Monday, June 30, 2014
There were two prophets
Jeremiah 28: 1-11, OT pages 730-731 In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jaconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went his way. Sermon There were two mechanics we took that old car to when the break light came on. We were both in graduate school, and in-between classes I took that car to the other side of town to a mechanic we heard was cheap. He asked me what was the problem, and I told him that the break light was on and I wanted it off. He told me that all the breaks needed to be replaced, but I could probably get by with just having the back ones done. I told him that we had a deal. After all, the first guy we went to, the neighborhood mechanic, he insisted that we have the front and the rear brakes done, which of course, would cost twice as much, so I told him that I’d have to take the car to be worked on somewhere else. He handed me the keys, wished me good luck, I walked out of his shop, and as I did the last thing I heard was him singing, “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me.” And just as there were two mechanics there are also two prophets in our second Scripture lesson. One of them, the first, his name was Hananiah, and having seen the despair of his people, having watched tears roll down their cheeks, he wants to give them something to believe in. People need hope in times of occupation. And King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had taken much, controlled much, and as an illustration of Babylon’s oppression the Prophet Jeremiah wears a wooden yoke around his neck – now isn’t that depressing? So Hananiah stands before the crowd at the Temple to rekindle their faith – to give them something to believe in. After all – did God not free the people from slavery in Egypt? If our liberating God is alive and well then surely our God will save us now. The message sounds good and it’s what the people want to hear, and saying it should show that old pessimistic Jeremiah, the prophet who keeps saying that if you think things are bad now, beware because things are about to get even worse. After Hananiah speaks his uplifting word, Jeremiah - he doesn’t disagree. Instead he hopes that Hananiah is right saying: “Amen! May the Lord do so… but listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people… As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” Hananiah doesn’t say anything in response to Jeremiah’s statement, but as a sign of his faith in the power of God and in the truth of his prophetic declaration, Hananiah takes the yoke that Jeremiah wore around his neck as a sign of Babylon’s oppression and he broke it before all the people. At this the prophet Jeremiah went his way, and while the crowd cheered and Hananiah bowed, I can imagine Jeremiah singing to himself as he left the Temple, “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me.” The people listen to Hananiah, and Jeremiah’s wooden yoke, now broken on the floor of the Temple, will soon enough be replaced by an even heavier burden of oppression – for so often we forsake the truth spoken out of love in favor of the one who tells us what we want to hear. The truth. It won’t always get the applause or the public approval ratings. But ignoring the hard and inconvenient truth is as dangerous as driving through Atlanta with only your rear brakes fully functional. So there were two mechanics and there were two prophets, just as there were two voices that spoke out before we invaded Iraq, and there were two paths for Christians to follow in Nazi Germany. The Presbyterian Church is a confessing church, meaning that we affirm many ways that Christians have articulated their beliefs in the last 2,000 years. The Barman Declaration that we will use in place of the Apostles’ Creed today is one such articulation of belief. In 1934, after a year of life in Hitler’s Germany where so many Christians saw no conflict between their faith in Christ and the ideals of Hitler’s National Socialism, there was a small group of pastors who gathered along with the great theologian Karl Barth to articulate an appeal for Christians to stand firm against the easy path of accommodation. In this strong declaration that rejects so many false doctrines and easy solutions are the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” There were two mechanics, two prophets, two paths to take in Nazi Germany, and there are two voices in our world today. One is loud, it’s incessant. It preaches a gospel of easy solutions and false hope. In times of war it speaks from a soap box of vengeance and fear. And if it speaks out of love – know that it only loves you enough to tell you what you want to hear, so listen instead to the voice who loves you enough to tell you the truth. This voice can seem to be only a whisper, but like Jeremiah the prophet who leaves the Temple only to suffer with the people through their captivity, the voice of truth is with you always. And isn’t it about time that you started listening. Amen.