Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 August 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 (The call of Jeremiah – his reticence – God’s commission
• Psalm 71: 1-6
• Epistle: Hebrews 12: 18-27 (You have come to Mount Zion – to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant)
• Gospel: Luke 13: 10-17 (Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath)
Some people are almost born leaders. They are confident and can inspire others to great efforts. They know what they are about and can be physically quite imposing.
And they relish whatever challenge is put before them: assessing the situation, the resources available, the people with whom to complete the task.
They are not easily intimidated by events or by apparently impossible demands. It is all grist to the mill, and they thrive on it.
Jeremiah was not one such. He was reluctant, an odd ball, but God called him all the same. It was his very diffidence that perhaps made him more acceptable to God, as he was less likely to impose his own agenda on what God was giving him to do and to say.
The man, perhaps more comfortable with being the chief bottle-washer to being the chief cook, was being sent into a ministry of deep personal obedience to God.
He would let go of his own preferences and would hold to the things of God. But what he had been doing personally and privately would now be the basis of a far wider public ministry.
What God had said quietly, Jeremiah would speak out loud and clear. No political or social or cultural agendas. Just the things of God.
And Jeremiah said quite clearly to God that he did not think that this was really his ministry. And God’s answer was in effect, “Says who??”
God did not need a bombastic loudmouth. What He needed was Jeremiah’s burning heart of compassion with the people and his commitment to God Himself and none other.
And so God had to persuade Jeremiah that he was just the man that He needed right then.
The letter to the Hebrews contrasts the Mountain of the Law and Mountain of Grace.
The Mountain of the Law – Sinai was a place of dread. None may approach it unbidden and even an animal who strayed was to be stoned to death.
This was a serious place of the Law of God and never to be approached frivolously or with trivial intentions. “Only Joking” was never going to be a sufficient excuse.
And yet from this mountain came forth the 10 commandments which have been foundational to the Judaeo-Christian culture for some 3700 years.
This was the mountain where the Children of Israel found their national sense of being – even their constitution as a tribal confederacy.
You might say that the politics of modern Israel goes back to this mountain, well outside the Promised Land.
But this was not the mountain that the letter is about: this is about the Mountain of Grace. The place where God took the initiative in the salvation of humanity and where the sacrifice to end all sacrifices was fulfilled.
This was the mountain of mercy, where God took it upon Himself to be all that His people could never be on their own – and made that full, complete, perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice of Himself and which none other could even imagine or contrive.
For Jesus the incident in the village synagogue was a demonstration of both His power over the woman’s crippling disease; and His authority over the law and its application. And He made a point of applying it in the direction of mercy and not condemnation.
And this went to the heart of Jesus’ disputes with the religious authorities.
For some the law was a means of imposing themselves on their fellow-Israelites, their own kin.
It was a means of using the words of God to take advantage over others, by cleaver distinctions to limit the law in their own interests but to extend it when applying it to others.
And so Jesus, who had the means and opportunity to do good to the woman before Him, took advantage of the situation to show how the law was intended to be applied. Never a burden, always a means of drawing close to God – if the people so wished.
It was not a fault in the law if the religious leaders preferred the welfare of their own animals to that of a crippled woman and if they were willing to make her wait upon their convenience.
For us the lessons here are more subtle.
First, the call of God does not always apply the criteria of Human Resources departments. He has His own needs and no person is excluded from His service, whether this is prominent of not.
Second, we are still called to serve God at a mountain of mercy, rather than one of condemnation.
Third, Jesus exerted Himself for the woman in obvious need and without asking awkward questions. Her service in the life of the community of faith would express itself in the fulness of time.