Archive for August 2019

Luke 6:17-26 2/17/19 Epiphany, Norfolk

Posted August 31, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Jeremiah 20:7-13                                                  6/25/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

This morning I want to look at our first reading, from the Book of Jeremiah. We don’t often have readings from Jeremiah, and most of us probably don’t know a great deal about him. So, this morning I want to talk about Jeremiah.

Although we’re not sure when he was born, we do know that he was born two miles outside of Jerusalem. We also know – because he tells us – that God “called him up” in 626 BC, at a very young age.

Now, before I go any further, I need to talk about “prophets.” Old Testament theology says that for a specific period of time in the history of the Hebrew People, God spoke to them through “prophets.” These were special people who God selected. God would “tell them what to say”, and their job was to “speak for God.” Their job was also to interpret events of the day, to show how God’s hand was moving in those events. So, they had two tasks: speak for God, and interpret God’s actions for the people. This made them very special “holy people”, and we really need to remember this, especially when we deal with Jeremiah, the great “Prophet of Doom.” A prophet is not speaking for himself. He has been chosen by God and is speaking for God. And because of that, he is entitled to respect, even if one dislikes that he’s saying – as in Jeremiah’s case.

Well, how did they know if someone was really a prophet, or just a crackpot? That was easy. If the prophecy came true, then the prophet was a “good prophet.” If the prophecy did not come true, then he was a “false prophet.”

Well, let’s look at Jeremiah. His years of activity were from 626 BC to 580 BC, or about 46 years. But it was 46 years of total upheaval, war, and political revolution in that part of the world – just like today. The “Glory Days” of Israel and Judah had peaked. The two kingdoms had been unified by King David, and had enjoyed awesome prominence as a world power. But now they were in rapid decline. And Jeremiah’s prophecy foretold this decline, and the eventual fall of Judah, and even the exile to Babylon.

So, the concept of “The Age of Prophecy” says that God was using Jeremiah to warn the Hebrew People of what was happening, and try to help them avoid it. Jeremiah was interpreting the events of the world, and those events were not pretty.

So, what did happen? Well, it’s going to sound very much like today’s world over there. In 614 the City of Asshur fell to the Medes, and this started a domino effect. Two years later, the great City of Nineveh – which we know from Jonah – fell to the Chaldeans. Then the Medes and the Chaldeans formed an alliance, and they began moving through the Middle East, capturing city after city.

From another direction, the Assyrians and the Egyptians were capturing city after city. Two years after Nineveh fell, Harren fell. The next year, Josiah, King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was put to death. The Assyrians installed Manasseh as King of Judah, and it remained under Assyria for the next 55 years. Eleven years later, in 598, we get the first deportation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah to Babylon, and the Great Babylonian Exile begins. And Jeremiah was right there for all of this.

Well, what did Jeremiah say that got everyone so upset? For the first five years of his prophesy, he spoke out against religious corruption and “nature cults.” He also kept talking about an invasion that would be coming from the North. And he tells the nation to return to God if they want to avoid destruction. He talks about Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as a “harlot”, which was once “God’s bride”, but now has turned to other gods for satisfaction. That wasn’t very popular.

But in 621 there was sort of a “reformation.” The nation and the temple did sort of “get back on track”, and nothing was heard from Jeremiah for twelve years. But then, in 609, Jeremiah went to the temple, at the command of God, and delivered a sermon. The theme was that just coming to the temple would not save the nation. Rather, it was the lives each person led that would be the salvation, or destruction, of the nation. The temple priests didn’t like that at all, and ordered Jeremiah killed. But the idea of killing a prophet really scared the public. The people feared and respected prophets. So, there were some public demonstrations, and the temple priests relented and didn’t execute Jeremiah.

But that started a series of confrontations for Jeremiah. He kept calling his country to obedience, repentance, and a change of heart. But that was not what the public wanted to hear, and it wasn’t long before the public turned on him, too. Finally, Jeremiah attacked the king in a public address. He ended the address by saying, “With the burial of an ass, he shall be buried.” That turned the king against him. Then he entered the temple courtyard and proclaimed doom on Jerusalem. For that one, the High Priest had him beaten and put in stocks. So, in retaliation, Jeremiah repeated his “oracle of doom”, but added the High Priest.

By 605 the kingdom was really falling apart. Cities all over were falling to foreign armies, and in seven years the Exile would begin. And Jeremiah began a whole new series of writings, known as his “confessions”, from which this morning’s reading is taken. They are writings of despair, and he accuses God of deceiving him. This is the Jeremiah who Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and is on the front of your bulletin – an older Jeremiah, in despair. I think Michelangelo captured him beautifully.

Well, in 598 the Exile begins. Jerusalem is sacked and the king is taken to Babylon in chains. Everything that Jeremiah foretold has now happened, and Jeremiah now offers no hope. He tells then that the line of David will never return to the throne of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, placed Zedekiah on the throne. Zedekiah liked Jeremiah and even called on him for advice. Then Jeremiah proclaimed Nebuchadnezzar to be an “instrument of God”, and ordered the people of Judah to subject themselves to Babylon. He wrote letters to the exiles in Babylon, telling them to give up hope. He began going naked and wearing only yokes of wood and iron.

Finally, Nebuchadnezzar and his army attacked Jerusalem. Jeremiah did everything he could to foil any attempt at resistance. He stood in the town square, throwing rocks at the army, as they marched out to defend the city. They kept throwing him into prison and beating him, but as soon as he got out, he started all over.

 

In 587 the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar had heard of Jeremiah and ordered that he be given special consideration. He was released from prison and invited to live as he liked, either in Judah or Babylon. He chose to spend the rest of his life in the Wilderness of Judah, from which 600 years later, John the Baptist emerges.

 

Well, that’s Jeremiah. So maybe this helps us understand what he’s saying in today’s reading:

“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the Lord has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.”

 

That is Jeremiah, the “Prophet of Doom.”

 

Amen.

Posted August 28, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Exodus 3:1-11 10/14/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Exodus 3:1-11 10/14/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

We’re using a different O.T. reading this morning at the request of our guest preacher at our 11:00 service this morning. As you know, he is a candidate for the job of priest at one of our neighboring congregations. And he asked if we could switch from the Isaiah Reading in our Lectionary to this reading. Since it’s the story of God calling up Moses out of the burning bush to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, it makes sense for a priest considering a call. And it’s also one of my favorite O.T. texts, because it has a bunch of great O.T. themes.

Before I get into the text, I have to share with you that a number of years ago I attended a series of lectures on the Old Testament by a Jewish O.T. scholar. It was a great series. And one of the things he said was that he was so sorry that Christians take the O.T. so seriously that they miss all of the humor and fun. He said that the Jews have a totally different approach to reading the O.T., and a different understanding of God. He said that the Jews see God as kind of whimsical, sometimes a little addled, and sometimes very unpredictable. God does strange things for no reason. God gets confused and changes his mind. God has never figured out what to do with this creation he made, and is always messing things up. And it becomes man’s job to try to figure out what God is up to, and try to make it work. He used a number of examples, and this text was one of them. “Here’s God, at it again, playing around with fire, and even hiding in it. And he’s got his “angel of the Lord” doing his dirty work by tempting Moses to come and look.

And he went on, picking the text apart. He saw the text totally differently than I had. In all fairness, I’m not doing his lecture justice. He had us rolling in our seats as he retold this story, and others. I just don’t have the idiom to bring that alive for you.

Well, how about the story as we serious Christians understand it? We know that Moses was found in the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. But as an adult, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He killed the Egyptian, and he had to flee Egypt. He went to his father-in-law, Jethro, in Midian, where he agreed to tend sheep for Jethro.

One day he led the flock over to the Holy Mountain, Horeb. Now, this immediately tells us that this story is from the lore of the Northern Kingdom, because the Holy Mountain is Horeb. In the lore of the Southern Kingdom, the Holy Mountain is Sinai. And they get all confused in the text, so don’t let that bother you. It’s just that two stories get put together, and both names get used.

Well, he’s standing around with Jethro’s sheep, and the Angel of the Lord appears to him in a burning bush that’s not being consumed by the fire. Well, Moses doesn’t seem at all concerned that something’s in the burning bush. He just wants to know why it isn’t burning up. So he goes over to explore. God sees that he goes over to the bush, which the Jews find really funny, and God calls to Moses from within the bush, by name.

And now we get one of the most important themes of the whole Old Testament. Moses replies, “Here I am.” The meaning of the name of God is the verb to be, “I am.” Any form of the “verb to be” in the O.T. is a reference to God. You can count on it. And when God calls anyone up, or God addresses anyone, for anything, the responding phrase must be a form of the “verb to be.” The “verb to be” is a “key” that opens conversation with God. Without it, conversation can not proceed.

In Isaiah, God asks, “Who can I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me.” “Here am I” contains a form of the “verb to be.” And you will find this all through the Bible. Watch for it.

Well, once the “key” is used by Moses, conversation with God can continue. First he tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground. Now look at what comes next – “I am the God of your father”, and so forth. God responds with “the key”, “I am”, and a “mind link” between God and Moses is established. Now it goes beyond conversation.

And Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Hebrew tradition was that if you looked upon God, you would die.

So God goes on to tell Moses what he’s about. He wants to rescue the Hebrews who are slaves in Egypt, and bring them to what becomes “The Promised Land, which, of course, is not their land. That’s a situation with which we are still dealing. But it’s God’s plan, and God wants Moses to do it. And God says, “So now, go. ‘I am’ sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

Hey, God. Moses has a price on his head. He fled Egypt because Pharaoh was going to kill him. And Moses begins his argument with God as to why he could not possibly do this. It goes well beyond our reading this morning, and it’s well worth your reading.

Well, what does all of this say to us? I think that from time to time we each have a sense that God is calling us. It’s probably nothing big. But I think sometimes God has something to “say” to us. When you have that sense, try using “the key”, “Here am I”, or “Here I am” and see what happens. We call it “The Faith Response.” We respond out of pure faith. I find it sometimes works. I don’t hear voices coming out of burning bushes, but sometimes I get a sense, or an understanding, of what I’m supposed to do.

Secondly, remember that God is never practical. God never does the easy thing. Moses was the last person in the world to go to Egypt and Pharaoh and free the Israelites. Sometimes we’re the last person who God should be sending. But God works best in messes. And sometimes God asks us to be part of that holy mess.

Listen for the voice of God coming from the most unlikely place, like a burning bush. Make the Faith Response. Answer “Here I am” and see what happens.

Amen.

Posted August 28, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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