ďHeís a right Jeremiah!Ē We occasionally still hear that, donít we? Somebody referred to as being ďa JeremiahĒ. Do you know what it means?
Our first reading this morning was from the book of Jeremiah (31.31-34) but it wasnít really in that style, was it? In fact, it was a much more positive and uplifting message.
Some background: Jeremiah
actually prophesied for 40 years.
What about the man himself?
Chapter 1 of Jeremiah gives three facts about him and his family. He came from a
place called Anathoth, from a family of Priests and at the time of his calling
he was a young man. God touched his mouth and said ďGo to the people to whom I
send you and say what I commandĒ - and that is what he did. However,
Jeremiahís message was largely one of destruction and judgement, hence
somebody being referred to as ďa JeremiahĒ. Actually at first he called his
people to repent and to return to the Lord but as time passed and the people
carried on completely without listening, that hope was lost. When
Jeremiah was rather vivid and dramatic in his preaching: he used graphic images and he sometimes used to act out his messages in parables. If you look closely at the book of Jeremiah youíll see that the messages he was being given by God, coupled with his own personal situation, caused him great sorrow, pain and even anger sometimes.
In this passage, though, we
come to Jeremiahís great message of hope.
This follows in the Bible just after the joy of people coming back to their own
land from exile in the land of their enemies.
Just think of how things used to be. Godís law was written on stone tablets. It depended on priests to approach God - on behalf of people - and prophets to make Godís word known. Everyone had to keep on offering those sacrifices we hear so much about in the Old Testament. Yet look again at what Jeremiah is actually saying in this passage. First, Godís law will no longer be on tablets but in peopleís hearts and minds. Secondly, it isnít only Priests who can approach God or prophets who can speak for God but, instead, everybody will know God personally. Thirdly, there is no longer a need for offering sacrifices because God will provide forgiveness and remove sins directly.
Donít underestimate this stuff: it is revolutionary! Itís a brand new relationship between God and his people: a personal, individual, spiritual relationship. Instead of children suffering because of the sins of their Fathers, every person will now be responsible for his or her own actions and have a personal opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to seek God. Everybody can come to God and is able to be loved and forgiven by him.
This was prophecy - Godís
word - but it was also looking forward.
What about this business of ďI will be their God and they will be my peopleĒ? Jeremiah is actually reaffirming something which appears earlier in the Scriptures, in Exodus and Leviticus. However, it does sound rather grandiose doesnít it? Does God just want to lord it over us servile and fawning mortals? If so, how can he care for each one of us?
Itís one thing to appreciate that Jesus loved everybody he actually met but arenít we far too small and insignificant for God to know every single one of us? If God really does care for each one of us, that seems almost unimaginable when you consider the vastness of the universe and our minute place in it. What we need is some sort of insight to understand it all.
Surely the key is this: weíre
not accustomed to judge comparative value by size. A Motherís love for her
baby isnít a matter of pounds and ounces (I suppose it is kilos these days!)
and surely God must have at least that level of insight to perceive the
difference between size and worth.
Surely God knows where, in all his universe, real value lies.
Righteousness, friendship, generosity, courage, wisdom - they are all things which are functions of us, of our personality. All of them, as far as value goes, are worth much more than infinite numbers of stars and galaxies. Remember the fruits of the spirit, which Paul sets out in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Yes they are all gifts of the spirit but they all come from within us. No star ever knew friendship. No comet ever felt love. No galaxy ever felt touched by Godís hand or was moved, as we are, by gratitude for its creation and preservation. Oh yes, surely God knows where to find worth in his universe.
Can God really care for us, individually? Just asking that question puts God in manís image and suggests that his powers may be inadequate. However, think of this. Imagine somebody who canít read going into a library. He or she would just see long rows of books, almost indistinguishable as units but the librarian knows each one by name. He knows the edition, the author, the contents, the purpose, the value of each one. Isnít that how it is with God?
He does know every one of us by
name and he knows our value, our worth. From minute obscurity in his universe he
lifts us up, he picks us out, he gives our lives his care and attention. He is
not just the God of mankind but he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: the
God of individuals. He is the God of me and he is the God of you. He is the God
of love, he is the God of healing and, stated in the early books of the Old
Testament, reaffirmed by Jeremiah and fulfilled by Jesus, he is the God of hope.
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire June 2016
This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 25 March, 2012