As I reflect on this week’s readings, I’m enjoying a little vacation before my kid goes back to school. This week’s readings almost make me wish I were going to be in the pulpit this Sunday. Almost.
I’ve been sitting with Jeremiah for most of this year and have committed to using it for personal devotion for the next two years in which I will be in service to my denomination. Preachers, you have his call story from which to draw this week. This is one of those texts we preach from so much that it can often feel “stale” unless we read it with new eyes. The eyes with which we need to read this text, however, are the eyes that see Jeremiah’s whole picture. Especially if we don’t intend to extend this into an entire sermon series on Jeremiah, we immediately have to introduce his larger context to the hearer. Here was a prophet appointed by God to a difficult task, one that would make him a target of opposition, oppression, rejection, and violence. It is with that understanding that we know the LORD’s assurance to Jeremiah isn’t a romantic notion or a celestial “there there” encouraging pat on the head. Rather it is preparation for the road ahead of the prophet.
On a related note, I imagine Psalm 71 echoed much of what Jeremiah might have prayed in his prophetic work (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he recited it often). There’s the expression of desire for protection and that we not be put to shame for sticking our necks out there in response to our call. I might be tempted to preach from this Psalm, which I don’t often do for the Psalms. Psalm 103 could also present some opportunities for weaving into the stories of Jeremiah, Jerusalem, or the disabled woman from the Luke reading. It speaks of God’s healing, vindication, and forgiveness. It also helps us understand God’s promises as communicated to Moses, which Hebrews takes up.
If you’re using the text from Isaiah, you almost have to accompany it with the Gospel reading, both of which address proper approach to the Sabbath. Post-exilic Jerusalem, fresh off of a generations-long exile in Babylon because of religious apostasy, is reminded of the communal and devotional focus of the Sabbath. The enemy of Sabbath-keeping is self-interest, and in that way Sabbath-keeping has an inherent link to justice. Remembering/focusing on God will/should lead to right relationships with our neighbor –a fact that the synagogue leader in Luke 13 seemed to have forgotten. Mercy is not to be forsaken simply because it’s the Sabbath, and if so, clearly we’re not Sabbathing right.
And, finally, we have the richness of Hebrews from which to draw. We have the frightful imagery of Sinai and Moses’ reception of the Decalogue, the vision of David’s city (which we can accompany with the Isaiah text), and the shaking of both earth and heaven. The message is clear: listen and listen carefully! Even with signs and wonders of old, God’s people have a tendency to be thick-headed and miss the message!
Preachers, what about you? Where are you headed in your reflections on the texts? What is God saying, and how are you hearing it? And whose church should I be visiting on my day off? 😉