Third Sunday after Pentecost

Service Date: 
25 June, 2017

Worship was planned and led by St. Andrew's Worship Group. The theme was being sustained by God in times of suffering and distress.

Hymns: 

Rejoice and Sing 536  New every morning is the love

Rejoice and Sing 514  O for a  heart to praise my God

Rejoice and Sing 634  Pray for the Church afflicted and oppressed

Rejoice and Sing 103 Praise to the Holiest in the height

Sermon: 

Readings

Jeremiah chapter 20 verses 7 - 13

Psalm 69 verses 6 - 18 and 30 - 36

Romans chapter 6 verses 1b - 11

Matthew chapter 10 verses 24 - 39


We probably know more about the life of Jeremiah than that of any other prophet.

He was born in about 650 BC to a priestly family in Anathoth, about 3 miles from Jerusalem, and lived through a very turbulent time in the history of Judah.

In an earlier age the Assyrian empire had swallowed up the northern kingdom of Israel and had come close to taking Jerusalem too, but somehow the city had been miraculously delivered.

The belief arose that Jerusalem had been spared because God had chosen Mount Zion for his dwelling place, and that the presence of the temple made the city inviolable: God would protect it, come what may.

This was the world into which Jeremiah was born, but it was a world about to undergo some tumultuous changes, and Jeremiah lived through those tumultuous changes.

In the early part of Jeremiah’s prophetic career the once mighty Assyrian empire was in a terminal state of decline, and King Josiah took advantage of the independence which this allowed him, to reform the religious cult of Judah.

But this period of respite was short-lived, and the place of Assyria on the world-stage was taken by the neo-Babylonian empire, which rapidly rose to pose a threat to the other nations of the Near East.

Much of Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet was carried out under the dark shadow of this ever more menacing threat.

In 597 BC the Babylonians came up against Jerusalem, besieged it, deposed its king, and deported a large part of its population.

The Babylonians made Judah into a vassal state in the charge of Zedekiah, whom they appointed king.

For a decade before the final defeat and destruction of Jerusalem Jeremiah carried out his prophetic work in the city with ever increasing difficulty.

As a prophet, he saw the events taking place as being the judgment of God upon a sinful nation, and urged submission to the Babylonians as the only realistic way forward.

But his message was not popular, and was misconstrued as being unpatriotic.

And Jeremiah suffered much for his message, including imprisonment and being cast down a well.

From the Book of Jeremiah, not only do we know a great deal about the life and circumstances of the prophet, but we also learn quite a lot about his inner feelings.

The Book of Jeremiah contains six poetic passages in the form of personal laments, sometimes called the “Confessions of Jeremiah”, in which the prophet lays bare his soul.

Indeed, because of these passages, Jeremiah has sometimes been known as “the weeping prophet”.

And so characteristic are these passages of Jeremiah, that he has traditionally been thought of as the author of the Book of Lamentations, though few modern scholars would attribute Lamentations to him.

John Skinner, who was principal of Westminster College, Cambridge, in the early years of the 20th century wrote of Jeremiah’s Confessions:

“They lay bare the innermost secrets of the prophet’s life, his fightings without and fears within, his mental conflict with adversity and doubt and temptation, and the reaction of his whole nature on a world that threatened to crush him and a task whose difficulty overwhelmed him.”

The passage which we read at our OT lesson is one of those “Confessions”, and it is a particularly bold and moving one.

It opens with the words (in the NRSV), “O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.”

Older translations have Jeremiah accusing God of deceiving him, but the translation “enticed” is an attempt to allude to the fact that elsewhere the Hebrew verb is used of sexual seduction.

Many years earlier when Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, he protested that he was only a youth, and he was promised that whatever difficulties he faced, God would be with him and protect him and give him the strength that he would need, to fulfil his calling.

Nevertheless, fulfilling that calling came at a tremendous cost to the prophet.

He says: “For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.”

And we see the inner conflict that was tearing him apart when he adds: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

What exactly was it that led the prophet to pour out his heart like this?

That is something known only to him, though the editors of the Book of Jeremiah sought to give some context to this passage by making it follow 20:1-6.

In this preceding passage, Jeremiah’s preaching brought him into conflict with Pashhur, a priest who held an important office at the temple.

We read that Pashhur struck him and put him in stocks.

The next day, when Pashhur released him, Jeremiah named him “Terror-all-around”, and foretold that Pashhur would see his friends fall by the sword and be taken into captivity in Babylon.

It is interesting that the phrase “terror all around” is found both in this passage about Pashhur and in Jeremiah’s confession which follows it.

It may have been the presence of this phrase in both passages which led the editors of the Book of Jeremiah to put the two passages together.

As a matter of fact, the same phrase occurs a total of seven times in the OT, five of them being in the Book of Jeremiah.

One of the remaining occurrences is in Psalm 31, a lament which somewhat recalls the Confessions of Jeremiah, and the other is in the Book of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to Jeremiah.

The calling to serve God can be a lonely one and a costly one, as Jeremiah found, and as he expressed so movingly in our OT lesson in Jer 20:7-13.

And Jeremiah provides us with a fine example of someone who is able to place his trust in God to bring him through this time of difficulty.

For despite all his troubles, he ends this passage on a note of confidence and praise:

“But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble … Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”