Sermon preached by
I have brought with me this morning some cuttings taken from the Jerusalem Times and Post which have come recently into my hands. They date from a period between about 600 to 587 BC.
Jerusalem 15th June
Prophet Saved from Death
Victory for Free Speech
Despite his outspoken attacks on King Zedekiah and his government, and the picture of doom and gloom he painted, Jeremiah has escaped imprisonment and death. In an outspoken confrontation between some of the kings Officers and a large group of citizens, the right of people like Jeremiah to say what they think was accepted when the people stood up for the prophet. He himself had argued that what he was saying was justified because all he was doing was passing on messages from God - a claim which it is difficult to substantiate.
Jerusalem 21st August
Uriah put to Death
After a brief trial, Uriah of Kiriath Jearim who had been apprehended in Egypt was executed for his crime of suggesting that the country was doomed . A source close to the government suggested that Jeremiah was also lucky not to have been executed. The same source hinted that Ahikam had pulled some strings to secure his release.
Jerusalem 1st May
A Basket of Rotten Fruit
Prophet Attacks Government
In an outspoken attack delivered today, Jeremiah took advantage of his position as a highly respected member of the society to launch a stinging attack on the King and his ministers, and indeed the whole of the senior members of society in Jerusalem.
In a speech made public yesterday Jeremiah suggested that those who were the unfortunate victims of the attack made upon us by the Chaldeans, and who now are held captive were in God's eyes worthy effective people, a basket of good fruit, to quote his words. He suggested that they would somehow be restored to their former well-being and estate, whereas our present government is like rotten figs too bad to eat.
He went on to suggest that the King and his ministers as well as the senior members of society would come to be regarded as repugnant by all our neighbouring kingdoms, and object lesson and a thing of ridicule. As usual, Jeremiah suggested that this was what God had revealed to him.
A government spokesman dismissed the attack. It does no good, he said, and certainly does not help in the present difficult political situation, in which the government has to deal with the pressures put upon it by Nebuchadnezzar. He did not actually pooh pooh the claim that this was a God given revelation, but certainly gave the impression that Jeremiah was abusing his position and making claims which could not be substantiated. King Zedekiah needs strong support and backing, not this constant carping and undermining.
Our chief political correspondent has suggested that Jeremiah's outspoken comments veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is a pity he cannot continue with the line of thought which suggests that one day Nebuchadnezzar will come to a sticky end.
It is interesting to speculate how long Jeremiah will be allowed to continue with his diatribes and is a least a mark of the tolerance of the King that he is not thrown into prison for some of what he says.
Jerusalem 19th June
Is This a Sick Yoke?
Citizens of Jerusalem were treated to the spectacle of one of the well known members of society, Jeremiah who was seen wearing a oxen yoke in the city centre today. When asked why, he is reported to have said that God had commanded him to do so, and that it is a sign that all those who submit to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar will in the end get away with it.
Sources close to the government suggest that Jeremiah has been sending similar messages to the governments of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon. What they make of it is not known. Jeremiah is also reported to have claimed that other prophets who have urged their governments to resist the pressures from Babylon are mistaken. The same source speculated whether in some way Jeremiah had been got at by the Chaldeans.
Clash of the Titans
In a massive confrontation today in the centre of Jerusalem, Hananiah and Jeremiah clashed over the future.
In a vivid display of authority, Hananiah smashed the yoke which Jeremiah has been wearing for the last five months, and announced that the fortunes of Judah are about to be revived, and all the valuables removed from Jerusalem to Babylon will be restored.
He reminded Jeremiah that he had become known as "Terror on every side" because he was always doom and gloom. Jeremiah in response claimed Hananiah was only as good as any of his successful prophecies -of which there were none. His chief concern, he claimed was not to worry about Babylon, but to address the urgent need for social reform. He also said Hananiah was going to die for ignoring God's word, a threat which Hananiah treated with contempt.
It is good in these troubled times that there are men like him who are willing rise above these petty social concerns and proclaim their optimism.
The King's Senior minister insisted that Hananiah was reinforcing government policy and intentions. The future for the nation is golden he insisted.
Death of Prophet
Hananiah the Prophet was reported to have died today. He was a senior figure in Jerusalem society, and a strong supported of King Zedekiah and his government. A tribute from the King is found on page three.
Death of Royal Family
The military governor of Jerusalem has announced that Zedekiah, former king of Judah had been tried by a military court for rebellion and had been sentenced to blinding and imprisonment in Babylon. He also announced that Zedekiah's sons who had also been condemned had been executed prior to Zedekiah's punishment.
Those snippets give a sketch of the history of Jeremiah's dealings with the King and authorities in Jerusalem. But Old Testament prophecy was not confined to a few major figures. Prophecy was not a function limited to a few people. We hear of bands of prophets. We also read elsewhere in the Old Testament the cry "Would that all God's people were prophets!"
The notion of foretelling the future is not the key activity in the work of prophecy in Old Testament times Rather it is trying to look at what is going on through God's eyes in the world around the prophet, and trying to suggest what is likely to happen.
To say that might simply suggest that prophecy was a purely human activity. The prophet, or at least the ones whose words have come down to us in the records were people who lived close to God, and were therefore used by God. What they said was the result of a unique combination of making themselves open to divine inspiration alongside using their own powers of mind, which resulted in words which so often had significance far beyond that which they realised.
Prophecy was not a gift confined to Old Testament times. Looking at the world through God's eye and divining what is his will, the characteristic of prophecy has been found throughout the years since the Old Testament time . It is a task to which all of us could be called if we will it.
Jeremiah was agin the government, and it is clear that there will be times when the modem prophet may be in that position too. Not always though. But whether for or against the government, the modern prophet just like the ancient one has to be prepared to look at the world through fresh eyes and in so doing to begin to discern what the future may hold.
The past may well have things to tell us, but not always. To give you one example. All the military experts in our newspapers predicted that the bombing offensive in Kosova could not succeed without actively invading with ground troops. They used the wisdom of the past - but this time at least they were confounded.
The past may indeed have lessons, but the prophet with God's help can see beyond those lessons.
But being a prophet was not easy. Jeremiah went against what would seem to be common sense. He argued that submission to Babylon would actually be a time of opportunity for the essential social reforms, but that was not a message people wanted to hear. And he did not do what God commanded without pain and a price.
We heard in our first lesson one of his complaints about the way God was using him. It is one of four such. If you want a quiet life, an easy run, stay away from God.
The words of commission for Jesus own disciples part of which we heard in our gospel lesson includes in the preceding verses comments such as "brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. All men will hate you because of me but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."
Jeremiah would have understood that. His sense of call and his obedience to God were unshaken in spite of opposition from other religious leaders and from friends. He did not compromise God's message however unpalatable it was.
So there is a challenge for us today as there was for him. Are we in danger of watering down God's message in order to court popularity? Are we willing to speak out when God's standards are flouted? Will the voice of prophecy be heard in our society today - and will we be part of it?
I do not find that an easy challenge.
I believe we may be called to be prophets. I believe that we will certainly be called to look at life, and to live it in ways which may well run counter to accepted human wisdom And I recognise, as I am sure you do our difficulties and weakness. But as Jesus reminded his disciple the love of God for us is beyond all comprehension. Loyalty to him will not ensure against disaster, but God knows and is caringly present. He will not forsake us.
Yes, discipleship is costly. It will challenge our lives for there are choices to be made. But it is the path on which we claim to have set our feet. So in the week that lies ahead, let us pray that we may respond to the prompting of God in all we do - to prophesy where that is demanded of us, and to strive to live life of discipleship in response to the love of God who in Jesus showed us how, and died to make it possible for us to do so.
John Stubbs, June 2002
For those of an inquiring turn of mind, the Hebrew characters above are the result of changing font to Hebrew on the words: 'Jerusalem Times' !