My People, Their God
Passage: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
Date: April 02, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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Jeremiah's long prophetic career began in the late 7th century BCE. during the reign of the young reformist king, Josiah. Josiah had led a religious renewal which had purged the tiny nation of foreign faith practices and reshaped the nation's worship of Yahweh, God. As the Assyrian empire declined, Judah and other small vassal states rebelled. King Josiah sought to re-establish Judah the size it was when King David reigned.. Tragically, Josiah was killed in the battle of Megiddo. His weak successors were unable to continue his campaign. During this period, Jeremiah supported the reformation of religious practices, even as he made space between that and national ambitions. The Assyrian Empire was followed by the Babylonian. In its face, Jeremiah preached religious repentance and political accommodation. Overwhelmed, Judah became a vassal state again. Because Jeremiah did not preach the national religion, because he opposed the theology of favored nation in God's sight, he gained powerful enemies. His poetry assaulted the primacy of temple worship. His biting words attacked those beliefs which the government used to justify its actions. Judah rebelled against Babylon in 597, a disaster. The first set of exiles were transported away. Jeremiah continued to preach against national policies and theology, calling people back to God's covenant with Moses. For this he was imprisoned as treasonous. A second rebellion followed the first, again a disaster. The great exile took place in 587. All of the religious, political, and merchant leaders were taken away in captivity. Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls broken to the ground. Only the unlearned and unskilled remained in the devastated land, incredibly poor peasants. And Jeremiah. He chose to stay, to come alongside the ones left behind. He sought to help them rebuild their lives, their spirits, to connect them with God. The book of Jeremiah is filled with deep agonized passion for this people, anger at God who put him in this terrible position of always preaching judgment, fury at God for what his calling did to his personal life. No other biblical writer is so forthcoming about internal things, so passionate in his love and his burden. Then came this period when all had been lost, all. We cannot imagine the profound national depression that hung over the land. A once proud city was no more. Its institutions, its economy, its high place in that corridor of the world-all blown to smitherines. More disturbing, its self-understanding as chosen of God, as protected by God, as somehow not only different but better than others because of Yahweh God-all gone. Today's reading comes in the midst of that gray desperate scene. Jeremiah's words of biting bitter judgment have been transformed by God. The prophet's agony for God's people continues, but this time, it speaks in words of hope. These few verses form one of the most moving passages in all of the Bible. They are the voice of an agonized and stunningly caring God. Listen: 31:31-34.
Astounding! Why should God even care about what was left? It would be like saying that the fabulous Creator God, the God of history is particularly involved in the national life of Bosnia, or Equador. With huge stones cast down from each other, with the national cathedral raised to the ground, amid an overwhelming abundance of brokenness, God compassionately announces: "I am not going to put up with how things are. I am going to start again, with you." Audacious. Ludicrous. Stunning.
Friends in Christ, what we believe at our roots is this: There is a purposefulness other than our own in the process of history, a purposefulness that wants to give us a new world, new life, new community. My goodness, when we look around that is so hard to believe. Bruggemann: "The old power of despair, alienation, fear, and violence, the old conventional practices in which we are so inured, have been made obsolete and irrelevant. [That is the new purposefulness.] But because we are so enthralled by [the old], we tend not to notice." (Journal for Preachers, Easter, 2006, p.2) Ours is becoming a society of anti-neighbor brutality, individually and corporately. Whole villages in parts of Africa are run by children, orphans, their parents having died of AIDS. We do precious little while we spend hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a questionable war in Iraq. We bet more than $2 ½ billion on the March madness finals (by the way, I enjoy the games), and say nothing about corporate ethics when the Presbyterian Walton family of Wal-Mart stores rakes in nearly $890 million in annual income while their cashiers average $11,948 (Sojourners, March, 2006, p. 13) . Our children stress out on grades and test results and SATs, teachers teach for test answers and school scores, and often real education gets lost. Meth labs seem to sprout up like toadstools in the lawn, as people seek to escape their own brutal and hopeless realities. In our culture, adults 20-45 are known as the consumer generation. One description for them is that they are in debt $1.10 for every $1 they make. Military consumerism and empire thinking leads all of us to fear and despair. We all could add to this depressing list which describes our current situation.
Yet, yet, the text is crystal clear: There is a holy purposefulness which wants to give us a new world, new life, new community. In devastated Jerusalem, Jeremiah calls them to dance new dreams on the ruins, because God has promised a new internalized corporate covenant. You know, in the midst of despair, the question of sanity rests on whether or not there is a larger intentionality than our own. If the answer is no, then we are all lost, and who cares? But if there is a larger purpose, then we can become the community of hope, of promise. We can start again, because God has promised new beginning. You see, our hope is not found somewhere in the ashes of our depression and discouragement. No, clearly, our hope is discovered in the character and resolve of God-nothing more and nothing less. "Ring it up!" as the Blazer announcer says. Bank on it. God's fidelity emerges out of God's agony and yearning for God's people. This is our God. Look at their situation. This pledge of newness on God's part exploded into the darkness of devastation, precisely when there was not any evidence of newness anywhere to be seen. That is our God. Do you get it? It means we do not have to believe that the present circumstance is God's last word on our destiny. There is a larger intentionality than our own. That is God's promise.
We encounter that promise, that intentionality most fully in Jesus, the living dynamic Word of God, enfleshed. The Greeks come, wanting to see Jesus. I do too. We all do. And at that point, Jesus announces the hour having arrived for the Son of Man to be glorified. Give me a break-humiliation, alienation, crucifixion as glorification? Surely not if that was to be all. That would only add to the ashes of human depression and discouragement, grimly confirming reality as we assume it to be. But that was not to be God's purposefulness. True holy glorification did come, unexpectedly, in the way that man/God suffered and died, in the powerlessness, in the "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", in the poured out compassion. The new of God stunningly emerged, to be written on human hearts, our hearts, carved deeply, life-changingly.
"They will be my people, and I will be their God." Imagine God, the God of wondrous creation, the God of incalculable compassion, saying that to us. "They will be my people, those people sitting right there at Westminster, yes, the ones paying attention and the ones distracted by so much in life, the ones going through the religious motions and the ones who love me already, the ones who doubt I exist and are searching, the ones deeply troubled and the ones delighted with life itself-all of them, they will be my people; and guess what? I will be their God. I choose to be their God. I love them so much I want to be their God. And notice, all of you sitting there: What I am talking about is not otherworldly, nor is it private. Always when I deal with you, I also deal with the corporate, with economics, with justice. Your relationship with me is surely personal, but it is never private, because I have made you to live in community with each other, to need each other, to enjoy each other. I am the God of all people, and care deeply about what happens. This is my new covenant with you. I have demonstrated my promise to you in Jesus the beloved. In his life, in his brokenness and poured-outness, I have shown you my heart and my promise. Trust him. Trust me. Live accordingly. In so doing, you will be my people, and I will be your God." A purposefulness, an intentionality other than our own that trusts the impossibilities that exist in the heart of God-this is our way of life in Christ Jesus. What wonder. What adventure. My People; our God. Amen.