Proper 24: 16th October 2022
Reflection (the day’s readings are below)
Jeremiah’s words begin with multiple references to seeds and sowing and planting which remind me of the story of the Garden of Eden where God plants a garden and from the earth forms both humans and animals. God’s garden is created as a place of harmony and interdepend relationships. Maybe that is also in Jeremiah’s mind too. He goes onto to talk of a new covenant between God and the people. Past sins will be expunged and a new relationship of intimacy will be established between God and humanity. That is certainly something we would value! And it is a relationship offered to us through Christ Jesus. It is a relationship we are invited to share far and wide: it is the good news of the gospel.
(The saying about eating sour grapes also appears in the Book of Ezekiel with the same message that God does not punish children for the sins of their parents: we are responsible for our own sins – including that of continuing to burn fossil fuels.)
Our relationship with God, with Christ Jesus, is about living according to God’s ways. We frequently ask how we should live and what we should do in the face of an increasing number of crises – climate change, biodiversity loss, economic inequalities, rising fuel costs – and the heart of the answer is in following God’s ways. If we all – rich and poor, businesses and consumers, governments, agriculturalists, scientists and politicians – embraced and lived according to the premise ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ the world would be a radically different place. Yet we find this command hard to put into practice, perhaps because so much that is antithetical to it is bound up in the systems in which we live. And it is hard for the average Christian to move outside those systems – even when the psalmist entices us with the words that God’s ways are sweeter than honey – but surely not impossible? And surely not impossible to at least try?
The writer of 2 Timothy understands the dilemma too. Humans are apt to tire of hearing the same message – their have ‘itching ears’ and want to hear something new, something that offers large rewards and quick results.
Tax cuts will make me rich? Yes I want that! New oil wells will solve the energy crisis? Yes I want that! Less regulation will boost the economy? Yes I want that! Less government regulation will make me happy? Yes I want that! A new iPhone will transform my life? Yes I want that?
As messengers of the gospel we may need to find new and engaging ways of sharing the good news, ways that will speak with relevance to today’s generation. Can we tell the gospel with new stories? Can we reach out beyond our traditional times and places of preaching? Can we make use of the diversity of mediums at our disposal? Can we better use the diversity and multiplicity of the gifts we each have? We need, like the widow, to be confident of our cause and willing to persist – to persist both in prayer and in sharing the gospel. In that we must encourage one another.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
97 Oh, how I love your law! *
all the day long it is in my mind.
98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, *
and it is always with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, *
for your decrees are my study.
100 I am wiser than the elders, *
because I observe your commandments.
101 I restrain my feet from every evil way, *
that I may keep your word.
102 I do not shrink from your judgments, *
because you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste! *
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
104 Through your commandments I gain understanding; *
therefore I hate every lying way.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”