God’s message rarely gets through the first time.  The prophet Jeremiah understands God’s peculiar timing, and is willing to keep repeating God’s message.  God is persistent, and the people who work for God are called to live that persistence, too.  Jeremiah has already demonstrated his own persistence by buying a field in a doomed city. (Chapter 32)  Now he has a message for the people and for the king.

Read the scripture here.

Read the Working Preacher commentary here.

Moving from the prophet Isaiah last week, to Jeremiah this week, God continues to seek the people’s attention, and their faithfulness.  If the house of Judah hears from God, they may yet change course.  The prophet Jeremiah has acted out God’s message, and now God’s word comes on a scroll, dictated by the prophet Jeremiah, and then written and delivered by Baruch.

Interestingly, the people get to hear the message before the king does.  To hear God’s word, the king has to send for the scroll.

Curiously, the king doesn’t have the whole scroll burned immediately.  He listens to each section, and throws it into the fire, as if caught between wanting to hear that God and the prophet have to say, and wanting to stop up his ears and ignore the whole thing.  We can’t tell if he just wants to hear what the people have already heard, or if he’s interested in what God has to say.  We don’t know if he’s burning the sections as a sign of defiance, or in despair that he won’t be able to comply with what God is saying.  He is caught between what is and what should be.

Jeremiah understands that God’s plans move slowly.  He himself is confined in the palace (32:2) and he manages to speak God’s word of freedom through his own place in prison.  Before this God has announced: “See, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me? 28Therefore, thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he shall take it.”  (32:27-28)  Destruction will come before restoration, but God continues to promise renewal. “Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them.”  (32:42)  God is thorough, but not quick.

The readings move backward in the scriptures to end with a word of hope.  Despair and forgetfulness are never the last word for God.  Earlier the prophet has promised us a connection between our weeping and our restoration.  “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
16 Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future, says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.” (31:15-17)

God promises a new covenant, when fragile, temporary scrolls won’t be needed anymore because God’s law will live in our hearts.  We won’t need a book or a tablet or a scroll.  We won’t need someone to read it to us, or teach it to us.  We won’t need an intermediary.  No ruler will be able to do away with God’s word simply by burning it up.  It will live fully in our hearts.

We haven’t arrived there yet, but God’s promises still stand.  In a time when our own country is buffeted by violence in words and actions, when we seem to be overtaken by a spirit of division, God’s word comes back to us through the prophet.  The invaders at our gate are the inner armies of hatred and separation, but God’s promises endure for those who are willing to hear, and to live with God’s persistence.

Sermon possibilities:

·         Jeremiah is a prophet who acts out his messages from God, in addition to using words.  How do we embody God’s promises, as we convey them to people?  When the world is awash in chatter, how do we enact God’s word?

·         God is not deterred after the first scroll is burned.  God and Jeremiah join forces again to write the same message on a second scroll.  The sermon might look at the spiritual discipline of perseverance, and how badly we need that as we collaborate with God on God’s plans.  God’s work is slow, and we inevitably meet setbacks.  How can we maintain our energy and focus in doing God’s work?  How do we avoid becoming discouraged?

·         The king has God’s words read to him, but he isn’t able to take in the message.  He can’t hear what God is saying.  The sermon might look at the places where we can’t hear what God is saying, and explore what gets in our way.

·         God’s message comes through Jeremiah and Baruch, as a team effort.  Neither one could deliver the message alone.  The sermon might explore how God’s work requires us to work together.  If each one of us only has only part of the talent God needs, how do we collaborate on God’s work?  What talents do we need to complement our own?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.  The image above is the prophet Jeremiah, from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.

5 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: The Scroll of Your Heart (Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; then 31:31-34)

  1. Hi, Mary~
    This week I will be preaching at my spouse’s church, having been invited by the Presbyterian Women to preach for Thank Offering Sunday. I’m excited, nervous, and befuddled about bringing Jeremiah into the conversation, so thanks for this starting place.

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    1. That’s a lot to weave together! I keep marveling at Jeremiah’s persistence in holding on to what God is trying to say…I hope similar gifts serve you well. I know you’ll end up some place wise.

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  2. I find myself wondering what it means to have the covenant written on our heart? Does it make us better as living as people of the covenant?

    My thoughts from Monday (having spent all day yesterday at a Presbytery executive meeting) are here:
    http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2016/11/looking-forward-to-november-20-2016.html

    ANd in case they are useful, here are some liturgical bits:
    http://worshipofferings.blogspot.ca/2016/11/for-november-20-2016-reign-of-christ.html

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    1. Gord, your piece makes me think about all the other covenants in our lives, too, and how our faithfulness to them ( or not) connects with our faithfulness to God’s covenant. Lots to ponder this week!

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