Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hólmaberg ...

Hólmaberg ...
Originally uploaded by asmundur
Post-summer calming. I love this man's work, and thought you might enjoy it too. Click the photo for more visual deliciousness.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Hot Wind

A Hot Wind
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
September 16, 2007
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: The winds of divine judgment are blowing over God’s people, and the result is ruin and destruction. The promise to “pluck up and pull down” (1:10) has come to pass. God has exacted judgment on a disobedient people. God’s decision is sure and final, but hope remains. One might look at our own society and our denomination and wonder if we are reaping the hot wind of which Jeremiah speaks.

Sermon Function: To remind listeners that God’s judgment, a topic we would prefer not to discuss, is nonetheless something sure and certain, and that we have the hope of being judged by Christ, the Judge who was himself judged and found worthy. We also have the hope of Christ’s intercession for us, so that when we fail in our charge to live lives of repentance and obedience, we hope nonetheless remains for forgiveness and everlasting life.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]

Hesed is the Hebrew word that refers to what we call God’s steadfast love. We are blessed in the church to know about God’s steadfast love, most perfectly exemplified by His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. But text this week refers to God’s supreme prerogative – judgment. The prophet Jeremiah uses some pretty tough metaphorical imagery in this text to describe the aftermath of the Judah’s destruction, and some more tough imagery to describe the rebellious people who have turned away from God’s ways and instead indulge ways of evil.

Listen now to God’s word.

[Read Scripture - Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28]

Cultural Blight

The contemporary church exists in a period of time known in the popular press and in seminary classrooms as “post-Christendom.” What is post-Christendom? This is a term used to describe the fact that the religious faith of Christianity no longer exerts the influence it once did in our popular culture. Let me give you just on example of what I mean:

You may or may not know this, but MTV recently held its annual Video Music Awards program on cable television. One of the major advertising elements promoted heavily in the weeks leading up to the event was the big “comeback” of Britney Spears. Now, I’m not an MTV watcher anymore. I quit watching years ago when the format of the channel changed from music videos to “reality” shows like the “Real World.” The only reason I know about the MTV VMA show was because Britney was, by all accounts, had a disastrous performance. And it was the glee associated with this disaster that was happily picked up by the press. On,, and other places, the major news story of the day was Ms. Spear’s hopelessly lame performance.

Other major stories from the event: Two former husbands of a once-popular Bay Watch superstar got into a fistfight, leaving one badly punched up and the other charged with misdemeanor battery. Also, the talented Kanye West, having been shut out of the five categories for which he had been nominated, complained that the entire VMA show was racist. If anyone actually won anything, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps you can enlighten me after the service.

For many people, these kinds of activities are major news. And all of this is going on in the midst of horrible world, altering events. Terrorism and warfare, incurable disease, yet another massive earthquake in Asia. When one reflects on the state of the world and of our own Western culture in this world of post-Christendom, one might be tempted to wonder if there isn’t some kind of judgment happening, right this very minute.

God Judges, and God Is Just

So what can we learn about God’s prerogative as divine, final judge, as portrayed by our faithful prophet? And how can we respond to this word in our own lives? What does it mean for us to live under a God who, while he loves us, nonetheless judges us?

Well, the first thing we should remember is that God is the final judge. We are not. We are called upon to exercise judgment when making decisions about our lives. But the judgment referred to here is divine judgment. A judgment that is solely the work of God, and one that we know will be filled with justice and righteousness.

The other component of God’s judgment is that it is utterly just. Christians proclaim the truth that God is good, and that goodness is exemplified for us when he exercises his judgment with justice, with complete regard for all of the facts and taking into account everything that is known. God could only render such judgment, because God is good and God is perfect.

And this is something that can be terrifying to us, because it forces us to confront something that we might rather avoid. God’s good judgment is God’s way, not ours. Accordingly, we may witness the administration of God’s judgment and not really understand why this might be good. That is, what we think is good is most certainly not necessarily what God considers good.

And when humans are called upon to exercise of office of judge, we are warned very clearly that our own judgment must be just. In Leviticus 19:15, the people are warned, “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev 19:15 NRSV). Our need to be just in our dealings with others is a divine commandment. In fact, one of God’s complaints against the people is on precisely this point. In Jeremiah 5:28, we read “They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy” (Jer 5:28). Justice is necessary because it is part of the glue that holds a society together. God knows this about us, and knows that unjust judgment is an abuse by those who are powerful against those who are weak. That is why justice is of particular concern when it comes to orphans and those in need.

Abandonment and Destruction

Abandoning God’s commands can lead to destruction. I’ve mentioned this fact before in an earlier sermon when I discussed that God’s will for us demands our discipleship and obedience. Sometimes that demand will appear extreme to us, perhaps even unfair or unwarranted. But it is what it is. Judah, the southern kingdom, having lived without having to deal with the chaos that had infected the northern kingdom, has fallen away from God and now faces destruction.
At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. (Jer 4:11-12 NRSV)
That hot wind is not a wind that will cleanse, nor will it help with winnowing the wheat from the chaff at the threshing floor. No, this is a wind of destruction. And it is a wind that will not just bring ruin, but will actually return the earth into its primeval condition of chaos and nothingness.
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. (Jer 4:23-26 NRSV)
“Waste and void” are, in Hebrew, the exact same words to describe the condition of things prior to creation, in Genesis 1:2, before God said, “Let there be light.”

A disconcerting image for us, isn’t it? The birds have fled, the land is completely unfruitful, and cities laid into ruin. This is God’s wrath, God’s anger, characterized for with this vivid imagery of a mighty natural disaster.
Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back. (Jer 4:28 NRSV)
God’s justice is final in face of his constant pleas for humanity to return to its proper worship of the Almighty.

And Yet, Hope Remains for the Fallen

For us, this text from Jeremiah is yet another all to obedient discipleship. To remember that justice is one of God’s key concerns – true justice, where those in need are fed and clothed, and the orphan finds a home. In light of God’s judgment, we are forced to ask ourselves if we are doing enough, in this Christian community, to address the plight of those in need right here in our own community.

This is also a call to look inward at our own spiritual development, and to take an account of what we believe, because that in turn will define what is truly important to us.

And we are called to remember one particularly painful aspect of our existence, and that is our finitude (the fact that we will die), and our sinfulness. Jeremiah quotes God as saying:
“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” (Jer 4:22 NRSV)
This is a restatement of what we know is true about ourselves, that somehow we rebelled and now something just isn’t right. There is heaviness in our heart that, despite all of our attempts to wipe it out, still remains. I suspect that this is one reason our culture has moved into the direction it has. We are, frankly, more satisfied with news about the MTV VMA show than we are about the stories of the bible. Most of us here today, and I definitely include myself in this, spend more time watching popular television programs to than attending to the Word of God as revealed to us in Holy Scripture, and revealed fully to us in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We do this because we’re tempted to find the quick fix. TV is one. So are other substances. We know this. We read about it all the time.

And yet there is hope. And that hope today is acknowledged by God in Jeremiah, “For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end (Jer 4:27 NRSV)”. Even though God is angry with Judah and the people of Jerusalem, and even though those whose disobedience warrants the full measure of God’s righteous judgment, hope still remains for God’s chosen people. “Yet I will not make a full end,” says the Lord.

And God has provided the means of salvation for us, too. So the in spite of our sinfulness, we may be saved from total ruin through God’s mercy. The means of salvation, we know through scripture, is Jesus Christ. In fact, it is through the word of Jesus that final judgment will be administered throughout creation at The End. And that should excite us! For the One who came to give forgiveness of sins took those sins to the cross. Jesus Christ therefore stood in judgment for us, and was judged worthy. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12 NRSV) This was done so that we might all know what it means to be judged justly. And in our fallenness, we see the hope of true righteousness, and the promise of sanctification, until we are fully restored by Christ in His resurrection glory.

In the meantime, we are called to begin working in the kingdom that Jesus has already set in motion on earth. We are called to repentance and obedience, so that we need not fear judgment, but rather anticipate it, with joy, a joy based in the knowledge that the Judge of all things is truly worthy to render righteous judgment over us, a judgment that can begin healing our society and its ills, and renew a creation and social order that reveals a beauty so transcendent that we’ll wonder why we spent so much time watching the MTV Video Music Awards, preoccupied by performance and scandal.

Friends, as we walk this road of faith together, growing together in Christ our Lord, letting God’s Spirit dwell in us as we proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the world, a world that need the gospel now more than ever, we need to become people who, in light of God’s loving, just, judgment, are bold to pray

Scorching wind of God,
Spirit in bread,
Spirit in cup,
Do not slow to winnow:

Wither and destroy what displeases,
Let your flesh be poison to my sin,
Your blood acid, not anodyne.
Scour my soul.

Make waste my plenty;
Expose my lies;
Disfigure and destroy my idols
Until all that remains for my heart's attaching
Is you.1

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, TX.

1Worship Planning Helps Copyright © 2007 The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. Worship website: Path: Worship – Planning Helps – Lectionary Helps for Sunday – 2007 – September 16, 2007.