21st August 2022
(The readings follow on after the reflection)
Both the psalm and the passage from Jeremiah concur: God is our creator, the source of being and of our ongoing existence from the beginning. Throughout life God is present and is our sustainer, our rock and stronghold, our hope – and the one who calls us to act. The writer of Hebrews describes the otherness of God – but this is not an otherness that is fearsome and terrifying. Rather it is an otherness reflected in joyful festivities and community and new beginnings and the saving grace of Jesus. Ours is a God who offers hope and salvation!
The passage from Hebrews presents us with a God who can and will transform the world. And in the gospel, we see Jesus doing just that. He transform the life of the woman with a deformed back (and presumably changes too the life of her family) and he transforms the local people’s understanding of God’s law, showing them a different way of interpreting the law and understanding the nature of the world God has in mind.
From our first reading comes the word of the Lord saying “ pluck up and to pull down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant”. And that is what Jesus does in the gospel reading. He ‘plucks up and pulls down’ the traditional understanding of the law and ‘builds and plants’ something new and life enhancing in its place. Jeremiah, to whom the Lord had been speaking, was given the hard task of taking that message to the people of Judah. Jeremiah knew that the people had strayed away from correctly understanding and living according to God’s word. He knew that if they continued this way of living that they would be overrun by one of the competing superpowers that then ruled the world. Jeremiah was nevertheless convinced that whatever evil befell God’s people, there would be a time of renewal and restoration – of ‘building and planting’ according to God’s will.
Sadly Jeremiah did not see this renewal in his own life time, but he believed that it would happen. Later in the book, it tells how Jeremiah bought some land in Jerusalem – even though the city was about to be overrun by the invading force of the Assyrian army – to show his confidence that there would be a future for God’s people in that city. Jeremiah showed the kind of faith we heard of a few weeks ago in the Letter to the Hebrews – ‘faith [that] is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’.
Our hope is that the world will withstand the worst ravages of the climate crisis, and be restored – be re-built and planted – as intended by God. To demonstrate our faith in this is to actively live as if that future were happening now. We are called to,show how the world could, and can, be transformed. The way we live should be an example of sustainable living. The way we live should demonstrate care for creation, care for wildlife and live stock (including the welfare of donkeys and oxen), and care for our fellow humans especially those whose lives are stunted by the complaints – the ills – of our current age. Those affected by drought and wildfires, by floods and the denuding of the soil. Those affected by disease and war. Those affected by poverty and discrimination. Those affected by rising sea levels and receding rivers.
That is what groups such as Christian Climate Action and Christian Aid are campaigning for. It is what groups like Toilet Twinning and Practical Action are working for on the ground. It is what A Rocha does in enabling Christians to be environmentally aware.
This is what we as Christian communities – churches – can be embracing and supporting. We need to show the confidence that Jesus showed in healing the woman – doing what is right, regardless of what others may be saying, regardless of convention says, because doing what is right is what God wants. We need to show confidence in demonstrating how the world God gave us can be healed.
The word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.