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The Prophet Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah

The following sermon on The Prophet Jeremiah was deliver by the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali former Bishop of Rochester, UK in the chapel of the Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. on Sept. 26, 2018. Mary Ann Mueller kindly transcribed it for VOL readers.

By Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali

TEXTS: Jeremiah 11.18-22 | Psalm 54 | James 5.13-20 | Mark 9.30-37

Jeremiah gets a bad press. Doesn't he? I mean we say: "Dare to be a Daniel," but nobody says: "Dare to be a Jeremiah."

It's a bit like Thomas. I really think he shouldn't be called "Doubting Thomas" at all, but "Believing Thomas" given the wonderful confession that he makes. (John 20:28)

Jeremiah was unpopular in his own time. Not just once unpopular but three times unpopular. So as we have seen here, he was unpopular with his own people from the priests from Anathoth -- another Old Testament name I am afraid. It's not like the easy American names like the Potomac, or Mississippi, or Chattanooga ... well.

Anathoth was a place where priests who serviced the shrines that were around about the land of Judea lived. Jeremiah was the son of one such priest (Hilkiah). He supported the reforms of Josiah (circa 648-609 BC) which was centralizing worship in Jerusalem as a result of the discovery of the Book of the Law (II Kings 22:8 & II Chron. 34:14); probably a version of our Deuteronomy.

Although Deuteronomy does not specify the central place of worship should be in Josiah's reform it was the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah's support for these reforms meant that many of these priests were in danger of losing their living. I don't know if you still call being the rector of a parish a living, they still do it in England. And, of course it is literally true.

They were in danger of that. They had been marginalized, so now they were on a roster and could go on duty in the Temple once in a while. What they might have understandably seen as their ministry was in danger of being lost. So Jeremiah was naturally unpopular with them.

But he was also unpopular with the nation, because he was accusing them of neglecting God's Law. Not only that, but as result of that neglect they were going to lose their land. They were going to be conquered and many of them taken to be exiles in Babylon where they will sit by the river and say, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" (Ps. 137:4)

Jeremiah was also unpopular with his peers. His fellow prophets. You see, they were saying: "Don't worry. You're not going to lose. These Babylonians are not going to conquer this land. They were proclaiming peace on every side when there wasn't going to be peace. Jeremiah was unpopular, but it wasn't just that he was unpopular, he was also one who suffered a great deal.

It says: "I was like a gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter ..." (Jer. 11:19) And we know he was cast into prison, he was cast into a miry pit, he was put in the stocks, and he was saved from death by an Ethiopian official (Ebed-Melech) who had pity on him. So, he knew about suffering, but he insisted on the wisdom of God's Word that he had been given. It was different than the wisdom of the false prophets which was the conventional wisdom, the received wisdom, what everybody thought they should believe. Jeremiah's wisdom was different. It was based on the recovery and the observance of God's Word.

It is possible for us to see how Jeremiah is a "figure" of Jesus Christ. He's a "type" of Christ in his rejection, in his suffering, and in his faithfulness. Sometimes it is a reluctant faithfulness, but never the less, his faithfulness. He is a "type" of Christ. I think we would be right to see that. But types always point forward to fulfillment. They are not themselves what they look forward to. So, if we look at Jeremiah we see yes, he points us to Jesus. But there are things here that are unfulfilled, incomplete.

Look at his attitude to suffering. Yes, he was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter, but then what does he say about those who are going to kill him.

He says: "Oh Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, Who tries the heart and the mind, let me see Thy vengeance upon them for to Thee have I committed my cause ..." (Jer. 11:20) We just had the Psalm, haven't we, with similar sentiments. "Destroy my enemies." (Ps. 54:5) So there is suffering, but a different attitude towards suffering than that of our Lord Jesus Christ.

About Him also it is said that He was like a gentle Lamb let to the slaughter. "Behold, the Lamb of God," said John (the Baptist). "Who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

In Isaiah, that wonderful prophecy, in chapters 52 and 53 we find the coming Suffering Servant is also spoken of in this way: "A lamb led to the slaughter ..." (Is. 53:7)

But as He is being nailed to the Cross what does He say? "Lord, see that you take revenge upon these people." Did He say that? No, He says: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:43) A different attitude to suffering altogether.

Whilst we were still enemies Christ suffered to reconcile us to the Father. (Rom. 5:8) This was not possible by the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Again, they point forward to something that they, themselves, cannot complete or fulfill. Not even the self-sacrifice that we find developing as an idea in parts of the Old Testament. Because, like Jeremiah, these sacrifices were incomplete and unfulfilled.

What is needed to return us to faithfulness is that Perfect One Who can be perfectly faithful. That is why, of course, it had to be God. God had to come, but to suffer as man, so that we could be returned from enmity to friendship, from faithlessness to faithfulness, to reconciliation with the very source of our being. A different attitude to suffering.

Jeremiah was unpopular because he was promoting the original Covenant of Moses (the Mosaic Covenant). If you look back at Jeremiah chapter 11, you'll see that was what he was doing. The covenant was set out in the book that had been discovered in the Temple in his time.

Again, this is a covenant that is incomplete. The law can show us our need of salvation -- does show us our need for salvation, but cannot provide that salvation. There is nothing wrong with the law, but that is how it is. So Jeremiah, himself, could see that this covenant, the very covenant that he, himself, was promoting along with other reformers, wasn't going to be enough. That is why you find him saying that there was going to be a new covenant. A new covenant that would not be about ritual observance, which would not be about externals.

I don't know where you stayed in Jerusalem recently (GAFCON III) Laurie [Trinity School for Ministry President & Dean the Rev. Dr. Henry "Laurie" Thompson III]. I know you were there. So was I. In the hotel room where I was, all the controls in the room had Sabbath settings.

This covenant that was coming was not going to be about all of that. It was going to be about a change of heart and mind and disposition and attitude.

"The New Covenant," said Jesus before He suffered, "in My Blood." (Luke 22:20)

Of, course, we all participate in this New Covenant. Of course, we see our need from the old. How else would we see our need? But salvation is to be found in our participation in the New Covenant in the Blood.

We are so fortunate this morning, to be able to celebrate the Supper of the Lord. And these words will be said, of course, by the principal celebrant as he repeats the words of the institution. But it is not only him, we are all participating in this New Covenant in the Blood. We are all part of the New Covenant in the Blood of Jesus.

We are able, as we take in this New Covenant in the Blood, to receive all the benefits of that sacrifice that establishes that Covenant. It is not just that we are remembering something that happened along time ago in the past, however significant it was. But we are doing something which is a means of grace for us as we benefit from Christ's sacrifice.

There is an Anglican hymn -- I don't know if you sing it here: "Once, Only Once and Once for All, His Precious Life He Gave." We'll say that, of course, soon. "Once, only once and once for all, His precious life He gave ... but what He never can repeat he sets forth day by day." You see that more or less sums up for me what we should believe about the Supper of the Lord.

The wisdom that we find in the Old Testament, and references to his wisdom, again look forward to something greater, something fuller. And where do we find that? We find it in the Person of Jesus.

You remember that incident recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel, particularly in Chapter 11 where the disciples of John (the Baptist) come to Jesus -- John had sent them and he is asking from prison -- and they say: "Are You the One Who is to come, or should we be looking for someone else?" Matt. 11:3

And what did Jesus say to them? He says look around you; the deaf are hearing, the blind are seeing, the lame are walking ... Blessed is he who takes no offense at what I am doing. (Matt. 11:4-6) The reference again is back to Isaiah chapter 35 which is about the coming of God.

When the disciples of John leave to go back to their master, Jesus turns to the crowds and says: You didn't believe John, and now you don't believe Me; but wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matt. 11:7-18). He then goes on to speak of Himself as that Divine Wisdom that is inviting the simple and the unlearned to learn from Him.

"Take My yoke upon yourselves and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls." (Matt. 11:29).

In the very next chapter (Matthew 12) Jesus is comparing Himself to others and towards the end of the chapter He says the "Queen of the South" -- that's Yemen, by the way, that's what it means -- the Queen of the South came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. (Matt. 12:42) But here there is someone greater than Solomon. You see, the whole thing is from the lesser to the greater.

Jesus is God's Wisdom Incarnate. We often think of Jesus as God's Word Incarnate, and, of course, that is right. But He is also that Wisdom Who has brought the world into being and sustains the world at every moment of time.

Jeremiah and Jesus. What about us? What is our attitude to suffering? Jesus was quite clear about this. He said that His followers must take up their cross and follow Him. (Matt. 10:36 & 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23 & 14:27).

But the question for us, of course for each one of us, is how we are to take up that cross, you see. You will know the answer to it, of course, in your own life. Is it remaining in a marriage in obedience to the Lord? Is it to bring up children who may have particular difficulties or disabilities? Is it to give up opportunities in the world because you are required to do something that is contrary to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Is it to give up friendships and styles of life that are contrary to the Gospel?

Whatever it may be, we can be certain that there will be a cross to carry because there is no discipleship without it. The Cross of Jesus was a means of life, not just for Him, but for us. And so, also, with our own crosses.

We, too, are members of a covenant. We, too, are to promote this New Covenant in the Blood of Jesus. There is no evangelism without the Cross. We, too, benefit from this Covenant in which we participate day-by-day by the reading of the Word and by the receiving of the Sacraments.

And we, too, are called to wisdom. "Take My yoke upon yourselves and learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart. (Matt. 11:29).

That is actually what it says in the Letter of James. It says: "Have that wisdom in you which is meek ..." (James 3:13). Humble wisdom.

Humility is a particularly Christian virtue. In the ancient world many other virtues were recognized like fortitude or temperance or generosity even. But humility we learn from Jesus.

The meekness of wisdom. Humble wisdom. "He emptied Himself taking the form of a slave." (Phil. 2:7) You know that extent of that emptying you will by debating in your classes. But there was an emptying. "Who though in the form of God did not grasp at equality with God but emptied Himself ..." (Phil. 2:6)

What is this meek wisdom in the face of aggressive and assertive wisdom that we see in those who are dedicated to making money? Sometimes I envy these people. They are so dedicated to making money, I wish that Christians were as dedicated to spreading the Gospel.

It's not that wisdom. It's not the wisdom of even a university. Of course, we can direct with that wisdom. But it is not enough because it is unspiritual, it doesn't get to the root of the human problem and to the root of the solution about the human problem. It can describe but, often, it cannot explain. It is a wisdom that is oriented selfishly, as the text tells us. (James 3:14-16).

But the meek wisdom of Jesus, which is given to us in the process of our taking on the holiness of Jesus. How is it described? (James 3:17-18) It's pure, peaceable, gentle, not aggressive, it's not a war machine, open to reason, reasonable -- I sometimes say to people, there may be blind faiths but Christianity is not one of them. Reason and Christian faith go together and are open one to another -- full of mercy and good fruit and then the harvest of such wisdom is sewn by those who are actively makers of peace. Not just peaceable folk who want to leave things alone but those who make peace, who bring about reconciliation, whether it is of individuals with God, whether it is communities that are in conflict with one another.

I had the opportunity once to see the work of the Sant'Egidio Community based in Rome in their work of peacemaking and single-handedly, in this case, Mozambique, they brought the Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992) to an end by their work -- without arms, without protection, without diplomatic immunity. The doers of peace.

So Jeremiah and Jesus and then we ourselves. People with crosses, people of the Covenant, and people who take on the wisdom that Jesus brings, which is quite different from the wisdom of this world.

That is my prayer for Trinity School for Ministry. For those who work here, for those who come here to study, that they will be people of this New Covenant in the Blood of Jesus. That they will be people who know and have already taken up their crosses and who will look for the Godly wisdom that comes from God's Word.

Now to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, honor and dominion, now and forever. Amen.

TSM LINK: http://www.tsm.edu/2018/10/01/the-prophet-jeremiah-chapel-sermon-bishop-michael-nazir-ali/

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