Jeremiah 2:4-14; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8. 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
2010-08-23 by Laurie McKnight
So here I am contemplating the lectionary choices for this upcoming 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
First I look at Jeremiah. What jumps out at me first is “Hear…O house of Jacob” sounding very much like the shema. Then the word “worthless” gets my attention – we all have issues of self-worth, and if our ancestors went far away from God, how would we know to love and praise the Lord? We talk about the young families these days who have so much to do on Sunday mornings (Safiyah Fosua wrote about that on June 11, 2010), so many choices – how would they know to choose the Lord if that is not in their family history? Are we who deny or ignore the Lord out of ignorance worthless? Then I see “accusing your children’s children,” and I wonder again about this generational responsibility – visiting the sins of the fathers on their children’s children and beyond…. I wonder if America is a nation that has “changed its gods” – have we forsaken our Lord – and are we now worshipping wealth or health or activities or hobbies?
Next I look at the psalm. I like to have the congregation read the psalms responsively in worship, but more the psalms that glorify the Lord and less the ones that talk about lament to God or punishment from God. This psalm talks about what God would do, and says we God’s people are not listening/have not listened to God’s voice, so we are not obedient. That might resonate with the Jeremiah text above (ancestors going away from God), but Psalm 81 is not really grabbing my attention.
So on to Hebrews we go. “Some have entertained angels without knowing it” – great phrase. Maybe not enough to build a sermon around. References to prison and torture – a social justice sermon? “Let marriage be held in honor by all…” is verse 4 (“mutual love” in verse 1), so perhaps I can work Dan’s wedding into my sermon after all…. Why is that phrase here, followed by a reference to the love of money, and then the wonderful words, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid”? Leaders in the faith, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever…” There is so much richness in this text – maybe too much. I am “shooting” in too many directions; I am free-associating too much. There is a reference to strange teaching, to blood sacrifice, to tent worship in the camp and who might officiate, to a longing for a lasting city, the city that is to come. Then concluding with doing good and sharing what you have – the new kind of sacrifice that is pleasing to God. Again, there’s a lot in this passage from Hebrews. I might let the scripture marinate for a day or two and see how it speaks to me….
And finally, the gospel. Ah, Luke! (Jesus healing on the Sabbath – awesome, but not included in the pericope – a well-known story, and something that addresses OUR failure to keep the Sabbath holy, in our culture today.) And then the parable of being an honored dinner guest, or how we might assume we are more honored than others who are invited to dinner. Do we assume which place we should take? This scripture has just 2 paragraphs, just 2 ideas. This is probably what I will preach from. I think Jeremiah dovetails nicely with this – worthlessness and self-image – who we think we are and who others think we are….. I will probably use those two scriptures. That’s enough wrangling for today.
poem "my name is known to you"
2010-08-21 by Laurie McKnight
"my name is known to you" by Kathy Galloway
with thanks to Susan Leo for the heads-up
Final Thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-10
2010-08-21 by Laurie McKnight
I took another look through the August 2004 edition of Lectionary Homiletics, and I found the wonderful sermon by Susan Andrews. She certainly is a gifted speaker and writer; she acknowledges her call from God, and she invites us to acknowledge ours. She says where we tend to be most reluctant, that's where God is most likely calling us. Susan talks about the "threat and the promise of baptism," and she says that "God's call is seldom instantaneous or clear."
I don't need (nor do you want me) to re-say or repeat what's already been so well said. But Susan's sermon caused me to think of God's involvement in our lives. A call from God is not a one-time event; it's an ongoing process. I see my call as saying "the same old thing" (the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus' love, the Good News of what God is doing in our lives) in a new way, to new folks.
We are called to be where we are, doing what we do. We may grumble and whine and complain and ask why, but ultimately, we follow God's call. We go, as Frederick Buechner urges us to (quoted by both Susan Andrews and Tom Tewell in this issue of LH), to where "our deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger." We go, knowing that God is with us, and that God will remain with us as we follow our individual calls. We remember that God has been with us since before our birth, before we were in our mothers' wombs. What an awesome God we serve.
May your preaching be blessed, may your Sabbath be blessed, may your response to your call be both faithful and fruitful, and true. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pulling the Sermon Together (Jer. 1:4-10)
2010-08-20 by Laurie McKnight
Happy Friday. Some of us are “off” today; some of us have finished our sermons for Sunday already. Some of us will be starting our sermons tomorrow night. Friday is often the day the sermon “gels” for me, as I marinate on it all week....all the different themes that the scripture readings and any additional research I may have done begin to blend together.
This morning, I’m looking at Lectionary Homiletics Vol. XV, Number 5 (August-September 2004, p.33 ff), and rather than recreate the wheel, I’m relying on some excellent scholarship that has already been done.
We’ve already mentioned that this is Jeremiah’s call story; we’ve mentioned his reluctance to be called by God (as other prophets were – and are); we mentioned YHWH’s commissioning of Jeremiah, by touching his mouth and placing there “the message that he was to impart.” LH further indicates that the detailed telling of Jeremiah’s call story was important to relate and record: “…it was for those who questioned his credentials and [it was] for him, when he experienced moments of insecurity and ambivalence.” God saw all that coming: the reluctance of others to hear/attend to what Jeremiah had to say, and Jeremiah’s doubts about his own abilities to be a prophet.
Donald K. McKim writes that Reformed theologians, including John Calvin “…see in these words a sturdy statement of God’s election or predestination of Jeremiah, ‘from all eternity,’ to be one of God’s chosen ones…. There is no inherent ability, merit, or righteousness within Jeremiah himself as a person that leads to his selection.” We’ve already discussed the idea of inviting parishioners to share their call stories – how and when (and if) they feel called by God – if they feel chosen – if they feel strengthened, beyond their own abilities, by God’s faith in them and by God’s touch on their lives.
McKim also reminds us that Jeremiah is talking back to God, dissenting, disagreeing with God. Even if Jeremiah was “only a boy,” how or why did he think arguing with God was a good idea? How can you disagree with the one who has known you since before you were born? We could speak with our parishioners about free will – the minds and the spirits God has gifted us with – would God have “taken no” for an answer from Jeremiah? I suspect that’s a possibility. When have we said “no” to God? Even when we know what God’s call is on our lives, sometimes we still demur.
Jill L. McNish says we often doubt our own abilities to be prophetic, to speak God’s word. And yet God often chooses those “…people whom others – by reason of race, or class, or disability, or gender, or age, or sexual orientation, or ethnicity – might be inclined to ignore. How willing are we to hear prophetic words from the mouths of…. ‘others’…?” How willing are we to be those mouths, speaking to others – risking persecution, humiliation, separation from our families or our peer groups? We could talk about marginalization in society – where we think we fit in (or don’t), which voices we are likely to listen to (or ignore), who we seek to share our own message with – do we share our call stories? Are we eager to tell what God is doing in our lives?
We could talk about arguing with God; we could talk about our fitness to do God’s work (or our own judgment of that); we could talk about how we judge others as fit – or not – to do God’s work. Can we acknowledge that we all are called? Can we make allowances that sometimes we answer God’s call, and sometimes we don’t? And sometimes we say, “Not yet” to God – not now, not never, just not yet.
I imagine I will ask my congregation a series of questions (I always do, in every sermon), and I will invite them to think about where in this call story of Jeremiah they find themselves – where they are on the journey of their faith – where they are in complying with God’s will for their lives, and in following Jesus, a more recent though maybe less reluctant prophet than Jeremiah. I might sum up with a reminder of a few verses of Psalm 71 – if we follow God’s call for our lives (and why wouldn’t we – God loves us and wants what’s best for us and has known us since our time in the womb), we can be assured of refuge and protection, and we can lead nations and kingdoms, we can build and plant and be part of a new heaven and a new earth.
Thoughts on Wombs
2010-08-19 by Laurie McKnight
Perhaps this is a place that only a woman would naturally go to when linking Psalm 71 and the Jeremiah 1:4-10 passage – and yet we all come into the world after developing in the womb. I enjoyed hearing an old fiery Baptist preacher once actually yelling at his congregation – stirring them up – talking about feminism, and instead of talking about what women didn’t have – he lifted up what women did have. He said, “They are men with wombs! They are womb-men!” For me, that was a nice joining of the genders, and put the “addition” or “bonus” of a womb (if you will) in a very positive light.
The psalmist says in 71:6, “Upon you [God] I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” Imagine if God was our midwife, our obstetrician. We already know God as our creator. We know God was present when we came into being, and if we are aware of it, we know we’re blessed; we have known God our whole lives long, since before we even had conscious or rational thought.
God says to Jeremiah in 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God is reminding Jeremiah of their long-standing relationship, of which Jeremiah seems not to be aware. Jeremiah even as an adult is not remembering his history with God, all the ways God intervened in his life and set him apart as special and called.
The psalmist knows about God, about relationship with God, about praising God. The pericope for this week is only 6 short verses, one-fourth of the entire psalm length of 24 verses. The psalmist builds on this relationship with God in the next 18 verses, reminding God of their mutual admiration society, and invoking God’s continued protection (refuge) and blessing through the psalmist’s old age. The psalmist starts with the womb and counts on God until the end of days (“even when I am old and gray”), and the psalmist promises to continue in relationship with God, and promises to continue to praising God. Just like our mothers, out of whose wombs we emerge, God always loves us. God remains our caring, heavenly parent throughout our days.
Jeremiah needs the reminder of the long-term relationship. God calls Jeremiah, but Jeremiah needs some persuading. After verse 10 in our pericope, God quizzes Jeremiah, asking some questions and testing some visions. And it turns out well: Jeremiah answers correctly. It turns out Jeremiah has the stuff; he is a prophet after all; God was not wrong! (We know our earthly parents have dreams and visions of what they would like us to be – sometimes we have the gifts/aptitude for their choice for our lives and sometimes we don’t. But God, our heavenly parent, seems to “get it right” more often than not. You’ve heard the maxim: “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.”) God can tell that Jeremiah is the one (perhaps God has destined Jeremiah to be the one!), and God promises Jeremiah to continue to be with him, to help him on his journey, to help him with his call. God has promised to be with Jeremiah, to fortify him, to terrify his opponents if necessary, to rescue him if necessary. What a loving parent, who was with us at the beginning of our lives, and who promises to be with us at the end (and through the middle) – perhaps from the shelter of the womb to the shelter of the tomb, and then we bask in life eternal with our Lord.
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