Tag Archives: Hope

Two-sided picture

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah might have been forgiven for thinking God had a grudge against him when God chose him to be a prophet. But when many supposed God to be dead or slumbering, Jeremiah had to tell them that, far from it, God was active, chastening his people in the presence of their oppressors. In all that was happening to them, hard though it was to accept or understand, God was working his purpose out. Jeremiah was certain that he was entrusted with a Word from the Lord and that he must proclaim it. Nevertheless there were occasions when he wished, as did The Great Messenger still to come, the Lord Jesus, that God would take the cup from him. There is a passage in the story of his life and mission that explains his dilemma, described as “one of the most impressive and most revealing passages in all the writings by the prophets”.

If I say, I will not make mention of Him, or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20: 9)

Here, in Chapter 20, the soul of Jeremiah is exposed and disclosed in his bleakest and darkest hour. He curses the day he was born. He is driven to the depths of despair. He was flogged and put in the stocks and thrown into a pit – and this is just part of the mockery and suffering he endured, the cost of loyalty to his Calling. Derision is hard to take, worse than violent blows, and few can cope with it. Jeremiah began to think himself a failure. He blames God for getting him into this sorry mess. God is still the subject of blame.

But there is another side to his story. There comes a time when Jeremiah is in prison and, during this time, he does a very unusual thing. From his cell in a city besieged, and his hopes daily diminished, Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. He was a native of Anathoth and the land, left in the hands of his cousin Hanamel, Jeremiah had a right to purchase. Jeremiah bought it and in a single act reveals the religion of a Great Heart. Jeremiah had every reason to think that his incarceration was nothing less than a life sentence. What was a man in his position wanting to do with a piece of land? Folk must have concluded that he was completely round the bend. There was every possibility that in a few years there would be no Hebrew land left. But Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. In Jeremiah’s darkness a light shone, admittedly at times a mere flicker, but still a glimmer of hope – a light that cannot be quenched. The troubles he had seen and borne made him conscious of a resource in God, providing us with a double-sided picture of a true man of God whose faith sustained him. He does not warrant the reputation that has pursued him down the centuries. A pity there would appear to be very few babies who are given his name.

In a German concentration camp, imprisoned because he would not compromise his faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the cost of discipleship (for him it was martyrdom) and there is a prayer to which Jeremiah could subscribe – to which hopefully we might say Amen however we might be confused by God.

In me there is darkness – but with thee there is light – I am lonely but thou leavest me not –I am restless but with thee there is peace – in me there is bitterness but with thee there is patience – thy ways are past understanding – but thou knowest the way for me!

Live in hope : continue in faith

The Second Coming of Christ window at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. By Cadetgray (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Second Coming of Christ window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. By Cadetgray (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commons

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, no one but the Father alone. Matthew 24: 36

Horoscopes are, or were, a popular feature in magazines and tabloid press: popular with people who believe that the stars can tell them what is going to happen in the coming week, month or year. When I was but a lad there were known ladies who could tell your future by reading tea cups, empty ones of course, to allow the pattern of tea leaves sticking to the inside of the cup to take shape tell you the good news or the bad – mostly the bad! Popular and basically harmless, some church ladies considered they were of the devil and the advent of the tea bag may have put an end to it. You and I may not resort to the gypsy lady and her crystal ball in her caravan at the fairground. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we may have to admit at some time or another to ‘star gazing’, looking beyond and ahead of ourselves in the hope of being able to predict what the future has in store. In some religious circles there are people who claim to possess powers which enable them to tell when and how the world will end, the manner and the circumstance in which Jesus will come among us again. Present them with this judgement and they call on the authority of Scripture in support of their theories. The passages which they quote are among the more obscure, consisting of pictures and imagery that do not make easy or comfortable reading. The tendency of those self-acclaimed prophets is not to promise marvel or surprise but to herald doom and gloom. Our criticism calls for a certain amount of caution.

This reflection is headed by a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew (24:36) – we should be shaking in our shoes! It is from one of those passages with which a religious speculator or crank can have a field day. All the ingredients are there: nation making war with nations, famines, earthquakes, lawlessness, distress such as the world has never known, the sun and moon eclipsed, stars tumbling from the sky, lightning and vultures. It is an odd passage which leaves us ill at ease – we are in the company of those whose hobby is to match the signs of the times with the strange end of time sayings in the Bible; bits of Scripture that may be difficult for us but which did not present the same problem to the Hebrews in the first century AD. For generations, they looked forward to that final victory by God in the conquest of the wold and its people. They called it the Day of the Lord and their prophets assured them that before it happened there would be a great outburst of evil and the sun and the moon would be darkened. A fearsome prospect, a strange way to celebrate conquest and victory, demanding that questions be answered as to credibility, opening the way for speculation.

Let us remind ourselves again that we are looking at a passage which is concerned with our Lord’s return to earth to establish and complete God’s kingdom. A time we sing about in the hymn When Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King. Matthew knew nothing of other planets or worlds. But we have this knowledge and we are trying to accept that science fiction may not always comprise the impossible or make-believe. That may be ‘heretical’ perhaps, but back to Matthew. He quotes Jesus on the subject with all the ‘horrendous’ happenings He says will herald His Second Coming and the end of time as we know it. Not easy to take in, not a simple concept. Added to which the apparent contradiction where it says people will be able to recognise that great and glorious day of the Lord. But we are also told no one knows when Jesus will return to complete his unfinished business. The angels are not privy to it; surprisingly and puzzlingly Jesus does not know, God alone knows! And when it happens, it will come suddenly like a rain storm out of a clear blue sky. What is more, it will happen in Matthew’s lifetime. One explanation is that Matthew may have inserted it, or done a little embellishment of the text, as he was wont to do.

What does it say to us? We are on a familiar and well-trodden track so there is little need to tell the whole story. This slender synopsis of a difficult and disturbing Gospel passage will not answer all our questions about the unknown future. Does it matter? Whatever the future, today, tomorrow or beyond, does it matter when or how it all comes about? What does matter is the promise of Jesus that, come what may, ‘I will be with you always to the end of time.’ Or Paul’s testimony, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.’

Do not despair! Live in hope! Continue in faith!