Message for the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Based on: Jeremiah 2: 4-13 “The people have forsaken living water and have dug their own cisterns, cracked cisterns”
Hebrews 13: 1-8; 15-16 “A list of instructions on living mutual love”
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry be held tenderly in your precious care. As we discern together what glimmers of truth, what grist for the mill, what message for living faithfully we might find here, may we know your abiding and steadfast presence. Amen.
“Living faithfully” or “faithful living” has been our theme in worship these last four weeks since we’ve come home to Knox after taking part in SummerStream 2016.
Since the first Sunday in August, we’ve been re-visiting stories taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, a community of believers; ones thought to have faithfully walked in the footsteps of Jesus in those first couple of generations after Jesus walked the earth.
Like Jesus, this community’s members’ faith was tested and strengthened as a result of great courage, persistence, and tenacity in the face of public shaming, persecution, and imprisonment.
Some of the stories we’ve heard and passages from Hebrews have been translated into recognizable and prescriptive faith statements or ‘sayings’ that inform our own faith lives.
These sayings are often found in our homes, on fridge magnets, calendars, or even on laminated cards we carry in our wallets.
As such, these powerful and evocative sayings transcend time and context.
They brought comfort to our ancient forebears and to us, here and now, as well.
Statements like, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” and “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
For many of us, these statements ground and sustain us in good times and in bad so they are important for our living.
Along with these familiar sayings we’ve listened to some epic stories of significant struggle with faithful living an outcome.
Stories about the likes of some of our faith heroes- Moses, Abraham, Gideon, Sampson, David, and even, Jesus, himself.
Then there were those vivid descriptors of how some of the less obviously heroic, but nevertheless faithful, were imprisoned and tortured.
Remember where words such as ‘sawn in two’ and ‘killed by the sword’ made us all understandably a little leery of being called by God into something larger than our own concerns?
The third week of the month, our readings shifted again.
We moved away from the roll call enumeration of faith ancestors and instead heard again the story of Jeremiah’s call and commissioning.
What I recall from the story last week was not so much Jeremiah’s protestations, that he was but still a boy, but rather, God’s confident response that Jeremiah could do what was required of him.
In bold confidence, the story told us, God even went so far as to put the very words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
This is the backdrop then for this morning’s readings starting with a new story from the book of Jeremiah.
Indeed, there is much lament in Jeremiah’s inaugural speech.
Sent to speak truth to power in a culture whose leaders have become not only politically but religiously disloyal as well, his words are evocative and powerful.
Listen again to Jeremiah’s words of lament at his community’s lost sense of purpose, its’ worship of false gods, and its’ engagement in meaningless activity.
“Be appalled, O Heavens”, Jeremiah tells his listeners.
“Be shocked. Be utterly desolate.”
And speaking as God’s behalf as his call affirms, Jeremiah offers this indictment that will surely cause offense:
“My people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
My first thought on hearing these words is this:
How quickly Jeremiah moved along the path from call to commissioning and from there to a life of prophecy and powerful truth telling!
How quickly he shifted from a place of dogged resistance to passionate engagement with his call!
What a transformation from Chapter one to Chapter two!
And this is only the very beginning!
Knowing there will be much more to consider about Jeremiah in the coming weeks, I commend to your ongoing reflection the questions Sharon Copeman has brought for our consideration in her introductions to the readings this morning.
Excellent questions all, they remind us that God calls us to much larger places of focus and much more pressing needs than what we tend to focus on inside the walls of any church building.
In a time of rapid decline of many of our institutions but most especially in the church, its easy to become preoccupied and distracted with the less life threatening issues and concerns.
My challenge for you this morning is this: Is God calling you to take part in maintaining a culture of complaint here at Knox or is God calling you to be a part of a culture of hospitality?
This brings us full circle to the focus of the readings for the last month come to us from the Letter to the Hebrews and our search for tools that would have us be about the building up of community, of learning to speak God’s truth in love, and being called out into ever wider circles of faith and need lying just beyond the boundaries of our church property.
But before we can do that with any real integrity and authenticity, we have some work still to do around the building up faith and trust in our own and one another’s leadership.
Let us begin then with the work of being curious about that which confuses or confounds us or that makes us afraid.
Let us pay attention to the voices of prophets right here in our building whose efforts at truth telling I see regularly squashed for fear that someone’s feelings might be hurt.
Let us make room for those God calls into our midst as strangers some of whom even come to church!
Let us make room for those newcomers and those on the margins of church family whose presence might actually help to sweep away some of those invisible cobwebs holding us in bondage to past ways of being in relationship as a community and that no longer serve us well.
And if those thoughts don’t work, then let us look together to our second reading from the Letter to Hebrews this morning for relationship guidance.
Here in the letter’s instructions, we find permission to be about the work of the building up mutual love, of understanding hospitality in its truest form, and engaging in the practice of contentment with what we have been given as opposed to what we might be given next.
Here in the thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews we have a starting place for all the times when fear threatens to overwhelm and or anxiety immobilize.
Let us create opportunities for God’s living water to flow freely and abundantly here and now in our relationships one with the other so that we might actually be able to discern God’s call for us and respond with courage and with grace.
Most especially, let us not lose sense of our true purpose, let us not be about the business of worshipping false gods or of taking part in meaningless activities that akin to diggings cracked cisterns that ultimately cannot hold the gift of God’s abundant and living giving waters.
After all, the world in all its desperate need is waiting on us.
How about you?
Let us pray: Gracious and tenacious God, we give you thanks for our stories from scripture that bring us into direct contact with all that we would prefer to avoid. Help us to listen to that still small voice within where your truth resides. Help us then find ways to know your support and care as we risk stepping out in new directions walking the talk of your truth together in hope, faith, and in love. Amen.