Trinity 9 – August 14th 2022 – Rev Alison Way
Jeremiah 23:23-29, Luke 12:49-56
In the name of the Living God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen
I want to start with a riddle. A pilgrim came to the fork in the road. One road led to safety and the other to death. In each fork stood a guardian. They were identical twins. One twin always spoke the truth and the other one always lied. To find the right road to travel – The pilgrim was allowed to only ask one question – only one and he didn’t know which twin was which. He could only ask one question to one of the twins and to save his life he had to find out which road led to safety. So what did he ask?
Let me give us a moment to ponder that.
The question he asked was – If I ask your brother which way leads to safety which way will he tell me to go?
Both twins will point to the road to death – so the man would go down the other one. If he asked the Truthful twin – which way his brother would send him – and knowing his brother would lie would point him to the road of death. If he asked the lying twin which way his brother would send someone to safety – knowing his brother would say the truth and as he always lies, he would also direct the man to the road leading to death! So the pilgrim had his answer and would go down the path not indicated by either twin and that led to safety and life!
And so it can be in life. How do we know who to believe? And what to base our walk of faith upon? This is also one of the points our reading from Jeremiah was getting at. Jeremiah was living in a time when the prophets were saying things had come from God. When they were actually the schemes of their own hearts and not what God wanted at all…. Combatting these self-serving prophets was one of the things God placed on Jeremiah’s heart… In the passage – Jeremiah firmly tells the prophets to speak the word and interpret dreams faithfully!
The beginning of this passage reminds us of God’s presence with us and our inability like the prophets of Jeremiah’s time to hide our poor choices in secret places God cant see! We may (not that I am recommending this) be able to deceive some people some of the time, but we can NEVER deceive or hide anything from God’s heart of love for us. As it says God knows the secrets of our hearts.
I had a good look at where that reading finishes too – What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Starting with the wheat and the straw, this probably relates to a proverb of Jeremiah’s day. Grain is the valuable food stuff and the straw the leftovers at best mixed with mud to make bricks! The wheat is valuable and the straw is relatively worthless. In comparison with the wheat being prophecy true to God and the straw being prophecy for one’s own devices and desires. I also wondered if there is a hazy reference for the hard time of the Israelite people when enslaved to the Egyptians in this, particularly the times when they had to make bricks! And then the same number of bricks when they had to collect the straw as well. That being the fate of those following false prophets, perhaps.
Anyway moving on to the second bit – Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Fire can be refining and purifying as well as destructive. Likewise a hammer can be destructive and used to smash things to pieces, but a hammer in the hand of a stonemason can craft blocks and intricate carvings or shape heated metal with an anvil. The interpretation of God’s word for us or a Godly interpretation of a dream is like the refining properties of fire and the craft of shaping stone blocks with a hammer. The destructive properties of fire and hammers is like being taken in by self-serving interpretations of God’s word or a dream. Like the pilgrim riddle I started with, the dilemma for us is spotting the refining of God from a much more destructive choice for ourselves from self-serving messengers.
Our gospel today adds another level of complexity. Jesus did not come to us, to bring God’s heart of love for us so everything could stay the same. Let me be clear. The power of the Holy Spirit is here to change us for the better from the inside out. That reading sounded like serious family melt down, with all those different relationships father and son, mother and daughter etc being divided. One of the things Jesus has come to say is that the cultural norms of his day, the duties and obligations within those relationships needed to change in the light of his coming. As people respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For example, the expectation of the eldest son to inherit his father’s position was being challenged as this might not be the call on the eldest son’s heart by God. A new daughter in law was to be loved and cherished by what Jesus taught, rather than remain on the fringes of the family.
The message of Jesus disrupts and disturbs the status quo and frankly it always has! But in following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we open out our hearts and lives to new hopes and new possibilities and the flourishing life God intends for us – which may well be beyond our imagining. There is no guarantee here of a comfortable ride!
I was very struck last week with the talent and skill on show in the gymnastics I saw at the Commonwealth Games live and many other sports on the television. How does the seed of such talent get fanned into flame? Some were children of previous competitors, like Eilish and Liz McColgan. For others it was brave and heartfelt choices, stepping out of comfort zones in families – which changed things forever for all of them as they nurtured an athlete, gymnast or whatever activity it was as the spark of talent was spotted. And in yet another area, this was the activity taken up later in life with two over seventies Scottish gold medallists in para lawn bowls
The point really is to spot the opportunity, fan into flame the sparks of God’s gifts to us and how his spirit is working in us (Even when it feels most unlikely!) – I have great personal experience of this – which is a story for another day. To spot the grain for us in dreams and God’s word, rather than fall for the straw and false self-serving interpretations of dreams and God’s word for us.
To finish – I think this means we need also to think through where ‘duty and obligations’ like the family relationships in Jesus’s day might be holding us back too. Be bold, be brave, let’s travel where the Holy Spirit leads us. I am going to end with a verse of a powerful modern hymn, which resonates with God’s love and challenge for us
in Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand
- The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
- Word Biblical Commentary – Jeremiah 1-25, Peter Craigies, Page Kelley and Joel Drinkard
- CCLI – Song reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton – In Christ alone – Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.