Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Psalm 71: 1-6; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Proper 16 (21) Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 22 August, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Proper 16C / Ordinary 21C / Pentecost 13 22 August, 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In looking at today’s readings, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of what we are reading, and of how we read the Bible. Do we read the Bible as a book about prophets, saints, kings and apostles, a book about God and Jesus, a book of history, geography and poetry? Or do we read it as a narrative of life and an illustration of Divine relationship?

The introduction to the book of Jeremiah that we heard in our first reading can be read both as an introduction to the character of Jeremiah and as an introduction to ourselves. The opening phrase, “The word of the LORD” is a characteristic expression in this book: it tells us that the message Jeremiah proclaims is God’s word. And so when we read the prophets, it is similar to our reading of the gospel: we are looking at a revelation of the Divine Word, a Word that is eternally voiced for all peoples.

‘Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Can we contemplate ourselves as we are before our birth? It might sound like some pointless navel gazing exercise; however, how else do we come to know ourselves as eternal beings? Sure we can look beyond our death, to the afterlife, but that is a loaded perspective, with all the baggage of heaven and hell. If we seek our true selves and our nature as known by God, then as the title of a book on Zen spirituality suggests, we should, “seek our original face – the face we had before we were born”.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’ As we contemplate these words, we are looking beyond the ‘selves’ that we are familiar with, and our faith journey is exactly that - a looking beyond what we know (or think we know), into the eyes of the Divine. The creature contemplates a place of being in the eyes of the Divine creator. We are, each and every one, formed, consecrated and appointed in the Divine Word.

Jeremiah gives an almost natural and universal response as he comprehends this truth: ‘Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." or ‘Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a girl." Like Jeremiah, we are drawn back into the smallness of our own understanding. We doubt, or more commonly we do not believe ourselves as ‘Divine creatures’. ‘But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.’ Can we again hear these words for ourselves? This is not navel gazing; rather, here we have an opportunity to know ourselves and to believe in ourselves, and only from that place can we truly encounter the Divine truth: what we believe shapes the world; what we believe is the beginning of creation.

In the beginning was the Word: and the Divine Word, God the creator, believes in the creature of Divine creation. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’ Our life journey is lived in the shadow of mortality; no matter how confident we are, that confidence is only skin deep, for we mostly live in the shadow of death. We are aware of our fragility and our vulnerability, and such fears shape our belief in ourselves and so too our belief in God. ‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." This is the gospel in one line, these words to Jeremiah. The Word of God is what is revealed in the life and person of the Christ. And they are underlined with a symbolic action: ‘Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth.’ To touch is to know - if we can touch something we know it is real. This is not a literal activity, but Jeremiah wants us to know that the truth we contemplate as we listen to the Word of God is a truth of reality, not some abstract notion to be disputed by different faiths and differing theologies. It is real.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;’ speaks to the reality of who we are, and the rest of the reading gives purpose to our being: ‘and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

What a timely illustration we had yesterday: as a people together we were unable to appoint anyone over our nation. We could not choose between those on the ballot papers. Perhaps in the light of today’s reading we should contemplate our selves as being on the ballot paper. We might look beyond our smallness, look beyond our knowing ourselves as fragile and vulnerable, look beyond our inabilities and incompetence, and look to ourselves seen in the eyes of the Divine. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah uses the symbolic action of being touched to underline the truth he has found.

Paul uses the same action to take us beyond what our physical senses inform us: ‘You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire. ….You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. In every moment of creation, and so too in the fullness of eternity we make choices, and our choices shape our world and our world shapes the world.

Jeremiah and Paul have both seen beyond a world that will be shaped by a party who can secure 76 seats in Canberra. We, each and together, can bring healing and freedom to those who ‘are bent over and quite unable to stand up straight’. We each and together have more power and more opportunity than our senses tell us we have – ‘for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.’

An election is a good time to reflect on what we believe in, and an important part of the process that determines the future. Today’s readings give us a delightful opportunity to see ourselves in the process of creation and of the same process, a creation in which the old is refined in order for the new to grow and flourish, ‘for indeed our God is a consuming fire’.

Peter Humphris