21st August 2016 - Hugh Perry
Jeremiah 1, 4-10
This morning’s reading is about God empowering Jeremiah, God puts the divine words in Jeremiah’s mouth. This is known as word-event formula and although it is not found in earlier prophets it occurs 30 times in Jeremiah, 50 times in Ezekiel, and 12 times in the Deuteronomistic History. Maurice Andrew suggests that it indicates that Jeremiah is a prophet to the nations like the servant in Isaiah and he is also a Deuteronomy prophet like Moses.
Jeremiah is the prophet most identified with doom and this is supported by verse 10 where he is commissioned ‘to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow. ‘
Maurice Andrew says he often thought that Jeremiah is the journalist’s favourite prophet and he recalled a TV programme where Hamish Keith spoke of ‘the Jeremiahs of journalism. Keith was referring to predictions of the fall of the government of the time and indeed predicted the downfall of governments as journalists still do.
Dr. Andrew goes on to suggest that Jeremiah is really inclined to be a realist who can always see the potential for disaster.
Fred Craddock notes that to be at the synagogue on the Sabbath, which was a custom of Jesus, was to be at the very heart of Judaism. Furthermore by the time Luke wrote his Gospel the Temple had been destroyed which gave the synagogue even greater significance. The stooped woman probably came to the synagogue for worship but the synagogue leader accuses her of coming for healing. His reprimand is addressed to the people but is an indirect attack on Jesus for performing the healing and a strong reprimand to the people for coming for healing on the Sabbath.
Jesus’ response speaks directly to the leader whom he accuses of being a hypocrite and includes the leaders’ colleagues by using the plural hypocrites.
Jesus’ argument is based on the play on the words ‘bound’, and ‘loose’. The law permitted the loosing of a bound or tethered animal for watering on the Sabbath so a daughter of Abraham was surely more important than an animal and entitled to be loosed from the affliction that bound her. Craddock adds:
‘The house is divided; his adversaries are put to shame, all the people rejoice.’ Such is the effect of the presence of Jesus and of a sign of the in-breaking of God’s reign over the forces of Satan’.
Dr Maurice Andrew suggests that, despite his reputation, Jeremiah was not so much a prophet of doom but someone whose message is ‘if you carry on like that bad things will happen.’
That is a pretty good warning as we prepare ourselves for our annual general meeting following our service but it is also something all governments need to hear. Our democracy not only needs Jeremiahs of journalism but Jeremiah economists, Jeremiah sociologists, Jeremiah anthropologists and public theologians empowered by the Risen Christ.
That need is worth remembering as we enter the local body election campaign proper now nominations have closed is that a large number of New Zealanders won’t bother to vote. What we also discovered when the final list of candidates was published was that a significant number of people didn’t bother to put their names forward. In this Innes ward Jo Byrne and Ali Jones are elected to the Community Board unopposed. That’s Ok because they are both good experienced people but our lethargy towards democracy is certainly something that could and should inspire the Jeremiah’s amongst us to say, ‘if you carry on like that bad things will happen.’
Leaky homes are an example of what can happen when both government and local bodies take their eye off the ball and allow sexy new construction products and techniques to sneak into the building industry. The recent outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North is another example of the need for diligent governance in local body administration.
All public servants are diligent and well trained to do their jobs but different parts of any administration are often in conflict with each other. The classic conflict of course is services and finance. Those whose expertise and passion is to deliver the best possible services to citizens are in constant conflict with those charged with prudent use of funds and keeping the rates down. It is the task of governance to balance out all the opposing good intentions and in a democracy we believe that those charged with governance should be elected.
If good people respond to the call to such leadership by saying ‘Truly I do not know how to speak,’ and the electorate is so apathetic it doesn’t bother to vote then bad things could happen.
Winston Churchill said ‘Democracy is the worst form of government’ but he added, ‘except for all the others.’
It was under one of the other systems that Jeremiah wrote his criticism of his king’s foreign policy. Because the king had absolute power he just shut Jeremiah down by putting him in a well. That stopped Jeremiah’s prophetic voice for a while but it did not stop the Assyrians invading Jerusalem and taking their leadership back to Babylon as slaves. Bad things happened but Jeremiah was able to offer hope for the future in the acted parable of buying a field.
At the time of defeat and despondency he probably got it at a good price.
Even though Jeremiah’s warnings went unheeded the fact that he spoke and his predictions of doom proved true his voice was more likely to be respected when he offered hope. Jeremiah showed the initial reluctance we all feel but in answering the call he was able to offer hope.
Hope is also part of our gospel reading. At the time of our Gospel reading Jesus’ ministry seemed advanced enough for the crippled women to seek him out as someone who could offer hope. The alternative view is that in the affirmation of hope that is part of all our faith she regularly attended the Synagogue and Jesus just happened there on that particular day.
Both assumptions tell us that the church needs the presence of Jesus, the presence of Christ, to fulfil its mission. Couple that hypothesis with our reading from the opening chapter of Jeremiah and we are directed towards the realisation that is up to us to bring Christ into the church.
In the democratic tradition of both our churches annual general meetings are about bringing Christ into the church. We are called to be Christ filled people and the church is the way we share that calling and bring Christ into the church and be sent out from the church to bring Christ into our world.
Annual general meetings review our year of being Christ in the Community with no strings attached. At such meetings we also open ourselves to a calling to greater service in the future through the inspiration of the past we leave behind.
Like all collections of people churches need structure and our democratic structure may well have its disadvantages and its frustrations. But it is part of our church tradition that democracy is a better system than all the other alternatives of church government. Direct messages from God are extremely difficult to discern and as descendants of the Reformation we look for the guidance of the Spirit through collective responsibility, prayer and debate.
At our AGM we not only thank those who have served this church in particular ways over the past year but we also need to be alert to the call Christ puts on our own lives.
Jeremiah claimed he couldn’t speak because he was only a boy and there are not too many of us here today who could claim that impediment. More significantly age was not a limitation from the divine perspective and that probably holds true for any age.
Our call in life is to participate. In our local body elections and in next year’s general election we are, like Jeremiah, appointed over nations and kingdoms.
Called to pluck up and pulled down, to destroy and to overthrow, but more significantly to build up and to plant.
Our AGM calls us to a similar task within our church. We review the year that is past so we can pluck out what has not served us and build up what has served us well. But above all the AGM, like this service that precedes it is an opportunity to affirm the hope of the crippled woman in the synagogue and open ourselves to the divine voice that cries ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us.’(Isaiah 6:8). Through the inspiration of the Spirit we find in the words of the prophets and the pages of the gospels we are called to respond, at our AGM, or any other time. ‘Here am I; send me.’ (Isaiah 6:8).