Overall, we don't spend a lot of Sunday mornings reflecting on how God has tricked us into doing unpleasant tasks which seem to bring no rewards. That is exactly what Jeremiah is saying to God. Who here would prefer to have your friends turn against you? Which one of us would choose to be denounced to the authorities as a traitor? To be imprisoned and thrown down a well? To be the butt of jokes at dinner parties? But God's Word was so overwhelming that Jeremiah could not back out of the job; he had to speak.
Thus God acts in all his saints, Martin
Luther told his students in a lecture on the book
he makes them do very willingly what they do
not want to do at all.
In contemporary church culture, we tend to avoid
mentioning that God asks us to do things which
do not want to do at all.
We may prefer to quote Isaiah's ringing response,
Here I am! Send me! But Isaiah, too, had
been overwhelmed by an overpowering vision of God
in the temple. He saw flaming creatures flying
about in attendance on the Almighty. He had cried
I'm doomed!. Only after that was Isaiah
ready to be a prophet of God.
When God assigned Jeremiah to become a prophet,
I promise to be with you and keep
you safe, so don't be afraid. God did not
promise comfort, wealth, and popularity. In fact,
God was clear from the beginning about what life
would be like. God said:
You will oppose all of Judah,
including its kings and leaders,
its priests and people.
They will fight back,
but they won't win.
I, the Lord, give you my word –
I won't let them harm you.
They did fight back against the word of God, the kings and leaders and priests and people; they fought back and fought back and fought back so that Jeremiah said, give me a break. But the presence of God was so overwhelming that it was a fire in his bones. There was no break from being overwhelmed by God.
You can't threaten a Christian with his life.
I'm not certain any more just where I read this quote. It may have been said by a Roman Catholic priest who was working with the poor in Central America during the late 1960s. That's how I remember it, anyway.
Ever since I read that statement it has been a challenge and an affirmation. What does it mean? How does it play out in life? If you were living in Central America under a terrorist government during the late 1960s, it would mean that you would help the poor and the oppressed and that you would speak against those who were oppressing them. If you were a Moravian missionary in the 1700s, you would seek out the oppressed, live with them, and speak out for their value as children of God. If you were Jeremiah you would declare God's displeasure with a government which perverted justice and stole from the poor.
You can't threaten Christians with ending our lives because we know God is greater than death. We know this because we have the example of Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose up and was eating and talking with his friends. We know this because we have the testimony of those earlier followers. We also have the witness of many who lived much later but were similarly empowered by their contact with a living Jesus Christ. And we know it from our own, personal experience which is aligned with the experiences of those who came earlier.
You can't threaten Christians with our lives because in a profound way we have already lost our lives. We have lost our lives and found our true lives in God. We have nothing to lose in this world. The only thing of value that we have is eternal life in relationship to God through our friend Jesus. And that we are not willing to give up for anything else. Not for money or power, not for comfort, or for friendship, or even for family.
You can't threaten Christians with our lives because we have already died with Jesus. But Jesus is alive! And we are already living Christ's life in this world.
If people accuse you of being the spawn of the devil, perhaps that might be true. If nobody says anything like that about you, then it must certainly be true. Good religious people suggested that Jesus was the chief of the devils. If people are saying nicer things about you, is it time to take another step closer to Jesus?
On Pentecost Sunday (which was June 8 this year) we
concluded the confirmation class with a celebration
here. But the question was raised,
on June 9? What happens after the training to
be an adult member of Christ's church is finished?
The journey begins. For this reason it was at the
very end of our program that we gave each student
a walking stick for the journey. We know that the
journey is just beginning.
In this we have the precedent of our spiritual
ancestors. After the first Pentecost, after the Law
was given at Sinai, the Hebrew people began 40 years
of journeying through the wilderness. After the new
Pentecost, after God's Spirit was given, Jesus'
disciples began their journeys spreading the news
about the living Word of God to places like Ethiopia,
Ephesus, India, and Rome. After the
Pentecost of August 13, 1727, the Moravians
began their journey: first to explore community
with each other and then to carry God's love to
marginalized peoples in St Thomas, Greenland, South
Carolina, Suriname, Labrador, and South Africa.
Such journeying is not without its cost. The Hebrews lived through two generations without a permanent homeland. The Apostles were ridiculed, jailed, and executed. The Moravian missionaries were jailed and mistreated; Zinzendorf himself was exiled from his home in Saxony.
Journeying with God begins to sound like being homeless and friendless. But it isn't quite like that. Those of us who have been overwhelmed by God know that even if we are forced to wander we always do have a home with God. And we have friendship with God and with God's holy people, a friendship that is not broken by distance or time or troubles or death. So in fact we can never be homeless, or friendless, or fatherless.
I've read about people who have trouble hearing
father without spitting. Their
experience of fathers has been so terrible that
a phrase like
our loving heavenly father
is nonsense, just words next to each other that
can have no meaning.
In this congregation, I've had the opposite
problem. As a teacher, I've sometimes asked kids
to imagine what it would be like to be abandoned
by their fathers. In this congregation there are
children who instantly and emphatically reject
It can't happen, they tell
My father could never leave me. In
this congregation, there are fathers who have
been so successful at showing their love and
commitment to their children that we don't talk
about how God is like a father; we
have to say God is like your father.
People may say our big brother Jesus is the devil and they may say worse things about us. We may have to wander over the face of the earth. But we are never without home and father. We belong.
Therefore live, yet not you alone, but Christ live
in you, and the life which you live now, live by faith
in the Son of God, who loved you and gave his life for
John Bright, Jeremiah; The Anchor Bible, Volume 21; 1965; pages 129-130ff. Confraternity for Christian Doctrine, New American Bible; 1970. New Revised Standard Version; Graded Press, 1990 [via Vanderbilt Divinity Library]. Contemporary Engish Version; American Bible Society, 1995 [via biblegateway.com].
Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans [1515-1516]; translated by Wilhelm Pauk; 1961, Westminster Press.
Moravian Book of Worship; 1995. (Baptism, page 165.)