Trinity 3 – 25th June 2023 – Penny Ashton

Trinity 3 – 25th June 2023 – Penny Ashton

Normally when we prepare a sermon, we look for words of encouragement.  Our hope is that people will go away having learned something, or been reminded of something they had forgotten, and will have been given a reason to work harder at their faith and come to know God better through that.

The readings that we have heard today don’t give me a great deal of scope for bringing you words of encouragement however.  I do wonder if the reason we tend to prefer to read from Isaiah rather than Jeremiah despite the fact that counting by chapters and including with Jeremiah the book of Lamentations – another one we tend to avoid – their written output is almost exactly the same.  We also believe that the book of Isaiah was written by more than one person, whereas Jeremiah’s appears to be all his own work.  Jeremiah was called to be a prophet for God as a young man, during the reign of Josiah, the last of the godly kings of Judah, and continued to prophesy through the reigns of several kings, many of whom treated him very badly. 

The political situation at the time was one of power struggle between the great nations of the time, and as we know, the people of Israel and Judah were eventually carried into exile as captives by the Assyrians led by Nebuchadnezzar.  It is the warnings that this is to happen that takes up much of the prophecy of Jeremiah, which is why much of what he wrote is depressing to read, and why he was unpopular with most of the kings.  Until quite recently it was quite common to hear of someone who seldom had anything cheerful to say being referred to as a bit of a Jeremiah.  There is a story that on one occasion as his prophecy was being read to king Jehoiakim, the king periodically took a knife and cut off the portion of the scroll as it had been read and threw it into the fire until the whole scroll had been destroyed.  Jeremiah, we read went home and dictated it all again to his scribe, adding many more words this time!

Lament seems to be an emotion that we avoid nowadays, but I wonder if we are wise to do so.  I have noticed when watching the news of recent disasters – particularly the earthquake in Turkey and Syria – that the people there do not attempt to hide their grief when the discovery of a body in the wreckage of their home takes place.  It is customary in this country to hide our grief, and to do our weeping in private – often apologising if we find ourselves shedding a tear in public, but are we right to do this?  We don’t feel the need to apologize when we have shown our joy in good news, or our laughter when amused, so why are we ashamed of our tears?  It seems that displays of grief have only become acceptable at times of national mourning such as the death of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, but not when we lose someone we knew and loved. 

There is much that is wrong with our world at the moment.  There can be very few people left who still deny that climate change is a reality, who say that our seas are not still being poisoned with plastic or that many plant and animal species are in grave danger of extinction.  These are all things that have largely come about in our lifetimes, and while we can claim with some accuracy that we were initially ignorant of the damage that we were causing, we cannot make that claim any more.  Neither, sadly, can we expect that the situation will be put right by the action of governments and big businesses.  They have a part to play, but they are largely driven by the choices we make. 

Manufacturers will soon get the message and stop over production when they realise that nobody is buying.  Governments set their spending priorities according to the votes cast and the letters and emails they receive.  What we do and say does make a difference, and the more we do and say it, the more of a difference we are likely to make.  We are not, and never have been too small to make a difference.

The message of Jeremiah that we heard today, is of the importance of speaking out God’s word when we hear it denounced.  Many of us, and I include myself, are afraid of looking stupid and being ridiculed by all those who hear us – whether friend or not – as was happening to Jeremiah but Jeremiah is aware that if he does not speak out the word that God has given him, he feels as if he will burst or it will burn him inside.  I wonder if we still feel that kind of compulsion.  In the last verses however, Jeremiah remembers that God, who he refers to as ‘a dread warrior’, has always delivered those in need from any who would do evil.

Jesus message in our gospel reading is not much more cheerful than Jeremiah’s.  He is sending the disciples out to spread his message and is warning them that it will not always be easy.  His message will divide people and not all will hear it willingly.  It is possible that it will split families, but the important thing to remember, both for the disciples and for us is that God will always be with us.  As Jesus says – every hair on our heads is numbered, and not even a sparrow dies without God being aware of it.  How much more will he support and protect us. 

As he promises the disciples –anyone who acknowledges him to others, he will acknowledge to his Father in heaven.  The important message from both our readings today is the need to have God at the centre of our lives and to speak his word whenever we feel it is right and needed.  If we can keep hold of these two things, God will be our deliverer, and Jesus will continue to remember us to his heavenly Father.  How much more could we ask for?