Sermons on YouTube…
I have a great affinity for the Hebrew prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel… My passion for the prophets was ignited in seminary. The professor I had was very dry, and lectured from notes that he hardly looked up from, but he’d make sure to point out the quirky and unconventional practices of the prophets. The oddness and the tirelessness of the prophets intrigued me. They were unconventional before it was ‘cool’ to be unconventional.
Prophets aren’t the kind of people we generally invite over for a party or Sunday dinner. Their behavior was often egregious, offensive, and bizarre. Ezekiel ate a scroll to make a point; Isaiah wandered around naked; Jeremiah hid his underwear under a rock and fastened a cattle’s yoke around his shoulders. There’s a very long list of prophet peculiarities that are quite entertaining. But entertainment isn’t the point of their shenanigans. Prophets are charged, by God, with the job of drawing attention to that which we would rather not see. They want people to turn their heads towards chaos, and not look away.
And who wants to do that?
So, they keep ramping up their ridiculousness in an effort to force people to pay attention to them and their words.
Jeremiah’s words today start off with, “The days are coming when…”. Jeremiah uses this phrase often. It creates a kind of anticipatory anxiety, which makes it hard to close your ears to whatever he’s going to say next. And the last time Jeremiah started off with, “The days are coming,” he basically followed it with: If you sin, you’re going to suffer the consequences. Deal with it.
See, for most of Jeremiah the prophet insists that Israel deserves her fate because she has broken every covenant God ever made with her. The Israelites have been beaten by the mighty Babylonians, have been taken into exile in a strange land where their temples, courts, social customs, and community have all been stripped away. The words we read from Jeremiah today are proclaimed to people who were facing unimaginable hardship.
I mean, to put it bluntly: they’ve lost hope.
Religion, and God, seemed far off and forgotten. Laws of the land didn’t protect them. The courts didn’t work in their favor.
And so, Jeremiah’s words are downright audacious: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”
We might miss the audacity of these words if we just take them a face value. But, Jeremiah is telling the people that we don’t need the prophets or priests, or laws codes and court systems. I mean, this sounds a bit like total anarchy to me. Plus, I think that puts me out of a job. And, that we already know the way. Clearly that seems misguided. Jeremiah’s been pointing out how far they astray they are.
Anyway, I say all of this for context.
And to basically turn us towards chaos.
Fabulous, I know.
I mean, life has been nothing but chaos for the past seven months. We don’t need to look very far to find it. And frankly, neither did the Israelites. Chaos was front and center in their lives, and likely, they got tired of looking at it, wondering what to do about it, wishing for things to be different.
Which is why Jeremiah’s words here are not only audacious, but brilliant and full of hope. Let me read them again. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Everything may seem like complete mayhem, and Jeremiah’s NOT discounting that, but he is reminding them that God has and will give them everything they need to face the times.
God has tattooed the law upon our hearts and engraved it within our minds, making God as close to us as our own heartbeat. This is the radical, hopeful, brilliant, audacious message that Jeremiah proclaims to his people. This is the radical, hopeful, brilliant, audacious that is proclaimed to us this morning. And it is one that beckons me back to God and reminds me that the universe is cradled in the hands of God.
But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, back to the fact that Jeremiah is pointing them to chaos. Why do such a thing?
He wants them to be curious.
Curious about why hatred rises up; curious about why divisions occur, curious about what makes relationships hard; curious about our part in bringing about healing; curious about our part in discord.
I use the words ‘staying curious’ intentionally, because I believe it is when we ‘stay curious’ that we engage our hearts, minds, and souls, which is what God’s going for by tattooing our hearts and minds. It is when we ‘stay curious’ that we see not only with our eyes, but with all that we are. It is when we ‘stay curious’ that we can begin to see the way forward.
When Jeremiah points them towards chaos, he’s asking them to allow themselves to comprehend with some level of presence that this is the way things are. Chaotic or not, the way we want them or not, painful or not…
Because God is counting on them to help bring about the Kingdom.
God’s counting on us! God needs us to see clearly.
It’s very Reformation-y of Jeremiah!
Now, Jeremiah knows there’s a limit to what we’re able to do on our own.
He’s a hopeful realist. Jeremiah knows that humanity simply does not have the capacity to heal itself. Jeremiah did not know Jesus, but he did know God’s faithfulness and that God would stop at nothing to heal God’s people.
Sometimes in all the chaos it’s hard to hear God even when I’m listening.
Sometimes in all the chaos it’s hard to see God, even when I’m looking.
Sometimes in all the chaos it’s hard to feel God, even when I’m present.
Sometimes in all the chaos it’s even hard to believe there is a God.
I don’t know if that’s true for you. But it is for me.
And was, at times, for the Israelites.
And still, Jesus, as the Word, written upon our hearts opens up what was closed and sets aflame that which was frozen, bringing us back to life. Jeremiah’s words remind us that what we need to make it through the messiness of life is as close as our heartbeat.
So, even when I can’t hear, or see, or feel, or even believe in God…
What persists is my heartbeat.
I can feel the persistent thump in my chest of God calling me back.
Calling us back.
Calling us out.
Calling us forward.
Calling us to life.