“Thus Saith the Lord: I Miss You” – Sermon for August 28, 2016

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“I am the Lord thy God; Thou shall have no other gods before me” Sculpture near the Cathedral of Resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ (Russian Orthodox), Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

“I am the Lord thy God; Thou shall have no other gods before me” – Sculpture near the Cathedral of Resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ (Russian Orthodox), Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

“Thus Saith the Lord:  I Miss You”

A Sermon on Jeremiah 2:4-13 for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C; preached August 28, 2016, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister

 

For some of us, quite a lot has gone into getting here this morning.  All of us, of course, had to get up early enough—not always something we’re eager to do on a Sunday.  We had to get dressed, perhaps eat some breakfast… or do our hair… or get the medications taken.  We had to walk down the hill, or across campus, or drive on over from Willington or Andover or Ellington or Thompson.

But for some of us, we had to get the kids ready, too—which can be no small feat.  Or we had to do the chores, feed the pets, find our keys which we never can seem to keep track of.

In particular, though, I’m thinking of all of you here this morning who are UConn students.  For you to be here today, you didn’t just have to walk across campus.  You had to wait through the traffic backups on 195 or Discovery Drive.  You had to jockey for parking spots, wait for keys, carry that refrigerator up too many stairs.  Before that, you had to load that refrigerator—and the clothes, the iPhone chargers, the storage bins—into the car, and drive the half hour or hour-and-a-half out here to the land of Horsebarn Hill.

Moreover, though, you had to write the papers and take the exams and participate in the extra-curriculars that you could write about on your application.  You had to pass 9th-grade Algebra, and 5th grade social studies, and do the 2nd grade science project.  In fact, even learning your A-B-Cs and figuring out how to button a button, say “thank you” to your parents, interact cooperatively with your friends—all of that has been part of what has gone into your getting here this morning.  All of that, from the shoe-tying in kindergarten to the adventure to the bookstore yesterday with your new roommate, has taken its place in the story of where you’ve come from in order to get here now.

The stories we tell about ourselves—who we are, whose we are, where we come from, how we got here—they are so important.  Imagine… what would Apple Computer be without the two Steves tinkering in their parents’ garage in Los Altos?  Who would that Jamaican bobsled team have been without the second-hand bobsleds and the fierce competition from far-more-experienced rivals?  More seriously, what would New Englanders be without the Mayflower and the Puritans, Paul Revere and his lanterns, milltowns and their Catholic immigrant enclaves, maple syrup, lobsters, and all the rest?

And what would the Israelite people—God’s people as we hear about them in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament—what and where would they be without the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  And most importantly, who and where would they be without the story of their deliverance by God out of slavery in Egypt and into new life in the ‘promised land’?  Who are the Israelites without the Exodus?  Who are they without the God who made the Exodus possible?

Except, you see… that’s just it.

The people didn’t tell the story anymore.

The people didn’t tell the story anymore.

They did not call upon the name of the God who brought them up out of Egypt, and they did not recite the tale, the story, the confession of faith, that recounted just who they were and whose they were.  “They did not say…”—our scripture reading testified—“They did not say ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness…’”  Their collective memory was lost, it would seem.  And in forgetting the story, they forgot the God who made them, their story, and all of our stories, possible.  “My people have changed their glory for something that does not profit … they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water.”

The truth is, we are constantly in danger of forgetting our story.  In fact, we do it all the time—we’ve done it down through the ages.  I don’t mean that all of us here today are suddenly going to forget which road we drove on to get here, or what high school we just graduated from.  No, rather, it’s the deeper story we forget, the deeper story of who we are, the even-more-true story of where we come from.  It’s a truth of where we come from that doesn’t change even when we move across the continent and disavow any connection to our birthplace.  It’s that story, true and indelible as it is, that we nevertheless seem to forget all too often.

You see, the true story of who we are and where we come from, it is that we ourselves—our very lives themselves, and everything it takes to sustain those lives—that we come from the gracious divine gift of none other than God God’s-self.  None of what we are or what we have or what we can do is a right we’re entitled to.  None of it is an achievement we’ve accomplished.  All of it has been “received at the hand of a God who loves all and wills the well-being of every person.”[1]

But we forget that.  Or at the very least, we forget to tell it, to tell that story.  And in the void, in the vacuum left by our silence or outright amnesia, other stories come swooping in:  the widespread Western cultural story that we are what we possess; or that pervasive American myth of everyone pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, a story that leads us to blame the victims of our society’s injustices for not trying hard enough.  Sometimes, though, it won’t be these grand cultural narratives, but the little demonic tales that crop up in our own heads and hearts:  the one that says if I don’t get this thing right, he’s going to abandon me; or the one that says I’m only worth the things I can do, and when I can’t do any longer, well, then, I must not be worth much anymore.

None of these tales are the true stories of who we are.  They are merely the tall tales that creep in when we stop reciting the true confession of whose we are and where we come from.  They are merely the cisterns we start digging out for ourselves when we forget and forsake the One who is the fount of living water itself.

§

Even though the Israelites apparently had forgotten the story, and forgotten even the God who made their story possible, the witness Jeremiah gives us this morning is that God did not forget them.  Of course, what we heard in the passage read this morning sounds like accusation, perhaps even judgment.  Admittedly, this may have seemed like a strange word to be greeted by on Welcome Back weekend.  But listen deeper, my friends, and in these words you will hear the truth that, even while the people forgot about God, God had not—and would not—forget about the people.  In fact, if anything, do we not hear now the pain of a God who yearns to still be in relationship with these people, a God whose waters still flow with life, if only the people would come and drink, a God whose word at its root is quite simple:  “I miss you.”  As famous biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, “[The Lord] does not want simply to terminate the relationship, but is willing to struggle, perhaps to fix blame, perhaps also to recover the relationship.”[2]  The word of accusation and challenge is itself a sign of love, a sign of God’s fidelity, an invitation to turn and return, to discover again the fountain from which the true living water flows.

§

The stories we inhabit of who we are, where we come from, where we are going, they are not fatalistic prisons that lock us into destinies from which we cannot escape.  For those of us here this morning at the thresholds of new journeys—of college life itself, of a new year of growth and discovery at any age—where the next chapter leads does not have to be determined solely by what is past.

But as our new chapters emerge, we are invited to find our best story, our truest story of who we are, wrapped up in the great story for which God has created us—in the story that tells of a God who wants nothing more than to offer us life, and life abundantly.  Finding that life-giving path doesn’t require us to steel-up our abilities to be the best that we can be.  It doesn’t necessitate us searching to the ends of the earth for some new identity or new story so far-fetched or exotic.  It doesn’t ask us to offer up some sacrifice outside ourselves that seems beyond our reach.

Come to think of it, there happens to be another scene in the Hebrew prophets where God’s anguish over a people who have lost their story sounds forth in a similar courtroom-like accusation to the one we’ve heard from Jeremiah today.  In response to that testimony, the voice of the people pleads with the hearer:  what do I have to do?  Do I have to offer up thousands of animal sacrifices, pour out countless rivers of oil, perhaps even offer up my own child and my own future?

By no means.  God has already offered the true and life-giving story.  God has already brought us out of Egypt and carried us through the waters.  God has already emptied the tomb and welcomed us into new life.  And God has already shown us how we find–and how we tell and re-tell–the story of our fullest, truest, most authentic selves.  “And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice.  To love kindness.  And to walk humbly with God.”

Friends, sisters and brothers, beloveds:  walk humbly with the God who misses you—yes, you.  Walk humbly with the God who loves you—yes, you.  And in walking humbly with God, find yourself led forward by God into the most real and most true story of where you’ve come from that will ever be told.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God, now and forever.  Amen.


[1] Sally A. Brown, homiletical commentary on Jeremiah 2:4-13, in Feasting on the Word:  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 5

[2] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1998), 35.

 

 

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