Rescued for a future


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 29 September 2019

Readings were Psalm 91 and Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15

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I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.

Greta ThunbergThis is the moral outcry from the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. The world heard her address the United Nations this week…

People are suffering. People are dying and dying ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.

How dare you! For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.[1]

Her speech makes me very uncomfortable, but we have a moral responsibility to hear the critique.

As someone older, I cannot ignore the voice of the younger generations, especially on the issue of the future of the planet.

As a St John’s Church family we have made recent efforts to ensure we are listening to our own young people. And we will continue to ensure we hear their voice; their moral leadership.

And I strongly believe we will have our experience of life and faith enriched by the perspective of the younger generations.

Greta Thunberg confronts all of us. What is it you hear in what she is saying? Are her words apocalyptic or hopeful?She concluded her speech to the UN saying:

We will not let you get away with this.
Right here, right now is where we draw the line.
The world is waking up.
And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Greta’s words seem to me both apocalyptic AND hopeful.She warns of the peril of our action, but does not give up – she believes that things will change.

We have heard similar words of doom and hope this morning, from a much more ancient source.This passage from Jeremiah (about Jeremiah) is a bit tricky, so let me explain what we have heard.

The context is important (as always for understanding scripture).

  • The time is about 600BCE.
  • Jeremiah is being detained – he’s a prisoner
  • held in the court of the guard of the King’s palace – that’s where everything happens in this episode.

Why is Jeremiah being held in detention?As God’s prophet, he has been speaking God’s word; confronting those in power.

Jeremiah has made King Zedekiah very uncomfortable with his vociferous moral voice. Jeremiah speaks truth to power, and his prophecies are not welcome. The official powers are trying to silence him.

But Jeremiah continues to speak (with unflinching moral leadership) what God wanted. The unrepentant nation is sinning against God and it is being judged. They are going to lose the war they are fighting – the war against Babylon.

That is the first part of this reading – focused on the relationship between Jeremiah and King Zedekiah.

The second part of the reading is focused on another relationship: Jeremiah and Cousin Hanamel. And we need to be aware of the transition from verse 3, ahead to verse 6, because ‘the word of the Lord’ shifts from speaking to the King to speaking directly to Jeremiah.

God’s word to the King is judgement… but what is God’s word to Jeremiah…?

God tells Jeremiah to purchase a block of land; to buy the land of Anathoth from his cousin (Jeremiah’s cousin – not God’s!).

Why? Why would anyone buy property at a time when the nation was besieged by an invading army? What value can the property expect to have when there is widespread political and social disintegration? This purchase of property is counter-intuitive, and is a declaration of God’s sovereignty.Although the judgement will come against this faithless nation and it will be severe, there is hope for restoration. God will bring His people back to the city.

We hear what this passage means in the final verse:

Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (v15)

The land that is now being decimated will be saved and restored. It will not be lost; it has a future purpose. The city will again be inhabited by those who will be the light of God to the whole world.

This is a message of hope amidst very real threats, danger and destruction. Jeremiah faithfully speaks God’s word and offers moral leadership in a desperate situation, to proclaim hope. God is in control.

We can see how relevant this proclamation of hope is for our world today. You and I, in our own lives, experience setbacks, defeats, declining fortunes, conflict and stress. And we also recognise these personal experiences playing out on a much greater scale.

  • The gloomy picture of this country’s largest business, Fonterra. The co-op, that produces a quarter of all New Zealand’s exports, reported this week a loss of $605M.
  • Around the word, the largest economies are locked in a bitter trade war.
  • We are living with global political instability – Brexit in the UK, and steps toward impeachment of the President in the US.
  • And, of course, the ever-looming climate crisis.

We need assurance – more than ever – that God is in control.

Friends, the good news we have is that God is not only in control, God promises a future. And, as those who hear the good news, don’t we have moral leadership to exercise…?

What is this good news? Let’s be clear. Psalm 91 declares the nature of God’s promise to us.

God will protect us.
God will answer us.
God will rescue us.
God will deliver us.

God says:

With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation. (v16)

It is in the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we have full clarity of the good news. In Christ we are shown that we are both saved FROM and saved FOR.

We are saved FROM all things that threaten to destroy us. Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father

Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

And Jesus proclaims the coming Kingdom of God. This coming Kingdom resonates with the image of the city we heard in Jeremiah – a place, a people, ruled by God’s perfect will, where there is the fulfilment of God’s comprehensive and coherent purposes.

One of my favourite books is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. This classic is a story about doom and hope. Do you know the opening line…?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The opening line is familiar to many, but listen how Dickens continues the theme of doom and hope…

…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

The story concludes with one of the most gripping illustrations of substitutionary sacrifice, and serves as a reminder of what Christ has done to save us – both FROM and FOR.

A man with a wife and daughter is in prison facing his execution, when an old associate (without family and whose life has been far from exemplary) comes to visit him in his prison cell. This visitor drugs the prisoner, swaps clothes with him and has him taken to an awaiting carriage, under the pretence that the prisoner is actually the visitor, who has fainted with emotion. Later that day, the visitor (who obviously bears similar physical resemblance) goes to the guillotine and is executed in the man’s place. This man substitutes himself to save the prisoner from death, and save him for a future with his wife and daughter.

A further tender moment in this story is when a young woman, also in the prison condemned to execution, recognises the substitutionary sacrifice this man is performing and asks if she can hold his hand. The dying man is a moral leader… he chooses to give up power and becomes strength to the girl, who is drawn to the courage of this man in their mutual weakness.

It is a story of hope amidst despair and destruction. A story of rescue offered for another. A story of purpose craved by those who know their need. A story of something like a new city being built where people find a future place to live in peace with each other.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the truth that we are both saved FROM and saved FOR. We are saved from sin – which is not a substance, but broken relationship. We are estranged and separated from God (like the lost toy in the movie Toy Story).

Christ dies in our place in costly solidarity with humanity in its shameful and culpable situation.

And his Resurrection displays the hope we hold in God’s future – a future we are rescued FOR.

In Romans 5 we are told:

while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, … (v10)

having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

… one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. (v18)

Peace/shalom with God is restored in Christ’s sacrifice, as well as peace between each other. We are brought back into relationship and life.

Friends, let’s be clear: this is the good news that God is in control and promises a future. So, whatever threats and fears we experience, Christ displays God’s solidarity with us. We are able to hold the hand of Christ extended to us. We can experience NOW the resurrection life of the one who makes true the plans God has for the future.

The word spoken to Jeremiah is true for us also:

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your well-being and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jer 29:11)

What do you imagine these plans are? What is our vision for the future?

I want us to give this serious consideration, because (as I said earlier) we are those who hear the good news, and we have moral leadership to exercise in the world. We are asked to join with the work of Christ to build the city of God’s Kingdom, as a light to the world, where everyone will find life and hope.

MalalaWe started with the moral vision of a young woman, and I want to conclude this message with another young woman: Malala a moral leader for now and the future.

The world came to hear the name Malala in 2012 when, at the age of 15, she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

How does a Pakistani girl become the target of an assassination attempt…?

rior to that she was an activist for the rights of women and girls and a vocal opponent of the Taliban. She was a writer and a speaker, and the attack she survived now gives her a platform to reach so many more – the intention to eliminate her and her voice has had the opposite effect.

Malala is only 22 years old, and is a current figure of hope and vision for our world now in the 21st Century and into the future.

Her moral leadership is in large part due to her family, who strengthened her, and equipped her. They celebrated and validated her in a culture that doesn’t always value women. She was given opportunities; she was nurtured; her talents were given energy.

The upbringing of Malala, into the moral leader she has become, is a reminder of the importance of how we invest in the lives of our young people – nurturing them by sharing our time and interest in who they are and encouraging their gifts.

Will you join me to continue strengthening young people and shaping them into moral people…? People who listen, who make great moral decisions, people who care?

May the example of Jesus Christ be our guide and inspiration always, as we participate in His life with the Father and Holy Spirit, and thereby share hope with the world.

Amen.

 

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/greta-thunberg-un-speech-you-have-stolen-my-dreams-climate-activist-tells-climate-summit/

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