The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Homily for 3 Trinity
July 7, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church
Text: Jeremiah 31:1-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Two weeks ago we took an in depth look at the curse in Genesis 3 where humanity, in Adam and Eve was cast out from the perfect garden temple. Cast out from the perfect place of living in unity of God into a world with darkness and distress, pain and heart ache. Last week we saw that only a chapter later – death was introduced as one brother turned against the other and killed him. Humanity was exiled from the perfect temple garden built by God for our enjoyment and fellowship with Him, and we entered into a world of darkness and heart ache.
As we read about Israel’s exile, we read about it in light of humanities greater exile. We find an understanding in and hope for the future restoration of the kingdom of heaven as we read about the restoration of Israel.
Israel had rebelled against God time and time again – in the same way humanity routinely rebels, forgets, and turns away from God, and in the same way that we rebel, forget about, and turn away from God. Like Adam and Eve we are tempted by the sinful fruit, we find ourselves chasing after our selfish desires to be our own god, to control our own destiny. But here in Jeremiah 31 we are reminded of something fascinating. In our section of we get not one, nor two but ten “I wills” from God and the chapter has a total of fifteen promises that God makes to his people who will go into exile and suffer separation from their home.
At the very outset of the passage we are reminded that God is not only our creator He is our redeemer. We are not redeemed by our merit or works, but because God has chosen to pour out his favor upon His people. While Israel rebelled, and we rebel, God is faithful, and he has “loved (us) with an everlasting life, therefore (He has) continued in His faithfulness to us.” What good news this is!
Now, let’s take a little bit of time to look at the promises that God makes to His chosen people. The first promise is this opening verse – it is the promise that God will be the God of all the clans of Israel. In Christ this promise is expanded to all those who reside in Christ. For it is in Christ all who wander, all who seek the truth, all who desire to know God intimately and truly – are welcomed into his kingdom – not only as servant but as sons and daughters. It is in Christ that we are adopted to be the children of God the Father and that in Christ we can cry out to God – Abba father. That is to say – my dearest Father – or perhaps more colloquially – daddy – father.
Theologians rightly warn of the latter phrase – “daddy – Father” because we do not wish to become flippant about our relationship with God. But we do want to recognize how deeply intimate living in Christ allows us to be with God. God is not some distant powerful force, but one who sent his son to die for us that we might be made his children, that we might call out to him in all things, and that he might show us the affection of the perfect loving father. So this is what it means to cry Abba – Father – we have been adopted and we are His beloved Children whom he will gather together.
I find the second promise to be particularly interesting – three verses after the first promise God says “I will build you and you shall be built, O virgin Israel.” Now, there are two parts of this promise the first part is that God will build. We often find frustration when we seek to build the kingdom of God. Our frustration lies in the fact that too often we seek to do it by our own strength.
In talking with other pastor friends we find ourselves sharing the same temptation – that is for us to minister out of our strength. We are good at doing this or that – and so we trust in ourselves, and not that God will do the work. St. Paul gives us the proper perspective when he reminds us that he planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
While every Christian is called to tend to the soil, plant seeds, water, and harvest – it is God that does the work – it is through God that we can do these things. So it is that God will build his kingdom, his churches, and each of us.
For us – we tend to our souls by reading His Holy Word, by spending time in prayer, by fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraging one another to run the race before us, and by partaking in the sacraments where we tangibly experience Christ and some mysterious way. While all of this takes work, sacrifice, and a striving towards Christ it is God who draws us in, and builds us, it is God in Christ who is building in us.
Now, there’s a second part to this promise that is even more interesting to me – within prophetic literature the charge that is constantly laid against Israel is that they were adulterers. Israel, like us, had a propensity to run after every other god that tempted them, laying their hearts before them, and turn away from the sovereign God of the universe. This propensity continues in our hearts as well – we often find it tempting to worship the gods of our world – not the ancient Ba’al or Moloch – but power, licentiousness, lust, or money. As Israel had given itself to the gods of the nations, and committed spiritual adultery, too often we find that we have done the same. We, like Israel commit spiritual adultery – we make ourselves impure by chasing these things – instead of residing in Christ.
The second part of this passage is about redemption – it is about God making us pure. Not by our works or own righteousness – but because of God’s grace and mercy. God has made us pure in Christ. Though we have any number of sins, dark and deadly, in Christ we are washed, we are made pure. This is an incredible thing. It is not that Israel has maintained it’s spiritual purity and was therefore a spiritual virgin – no Israel was purified because God purified her – and likewise it is not that we are spiritual pure – but it is God who makes us pure in Christ.
Abraham Heschel wrote of God’s love in comparison to man’s rebellious nature that is shown through the prophets, such as Jeremiah – that
“man is rebellious and full of iniquity, and yet so cherished is he that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is saddened when forsaken by him. Profound and intimate is God’s love for man, and yet harsh and dreadful can be His wrath. Of what paltry worth is human might – yet human compassion is divinely precious. Ugly though the behavior of man is, yet may man’s return to God make of his way a highway of God.”
God’s love for us is so great that he is our faithful shepherd – through valleys of darkness and death, over mountains of joy and delight – until we find one day we will rest in the restored and remade perfectly good garden once again – that we will live in perfect fellowship with God.
The third, fourth, and fifth promises are that God will gather his people together and lead them back to their land. However, we learn in the text that this gathering and leading isn’t necessarily easy for His people.
We are called and gathered together – but we have not yet completed our journey to the kingdom of heaven. God did not promise that this life would be easy. Christ reminded us that the world would hate us if we love Him. We are mocked, there are spiritual attacks, and around the world Christians face death, simply for following Christ. However, we know where we are heading, and so we persevere and we know that God’s love for us is so much greater.
We know that the journey can be hard – that there will be travails, that the devil and the world will throw at us suffering and difficulty – but the sixth promise is for our journey. God leads us by brooks of water – upon a straight path without stumbling blocks.
Christ is the living water and the way for the Christian – we seek to dwell in Him through living a faithful Christian life. So, we seek his straight and narrow way, seek to know Him through His word, seek to dwell in Him in all we do, to give ourselves fully to Him in prayer. For it is in Chris that we are delivered to the heavenly kingdom.
The seventh promise – just as God scattered Israel in the exile, God also scattered humanity in our exile from the garden. We have been scattered, put out of that perfect paradise, but God is calling us back. God is gathering for Himself a people from all nations. As we have seen as a persistent theme throughout this passage – God is doing the work. Not us.
The final three promises in this passage are the eschatological promises. That is to say – they are promises that will be fulfilled when time comes to an end, the final judgment has come and gone, when sin is finally trampled down, when that which we hope for is finally fulfilled.
While in this life time we mourn – we mourn our sin, we mourn our brokenness, we mourn the way the world around us works, and the pain we experience. So we weep from the pain what we experience, we weep for those who are treated unfairly – but we know when the kingdom of heaven comes – our mourning will be turned into joy.
The second of these promises is in the same vein – God will comfort his people and give us gladness for our sorrow. Although life may bring us through any number of sorrows and losses, God will be our comfort and our hope. The darkness of the evening will not persist, and death is not the end – but God will be our comfort.
This second promise is not only a promise for the eternal kingdom – but a promise for today too. When we wet out pillows with tears, when our hearts ache from too much – God is our comfort. We see in the Psalms a pattern of crying out to the Lord – a pattern of saying – this is too much, this is too hard, come to us dear Lord, comfort us. And He is faithful. The source of the pain may not be taken away – but God’s love for His people is bigger and greater than any evil in the world.
So we can taste God’s comfort in this life time, we can dwell in His kindness and goodness during all the seasons and rest in Him. Yet – at the end – God will perfectly and permanently dry our eyes, and He will make our hearts glad forever. This, friends, is the good news and what we look forward to.
Finally – God promises that the souls of the priests will feast in abundance – we no longer have priests that make sacrifices for us. Yes we have Christian priests, but we play a different role. We represent something greater – we in our imperfection, and brokenness, our fallenness and sinfulness point to someone, as did the temple priests, He whom we point to is much greater than us. We point to the one perfect priest who offered Himself for us – and was the perfect sacrifice for us. Who hears those cries in the night, and takes them and places them before God as sweet smelling offerings, as incense.
Christ is the Christian’s perfect and true priest who never rests, who always listens, who hears us perfectly, who was the sacrifice once offered for all – who took upon himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world, who is leading His church back to the kingdom of heaven, who takes our prayers and puts them into the bowl of incense before God.
So – is it only the temple priests that feast with abundance? Is it only the Christian priests who celebrate Holy Communion as a dim image of that which is to come who will receive this promise? Does Christ alone feast? Or is there something more?
I think – we can appeal to Martin Luther here who reminded us of the priesthood of all believers – who reminded us that we are all called and able to offer our whole selves and all our prayers to God. When Christ opened the door for all the come to God in prayer – Christ made us all priests – and so when Christ returns for his people – we will all feast with abundance. Our souls will be made whole and we will delight perfectly in that which is to come.
The third verse of our passage reminds us of God’s incredible love for His people. Out of it comes the beautiful phrase – I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Although we live in the reality of the exile as result of our first parents Adam and Eve’s sin and our continued sin – we know the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, his mercy for us in our sin, his compassion for us in our heart ache, his care for us in our struggling. He will be the faithful shepherd who will guide us through the dark nights of our souls, and bring us back to His kingdom. So dear friends take heart though the journey may be tough – we have a God who is a good shepherd.
So let us rejoice and be glad – let us take heart – let us press on towards the kingdom that in the end we too will feast with our Lord, knowing that His goodness and kindness endures forever.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.