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Isaiah and Jeremiah
Being a man with four children I have suffered many a long car journey – as most of you know it is barely possible to settle to a comfortable driving position before there is a little voice from the back “Are we nearly there yet?” and the more the exciting the destination the sooner this starts and the worse and more irritating it is. So, when I was to travel to Mystic Seaport, a small beautiful leisure boating resort on the Connecticut coast with a work colleague, I happily suggested that we travel from Newark airport by car together. Even as we made our way from the overnight transatlantic plane to collect the car, Karl began to show his character. “I expect they will have lost our booking”, he said, quickly followed by “They won’t have the model we ordered you know” (well somehow they never do!) and so he went on. Having set off I cheerfully said “Well that’s good we will be there in time for dinner.” “Well if we don’t rum out of petrol first”, and “look over there, there is a storm brewing and that will jam us up! And Karl continued in this way for the whole 125 miles – “I hope this next bridge is not closed, I am sure we took the wrong turning back there, we are bound to get lost now we are off the main roads, never mind I wasn’t really hungry anyway.”
I recognised quickly of course that I had a Jeremiah in my car! I would have ever so much preferred an Isaiah: As we heard this morning he is far more optimistic:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me and I come to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And indeed when we reach Advent we will read Isaiah for a few weeks and you will discover that I love his poetry, his soaring beautiful language, his wisdom and his optimism. I rather think that we all do, most especially those passages further immortalised by Handel in the Messiah for example “Comfort ye my people.”
But this morning, on Bible Sunday, I want to speak up for Jeremiah. He was born around one hundred years after Isaiah and he did not enjoy the advantages of Isaiah’s privileged aristocratic upbringing in Jerusalem but rather Jeremiah came from a small northern Judean town, he was the son of a high priest but a priest who had lived through the reign of Masseneh, one of the very worst of the Kings who reigned for fifty-two years and painted one of the blackest periods of the country’s history. He even burnt his own son on an title ar to pagan idols.
Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the victory of the Babylonians but his words of warning were deeply unpopular. Jeremiah was thrown into prison and his writings were cut into tiny pieces and burnt. His book is full of accounts of his personal struggles, his confessions and his self doubts. Our modern day word Jeremiad which means a doleful lament comes from his characteristic tone of voice.
As we heard:
“Have you completely rejected Judah?
But is his label “The prophet of doom” entirely fair? Despite all his difficulties, including his own reluctance to be a prophet at all Jeremiah carries on absolutely faithful to the word of God and convinced that despite all of the bad things that are to come, God will not forget and will ultimately save his people. Jeremiah despite his certainty that Judah will fall to the Babylonians and while still in jail and with Jerusalem under siege buys a piece of land in the countryside : this would be like one of us deciding to buy a retirement apartment in Baghdad in the days immediately preceding the fall of Saddam Hussein! Jeremiah had a real and living faith and it is he who when writing later to the exiles in Babylon introduces the idea of a new Covenant: In his letter he says this:
“The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” “I will be their God and they will be my people.”
So you see Jeremiah is really a prophet of enormous HOPE and it may be that in today’s world with the advance of secularism, with people of all faiths feeling under siege and under suspicion that Jeremiah has much to say to us now about persistence, diligence in the face of obstacles that seem too great for us to overcome, and holding on to the PROMISE that God will restore us to Paradise.
Let us remember that even Karl, my Jeremiah in the passenger seat, despite all his forebodings and predictions of disaster still after all came!!