Homily for 19 Trinity
October 27, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Jeremiah 30:12-22
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.
This morning Jeremiah paints a picture of stark hopelessness in the first four verses of our reading. A picture that would lead anyone to despondency if it were addressed to them. In this, we remember when enter into the mystery of pain any number of things can lead us to that.
There are three reasons that come to mind – first the providence of God is one reason we may suffer – in the moment of suffering we may not know why things are as hard as they are, but we know they are hard. The book of Job gives us an example of this. All we know is that Satan walked into the heavenly court and threw down the gauntlet and God accepted it. Job was innocent. Despite the protests of his wife and miserable friends there was no reason for him to feel such pain. Rather – we learn from the Book of Job that God is sovereign, and though we may travel through valleys of darkness God does not abandon us, and through our suffering God is glorified.
Or we may suffer because of the sin of others. We can think of both large cultural suffering or personal suffering that has been brought on not by our own wickedness but because someone has opted to do something wicked to us. Joseph, outside of Christ, is the best example of this in scripture. He did not deserve to be sold into slavery, he did not deserve to be cast into jail, and yet he did.
Christ, of course, is the ultimate example of suffering for someone else’s sin. Christ was the perfect person, and yet he died the most shameful death. And what do we do with this kind of suffering? We are called to a posture of humility and joyfulness – which is harder than it sounds – but if Christ suffered so darkly – how can we expect any better than our Lord?
And what of the pain that comes out of it? It is Christ who can heal our pain, our shame, our heart ache. This is not some empty promise, but a real and active promise – St. Gregory of Nazaianzus summarized it best when he wrote “that which he has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His God head is also saved. If only half of Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.”
St. Gregory is arguing for the reality of the incarnation of Christ – that Christ is fully man and fully God – but the incarnation is practical for our salvation, redemption, and healing. It is not as though Christ came and set us free, and was like the deist’s clockmaker God, and said “welp, that’s enough,” and walked away. No, Christ actively heals those pains. For Christ experienced loss of friends, experienced betrayal, experienced slander, experienced deep and dreadful shame. If we give these pains to Christ – Christ is capable of healing even the darkest struggles of our hearts. For he assumed a fully human experience in order to bear the darkness and pain that humanity all too often experiences.
The author of Hebrews further affirms this when he wrote “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” In other words, Christ fully knows what it is to be human, yet lived perfectly, and can therefore bring every heartache, joy, pain, love, tear, laughter, sorrow, and delight before the heavenly throne, and in that he can heal us and bring us to the deepest of joy.
My friends, if you are struggling from bitterness, anxiety, or pain from past hurts – I know it may seem impossible – but give those pains to Christ – he can and will heal them. It may take time, it may take hard conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ – it may take years of prayer and love – but Christ can and will heal you.
But there is a third kind of suffering – the suffering that we bring upon ourselves. This isn’t like when we try to carry too many heavy objects and drop one on our toe, nor like when in comedies where the husband becomes quietly ambivalent to his wife’s frustration until she looses her cool. Though, it also isn’t entirely unrelated because the first probably came out of pride and the second out of a lack of love. It is deeper than these trite examples.
First, we need to take a moment and understand what a prophet is in scripture. Prophets did have some unique charismatic gifting and connection with God. This of course is particularly important to bear in mind when we consider our theology of scripture. For the books which we have of theirs’ we consider the word of God. That is to say what St. Paul said to Timothy – “all scripture is breathed out by God… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So we can know the prophets of scripture had a special endowment of the spirit.
But more central to how we read them is their specific calling – the prophets were called to be covenant enforcers. Don’t imagine the strict old maid school mistress who runs around brutally correcting everyone for her delight – imagine instead the voice of truth crying out in the wilderness of relativity.
When we think of a prophet – let us think not of someone who is constantly “getting a word from God,” but of one who has drunk so deeply the word of God that he or she can correct with love – can recall us to the truth of God, can speak truth in such a way that it reminds us of Christ, our first love, and begs us to return. No, a true prophet does not look for a new revelation, but sees all the revelations found in scripture and reminds those around him of it with love.
So what we have happening in this morning’s reading, it is not the random suffering of Job, nor is it the suffering brought on by other’s sin directed towards us – what we read of comes out of a status of habitual sin. This sin did not happen in a vacuum, nor was it that Judah was simply allowed to sin for awhile and suddenly out of the blue God is darkly condemning them – no – if having the covenant was not enough, they had sufficient warning from other prophets beyond the covenantal promises given by God.
Fairly early on in the history of the nation of Israel there was a split between the northern and southern kingdom. Both kingdoms were rebellious – but the words today were to the southern kingdom, which had sufficient warnings – to get to what we read today – it took not one, not two, not three, but four proceeding prophets to the southern kingdom before we get to Jeremiah. Their messages were all the same – repent, turn from your sin, you have violated the covenant, return to God.
Having been confronted time and again by God, Judah is, yet again being shown the curse of habitual sin. Habitual sin leads us to an incurable disease, and the great destruction of relationships.
The Lord describes first the horrible state in which he has found his people – “their hurt is incurable, their wounds are grievous, there is no medicine, no healing.” Sin, outside of God’s redemptive care leads us to a hopeless place. Sin damages our bodies, souls, and minds. Sin leads us to believe what we read her today – there is no hope for us. Sin, when left to its own devices destroys.
Let us not pretend sin is less terrible than it is. It causes death – Adam’s first sin, and the curse that came because of it has been passed on to all of us – and is the reason our bodies are slowly breaking down, sin is the reason for the inescapable reality that eventually all our bodies will fail us, and we will die.
Some have pondered why the continuing Anglican churches have clung so dearly to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. A major reason is that the 1928 Book of Common Prayer retains a robust theology of sin. It is not that there aren’t decent liturgies in the newer Books of Common Prayer, but a careless or wishy washy priest could navigate around the confessions that acknowledge how deep and dreadful sin can really be. No, we need to look our sin in the face and acknowledge as we did this morning that “there is no health in us.”
Sin, my friends is a deadly disease.
Sin also destroys relationships – God tells Judah that “all your lovers have forgotten you.” Now, we need to understand this – when we read that their lovers have forgotten them – we see the picture the Old Testament often paints of God’s relationship with his chosen people, which is of husband and wife and when his people stray – scripture shows them as an unfaithful wife. So, in this case the picture of lovers does not paint the picture of some virtuous woman with loving friendships, but that of one who does not stay faithful to her husband. Yet, having abandoned her husband, those whose arm’s she sought have also abandoned her.
When we abandon God, we lose our one true and surest relationship, when we turn our back on him, we lose the stability to love people how God has called us to love.
This doesn’t mean that non-Christians can’t have good and loving relationships – of course they can! Psychology and common sense tell us that secure, loving bonds are a basic human need. But sin causes these bonds to stress and strain. This is why there is so much heartache in the world, why marriages dissolve, why there are tensions in friendships, why true, life-giving emotional and spiritual intimacy feels so terrifying and even impossible to some.
Without the grace of God – too often we tend to ask “what can I get out of this relationship” not “what can I give? How can I give myself for the other? How can I die to self so that God is glorified in all of this?”
We see this in the first sin – a part of the curse is the rise of dissension between Adam and Eve.
Sin, destroys and deteriorates relationships.
Then the Lord, through Jeremiah asks the question – “why do you cry out over your hurt?” It seems to be a strange question – but the implication is not that they are crying out to God with repentant hearts – it is not that they are crying out to God for healing – for mercy – it seems more likely they are crying out to their lost friends – to their lovers – to their false idols – and false securities. If we cry out for hope from anyone or thing other than God, we will be let down.
For we learn – their pain is incurable. Yet, we know that even the criminal on the cross with Christ could find redemption – even a sinner such as me can find redemption, but I cannot find redemption within myself, or the idols I’ve constructed in my heart, or the sin which plagues my life. No – redemption is found in Christ. Our guilt is great and our sin is flagrant – but Christ can save, Christ can heal.
Suddenly – the passage turns. The end of verse 15 marks a pivot point for God says “I have done these things to you.” What things? God has given them over to their sin and allowed them to dig a hole so deep that it would seem they could not get out.
Here we must wrestle with our theology of God’s providence, and his sovereignty. I know we’ve talked about this before, but I think it is something worth revisiting from time to time. God’s sovereignty does not mean that we are mere automatons. It does not mean that we have no will – but humanity’s free will also doesn’t mean that God is that clockmarker who wound-up a clock several thousand years ago and is not kicking back in his recliner up in heaven watching how things play out.
No – God both allows us to sin – but if we chose to pursue sin he gives us over to deeper and deeper sin. God’s sovereignty and humanity’s will is a mysterious dance that may make sense when eternity comes, but for now is a bit more baffling. We have a will to choose, but God orders all things. So, he allows us to dig our own hole and he gives us over to our sin.
But with this statement we also pivot to hope – those who have been Judah’s punishment will see punishment as well. Sin does not go unanswered. So, we see Judah will be redeemed.
As Christians we are called to cry out for justice, called to care deeply for those who have been hurt by injustice, and fight and pray for their redemption. Friends, this is what social justice is, this is why we have a prayer for it in our prayer book. The term has been coopted to mean something else in our culture, but this should not dissuade us from caring any less for the least in our community and country. No, we are called to care deeply, and pray passionately, and speak boldly for those who have been hurt or wounded by injustice.
But, we know that because sin still wreaks havoc, our justice systems will fail, we know that the unjust will from time to time flourish while the just suffer. As we’ve seen our reaction should not be ambivalence, but we always have hope. For we know that though the unjust may have their day today – ultimately God is the judge and arbiter of all things. Ultimately, evil will not go unpunished, ultimately, all shall be made right. So, let us keep our hope in God, let us not grow weary.
And now the good news of the passage we read this morning comes tumbling out – Just as God gave Judah over to their sin, just as God allowed us to stay stuck in the mire of our own sin – he will restore health to us – he will heal our wounds.
Earlier, we saw that God can heal the wounds we bore undeservedly – the sins that have been done to us – but God does not stop there. Christ died for the sins which we have willfully committed too – he can heal the shame of our past, the pain that those sins have brought upon us, he can heal the disease that has corrupted our bodies.
This doesn’t mean that if we sin we won’t still bear the scars of that sin – but first comes spiritual healing. I was thinking this past week about how our bodies may bear the scars of our sin to our death – but God can heal the effects of those sins, whatever they might be. So we may limp for the rest of lives because of youthful foolishness, or we may ache, or struggle – but God can certainly heal spiritually and emotionally, and he can use our past to His glory.
There is nothing that he cannot heal, and in the resurrection – we shall be restored to what God intended humanity to be. So take heart – God will heal, God will provide justice, God will and does redeem, even the worst of us.
Verses 18-21 God promises the restoration of Judah – he paints for them a grand picture of their redeemed life. For us – we are not promised worldly wealth, or physical security – but we are promised spiritual wealth and spiritual security. This wealth and security transfers over to eternal security.
In Christ we are both wildly rich and spiritually secure. We must reject the prosperity Gospel’s false claims that knowing Christ means that he will bless us with all our worldly desires, but know that if we count all loss as gain as St. Paul did, we are being made spiritually rich. We are being blessed in becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patience, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. When we have the privilege of knowing God – and have these virtues, then we are rich indeed.
Likewise, we have security in Christ – Jesus warned us about protecting ourselves from the one who can destroy our soul. This of course is the devil, but we also know that it is in Christ that we have protection from him. Christ is our security. In all of this we are reminded that the world is instable, that there can be ups and downs, that we may very well suffer temporally, but ultimately, we cannot be snatched away from Christ if we rest in him.
God promises to punish those who are against his people – while we are called to pray for our enemies and love them – we know that some may curse us for this. We should not lose heart but continue in prayer. This is a hard thing to do, when the hurt is so deep. Yet, we know what happens if they do not repent, do not turn from their wickedness. The deepest darkness and pain awaits them.
Once we have a realistic view of our terminal disease of sin – and the affects that it has had on others – the reality of what will happen to the unrepentant will pang our hearts with compassion. We once knew that same darkness and hopelessness. So let us pray fervently for those who do not know our joy, let us pray fervently for those who hate us, let us pray fervently – and never lose hope – placing our trust totally in Christ, in his mercy and wisdom.
The passage this morning ends with the most hopeful statement: “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
There is a tension in salvation – one that is important to recognize, and have a firm understanding of. It is the tension between the reality that Christ saves individuals and that he is saving for himself a bride, the church. It is not an either or – but rather a both and. We must come to Christ alone, and give our whole lives – our selves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable and living sacrifice, as the liturgy says. We must give every last bit of ourselves to God.
Yet, this is not done alone, but in community. It is done as one body, it is done in the local community of the church, which is in communion with all the churches all over the world, who are in communion with all Christian people throughout time. To quote the poet – no man is an island. In Christ we are connected, we are being made a bride for Christ.
We are being saved individually, and corporately. We are not alone, God is making for himself the church, His people, and he is our God.
Today we were reminded of sin’s dark reality, that it is deadly – Jeremiah warned Judah about it – and we receive the same warning time and again. So let us pray for the grace to flee sin, let us pursue Christ with passion, let us pray that he would be healing us, that we would know him intimately.
The great Anglican poet T.S. Elliot wrote after his conversion to Christ the following, as he meditated upon Good Friday:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel:
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food…
Eliot – vividly reminds us here of both our mortal wounds that sin has left us with and the hope that we have in Christ. My friends – let us not take sin lightly – but let us lean deeply upon Christ. For he can heal all wounds, and in that he is glorified.
Finally – let us remember the words of the Anglican puritan theologian Richard Sibbes, lest we grow despondent: There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.