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Sermon: August 19th
January 16, 2008, 3:00 am
Filed under: Sermons

August 19thJeremiah 23:23-29; Luke 12:49-56 

Fire. Family division. Rock-crushing hammer. No peace. These are some of the images in the texts we read this morning that surprise me. They are not the words I’m expecting. When Jesus declares that he has not come to bring peace, for some reason, I think of Christmas. In my mind I see Christmas cards. Cards with cute little angels, baby-round faces, blowing shining trumpets, declaring “Peace on Earth”. It is this super-sweet sentiment that I tend to share around Christmas, as I join others in celebrating Jesus’ birth. Peace, happiness, warm fuzzies, isn’t this stuff what Jesus is all about, what we’re supposed to get in return for being religious?!But today we hear Jesus counter this. Jesus says he came not for peace but for division. This speech makes me wonder who this Jesus really is. As I’ve been studying and preparing this week, pondering these words of Jesus, the reading from Jeremiah helped me to place Jesus’ words in the context of Jesus speaking as a prophet. Prophets are people who understand God’s will and encourage others to follow God’s will. True prophets don’t worry about talking all nice and gentle, they don’t waffle back and forth, they don’t say, “well, maybe it might be nice if you were just a little more fair to your employee, I think they might need some of that money to feed their family, but I know that’s hard and well, I just want everyone to feel ok”. No. A true prophet says the matter like it is, and calls people into right relationship and right action. Prophets often use images of things we can relate to – fire, hammers, wheat, straw- to get their point across.  Wheat and straw. In the comparison between these two, Jeremiah names the difference between God’s word and the words of the false prophets.

           In Jeremiah’s time the little country of Israel was surrounded by much stronger and larger countries. Jerusalem was the center of Israel and the center of Jerusalem was the temple, where the people worshipped God and where they believed God lived. We entered Jeremiah’s world today as the stronger countries are eyeing up the valuable land of Israel. In fact, the Northern Kingdom has already been conquered and the leaders of Jerusalem and the temple have been captured and taken away to the country of Babylon.  

          The people of Israel interpret these events like some people interpret events today. They believed that bad things happened to bad people. I think sometimes it can be easy for us to see someone down and out and assume that they did something to deserve whatever is happening to them. And the more we think about what a bad person that person is and how they deserved what they got, the easier it is for us to think that we’re that much better. The people in Israel fell into this trap. They saw their leaders being taken away and they thought those people had been disobeying God and that they were getting what they deserved. They didn’t think about their own lives and whether they were being obedient to God. False prophets pretended they were speaking from God and told the people that they were safe and that nothing bad would happen to them. Except for Jeremiah. Jeremiah stood up and told the people that this was just the beginning of hard times, if they continued down the road they were on. The people were ignoring God, and worshipping other gods. Jeremiah had the courage to tell them that they needed to change! But that’s not always the news we want to hear. 

         Wheat and straw. To my eyes, untrained in farming, they don’t look much different. They both look like grains or grasses, golden in color. But the definitive difference is that the wheat has these kernels at the top, full of nutrients and energy, ready to be used to make a hearty loaf of bread. The straw has no productive capabilities. The best it might be used for is to mix in with clay to make bricks back in Jeremiah’s day, or for animal stalls and bedding.  

         Jeremiah compares God’s word to wheat, but the false prophet’s words to straw. We might think of it as the difference between having a lunch of a whole-grain peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrots versus one of a bag of Fritos and a Snickers bar. One satisfies and sustains, while the other might look or sound good, but will end up sickening us. 

          The Word of God tells it like it is. Sometimes that can feel like a hammer crushing us down, when what we have to hear is that we aren’t living right. But in the end, it’s a whole lot better for us than being told shiny and sugary lies about how everything is ok. 

           In our service today, we will be praying and anointing for healing. The fact is that there are those among us who are sick, burdened with physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and mental struggles. I know that our culture often says that we should be happy. In my college community, we often talked about our Minnesotan tendency to automatically smile and answer “I’m fine” when someone walked up to us and asked how we were. I often assumed that no one was really asking how I was, they didn’t really want a story about how I was doing as I left family and high school friends to join that new community.   

        But to deny the reality of the struggles we face is to be false, to proclaim peace where there is none. When through Jeremiah, God proclaims that God is a God both near and far, from whom we cannot hide; I hear a word of grace. I hear that God wants to be with us even when everything seems to be going wrong. I hear that God doesn’t need us to plaster on a smile over the pain that is eating us up inside. The God who chose to be known in Jesus Christ, shamed, outcast, beaten, and crucified, chooses to be with us in our most difficult times. 

           As I begin this year, my internship year, I am considering what a church is and exploring who I will be as a pastor. These lessons help to me to do that. They remind me that Church is not about receiving warm fuzzies, becoming more prosperous, or about leaving all our problems behind. We are the Church- called to join Christ present among those who suffer in any way. We have the freedom to be who we are, to share our struggles. Led by the Spirit, we also remind each other of God’s unconditional love. Sometimes I find myself a little afraid to follow Jesus into the hurts of another’s life. Sometimes I might wish that when I asked how someone was doing, they would just say they are ok, so I don’t have to think hard about how the way I live might be hurting them, so that I don’t recognize my responsibility to care for my neighbor. But I hope that throughout this year, we, the Church, will continue to grow into sharing our lives, speaking the truth, and reminding each other of God’s ever present love. God has given us a great gift in each other. God’s very presence is with us when we gather- either here as the worshipping congregation, or in a meeting of two or three. We are called to join God in the sharing of our struggles and our joys with each other.  Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God does send us peace, but it is not the peace of pretended happiness. God’s peace is with us, and found in our relationships with each other. It is the peace that comes from God’s unconditional love- to us, wherever we are, however we feel.

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