman in the synagogue by opening ourselves to the divine voice. The inner voice that cries in the words of Isaiah ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us.’(Isaiah 6:8).
The words of the prophets and the pages of the gospels continue to demand we respond,
‘Here am I; send me.’ (Isaiah 6:8).
Rev Hugh Perry