+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Jeremiah 8:19
Theme: Grief’s Obsolescence
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Second chances are a divine prerogative. We are not entitled to them. First chances, of course are also a gift from above- the sheer benevolence of the Creator. But, because our starting point is sentience; the capacity to perceive things, self-awareness, the ability to reason, we'll assume our existence as a given. But, now, what rights and privileges do we have? After all, we live in an age that’s gone mad about rights and privileges, but is not so keen on responsibility. What rights do we really have in relation to God? Is God obligated to grant us second chances?
Jeremiah was desperately praying that would be the case for his people. Yet he knew the pending judgment was irreversible and that’s why today we find him in abject grief. He turns to God, whom he calls His Comforter1. He says, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."2 Here the prophet's words have a proverbial ring to them. Proverbial sayings impart time-tested wisdom using particular idiom. "Beggars can't be choosers." "There's no such thing as a free lunch" "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." "Two wrongs don't make a right." In other words...If you're asking for a favour accept what you're given. There's always a hidden cost. Be careful when criticizing others so you're not shown to be a hypocrite. When someone wrongs you it’s not wise to respond in kind. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. In short: Our hopes have been dashed. The window of opportunity has closed. Our resources have been exhausted and our allies have failed us.
Jeremiah vividly articulates his grief. His words are a direct lament for the circumstances of his people. They will not be spared. They had been forewarned. The punishment should one as a shock to no one. God spoke clearly, "Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.”3 The crux of their sin was a matter of the heart. The Lutheran Confessions concur when they say that God's law "requires other things placed far above reason, namely, truly to fear God, truly to love God, truly to call upon God, truly to be convinced that God hears us, and to expect the aid of God in death and in all afflictions; finally, it requires obedience to God..."4 But it's precisely these truly spiritual things that humans have no power of their own to do or even to desire.
The crisis of the divine-human relationship is always a question of the gospel. God is always more benevolent than we can comprehend. We can grasp a measure of charity, get the gist of self-sacrifice, wrap our minds around generosity, but the self-giving of God in Christ is always beyond our intellect. It is a matter for faith. That's also why baptism is at the risk of moralizing tendencies. Baptism is a vehicle for grace. It’s a vehicle for the heavenly inheritance. It’s not a moral response to the law of God.
So, grace is both the clearest teaching of the Scripture and it is also the most profound of all mysteries, at least in the context of relational implications. Indeed, the Holy Trinity is a mystery, the incarnation is a mystery, the sacramental Union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine is a mystery. But grace is that particular divine reality- that attends all the saving acts of God- that conveys to the believer the very life of Christ. Christ’s declaration of pardon is not dependent in any way on your piety or your efforts to please God- it is pure grace.
God is not duplicitous when He speaks to us. He does not say one thing and mean another. He does not project one image but have a different intention at heart. The Holy Spirit has a fixed and focused agenda. He lights no other path than the one to Christ. He shows us no other Saviour than the one hung upon a cross. He clothes us with no other garment than the perfect righteousness of Christ. In all these things glory reflects to the Father through the Son. And within the believer, the desire to follow God happens as a matter of course. It is the fruit of faith.
But for the Israelites, this was not happening. Dear friends, if someone doesn't want to live according to the implications of the gospel then they simply don't understand the transforming grace that it entails. We naturally understand the law and there are three possible motives to live according to it. The first two are conceived in the same womb. We may want to live according to the law either to receive praise or avoid punishment. The unregenerate are no different than Christians in this respect. But if we desire to follow God’s law because we believe His will is best for us, then the gospel is truly bearing fruit in us. If we have no desire to forgive others, then we don't actually believe that the forgiveness of sins is the central truth in the coming of Jesus Christ. Then we don't actually believe the gospel. We have forfeited grace. Paul chided the Galatians saying, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”5
It was exactly because of this failure that Jeremiah was grieved. We should never downplay the profound and far-reaching nature of grief. Grief usually involves an irreducible complexity. The pain of deprivation is rarely singular. It involves multi-faceted dimensions that affect the mind and the heart. A sudden loss may bring a profound sense of injustice and feeling of despair. To not grieve is to not truly love. Profound grief may make you feel like you are free-falling into a vortex of darkness. But believers are never dashed upon the rocks of despair because Christ is the safety net upon which the believer lands. Grief can derail us for a time, but it can never triumph over the believers. Why? Because Christ raises the dead and that's the final authority. The risen Christ makes grief obsolete.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. Still, Jeremiah looks to God for comfort. Thanks be to God that these proverbial words are now rendered obsolete. Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?”6 The question was answered once and for all when Jesus came in human flesh, lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended. His immortality renders grief obsolete. Death has no power over His chosen ones. We don’t need second chances in the worldly sense. We have Christ. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See Jeremiah 8:18
2 Jeremiah 9:20
3 Jeremiah 9:13-14
4 AP IV
5 Galatians 3:3
6 Jeremiah 8:19