4 Epiphany: Jeremiah & Jesus back to back 500 years apart

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Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst.

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You know I am in my happy place
when I get to talk about
both Jeremiah and Jesus
at one and the same time.

We actually have some biographical data
on each of these prophets
and it is interesting
to put them back to back
even though they lived more than
500 years apart.

Jeremiah and Jesus
lived the restless and perhaps
tortured lives
of those immersed in the anger
of their peers
and contemporaries.

I don’t have to tell you
what it is like to be the object
of anger, not only
from one person
but from many of the people
in your close circle of family and friends.

You want to talk about polarized,
try going back to Jeremiah or Jesus’ day.
It was an angry, violent, snarling,
dog-eat-dog world.

But Jeremiah and Jesus
could not have been more different.

Jeremiah came from money –
the small power elite class of his society.
Jesus came from dirt,
as in dirt-poor.

Jeremiah was educated,
and it shows in the exquisite images
and parallelism of his poetry.
Jesus was likely illiterate
and it shows in the pithy, earthy parables
so easily recite-able from memory.

Jeremiah was a priest
before he was a prophet,
and his father was a priest who taught him the trade.
Jesus was a peasant who made doors
and wheels, and tables and ploughs
just as his father taught him to do.

But both of them,
Jeremiah and Jesus,
separated by almost six hundred years,
knew from a very young age
they were in trouble.

Both of them knew
that WHAT they knew
would cause those who loved them
to become very angry.

WHAT they knew
was a word God had given them to speak.

If we want to get right down to it,
both of them were what we would call…preachers.

Now I realize being a preacher
isn’t an elevated position in our day,
nor something most people would aspire to.
But just like the Bible
is more sermon than text,
the main characters of the Bible
and its prophets,
are more preachers than magician or guru.

Whatever magic they had
came from their lips
more than their hands.

But pause on that for a moment.
Because the idea that God speaks on the lips
of an ordinary human being
is not something we believe today.
If someone were to walk into Trinity Place
on a Sunday morning that we were in-person,
and tell us that God had told him or her to come in here
and give us a message,
we would think they were bonkers.
And yet, that is the idea of a prophet or preacher.

In fact, last summer someone did
barge into our tent worship
and makes such a claim,
and we did think they were bonkers.

Figuring out the difference
between a prophet and someone who is bonkers
is more difficult than we might imagine.
But that is the topic for a different sermon.

Back to Jeremiah and Jesus.

A prophet had the unenviable task
of speaking God’s mind to humans,
and sometimes
speaking the mind of humans to God.

If you break that down,
who in their right mind would want that job?

The prophet was a mouthpiece:
not welcomed to speak his or her own mind
but to articulate GOD’s vision
or dream
or judgment.

In poor Jeremiah’s case,
he was given the words of ‘doom and gloom’
to speak to his peers in an affluent society
that was “partying like it was 1999.”
600 BCE in Judah
was like the 1920’s in the USA:
a big party
before the big bust.

So there at the party
was poor old Jeremiah
lobbing stink bombs at everyone’s good time.
Fortunately, at the end of Jeremiah’s life,
when Jerusalem had been torched
and ground down to rubble,
and his peers and contemporaries
brutally carted off into exile,
Jeremiah was given a vision of restoration
to spread among the survivors.

He was given a vision of good news
and how it would be
when God welcomed them back
with open arms.

Jesus was more like the prophet Amos
than he was Jeremiah.
He was peasant
sent into the halls of power
where he did not belong.
He was sent to deliver
both judgment against the status quo
and an alternative vision
for how God wanted us to live.
We all know that never goes well.

But again, let’s pause.

Does God really
touch the lips of some
and give them a vision or critique to articulate?

Well I do not have any incontestable proof
that  God speaks
on the lips of prophets today,
at least not in any scientific sense.
But I do know this –
and so do you.

In 1776 there were numerous people
who spoke against slavery —
Southerners as well as Northerners.

And in 1876
there were citizens
who spoke out against
the genocide of Native peoples.

The vision of equal rights for women
was articulated long before women could vote.

Child labor laws had advocates
a hundred years before they were passed.

In 1924 the first public voices were heard
advocating for Gay Rights.

Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring”
and warned of Global Warming sixty years ago.

We know about
Ida B. Wells
Sojourner Truth
Emmeline Pankhurst
Dorothy Day
Martin Luther King, Jr.
John Lewis
Nelson Mandela
Thich Nhat Hahn,
Desmond Tutu
Alicia Garza
Malala Yousafzai…

All of them, and literally thousands
of others occupying the space with them
have given voice
to what would take years
or generations
or even centuries
for everyone else to accept.

We can make a case
that all those folks
saw another reality breaking through
the dense matter
that others around them
were stuck inside of.

We can make a case
that God was breaking through
the ordinary
and they heard it
and saw it
and spoke it.

Or how about this?
We could make a case
that you and I have seen and heard
God breaking through the ordinary
and delivering a word
to people we know…even to us.

“We will proclaim by word AND example the Good News of God in Christ.”
In other words, we will be the incarnation
of the Gospel.

That is prophetic.

Or how about this.
“We will seek and serve God in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”

In other words, we know God is
in ALL persons
and we have been sent to discover it
and serve it
and even name it,
no matter who we discover it in.

That is prophetic.

Or this.

“We will strive for justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being.”
In other words,
our task is to bring about the kingdom
on Earth as it is in heaven.

That is prophetic.

So I do know for a fact
that there are people in this world
who make those promises
and in doing so,
sign up to be prophets of God.

And by the way,
that is how God does stuff
in the world.

Interesting, huh?
Peace be with you.