Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34

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It’s not very often we read scripture out of order. We’re looking at the book of Jeremiah this week, and we started near the end of the book in chapter 36, then backtracked to chapter 31. We’ve done this on purpose of course.

We are hearing part of the story from the life of the prophet Jeremiah. We’re roughly 100 years after the prophet Isaiah who we looked at last week. Unfortunately for the people of Judah and Israel, things have not gone well at all over the last century.

Jeremiah is a prophet during a time when the people, and it’s leaders have no interest in God. There is a constant threat of war, which often means regular people are living without luxuries as funds are put into the army, or in this case, the lifestyles of the elite. Something we can still see today at times.

Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet”, and for good reason. Jeremiah is living in a time when the people are living in deep sin, apart from God, and they are suffering greatly for it. The rulers of the nation don’t seem to care, and nor do the people for that matter. They are quite happy to be doing whatever they feel like.

Which makes it hard for Jeremiah because God gave him a message to share, and it’s a message of hope. It’s a message calling people to come back to God and be healed from their sin and misery.

How would you feel if you had a message you know would take away the pain of someone’s life and give them hope, but they refused to listen?

Jeremiah faces many challenges as a prophet, including being banned from entering the temple.

So God calls to him again and tells him to write everything down, all the messages God has given to him for the people, get it on paper so it can be shared. So Jeremiah calls in a scribe, Baruch, to begin writing things down for him.

Once it’s all recorded Jeremiah tells Baruch to spread it around. And we skipped over a couple of verses where Baruch takes it to the temple, remember Jeremiah is not permitted there, and he reads it to the people. There it seems as though the words begin to penetrate the hearts of those who hear them.

A man named Micaiah hears Baruch reading and he goes to the palace and shares what was said with a number of the king’s officials. The officials want to hear more and send for Baruch so they can hear the message for themselves.

When the officials listen, they are alarmed at all that God has said through the prophet. And they know they have to share this with the king.

Now I wonder if they know something about how the king might respond. I ask this because they tell Baruch to go into hiding, and to take Jeremiah with him. They specifically said, “make sure no one knows where you are.” A rather ominous warning I would think.

The officials then take the scroll and go present it to King Jehoiakim. And as Jehudi is reading the scroll, the king cuts strips off the scroll and throws them into the fireplace.

So much for a sympathetic ear. No wonder the officials suggested Baruch and Jeremiah go into hiding. The king shows no alarm, he doesn’t show any concern, he just burns the scroll so there would be no memory of what was said.

I’m guessing Jehoiakim is living rather comfortably in his winter palace, sitting next to his roaring fire. He likes the way the nation is running just as it is. He sees no reason for anything to change.

To be sure nothing will change, he wants to make sure the message is stopped in its tracks and orders the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch. Thankfully they could not be found.

In the end, it doesn’t make too much difference really, because while they are hiding, God tells Jeremiah to write it down again. And he does. It just goes to show, the Word of God has a longer lasting impact than the word of the king now doesn’t it?

It’s the reaction of Jehoiakim which shows just what is happening in Judah at this time. This is how far they have wandered from God, their king doesn’t even recognize God’s message and take it to heart.

When I read this passage, I think of those movie mobsters or villains who, when they get bad news, they don’t show any emotion except a quiet order to their henchman to “take care of it.”

There is a sense that Jehoiakim just wants the threat to his power removed and never spoken of again.

Think way back to when the Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years. When they finally got to the promised land they began to ask God for a king of their own. All the other nations around them had kings, so they wanted one too. They couldn’t be satisfied with having God as their leader, they wanted a king. So God gave them a king which led to more kings.

Now some kings were good kings, but not many. Some were downright evil. Jehoiakim certainly isn’t one of the good ones. And he is doing absolutely nothing for the people in their suffering but enjoying the luxurious palace he’s living in, with lots of heat and food, while the people under his leadership struggle in the cold from day to day.

If you are feeling down about your life and need a pick-me-up, I wouldn’t suggest you flip you Bible open to Jeremiah right away. Yes, there are good words in there, there is hope, but it’s sometimes hidden in the pain and sinfulness of the people.

Which means it might be a good time to take a look at what we read in chapter 31.

This part of Jeremiah is actually one of the more hopeful texts in the whole of the Old Testament, especially when you consider all that is happening in Judah. If you read all of chapter 31, it’s hard to not feel hopeful.

The chapter begins with God telling them,

“The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’” (Jeremiah 31:2-6)

If you are living under great oppression, under a king who has no sympathy for his people, how would those words make you feel?

God makes reference to better times, a time which has faded from much of their daily thoughts, but these words would stir something deep in their memory. They would begin to remember the work of God through their ancestors.

God goes on to speak in verse 15,

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.” (Jeremiah 31:15-17)

Under oppression the people of Judah have been scattered, and now God is saying He hears their cries and He promising they will come back home. Again, more wonderful words of hope at a time when there is so little hope to be had.

Which leads us to what we have read this morning from that great chapter.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

What is God promising here? God makes reference to the work he has done with their ancestors, where he led them out of Egypt. How did he lead them out? He lead them by a pillar of smoke and fire. He visibly led them out of their oppression in Egypt and guided them to a safe territory. And even though they could see it with their own eyes, they still broke away from God and rebelled.

Today we hear God saying, “Not this time…”

This time God is going to write this covenant, this promise, down in a very special place. He is going to write it on their hearts.

God is moving from the external to the internal. He is moving from being a visible presence outside of us to an intimate relationship with our most vulnerable organ, our heart. Which, even today, we associate with our emotions and feelings, our most vulnerable, yet also most powerful characteristics.

God is aligning Himself with our weaknesses. He is putting a claim on us which we cannot see, but one we can most certainly feel. When our heart breaks, God is with us. When our heart rejoices, God is with us.

And speaking of hearts breaking, it is terrible to see all over the news people attacking one another because of their race, or beliefs, or lifestyle.

Just Friday morning, my heart broke to hear on the news that my beloved church in Ottawa, the church that introduced me to the love of God through Jesus Christ, was targeted with racist graffiti for the second time this year. My good friend, Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey was all over the news, as a black man, a black pastor, a black leader in Ottawa. He was asked to speak about the swastikas and the n-word painted on the church doors of a busy Ottawa intersection.

This was the 5th occurrence of hate filled, racist graffiti in Ottawa in the last week, all attacking Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and my friend’s church. All since the election of Donald Trump. And there are far too many stories coming out of America with the same messages.

What. Is. Wrong. With. This. World?

I am proud of my friends at Parkdale United Church. In the midst of what has to be a terrifying personal experience for Anthony, which would trigger memories of the murder of his brother in a racist attack in Montreal, Anthony said this, “It is shocking, but we as a congregation and as people of faith reject this. We are outraged, but we will not be deterred in our work for love and reconciliation, and bringing people together.”

Racial and social justice are huge parts of Anthony’s ministry in Ottawa. You almost wouldn’t blame him if he gave up after this and all the other hateful, racist garbage he has seen in his life, but he continues to keep responding in love and seeking to bring people closer together despite their differences.

He truly embodies what it means to be a Christian in the world.

Here’s the challenge to us in Cape Breton: what do we do?

We live in a world which pushes sexuality on our children at far too young of an age. We live in a world which openly rejects the Word of God when it’s being offered in love.

Samaritan’s Purse is finishing up their work this week after coming to help clean up after our Thanksgiving Day storm. They came at their own expense, and they have helped hundreds of people clean up their homes and yards. Yet, you see in the paper people attacking them because of their beliefs. They aren’t here to push any agenda, they are simply here to help. And many people are grateful they came.

This is the way to respond to a world which is living under oppression. Now, we might not live in an area of the world where we’re being punished or held down by a malevolent leader, but we are being held down by other oppressive forces.

Forces which want us to think and act in certain ways. Forces which want us to abandon our gospel beliefs and live as everyone else lives, free to do whatever we want, as long as it makes us feel good and forget the consequences for others.

This is same line of thinking which led to the state of the world Jeremiah found himself living in.

These changes don’t happen overnight, nor do things turn back around as quickly either. What most effectively changes things back around, is to allow God to write on our hearts what He wants for us and for the world in which we live. We can then share what’s in our hearts with others so God can reveal Himself to their hearts as well.

How was Jehoiakim going to hear God when he had everything he ever needed? There was no way he was going to hear God over all the possessions he owned and his own personal comfort in the palace.

How can we expect to hear God if we also rely on our own personal comforts? If we feel our hearts are already full because of our own desires, how can we expect to know what God wants to write on our hearts?

Yet there is hope.

God wants to be with us intimately. He wants to move into our heart and live our lives with us. He doesn’t want to live out there somewhere off in the far distance, he wants us to feel his presence deep inside our souls.

He wants us to remember those words of Jesus when they sat around the table at the Last Supper and he shared just how far he was willing to go to be so close to us.

Let’s remember together those words from Luke 22:19-20,

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

God sent His Son to show us the intimate relationship He wants to have with us all. And Jesus gave his life to prove it.

God will write His love on our hearts if we open ourselves to Him. Is your heart open and ready to receive the incredible love he offers to you?

Let us pray,
Lord, You are a God of great love. You gave Your own Son so we could see Your heart, and may we open our own hearts to receive what You have for us.

Help us to know we are never alone, and if we put our trust in You, our lives and the lives of our church and community will also begin to open their hearts to You as well.

May we trust You more, remembering Your promise to all Your children; Your promise shown in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen and amen.