Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sermon Sketches: Jeremiah 33:14-18 ~ A King & Priest for Us

Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!

Advent! I’m one of those folks who waits with baited-breath for this season to roll around. I love…I LOVE…the season—the remembering, the anticipation, the decorations, the songs. Everything about Advent and Christmas seems to capture a huge part of what being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, is all about.

Even so, I come to today’s reading with a bit of disappointment—I wanted to read Isaiah 9 or 11…to hear again the words about 'light in the darkness,' about a child who will lead the people. These are themes we are desperate to hear in these dark times. We crave words of light and hope from our leaders—as we hear words of division and derision. One of the great issues of our time is the changing climate of our planet—something that can potentially be catastrophic—and the one voice we do hear is that of a ‘child’—Greta Thunberg--leading the way.

Yet, I am convinced that our God still speaks clearly through the pages of Scripture, and I believe that the message in the passage from Jeremiah today is a message we need to hear, the Church needs to hear.

Jeremiah the man was a prophet that began his ministry during the reign of the Josiah—the same king we met last week who called the people back to faithfulness, back to the Book. While God promised not to destroy the kingdom during Josiah’s life, God did vow to bring judgment on the land, and Jeremiah served as one of the mouth-pieces of God proclaiming the coming destruction.

While much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is directed towards this coming destruction, words of hope are woven into this fabric of loss and mourning. Jerusalem is going down, the temple will fall…but there is hope.

We need those words of hope woven into the fabric of our own reality as we look around us. At this  time, we may feel that this journey of life is a dead end, but God says, ‘no!’ At times we may feel that the social fabric and democratic processes crumble—this is the end!, but the Word says, ‘no!’ At times we may feel that our relationships, work plans, and other facets of our lives head towards nothing or towards destruction…but God’s Word comes again and again with words of hope.

The people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time faced the same. They had heard about the growing kingdoms around them. They knew that Egypt’s economy was growing and their army, too. They were still telling stories of what had happened to the Northern Kingdom, Israel—how the Assyrian war-machine has swooped in and crushed the Israelites. They knew stories of the Babylonians to the east—a growing empire with a powerful army. They were surrounded by stories of dismay…and they craved words of hope. Of course, false hope is no hope at all. They needed to hear something from God’s appointed one. They needed to hear something from the prophet.

14 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness. (Jeremiah 33)

The people had heard the promises of judgment. Jeremiah had spoken those words over and over. In Jeremiah 7 we find samples of those words of judgment: 

20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: My anger and my wrath shall be poured out on this place, on human beings and animals, on the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.

32 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 And I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste.

 …And now, here in Jeremiah 33, some much needed words of promise, of grace. The people have floundered at times under not-so-great rulers, so these words about the “David’s line” bring comfort and hope.

We understand this when we pine for the leadership of the great presidents of the past. Almost without exception--regardless of political party--were we to ask Americans who the great presidents were, most folks would name Washington, Lincoln, or Kennedy. Not that these were without fault, without blemish. We admire these men for their overwhelming good work in spite of their humanity. Washington frees America from the tyranny of George the III, Lincoln overturns the evil institution of human slavery, and Kennedy—had he been given the chance—would have ushered in changes in civil rights.

David was seen the same way—the king who had united the tribes, conquered the enemies, and made Jerusalem the capital of it all. The thought of David was a dream of a united kingdom once again, a hope for safety, and a return to religious fealty. However, this ‘branch’ is not just about political power and unity.

17 The Lord proclaims: David will always have one of his descendants sit on the throne of the house of Israel. 18 And the levitical priests will always have someone in my presence to make entirely burned offerings and grain offerings, and to present sacrifices.

This branch will somehow serve as both king and priest—this descendant of David will be ruler of all part of the people’s lives…the social/political and the religious.

We don’t talk much about kings and queens…or even priests…in our western, protestant world. We’re far too democratic for such concepts. But, our Scriptures are filled with these images. Perhaps we should pause and take a look once more. Perhaps we’ll see that regardless of our democratic talk, we in fact always allow someone or something to rule as king in our lives…we just don’t call it that. But, is what reigns in our lives the king prophesied here in Jeremiah? And, perhaps our bumbling faith could use a priest—someone to guide and direct and help us into the presence of God, someone to show us how to live, to bring offerings, and to make right sacrifices?

In too many ways, we have divided lives much like the divided kingdom. We have abandoned the ways of God and done our own things. In a very real sense, we have embraced the ideals of self-reliance…and we have become our own kings and queens. If not ruling ourselves, we follow empty leaders, dead idols, insubstantial gods and goddesses. And, certainly, too many of us have little concept of ‘sacrifice.’ 

This season of Advent calls us back to new possibilities of wholeness and submission to a promised king—one who will rule and guide and counsel us, one who will care for us and champion our cause. That one will be called ‘King of the Jews’ and ‘a high priest…forever.’ That one will teach us about real sacrifice, about ‘laying down your life for your friend’ and ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’

Are we ready to receive a king and priest anew in our lives? Do we really want the peace this one will bring? May this Advent season be a time of hope as we look forward to God’s words of promise becoming true in our lives. Amen.

Feel free to leave your own insights, questions, and words of encouragement below--perhaps they'll help us all as we strive to faithfully present this passage to our congregations. Blessings...

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