Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 28, 2020
Proper 8 (Year A)
The Reverend Walter Brownridge, Associate
No Easy Grace

May I speak to the name of our ever-living, ever-loving, and ever-leading God. Amen.

I’d like to begin this morning with reading of scripture. The Old Testament lesson assigned for today is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah chapter 28, verses 5-9. “And then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet, Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied Hananiah, and bring back to this place from Babylon, the vessels of the house of the Lord and all the exiles. But listen, now to this word that I speak in your hearing, and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who proceeded you and me from ancient times, prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly set the prophet.’“

May the Lord add a blessing to the hearing of this word. No easy grace. There is a biblical theology and understanding of time in two dimensions, Kronos we understand is chronological time, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and so on. But also in scripture, there is an understanding of the word Kairos, meaning God’s time in history, a time where there may be a crisis for God’s people, where they are called to discern the truth of God and act accordingly.

Today in the Jeremiah texts was one of Kairos moment. The passage describes what may be called a prophetic showdown. Hananiah, a prophet proclaiming that God will provide peace and prosperity as long as they do what he says, which would be to revolt violently against the Babylonian empire. His historical precedent for this is that a hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah in fact had promised something similar, had predicted success and protection from God, for the Hebrew people against an earlier empire, the Assyrians.

And so Hananiah, using that as an authority appropriates history, to say, this will happen if the King Zedekiah revises up revolts against Babylon. Jeremiah says something different. Jeremiah is no fantasist, he realizes the power, the mighty power of this new empire may be something different. But more importantly, Jeremiah has listened to God that says, “I won’t be coming to the rescue as Hananiah may think. Something different will have to happen.” And so the people under Jeremiah’s instruction would be called to submit, to go under the yoke of the Babylonians. Not good news we probably would think.

We recognize in this problem, these two visions of God and two meanings of what it is to be a prophet, which one is true, and which one is false? Who, in looking at the proceeding decades of great social and political upheaval in their land, in Judah, in Jerusalem, the King Zedekiah and the people need to figure out what to do, which vision to go with? Which prophet would ultimately prove to be true?

Spoiler alert. You can look throughout all scripture and you will not find a book titled the book of the prophet Hananiah. These two visions of God, and the understanding of what is the meaning of God’s covenant are laid out in these two men, Jeremiah and Hananiah. And the reality and what happens after the scene that we heard, the King chooses, he chooses wrongly. He accepts Hananiah prosperity predictions, feel good theology, disaster results. The King, and all of the leading citizens of Judah are taken away in bondage into Babylonia. Jerusalem is destroyed and this long Babylonian exile commences. On top of that, as Jeremiah stated, Hananiah, having been proven a false prophet later that year dies.

The next chapter. Jeremiah writes a love letter to the exiles. He is the true prophet and writes a love letter, instructing them on how they can live in exile in this difficult time. The story continues, but we should not be so dismissive of Hananiah. As that great Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann points out, it may be more correct to see that the conflicting political advice given by these two prophets, as rooted in these conflicting visions of God and God’s plans, which are both in scripture. The problem was one prophet viewed it too simplistically, and so he misread the sign of the times, the other prophet who struggled, who struggled to respond to God’s word and know that because he would in fact speak God’s word, he would be considered unpopular. He would get the name that endures till now, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet full of doom and gloom. But Jeremiah had a deeper understanding of history and a deeper understanding of God’s actions in the world.

In light of that history of God in the world we would do well to remember that it is foolish maybe sometimes to trust in feel good prophecy, unless there’s really a good ground to do so. Jeremiah knows this all too well. And so despite his own protests, when God calls him to prophesied the truth, he does. He understands that the people of Judah must respond to God’s covenantal faithfulness with faithfulness of their own.

The reality of it is, is that the King could have chosen the other way. They may have been oppressed and abused at the same time, but they would have been listening to God. That’s an understanding of faithfulness that may surpass our understanding sometimes. It’s an understanding of faithfulness and of God’s providential care that what we have is not a transaction or a transactional relationship with God, but a covenantal relationship rooted in a long history that requires faithfulness.

Let me finish with a story that maybe helps illustrate what was happening in that time, and maybe in our own time, in this time of pandemic, of great suffering, of a great breakdown of many of our institutions, and the unveiling, again, of the truth that has always been in here. Of our inequality, and of our struggles with racism, poverty, with our struggles between consumption and boom or bust, fierce competition, hoarding of privilege, nihilistic despair by the have nots, looking at the privilege of the haves. That vision of society has not worked out for us too well, but here’s a metaphor that maybe can help us understand.

We have for, and some might say centuries, or at least decades, been living in a stadium, at least our public life, our political life, economic life, our social life. And in the stadium, there are boundaries, lines drawn on the field. Places you can go and places you can’t go. And like in a football game, you can move the ball one way and they move the ball the other way a little bit, but it’s within the confines of the field. The problem is that may be too limiting in our current state of affairs. What we may need to do to move between the despair, the fear, the uncertainty, is to expand the field or maybe leave that stadium and go to another stadium that offers new possibilities and new options.

That’s what Jeremiah was telling the people in his time. And maybe the words in scripture today are telling us likewise, that we are faced with questions, conflicting truth claims, and how do we respond?

Beloved, discerning the truth is not an easy matter, especially when we are prone to be influenced by what we think we already know, and what we think will serve our interests. But we need to look deeper to where God is calling us, so that we can discern where we need to be and move into that different stadium. Amen.