Delivered at Ames UCC
on November 19, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.
Holding hands and having small group conversations in worship, spontaneous baptisms: I know the last few weeks at church have been a little different, but seeing Easter banners up in November may feel like the last straw. When will the liturgical heterodoxy end??
Today is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is known as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. The idea is that before we begin the four weeks of preparation for Jesus’ birth and resurrection—Advent—we remind ourselves of the outcome of that birth and resurrection: the eternal presence of Jesus Christ in our lives and this world. The good news that justice and righteousness cannot be killed is always cause to ring out alleluias and proclaim “He Is Risen” as loudly as on Easter morn.
But our scripture today has no mention of Jesus. Instead, it is all about God and Jeremiah.
Jeremiah was a prophet of God in the Hebrew kingdom of Judah through the fall of that nation and God’s temple, to the Babylonians, about 600 years before Christ.
For forty years Jeremiah warned his people that their failure to live in covenant, that their ingratitude to God and their material greed, would be their downfall. Because they did not bind themselves to each other in mutual love, they would be torn apart by colonial power.
Jeremiah’s is a long book. It is hard to read because of graphic violence and consuming anger. It is hard to read because God does not prevent the downfall of God’s own people, but leaves those people to suffer the consequences of empty rituals, shallow prayers, and passive faith.
The powerful and affluent of the nation are deported to further reaches of the empire. The poor and the powerless are left in place, under the control of the empire. The End.
In Jeremiah there is no redemption, there is no reunion. The promised land is lost, along with a great deal of life.
God does not cut off relations, though.
God sends a message to the exiled, to the former cultural, political, and religious elite. They were the ones who had betrayed God’s covenant and they were the ones whose cultural, political, and religious power needed to be broken by Babylon. The poor had already been crushed by their own.
So God’s message to the exiles? Build a house, plant a garden. Marry and procreate. Even though I am so angry, God says, that another generation has forgotten Eden and Exodus, that another generation has refused the lessons of manna and Sabbath, my teachings remain, as do my hope for you and my faith in you.
It will take time, but do what you must to survive this trauma, do what you can to hear me and come home. Settle in, wherever this cataclysm leaves you, so that you may wander back to me again.
My wife and I were watching the news the other night and she turned to me and said, “This is why people don’t believe in God.” Neither of us can remember now what the story was, but every day has a faith-testing report, so it doesn’t really matter. Hurricanes, bombs, lack of clean drinking water; health care costs, workplace discrimination, children murdered by their parents and guardians: Even without the trauma of the direct war and occupation endured by Jeremiah and his people, we have ample reason to give up this faith.
If faith in God does not provide us with certainty about our future, what good is it? What good is a God that does not prevent suffering?
Because we remember the whole story, the beginning and the end that is a new beginning, just as we do today.
When Mary the Mother of Jesus found out she was pregnant while unmarried, she did not cry out “why me” and wonder how she would hide her belly. She cried out “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God…” (Luke 1.46–47a).
But the danger remained real, as Jesus was born under threat of genocide. As he grew to adulthood, he found himself always drawn away from safety and into wilderness. Though he bathed himself in justice and righteousness through baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, Jesus was still beset by the temptations of the forces of non-being. He resisted them through the scripture of his faith and went on to turn water into wine and a loaf of bread into meals for thousands.
Despite preaching and demonstrating the real and immediate presence of the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven, a beloved friend chose his fear and the familiarity of occupation over love. But Jesus did not hide. He was willing to live for God’s love unto death. Though abandoned by the male disciples whom he had chosen, Jesus’ mother and the other women who had chosen Jesus for themselves remained at his side.
And so, it was Mary of Magdala, a mere woman without standing nor power, not an official disciple at all, who was the first to receive the good news of life beyond crosses.
GOD’S SAVING POWER
For Jeremiah, God’s anger must be the cause of Judah’s conquest. But conquerors hardly need God’s help to succeed. All they need is a society that no longer sees itself as interconnected, as reliant on each other. Once we divide ourselves, being conquered is easy.
We are, today, as broken and as fractured a people as Jeremiah’s and we have all the evidence we need that the disparity and disregard of his time are just as dangerous to us all now.
I know that might be the very reason to abandon faith.
But when we remember the whole story, when we take our focus beyond our immediate violence and anger, we remember that God’s power to save us from destruction does not come through proper channels or from on high.
Fed by waters as ancient as the very beginning, God’s saving power takes root and flourishes only in soul-soils that we take the time to weed, that we have pulled all of the rocks out of. God’s saving power is known by those who have taken the time to grow within it, and by those who have nothing else in their lives—no cultural, political, or religious power—to keep them from thinking they do not need it.
Again, God’s saving power is known by those who have taken the time to grow within it, and by those who have nothing else in their lives—no cultural, political, or religious power—to keep them from thinking they do not need it.
CHRIST THE KING
Despite how often we forget all of that, God still has faith in us. God’s teachings remain. God’s underground, subversive, and surprising power for salvation endures and helps us to endure. So does Jesus Christ, the king who cannot be above, but must be among. The ruler who is never in remove, but always in reach.
So, yes, on Easter morning, alleluia. And on Christmas morning, alleluia. But also in poverty, alleluia. In persecution, alleluia. In prison, alleluia. In pain, alleluia.
Despite graphic violence and consuming anger, alleluia. In the midst of collapse and confusion, alleluia. In rejection of empty rituals, shallow prayers, and passive faith, alleluia.
With soul-soils tended in anticipation of the warm spring sun of the sacred, alleluia.