God is on the move in the texts for this coming Sunday. In Jeremiah we find God calling, commanding, reassuring. In Hebrews there is a whole lot of shaking going on, “so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Luke finds Jesus healing and shaming. We are about half way through the longest season of our Christian year, the Season After Pentecost. It is the season when the church, having marked the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and its calling by the gift of the Holy Spirit – we have now, in other words, all that we need to be Christ’s Body in and for the world – is to be about its ever deepening discipleship. This part of this long season, however, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, coincides with the dog days of summer. Perhaps the wake up call in these texts is perfect timing. God will do what God will do. God is up to what God is up to.
As Walter Brueggemann observes in his close reading of the Jeremiah text (see his Journey to the Common Good) it has been four hundred years since the priest Abiathar was banished by Solomon to his estate in Anathoth. For four hundred years Abiathar’s priestly descendants have watched from 5 km northeast of Jerusalem as Solomon and then many of his successors rebuilt Egypt in Israel – the Egypt of slavery, of scarcity, of entitlement by those in power. Now Jeremiah, descendant of Abiathar, is consecrated, set apart by and for God, to return to Jerusalem with words of warning and ending.
And a terrible ending it was. God’s kairos moment is grounded in the reality of our chronological time. Called as a boy, Jeremiah speaks the word of the LORD for forty years to the ending of the kings of Judah, the ending of an elitist social order that no longer served God and to the captivity of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This is a hard calling. If we continue to read to the end of chapter one we get a better sense of the tremendous task set before Jeremiah. Verse 14 is blunt about what is to happen. This is similar to the callings of Samuel and Isaiah, both of whom are charged with difficult duties which we never quite get to within the parameters of the lectionary readings (do we really know what we are saying as we blithely sing Here I Am, Lord?). There is girding of loins that will be needed (v 17) as Jeremiah will face unavoidable opposition, death threats and attempted murder included.
Jeremiah is given little choice in the matter. He is known and consecrated by God even before he is born. He is told point blank what will happen to him if he does not carry out God’s calling: Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. (v 17b). But what Jeremiah is given is what he will need to complete his calling: an intimate knowledge of God, God’s presence with him, the words he will need to declare, the strength of “a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall” (v 18) and a small group of loyal friends.
As the church, the Body of Christ in the world, we are the company of the consecrated. Called to follow by Jesus and baptized with the Holy Spirit, we too are given challenging work – to love our enemies, to take up our cross, to enter into the suffering of the world, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen. And we too are told what will happen if we do not carry out our calling: Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10: 32-33). But, like Jeremiah, God has given us everything we need to do what is asked of us – the Word made flesh, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of our fellowship, one with another, the receiving of a kingdom that cannot be shaken (not a kingdom we have to build but a kingdom we get to give thanks for and participate in).
We will need these gifts as the church moves through the present kairos time of endings and new beginnings which Brian Volck wrote of in regard to last Sunday’s readings. The end of Christendom, even as we celebrate the freedom this brings to the church, will and is resulting in a backlash against Christianity. What more will happen as our particular Christian identity claims and transforms us and calls us to proclaim what God is up to more boldly in the public square? We will need all of the gifts God has given us so that our children might continue to sing:
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
(Psalm 71: 1-6)