The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Message for the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Based on: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a; 6-15

Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we share as we reflect on your word for us this day, may all of it be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.

This last week at our first of six sessions on gratitude, we tried something new-journaling!

Sitting together in holy silence, we were a circle of 15 faithful and grateful friends, making a record of how we were feeling about the topic of gratitude in our ‘scribblers’ provided for the session.  

Now, the purpose of journaling as I experience it is to provide a space for reflection and sometimes conversation with ourselves or with God about where we are at. 

Sometimes, we don’t know where we are at, when we sit down to journal and sometimes we find out where we are at as we begin. 

Sometimes it's only when we look back on the journaling from some point in the future that we actually see what we were carrying in our hearts at that particular moment in time.

The idea of journaling sprang to mind again for me this morning as I listened to Sydney’s reading from the thirty-second chapter of the book of Jeremiah. 

For me, it felt like Jeremiah was journaling his experience of being guided by God and then making a very detailed recording of some of the outcomes of that experience. As we have heard today, there were quite a number of details to record, yes?

In my imagination, I find myself wondering, did Jeremiah do this to manage his own anxiety whiling away his time in prison or for some other reason altogether?

Regardless of the why of his recording, I am thankful that we have it here for our own reflection this morning.

This leads me to wonder also why Jeremiah was in prison.

We are not told exactly why Jeremiah was confined to prison, but he was. 

Perhaps King Zedekiah was only too familiar with Jeremiah’s penchant for stirring things up.

Given Jeremiah’s long history as a prophet in the land and his now seasoned reputation for speaking truth to power, it might possibly have been the best and safest place for him.

With the city of Jerusalem being overrun by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian troops, it might have made good sense for Jeremiah to be kept under lock and key. 

This is the context in which Jeremiah has another one of his visions from God and with clear instructions of what to do .

The story goes on to tell us that Jeremiah is briefly released from prison for the purpose of entering into a very strange ancestral land transaction on behalf of his cousin, Hanamel who, himself, is about to flee the borders of the country for his very life.

From there we have this meticulously detailed recording of the transaction: the counting out of the seventeen silver shekels with great panache; the signing, witnessing and sealing of the documents for longevity and safekeeping in an earthenware jug; it's all here for our reading and reflection.

Though we might well wonder at Jeremiah’s motivation and the purpose of the reading itself with all the names so foreign to our ears, the final verses set the record straight. 

For all who have eyes to see and ears to listen, Jeremiah records his actions this way:

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be brought into this land” and we might add, ‘at some yet unimaginable future time’.

Here, in a time of chaos and crisis, a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, Jeremiah’s actions speak as much, if not more loudly, than his words embodying an act of hope on behalf of his people under siege.

Fast forwarding to our context, it gives me pause to consider that we, here, at Knox are about to do the very opposite.

Here, in Vancouver, in the year 2016, the land we occupy at 5600 Balaclava Street has become so valuable that we will soon be engaging in a different kind of land transaction.  As we come to the signing, sealing, witnessing to the paperwork and the coming to pass to fruition our long hoped for building project development.

Will we make as great a record or journal entry of the paper trail as it unfolds? 

Yes, yes, and yes  again.

Certainly, I for one,  serving on the Knox board of trustees, am very confident of the attentiveness to detail and recording of same we will undertake. 

Who will be witness to the exchange and preservation of paperwork, however, remains to be seen.

Like Jeremiah, though, we may be viewed by many both within and beyond our walls as doing a rather strange thing.

This critique is not unexpected, especially given the size of our congregation and our aging demographic. 

However,  the point is well taken that the task before us is aimed at providing a legacy for the future of the Knox congregation, all of us knowing full well  it’s a future that some of us may not see come to full fruition. 

As such,  its one not entered into lightly.

Like Jeremiah’s context, ours is also one of feeling besieged as we struggle with being stereotyped by a secular postmodern multi-faith culture where Christianity is definitely on the wain. 

This weekend feels particularly like we are experiencing a double whammy of shifting tides in the culture of the wider church.

Not only are we grappling with the very clear and present reality of decline in energy here at Knox, we are confronted with the further threat of denominational decline, including the latest issue before the courts of the General Council as a self-described atheist minister’s case is considered.

These days, like Jeremiah, we, too, seem to be at risk for everything we have held dear up to this point in time coming under rigorous scrutiny- our tenets of faith, our sacraments, our understanding of scripture as foundational to our purpose, our relationship with Jesus, our hymnbooks, our use of language to describe God and the Holy Spirit, our ways of worshipping, and so on.

Have we got what it takes to hold fast in the midst of so much uncertainty?

Can we stay strong and unified in the midst of a wider church disagreement that stands on the verge of becoming bitterly vitriolic?

Can we turn our vulnerability over to God’s keeping? 

Yes, yes, and yes again, with intention and practice,  with a clear sense of identity and mission, and in a community of loving friends, we can and we will.

Like Jeremiah, then, let us turn our cares over to a God who loves us more than we might ever ask or imagine and who will be with us always as we pray:

Holy One, we stand on the cusp of a new era here, now.  

Just as Jeremiah must have felt in his context, we come seeking comfort and consolation. 

We wonder and we worry about the future of this and all United Churches. 

Help us find new ways to hold in balance our values of inclusivity and openness that upholds your presence within, between, and among us as key to our longevity. 

Help us find new ways to respond to those called to ministries of prophecy and transformation by bringing a sense of curiosity and deep abilities for listening and showing compassion for all the challenges and changes we face.

Help us learn to resist the urge to dismiss and vilify those with whom we would disagree and whose thoughts and ideas we find difficult to comprehend. 

All this and more we give over to your care in hope and in love.  Amen.