Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 26:8-15
Psalm 4
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

I am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes.

Jeremiah is known as ďthe weeping prophetĒ and it is no wonder when you think about the life he lived. At the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, in his call story, God says, ďAnd they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee.Ē And fight him, they did, but they never prevailed. He was attacked by his own brothers, beaten by a false prophet, imprisoned by a king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern, opposed by another false prophet. He was in prison when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and he was freed. He eventually escaped to Egypt.

Despite the threats and the horrific acts against Jeremiah, the biblical record does not tell us when, where or how he died. Jewish tradition holds that he was stoned to death in Egypt. Other traditions suggest that he died naturally in Babylon. Yet other sources insist that Jeremiah spent time in Ireland, though this is not likely. Whatever happened to Jeremiah in history, in the biblical record we see that Godís promise held true: though they fought him, they never prevailed.

It is hard to juxtapose the life of Jeremiah to the Gospel lesson for today where Jesus says, ďÖfor it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.Ē Jeremiah was a prophet, one who remained obedient despite his frustration, self-doubt and depression, constantly speaking the word of God to the people. It was not good news. He lived and preached during the decline of the Judean kingdom. His message screamed repentance, but the people didnít want to hear what he had to say especially since the others were preaching peace. In todayís scripture, the officials told the people he deserved to die. Jeremiah was unmoved by their threat. He said, ďI am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes.Ē

They didnít kill him. In verse 16, which we do not hear in our lectionary, the officials say, ďThis man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God.Ē His words hit their mark and they changed their mind. They saw the truth of his warning; if they killed him, they would have innocent blood on their hands. They believed that Jeremiah was speaking Godís word and so they did not turn him over to the people to be stoned. God remained faithful to His promise; they fought Jeremiah but they did not prevail. Ultimately it didnít change the course of events. They still fell under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, but those who accepted it survived according to Godís word.

I imagine Jeremiah may have spoken words like those in todayís psalm. Under the surface of his frustration, self-doubt and depression, he had an unwavering faith. He trusted in Godís promise that his enemies would never prevail. He had a peace that is beyond understanding. Just like the psalmist, Jeremiah calls the people to a life of faithfulness so that they might, too, live in peace. He spoke Godís word because He wanted the best for his people, just as God always wants the best for His people.

Jeremiahís story shows us that God is faithful. He probably said, ďOh, that we might see better times!Ē but he also knew that God put gladness in his heart. He could lie down in peace and sleep easy because God is his help and refuge. We donít know what happened at the end of his life. Jeremiah certainly died but we do not know when, where or how. I suspect that he died naturally in Babylon. If Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt then the world would have reason to question Godís faithfulness. God keeps His promises, even outside the witness of the scriptures, so we can trust God to be faithful to us.

The officials believed the word Jeremiah spoke and saved his life, but ultimately it was God who turned their hearts. His word and promise saved Jeremiah, just as His word and promise saves us.

Who were the Pharisees that visited Jesus in todayís Gospel lesson? Were they men truly concerned about Jesusí life? Were they threatening Jesus? Were they anxious about Jesusí ministry and just wanted Him to leave before something happened that would upset the people? Perhaps Jesusí teaching didnít bother them, but they just wanted Him to go somewhere else to do it. By sending Jesus away from Jerusalem, they would not have to deal with the questions and accusations. Jesus could quietly disappear into the wilderness to teach and preach to the animals. Outside Jerusalem, He would not rock so many boats. But Jesus could not be deterred. His purpose was not just to preach the kingdom of God: He came to die so that we might live.

Though it was what must happen, it was not what He wanted. It pained Him to see that they did not understand. He cried out to them to that He was the shelter where they could live in peace. Living under the Law did ensure Godís faithfulness. God is faithful without our works. He is faithful to His promises and calls us to believe and trust in Him.

Jesus mourns the unbelief of Jerusalem. Jesus wanted the best of Godís Kingdom for them: He wanted them to experience the hope, the peace, and the joy. He wanted to gather them under His wings, to give them fully and freely the gift He had to give. Perhaps He even wanted all this without having to face the cross. How wonderful would it been if Jerusalem repented like Ninevah! Yet, Jesus knew that He had to obey Godís will. He knew that He was destined for the cross. Salvation would happen according to Godís time, in Godís way. Jesus would not be moved from the path on which He was set, for it is the path of true life for all those who believe. They wanted Him to leave, but He wouldnít. He couldnít, because, like Jeremiah, He was doing what God sent Him to do.

Jesus might have even said the same words as Jeremiah to those Pharisees. ďDo with me as seems good and right to you.Ē He knew that He would die at the hands of those who threatened Him, but He also knew that it would come at the right time. He answered them, ďI say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.Ē Jesus dwelt in Godís presence and willingly submitted Himself to the plan of God; He knew that they could do nothing to stop Him until God allowed it to happen.

Unlike Jeremiah, we know exactly when, where and how Jesus died. The promise for Jesus was not that He would prevail against the world. The promise for us was that He would prevail against death and the grave. He died and was raised so that we might live. We join in His death and in His resurrection. We join in His glory. His life, death and resurrection has made an impact on our lives forever, and this is the purpose for which He came.

This does not mean that His teachings were unimportant or to be ignored. As we look around us, we can see the impact of ideas and people on the world around them. In the right circumstances, one person can change the course of an entire nation. One designer can establish the clothing that millions of people will wear. One reporter can introduce an idea that will become a standard of policy and practice for many. One politician can set the agenda for the entire government. Good or bad, right or wrong, we can easily be led down a path of achievement or destruction by someone whom we look to as a role model.

It is not that we are blind or ignorant followers; it is simply that the human flesh looks for someone to emulate. Even the most powerful, intelligent people look to someone in the past to help them become the person they hope to be. Based on that ideal, we will grasp on to ideas, policies or practices that seem right, and we use them to change the world. Sometimes, unfortunately, we grasp on to ideas that are not good, right and true. With all good intention, we sometimes follow examples that are not centered in Christ.

Jesus, of course, is our ultimate role model, although it is impossible for us to live or die as He did. We can look to the people who God called in the past, to see how they lived and to live trusting that God will be faithful. Paul encourages us to emulate those who hold firm to the Gospel of grace. There were those in the community of Philippi that were enemies of the cross. Though they did not mean to destroy Christians or Christianity, they sought after the things of this world. They chose to live a life of fulfillment and self-indulgence. Some chose to live out their faith by continuing to satisfy their earthly lusts, trusting in Godís forgiveness. Others chose to satisfy the Law, knowing that obedience would bring blessing. Both were concerned with the flesh; they trusted in themselves rather than God.

We are not created or saved to live in either extreme; they do not reflect the life which Christ lived as an example for us. Paul reminds us not to get stuck in a pattern of self-indulgence or self-righteousness. We can follow the example of people who have come before us that were, and are, transformed daily into the image of Christ. According to Jesus, the world will not prevail against us. Like Jeremiah we can be at peace as we go forth in faith doing what God has called us to do, even when we are faced with threats and our own imperfection because we know that God will be faithful. We do not know when, where or how we will die, but we can know that it will be according to Godís good purpose for us.

Paul writes, ďFor our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.Ē This is the promise for which we wait, toward which we walk, and with which we live in peace. The world might threaten us, and our sense of failure may deter us, but God will always be faithful.

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