Borderless God: Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

2018.11.25 loverDelivered at Ames UCC on November 25, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

REED
Last week Steve read a long series of passages from the book of Isaiah, and quite well, too. But he had to skip over one of the best lines in that section due to time constraints (and because the Bible is hard to aurally track over such lengths):

On whom do you (Judah) now rely, that you have rebelled against me (Assyria)? 6See, you are relying on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. (36.5b–6)

 What a great image: Egypt, the broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Ouch! You can feel that, right? You can imagine how it feels to rest your hand on something that you think is stable only to find out that it is wobbly and sharp. You stumble as it injures and collapses.

Biblically, we have a long and complicated history with that broken reed, with Egypt. Practically, we continue to have complicated relationships with any number of Egypts.

JOSEPH AND MOSES AND ISAIAH
Egypt is the land where Joseph, son of Jacob, rises to great power and is subsequently able to rescue his family and his people from terrible famine. Generations later, though, the Hebrew descendants of Joseph are slaves. As such, they pose a threat to their Pharaoh master, who orders a mass assassination of Hebrew children.

The mother of one newborn, Moses, seeks to save him through adoption by Pharaoh’s own daughter. Moses rebels against that false identity and unearned advantage. He kills an overseer, flees to Midian, only returning later to set his people free at the behest of God. Then Moses and the freed slaves spend forty years going in circles before finding a home.

Years later, we hear the critique in Isaiah. It is directed at the descendants of the slaves, the inheritors of that homeland, from the emissary of the king of Assyrian: What are you thinking, trying to ally with Egypt against us? Egypt will cut you in the end—come with me instead.

Apparently in the years between fleeing Egypt and founding of a nation of their own, the Hebrews established political relations with Egypt. The former captor is now an ally and for the prophet we are studying today, it will be a refuge as it once was for Joseph’s starving family.

2018.11.25 weakJEREMIAH
Today’s prophet, Jeremiah, follows Isaiah of Jerusalem in historical time and in the Bible. Remember that the book of Isaiah spans nearly a century, with three different Isaiahs speaking. Jeremiah’s book is focused exclusively on him and his forty years as a prophet.

Over the course of those decades, Jeremiah witnesses the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian empire and the forced exile of many people. It is a grievous experience, made more so by what Jeremiah is required to do by God: chastise his own people.

For example, in chapter 44, God says through Jeremiah, “I beg you not to do this abominable thing which I hate” (v. 4). Today we heard Jeremiah today offering God’s reminder not to oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow. There is a direct correlation between their treatment of the vulnerable and their own vulnerability to conquest.

Which the powers that be don’t want to hear.

Jeremiah is many times arrested for subversion and disloyalty, so, in the end, he flees to Egypt, where neither his own leaders nor Babylon can touch him, but where he is always a stranger.

JESUS
I’ll lift up one more story about Egypt, this time as it relates to Jesus, our primary prophet as Christians.

Continue reading

All Times Alleluia: Jeremiah 29.1, 4–14


2017.11.19 alleluia
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.

ALLELUIAS
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
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.

STEADY ON
God does not cut off relations, though.

Continue reading

Dictators and Christ the King: Isaiah 6.1–8

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 20, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

2016-11-20-x-the-kingREIGN OF CHRIST
The stole I’m wearing today depicts the logo of the United Church of Christ. It is the Christus victor, Christ victorious. We have a cross, crowned, standing on and over the world. The world is segmented in reference to Jesus’ instruction to be witnesses to love in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8). It is a regal and universal symbol. I’m wearing it today to mark Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.

For churches like ours that use a traditional calendar of seasons and holidays, today is the bridge between Ordinary Time and Advent, the beginning of our Christian year. So today is like our new year’s eve. And we mark New Year’s Eve with a reminder of whom we are most loyal to, the Christ, and whose world we live in, God’s.

Which is easy to forget in daily life. In daily life we are residents of Story County, Iowa and the United States of America. Here in Ames our mayor is Ann Campbell, our representative to the Iowa house is Lisa Heddens, our governor is Terry Branstad. At the national level our senators are Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, our U.S. representative is Steve King.

Unlike the rulers of our scripture and of history, none of them are religious figures and they are not anointed by God. They do not inherit their positions and do not bequeath them to their offspring. They are our neighbors. From Campbell to King, they are regular humans with regular homes and regular families who probably all like to eat at The Café on Stange, too.

2016-11-20-regular-humansNow, Mayor Campbell and Rep. Heddens are a lot easier to get to than the others. Until this summer, Heddens was upstairs in our own building running People Place. Now she’s around the corner at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’ve run into our mayor here for memorial services and around town at events for area nonprofits.

The rest, well, the rest have a whole lot of staff members and geography between us and them. The more power we give to regular people, it seems, the less access they give regular people. We, the very people they courted to get the jobs, the very people who could take those jobs away.

We may not have royalty but after a certain point, we have leaders who function at a scale that can put them at what can feel like a princely distance.

ISAIAH OF JERUSALEM
Isaiah of Jerusalem, the man anointed by angels and coal in our story today, was in a similar position. During his time, in the 8th century BCE, Jerusalem was under threat of conquer by the Assyrians. Isaiah was, personally, a wealthy Jerusalemite. But that didn’t mean he had easy access to the king in a time of crisis.

And looming war wasn’t Isaiah’s only concern. Jerusalem was his home, but it was also God’s. By the understanding of Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was where God lived, literally, in the temple. So Isaiah was dealing with pending war and the loss of God.

Here he is, speaking with angels and being branded as a prophet then having to try to explain to his people why God would allow invaders to kill them and foreigners to close the opening between heaven and earth. This was a man in whose vision God was on a throne yet still had no answers for what was, in the end, the occupation of Jerusalem by two different foreign powers.

MUSSOLINI
Calling this Christ the King Sunday came in response to an occupation, of sorts.

The big holidays like Christmas and the Baptism of Christ and Easter and Pentecost are all scripturally based, all in reference to the stories we have in the Bible. But Reign of Christ Sunday started in 1925. In 1925 Pope Pius XI established this feast day for the Roman Catholic church. Why 1,925 years after the establishment of all of the other holidays, would he feel compelled to remind people of their true leader? What was happening in Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century?

It was the rise of fascism.
Continue reading