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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Quitman, Mississippi
January 29, 2012
(Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Topic: “Is There Any Word From The Lord?” (Jeremiah 37:17)

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 37:17 (NRS Version)

17 Then King Zedekiah sent for him, and received him. The king questioned him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?” Jeremiah said, “There is!” Then he said, “You shall be handed over to the king of Babylon.”

Word comes from God for Jeremiah to take a scroll and write the words that God gives to him concerning Israel and Judah and all the nations. It is God’s hope that when Judah hears of all the disasters that God plans to bring on her she will turn from her ways and he will forgive them.

Jeremiah calls Baruch to be his scribe and to write what Jeremiah dictates to him. What he wants Baruch to write are the words given to him by God.

When they are finished Jeremiah tells Baruch that he is forbidden from entering the house of the Lord and that he is to take the scroll, enter God’s house, and read the words of the Lord from the scroll.

Jeremiah’s hope is God’s hope, and that is that when they hear the word, they will turn from their ways.

Baruch does as he is told. People have come from all over Judah to Jerusalem and Baruch reads.

Micaiah, son of Geramiah hears what Baruch reads and heads straight over to the Kings house and reports what he has heard to all those in the secretaries chamber.

They send Jehudi and Shelemiah to Baruch, telling him to bring the scroll and come see them. He does.

They tell him to sit down and read it to them so that they might hear for themselves. When he is finished they decide that they really should go to the King and tell him what is in the scroll.

Before they do they question Baruch asking him if he wrote these words or was it dictation? Baruch tells them that he Jeremiah had dictated it and he wrote it down. The officials tell Baruch to take Jeremiah and hide, and not to let anyone know where they were.

Baruch leaves and leaves the scroll in their hands. They take it to the king and report to him what they have heard.

The king sends Jehudi to get the scroll and bring it to him and to read it to him and all those in the room with him. The king was sitting in his winter apartment with a fire burning. As Jehudi would read, unrolling the scroll as he went, the king would take what had been read, cut it off with a knife and throw it in the fire.

The words of God, given to Jeremiah, written by Baruch, did not have the desired effect. They were not alarmed and they did not tear their clothing in penance.

The king sends three men, Jerahmeel, Seraiah, and Shelemiah to find and arrest Baruch and Jeremiah. God hides them so that they cannot be found.

The word of God comes to Jeremiah again and tells him to take a scroll and write the same words as before. When it is finished you are to say to King Jehoiakim, “You have dared to burn this scroll, saying, Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it human beings and animals? Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring on them, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah, all the disasters with which I have threatened them—” (Jeremiah 37:29b-31a)

They didn’t listen to him this time either.

At some point, exactly when is unclear, the Chaldeans come and besiege the city of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah sends Jehucal and the priest Zephaniah, to Jeremiah saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 37:3)

King Zedekiah is worried but then word comes that Pharaoh’s army is on the way. When the Chaldeans hear this they withdraw from the city. God says to Jeremiah, “Tell the king that Pharaoh’s army will soon return home and the Chaldeans will return, they will fight against the city, they shall take it, and burn it. Don’t sit there and say, the Chaldeans will surely go away from us, because they are not going to leave. Even if their whole army is decimated and all that remains is wounded men in their tents, they will rise up and burn this city with fire.” (Jeremiah 37:7,8)

While the Chaldeans had withdrawn, Jeremiah decides to take his leave and go home to the land of Benjamin because that is where his people are. But when he reaches the Benjamin Gate a sentinel named Irijah stops him and accuses him of defecting to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah tells him that is not true but it does not good and he is arrested.

He is taken to the house that had been made into a prison and stays there many days.

King Zedekiah sends for him secretly and questions him, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

Jeremiah says, “There is!” “You shall be handed over to the king of Babylon.”

Every week people ask: “Is there any word from the Lord?”

“I have lost my job – Is there any word from the Lord?”

“My retirement funds are almost gone – Is there any word from the Lord?”

“I may lose my house – Is there any word from the Lord?”

“My depression is worse – Is there any word from the Lord?”

“My children are not as I raised them – Is there any word from the Lord?”

“My mother (or father) needs nursing care – Is there any word from the Lord?”

Every week people come to church, sit in the pews, and ask – “Is there any word from the Lord?”

The answer to that question is the answer that Jeremiah gave to King Zedekiah, “Yes, there is!”

The word of God is out there, surrounding us, infiltrating us, we just don’t see it.

In an interview about her new book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor made an interesting observation.

She was asked, Why do we “miss” the sacred in our daily lives? Why are we often blind to it?

And here is her answer, “I think a number of us have been taught to look up into the sky for the divine instead of down at the ground under our feet. I also think a lot of us have been taught to devalue our daily experience as being secular, mundane, unholy, and yet the teaching I have received in my life points me to the earth and even encourages me not to draw such hard lines between heaven/earth, sacred/secular, everyday/mystical. I was trying to blur the lines between some dualities in spirituality that I don’t find helpful.”

I agree with her. We are creatures precariously balanced between the mundane and the divine. Most of what we do daily consists in the realm of the mundane. But always lurking just at the edge is the divine, the word from God. Most of the time all we have to do is to acknowledge that it is there and then wait on it to arrive in our consciousness. We can experience the divine in the mundane. But we also run the risk of experiencing the mundane in the divine.

Sometimes when we are asking, “Is There Any Word From The Lord” the word is there, shouting at us as Jeremiah shouted his message. We just don’t see it.

OR

King Zedekiah had received the word from God, he just didn’t like the message. It was not what he wanted to hear so he cut it to pieces and threw it in the fire.

Sometimes the word from God is not the word we want so we ignore it, and do what we think. There is more danger here than not seeing the word at all. When we do this we take what God says, substitute what we say, and believe that we know better than God.

If memory serves, I believe that is what happened in the Garden when the serpent said to Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genesis 34:5)

So we ask, “Is There A Word From The Lord” and the Lord says, “Yes there is” but I say, “I don’t like that word Lord,” Then the serpent says, “Here, take a nice big bite of this and you will feel better.”

Of course it’s not always that dramatic. Remember in the story Jeremiah receives the word from the Lord, delivers that word to the king, but the king doesn’t like that word, so later he calls Jeremiah with the question, “Is There Any Word From The Lord?”

Well, king Zedekiah, there was a word, you rejected that word, what you are really asking is, “Is There Some Other Word From The Lord?”

God is not going to change the Word because we don’t hear the Word or don’t like the word. God’s word to us in this situation or that situation is consistent and unchanging.

God’s word is truth, period, end of story. King Zedekiah was given the truth, he didn’t like it, he ignored it, but it was still the truth. The truth did not change. Jeremiah told him that the Babylonians would come, take his city, and burn it. In the end, that is exactly what happened.

“Is There A Word From The Lord?” Why yes!, now that you mention it.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14,16)

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