Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
He was young and unsure in his speaking, yet wholly convinced and committed in his faith. He had a heart that burned in dedication to God and yet he was utterly tied to his own people.
In conventional terms, he probably did not have the arrogance or self-belief to provide heroic leadership yet we still have his words, long after his city had been occupied, emptied and stripped.
Jeremiah’s mission was to proclaim God’s word to a people taken up with their own agendas, neglecting law and justice and faithfulness, and steadfastness before God. Rather they had become cosmopolitan, open-minded and ready to treat with any deity or cult that appeared – so long as it led to better trade, greater wealth, more prestige.
Yet though Jeremiah, God was appealing to a nation formed by and defined through their worship of and faithfulness to Him. The appeal was direct, urgent and personal, as it called the nation to return to what they were always called to be.
For the Jewish believers in Jesus, however, there was a different kind of appeal, for they were now a minority within their own people and nation.
Their mission was different to that of Jeremiah who had to draw attention to the sins of the nation so that as a nation it could repent.
Now they had more than the law and the prophets and the songs of Israel to appeal to, for they also had Jesus of Nazareth, one of their own, who had died and risen from the dead.
They also had a mission to proclaim a message: in what they were, what they did and of course what they said. Instead of appealing to one that was accessible only in prayer and sacrifice they could appeal to one that they had seen and heard and touched: one who they knew soul to soul and heart to heart.
Whereas God of the law and prophets had to be mediated by law and sacrifice and yet whose manifestations of Himself gave the people dread, Jesus was one who spoke to them, healed them, shared His own life with them and even died for them.
If God was far off then Jesus was intimately close. Their hope was indeed for a kingdom and a realm of unbelievable glory, and in their relations with one another they were to begin to know it within and among themselves.
It would be a place of firm hope rather than statistical proof, of the depth of personal conviction more than academic and intellectual speculations and arguments. Above all it would be a place of knowing Jesus directly and personally: a relationship more close up and personal than they had ever experienced before.
But in the gospel there is a further picture, of a woman released from a bondage that had held her for 18 years. Her healing was on the Sabbath and there were objections that this was work which be performed on any other day of the week so why make a point of doing it on the Sabbath?
Jesus’ answer was that it was wholly right to set a person free on the Sabbath. It was a day of worship and rejoicing, not of control or restriction. The Sabbath was an excellent day on which to proclaim freedom in word and in deed: here the renewal of God’s creation in this woman’s life could indeed be celebrated, including the renewal of her life by healing.
In this sense the law had again become a vehicle for control, or projecting or raising guilt, even false guilt. But the Psalms rejoice in the right use of the law: it’s in Psalm 19 – the law is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of God is sure, making wise the simple; His statutes rejoice the heart, His commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes, and so on.
There is nothing wrong with the law – when it is observed properly and God did not get it wrong when He gave it to Moses.
But for us the issue is what we proclaim and how we proclaim it.
Jeremiah’s words of severe warning were made to his own people with whom he shared the law and the temple and the songs of Israel. He was reminding them what they already knew.
In our day the message is different. Condemnation and resentment and inadequacy are already part of the general condition. Whenever there is a scandal the response is one of prurient voyeurism: “Isn’t it awful – tell me more”. It has become entertainment masquerading as censoriousness.
But the message of Jesus and one that He has entrusted to us is one of release, forgiveness, hope, new beginnings and new futures.
Ours is not a nation pledged to the ways and purposes of the living God: but it is one bleeding and aching, broken yet unable to heal itself. It cannot fill or realize itself either.
And the message, for this and for all nations is the same: that Jesus is the measure of God’s love, for He spared absolutely nothing in giving Himself for us.
It is an invitation to the future and to eternity. It is a proclamation of life when all else is defined by death. It is the healing of the deepest wounds.
It is forgiveness of the rebellions, the compromises, the corruptions, the abominations, the betrayals, the things great and small that demean and undermine and pollute what we are and what we could become.
For Jesus the message is one of renewal in all things, as we bring them before Him to deal with as He deems fit.
For in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation, and all things are made new: if only we will let Him. That is where every day can become a Sabbath healing.
Whoever said that repentance was morbid or negative?