28 February 2010
Second Sunday of Lent
Rev’d Paul White
Readings: Jeremiah 22:1-9, 13-17: Luke 14:27-33
May I speak this evening in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To call someone a Jeremiah is intended to be a bit of an insult.
A Jeremiah is someone who is always predicting gloom and disaster. No matter how good the weather a Jeremiah is someone who will point to a distant black cloud and predict a storm. No matter how favourable the economic conditions there will usually be a Jeremiah warning that the good times cannot go on forever. I have to say that given the weather we have been having here and around the world recently and given the economic situation we are currently in it sometimes seems that all the Jeremiah’s predictions have come true at once.
Of course the reason that the nay-sayers and apparent pessimists are called Jeremiahs is because of the Old Testament prophet of that name, whose book we have read from this evening. The prophet Jeremiah was a real thorn in the side of the Kings of Judah. I say kings because the career of Jeremiah lasted for about 40 years and spread across the reign of five kings: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah.
Jeremiah lived in Judah about 600 years before the time of Christ and, at that time the kingdom of Judah was tiny, occupying only the southern half of the land we now know as Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians over a hundred years before and so Judah was left sandwiched between the Egyptians to the South and the Assyrian empire to the North. In terms of regional size and importance Judah was probably the equivalent of Luxemburg in comparison to France and Germany but, despite the fact that it was tiny and in the shadow of much bigger and more powerful neighbours it was stable and even prosperous.
But Jeremiah was not fooled by the prosperity and he was not afraid to say so. Yes, the kings of Judah occupied progressively bigger palaces with big windows, walled paneled in cedar wood and painted red all, no doubt, very expensive and more impressive then the humble dwellings of their forebears but Jeremiah knew that this was built on the back on injustice and oppression:
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his countrymen work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.”
Jeremiah says that the mark of a true king, the type of king that finds favour with God, is not someone who surrounds themselves with the outward trappings of kingship but someone who heart is set on serving the most poor and needy in society:
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
And Jeremiah is clear about what will happen if the word of God is ignored:
“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin… I will surely make you like a desert,
like towns not inhabited.
I will send destroyers against you,
each man with his weapons,
and they will cut up your fine cedar beams
and throw them into the fire.”
The problem with being a Jeremiah is that when things are going well no one will listen and the kings of Judah were more interested in enjoying their fine palaces then they were in listening to God and helping the poor and eventually an invading army, not the army of the Assyrians or the Egyptians but of the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezer swept down on Jerusalem and carried away its inhabitants to slavery in Babylon.
I don’t know about you but it sometimes feels to me as though the wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in this country, and in the western world in general is built upon the oppression and slavery of the third world which was started under colonialisation and has been continued under the new label of globalization. And it was built not only on the oppression and exploitation of the poor but also on the exploitation of the environment. There are now more mobile phones in this country than there are people but nearly every mobile phone is made using the mineral cobalt and cobalt in mined in Congo often using little more than slave labour and the mines are often controlled by armed militia. And similar things could be said about so much that we take for granted and rely upon from cheap cotton to fossil fuels.
At the risk of being a Jeremiah it feels to me, that the party cannot go on for much longer and that an exploited world and an exploited world population are not going to continue to support our lifestyle that we have taken for granted. The world already feels as though it is saying ‘no more’ and there are empires arising which are likely to make our Anglo-Saxon western empires look like a relic of the past.
So where is our hope in all this? Well, we are called to put our hope and our faith in a different sort of kingship and a different sort of empire. We are called to be followers of Christ who did not live in palace surrounded by walls of Cedar but who went to a cross built of much rougher wood. We are called to be citizens not of the western world but of the kingdom of heaven. And the kingdom of heaven does not mean “pie in the sky when you die” it means that we live under the rulership of God whilst we live here on earth. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven we should not enjoy the fruits of exploitation but we should work on behalf of the exploited.
But make no mistake, it is not easy to live as followers of Christ and as citizens of the kingdom of heaven in this world. Christ paid the price on the cross and he tells us that we too have to give up everything to be his followers. In a challenging reading from Luke Jesus tells us that we have to work out whether we can pay the price before we set out otherwise we run the risk of of looking like builders who could not afford to finish building a tower or a king who could not afford to wage war.
So what it the price of being a follower of Christ? We have to give up what we take for granted. We have to acknowledge that the comfort and security that we now take from granted is as illusory as the security of the kings of Judah in the face of the Babylonians. It is the price of acknowledging that everything we have comes from God and unless it is used in accordance with God’s purposes can be taken away in a moment. We have to live lightly to our possessions and our routines and live wholly for the joy of seeking God’s will for our lives. A tall order perhaps but one that we could and should spend time dwelling on this lent in the hope and expectation of renewing our citizenship of the kingdom of heaven this Easter.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ – let’s live lightly, tread softly and Praise God with all our hearts and souls. Amen.