Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sermon from June 26, 2011; Jeremiah 28:1-9

Rev. George Miller
Jeremiah 28:1-9
“Peace Prophesying Prophets”
June 26, 2011

Last week, the television comedy “Hot in Cleveland” ran an episode in which Joy, one of the main characters, is reunited with Owen, the son she had given up for adoption.

Alas, nothing about their meeting goes as planned, from a case of mistaken identity to an accidental shooting. Owen expresses regret, stating that he pictured the moment he met his birth mother as cosmically life changing.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” he says, “And we should get back to our regular lives.”

Joy is at first heartbroken, until she has an epiphany: “Why does everything have to be the way people picture it? Life doesn’t work that way.”

She says to Owen “So this isn’t how either of us pictured it to be. How could it be? It’s awkward and painful and messy, but sometimes if you’re willing to work through the messy you get to something good.”

“OK,” Owen replies, “Let’s get messy.” He starts asking the difficult questions: who’s my Dad? Why did you give me up? In doing so, a new relationship begins.

Life is messy; there’s no running away from that. This week has been particularly messy.

First, we’ll start with today’s liturgy. It was created awhile ago with the plan that this scripture would be used to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the UCC and all the wonderful voices who speak about peace.

Turns out I totally misunderstood what this Scripture was really about.

Second, as you all know, I experienced an unexpected loss this week when my beloved cat died unexpectedly on Monday.

Martin Isaac’s death was messy and is heartbreaking. He was my companion, my reason to come home, and my connection to all I’ve known during the last five years.

Life has not gone the way I pictured it. So, to preach as planned would not be authentic.

Life is awkward and painful and messy, but sometimes if we’re willing to work through the messy we get to something good.

I believe that to be true for today and I believe Jeremiah would say the same thing.

Jeremiah was a prophet; a reluctant prophet who was called by God to share difficult messages with the people of Judah.

Messages about how the people had been unfaithful to God. How they had polluted the land, mistreated the weakest members of society and had become greedy.

No one seemed to care about what Jeremiah had to say. Instead they listened to those who gave the impression that everything was alright by saying “Peace, peace” even when the people’s lives were lacking peace.

These false prophets were trying to convince everyone not to worry, that God would prevent any harm from coming their way.

Jeremiah knows differently. He knows that political thunderstorms are hovering in the horizon; he knows that if things don’t change soon, things are going to get real messy, real fast, for a real long time.

So he tries to warn the people and the leaders. He gives them chance after chance to realize that things are not the way they’ve been picturing it.

No one listens; in fact Jeremiah is publicly humiliated, as we heard in today’s reading.

Jeremiah has been predicting that the Babylonians will attack Judah, pillage the Temple and kidnap the King and other notable people from the city.

Certainly not words of peace at all, but words of war, famine and pestilence.

Hananiah has a different message, a feel good message of sorts. He tells the people not to worry: in two short years the enemy will be defeated, everything that was stolen will be replaced, all those who were kidnapped will return and everything will be go back to just the way things were.

What Hananiah fails to verbalize is that when the messiness of life happens, nothing ever goes back to the way things were.

Anyone who’s ever experienced a miscarriage, lost a job or had their home destroyed can tell you that.

Things may become good, they make get worse, but they will never, ever be 100% the same.

That’s one thing I’m dealing with this week.

Martin’s death has brought a slew of emotions and a barrage of conversations. People calling me, sending e-mails, cards, posting on my Facebook. Through this all, I’ve experienced two types of messages.

The first is: we are here for you, but this sucks, and it hurts, and this is going to take time…but you will get through this.

The second is: we are here for you, and Martin’s in heaven and is always with you…and you will get through this.

Both messages are well intentioned, but oddly enough it is the second message that causes the most pain.

Right now, like any newly grieving person, I feel hurt and scared and angry, and I don’t want Martin in heaven or watching over me, I want him back in my life, in my home, curled up and purring in my lap.

It is the first message that has given me the most comfort and hope. To hear from other people that the pain of seeing an empty food dish is real, that my feelings of loneliness are legitimate, has provided me a way to feel things and to express emotions and to make my way through the messiness I am facing.

But I can face it, because I know I am not alone, or crazy, and that even though I will make it to the other side, it will not be the same. Nor will he ever be exactly replaced.

I think of when someone has a miscarriage and they’re told “The good news is that you can start trying to have another one real soon.”

Or when someone who’s been fired is told that “When one door closes another opens.”

Or when someone has their home town flooded and are told “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Those sentiments may sound good, but what they actually do is force life into an impossibly perfect box and act as a way to ignore the messiness that comes with it.

That’s what Hananiah is trying to do here. He’s telling the people that they shouldn’t worry and that things will be fine, even though they’re not.

But Jeremiah, with his harsh sounding words of judgment, comes to the people with a message meant to help, not to make people feel good.

He puts it all out there for them; he speaks of pain too great to bear, of situations that will not be easily resolved.

In doing so, he offers them a gift: the chance to repent. He offers them the opportunity to rethink about the messiness their lives are in and to do something about it.

By speaking the truth, he allows the people to act justly and with righteousness, to help those they have wronged and to reach out to the less fortunate.

In speaking the truth, Jeremiah offers a different kind of hope. He tells them to still continue living, to build homes and plant gardens, eat healthy and get married, raise children and seek what is best for everyone.

He doesn’t tell them that everything’s coming up roses, but he does encourage them to create a life for themselves, to trust that God has a plan for their welfare and that in time this too will be over.

In doing so, he assures them that as broken as they may be, as hopeless as things are the Master Potter, will indeed find a way to reshape them in a way that seems good.

Maybe not perfect, or exactly the same, but good.

Because of the hard truth of prophets like Jeremiah and the faithfulness of God, the people did make it through, and they did survive.

And when they emerged from life’s messiness they brought with them some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, some of the deepest reflections about God and some of the truest insights into what it means to be human.

Though this is did not take the place of their former comfort and security, what emerged were things they were able to pass down to their children and their children’s children, all the way down to us and beyond.

So that we can survive as well, emerging from the things in life we could never have planned.

In conclusion, Jeremiah did not think sugar coating things would help the people. He told them what they needed to hear so they could survive.

And by God they survived; perhaps not perfect, or without wounds. But awkwardly, and painfully, and messy. Never the same, but different.

It is their story, and their strength, that thrives within us as well.

Let us give thanks that when life does not go as we had planned, we can turn to Christ, who is both the wounded and the resurrected, the Holy Spirit who gives us strength when we think we can not carry on, and to God who’s there to help us to work through the messy.

Amen and amen.

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