Readings for (Proper 17) Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 26th August 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary
For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 17C / Ordinary 22C / Pentecost +134 Textweek
Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
It’s quite interesting to hear the reading from Jeremiah in relation to Fathers’ Day. ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me?’ Just gives us an opportunity as we reflect on Fathers’ Day, fathers, our ancestors, just an opportunity to follow the links, to join the dots, because where we’ve got to is like a joining of the dots, it’s not like Dr Who and the Tardis, we don’t suddenly arrive in this time, this place and this age; we are a culmination of our history; we are a number of steps that have brought us to where we are.
Probably like me you’re getting fed up already with election broadcasts, the endless adverts from one side or the other and in the lead-up to an election it’s as if the parties seek to mirror the work of Jeremiah and in doing so they actually give us a distorted parody of the prophetic process. Jeremiah’s work, the work of a prophet, is to speak what is, and also to speak what can and what will be, in relation to the divine promise of life. Like any vision, certainly any prophetic vision that looks forward, Jeremiah’s words can be analysed and/or encountered at different levels. At the individual personal level – what is this word for me; what is this vision for me? At the local or the national level, what does this word or vision mean for us as a nation, as a people? Or at the global level, what does this word or vision speak to us as a culture? And then at the level that embraces all, the universal level, the word of Jeremiah the prophetic voice for all? And as we reflect at those different levels, what we begin to do is to find ourselves in relation to. We can start joining the dots – am I a part of or am I apart from those other layers?
Now the same actually happens with party political broadcasts, except they are spun in a certain direction - they’re spun always toward the individual level, because they seek to elicit an encounter, that is, ‘What’s in it for me?’ And it’s a crafted process, the message is there to hook the ‘What’s in it for me?’ If I can get the message across to the individual then I’ve created an encounter. Jeremiah is really doing the same thing but going beyond the individual in a way that seeks to gather us into the universal, so Jeremiah confronts us with the questions that we so often fail to ask. Verse 5: ‘Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?’ Are we the product of worthless ancestors? It’s a sobering exercise just to acknowledge the question, let alone to seek an answer. How did we get so far away from the divine promise of life that our worth is now linked to the sub-prime mortgage rate in the US?
The question posed by Jeremiah in verse 5 asks us to look at where we are. What is the culmination of my/our history; where are we in relation to God’s promise, individually, as church, as nation, as Western culture, as one world? Two thirds of the world are hungry. Play that back through the layers, so too, two thirds of our culture, so too, two thirds of our nation, so too, two thirds of ourselves are hungry. Why? For what do we hunger? As we start to hear the question within, so we’re engaged by the prophetic process; we start to hear the dialogue that Jeremiah has brought up in us. Jeremiah goes on in verse 13, seeking to identify two evils: ‘they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water’ and the second one, ‘they have dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water’. Interesting analogies of evil, particularly pertinent here in WA where we’re becoming more and more aware of our inability regarding water management. We fumble trying to sort out the fountains of living water, we put restrictions on them. We’re not sure where to dig out the cisterns for ourselves – should we dig a long one from the Ord River down to Perth or will it be cracked and hold no water?
In verse 7, the contrast of where we are in relation to the divine promise of life in all its fullness is just underlined. ‘I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and good things’. And our response, or our ancestors’ response to this gift? ‘You defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination’. Verse 8 then points the finger at priests, namely the church; it points the finger at those who handle the law, our public institutions; it points the finger at the rulers, our system of government. By implication therefore, Jeremiah is telling us that each of us needs to take our own responsibility, for we did not ask the right questions, we did not know the divine and we transgressed against the divine. Jeremiah says to us: look at all the levels, the right questions were not asked, the divine was not encountered. Therefore, each of us must take that step for ourselves, each of us becomes the father of the next generation by the actions we undertake in the present. Just as we start to reflect on that - the past that led me to the place that I am in and also the past that I will create as I walk forward from this place - as we start to reflect on that we then get the second reading, in part of Paul’s letter.
Paul gives us some concrete points of reference. Paul writes in a very educated way; he writes deliberately; he creates lists of things to lead us towards a full realisation, he balances his texts, weighing things so that they are balanced and whole. But naturally in his letters he uses specifics because he’s writing to a specific people in a specific time in a specific place; he uses them to illuminate universals. If the Jeremiah reading is a party political broadcast, Paul is now giving us the ‘how to vote’; he’s giving us some directions in how to exercise our choice. The way he writes and the style he writes, the primary principle that is in the text today, the umbrella statement, occurs at the beginning in verses 1 and 2, just like the Book of Genesis at the beginning, verse 1 and 2 provide us with the creative principles that Paul is talking about. ‘Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels.’ Paul speaks in direct opposition to our current government policy and practice.
He then outlines a wonderful balance, a balance of social justice and of self-care. And as it was read and as we reread it, I think all of us would find it very - the points of reference are points that we can acknowledge and seek to align our life with. But as we reflect on our history - what brought us to this place, it’s just good to be aware of theological spin. Jeremiah has asked us to consider where are we now, based on the journeys of our ancestors who went astray. If we have a look at verses 4 and 5 from the Hebrews passage we see these two things: ‘Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled’ - tick. Verse 5, ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have’ - tick. Agree with both of those, we would all agree probably with both of those. But with Jeremiah in the background it poses the question, why has the church been so hung up about verse 4 and at the same time so relaxed about verse 5? Why have our ancestors, the scribes and the Pharisees who created this place, given us so much legislation, teaching, guilt about the marriage bed and yet let us get away with greed and rape and pillage of the planet? There is a going astray there – our ancestors in this place is our church history, let us not accept it as gospel. We need to take responsibility to the word of God that is revealed in Christ and so revealed in and through us. It’s not done yet. If it was done the world would be different.
Paul balances his reference points for life with the affirmation of the divine word in verses 5 and 6: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ That is comforting, but it also keeps us on the hook: always and forever the divine is with us seeking to be revealed in the world. ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ If we could get that we would change our lives, but we are afraid, which is why we go with the flow. ‘The Lord is my helper I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ As we write history, we write with the divine or we can follow and join the dots from our ancestors and follow on down that path, creating wars, taking as much as we possibly can to the point that others will go without.
Luke sees exactly the same claim to the power of love that is revealed in Christ as a challenge to the lawyers and the Pharisees, as a challenge to the state and to the church. As we contemplate where we are in relation to the scheme of things, we find ourselves quite small. Excellent, for that is the place from where we can be exalted - humble players on a world stage and yet according to the Gospel, each and every one of us is the place of exaltation.
The Lord be with you.