Jeremiah 4:11-12; 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-19a;

Luke 15:1-10

Proper 19 (24) Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Proper 19C / Ordinary 24C / Pentecost 16 Textweek


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

God is Love, and those who live in Love, live in God, and God lives in them. So begins each marriage service; it is a biblical text that is illustrative of the creation of a committed relationship. With that in mind, the first reading from Jeremiah looks like the start of divorce proceedings. “A hot wind comes... not to winnow or cleanse”, but to destroy; “..it is I [God] who speak in judgement against” my people. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end”. This text seems to echo the story of the flood, and the breakdown of relationship between Humanity and God. The Gospel reading, however, gives a seemingly very different appreciation of God, so how do we reconcile the two?

There was, and still is, a common evangelical teaching that explains the ‘difference’ through the person of Jesus. The Old Testament God was superseded by the New Testament God brought about by Jesus. It is a most unsatisfactory explanation that divides BC and AD and opens up a divisive and excluding theology.

If we look again at the first reading in the light of relationship breakdown, and so as a metaphorical divorce, we encounter some difficulties in relation to classic theology. For, if God is filing for divorce from “this people” and “Jerusalem” and “the whole land”, then God is one party and humanity, or creation, are the second party in the divorce case. And that poses the question who is the judge? Likewise, if God is the judge, who are the two parties in the relationship breakdown that are subject to the judgement of God? God is Love, and those who live in Love, live in God, and God lives in them.

If we can move away from the primitive personification of God, and see God as The dynamic that is creative of every and all relationships, then we might appreciate that Love itself is the judge. And the prophesy of Jeremiah, the case that Jeremiah brings to the attention of the court, is our case – the relationship between our worldly nature and our divine nature. Love speaks in judgement between the first party; that is, that part of ourselves that “are foolish”, that “do not know God”, that are “stupid children” and that “have no understanding”, for example, the self-centred us that slowly lays waste the planet in order to satisfy our consuming greed. Love speaks in judgement between that party and the second party, which is that part of us that ‘as the deer pants for the living water’, so desires oneness with God - the part of us that cries out for those suffering and that feels the emptiness of those dying hungry. Love speaks in judgement, enabling us to know our truth and calling us into wholeness and integrity, into the oneness of ‘Love” – into God. Love speaks in judgement – “I am the light of the world” and “the light will overcome the dark” – for “in God, [in love] there is no darkness at all.

Reading Jeremiah’s case notes more closely, we see that the destruction that brings “a desolation” to the whole land does not “make a full end”. Why? Because “Love never ends”. It was the same in the flood narrative, the whole of humanity was destroyed except for Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives. Love never ends. And from the desolation of dying, love is the rising force, the rainbow that recreates the integrity of relationship.

In this light, we can appreciate that Jeremiah and the gospel readings speak of the same God.

The gospel reading itself provides another text which might disturb our classical appreciation of God, and so too our primitive understanding of love. The question in verse 4 has a seemingly obvious answer: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? All of us good shepherds answer emphatically that we all would go after the one sheep. However, would we? Would we leave the 99 sheep we know in the wilderness to look for one that is lost? Of course we wouldn’t. We are too afraid of losing the 99 we have, especially as they are already in the wilderness and so subject to wolves, thieves and weather! The one that is lost, we will either write off or file an insurance claim to cover the loss.

But love speaks – it is a love that is deeper and truer than that which we know. A love that sheds light on the desolation of the world. A love that reaches out to those that are desirous of being found, reaching out beyond the wilderness of the human condition. Here we encounter a gospel of radical pastoral care. For divine love acknowledges that some will be left where they are, huddled in the wilderness of life, whilst Love reaches into the darkness beyond to find those who know the light and seek to be found in the light.

The God of Jeremiah’s prophesy is not a harsh judge; rather Jeremiah speaks of the desolation we create when we lose sight of that which is light within ourselves, and of the never ending source of light that is love. Love seeks to bring back into relationship that which is separated from the oneness of love.

The gospel speaks of that same movement; it is not about maintaining the integrity of the flock, rather it is rejoicing when the lost is found in Love. And love rejoicing in our being found, is echoed in our rejoicing in finding Love. A quote from Thomas Traherne:

You never Enjoy the World aright, till the Sea it self floweth in your Veins, till you are Clothed with the Heavens, and Crowned with the Stars: and Perceiv your self to be the Sole Heir of the whole World: and more than so, because Men [humanity] are in it who are evry one Sole Heirs as well as you. Till you can Sing and Rejoyce and Delight in God, as Misers do in Gold, and Kings in Scepters, you never Enjoy the World. [From Centuries of Meditation I.29 by Thomas Traherne(1637-1674)]


Amen

Peter Humphris