Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Theme: “Before You Were Born”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is never lacking foresight; He never leaves things unfinished. He brought you into existence at conception, but He knew you before that. You are not here by chance or some “accident”. It’s not coincidental that you live in this time and place. God is the author of life and He deems it to be sacred- you to be holy. The Scripture says, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”2And it also says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”2 Remember, the gospel tune that He sings into your heart is a melody that only matures during your baptismal journey.

These truths must have been hard for Jeremiah to grasp when God called him into his service. Jeremiah’s ministry was in the time of the divided kingdom. Jeremiah was a prophet in the south, the land of Judah. The glory days of David and Solomon were long past. The exile into Babylon was imminent. The Northern Kingdom had already been taken into captivity by the powerful Assyrians. God’s people were soon to become a nation of refugees.

Jeremiah was a conflicted prophet. Often despondent, he struggled with the formidable task before him. How could he bring the wayward people back to true knowledge of and obedience to the Lord? Jeremiah also authored the Book of Lamentations- a poignant composition of grief at the downfall of the nation. He was also known as the weeping prophet. His immediate response to God’s calling was to claim inadequacy. His resistance was similar to what Moses offered: He wasn’t an eloquent speaker. The Lord responds to calm Jeremiah’s fear. “Then the Lord reached out His hand and said to me, ‘Now, I have put My words in your mouth.’”3The task is daunting but God will not leave Him in the lurch.

Idolatry had penetrated the religious practices of the nation and had caused widespread apostasy among the people. Under King Josiah a reformation was initiated that included badly needed repairs to the temple in Jerusalem. During the course of these repairs a copy of the five Books of Moses- Genesis through Deuteronomy- was discovered under some debris that had accumulated over many years of pagan worship. The Bible rediscovered, the celebration of the Passover was reinstituted exactly as described in the Scriptures. Still, it was not enough to purge the people of their wickedness and God’s threat of judgment was executed a few decades later. Jeremiah lives to see the sacking of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews.

You might wonder why the call of Jeremiah, an ancient prophet of God, is of interest to us today? What relevance does it have for us? Jeremiah was an instrument of the Holy Spirit and the truths spoken by him are timeless. The insights shared through him about human nature, about sin and grace, idolatry, repentance, despair, hope and restoration are applicable to us. God dwells in timelessness and we are not one unit of time or distance further away from God than Jeremiah was. How powerful are the words the Almighty begins with today, Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart!”4

Like us, Jeremiah needed that reassurance. The faithful were few. The greatest “archeological” discovery of Jeremiah’s time was finding the Temple copy of the Bible. Imagine that, the Holy Scriptures were all but lost! And how easily we take it as a given that the word of God will always be available to us. How easily we take for granted too that we will enjoy stability in society. Jeremiah reminds us of the importance of taking a long-term view. We might want to turn back the clock or try to fix everything at once. But we cannot dictate the parameters to God. He can see right across the horizon but we only see a short distance. We don’t know what prosperities or adversities tomorrow holds.

But Jeremiah also inspires us to seize the day. The people of his era kept putting off returning to the Lord. The time to repent is never tomorrow, it is always today. Nothing is riskier than to assume our contrition can wait another day. A day becomes a week; a week becomes a month, a month becomes a year, and a year becomes a lifetime. Our unplanned transgressions, our habitual failings, and our most sinister sins must be confessed to the Almighty. Anything short of full disclosure is foolish. Do we not believe the Scripture that says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight? Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”5

And do we not believe His promise of pardon? God wishes to communicate it clearly to you through this office. It’s my highest privilege to declare to you that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And to say as I did earlier, “May He comfort you with His holy absolution, and strengthen you with His Sacrament, that your joy may be full.”6 He doesn’t keep you on a string. He doesn’t lead you on dangling the carrot before your eyes. He invites you right up to His holy table to dine with Him on this heavenly meal.

We never plan to walk humbly before God in the future, it’s always a present task. The present time is also the time to cherish God’s favour. Today is the day of grace. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Today we rejoice that we are His baptized, redeemed, and justified people. Today we give thanks that Jesus endured the cross so our sins may be forgiven. Today we celebrate His resurrection from the dead. Today we are grateful for parents, children, spouses, and the fellowship of believers gathered here. Today we are appreciative even of the challenges- the adversities, the hardships, the failures- because we trust that through these the Holy Spirit is refining our faith and bolstering our capacity to face the challenges of the future.

Jeremiah faced a long and arduous journey in the ministry. The mission of the Christian church always faces such prospects. We take the road less traveled. But our confidence is in the destination. We have a magnificent description of it today, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”7 With this to look forward to our journey can only be filled with hope and joy. What God knew from the beginning He will not forget at the finish. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
21 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Isaiah 5:4
2 Psalm 139:16
3 Jeremiah 1:9
4 Jeremiah 1:5
5 Hebrews 4:13
6 LH p7
7 Hebrews 12:22-24