Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Flimsy Scarecrow

This sermon was given at our Evensong service on Sunday 24th June 2018. There had been much in the news that week about the US's policy of child-detention camps. The Old Testament reading that evening was Jeremiah 10:1-16.

Our Old Testament reading tonight is taken from the Book of Jeremiah. I don’t often go into historical detail about our readings, but I think – tonight – a brief overview would be helpful.

The Book of Jeremiah was written somewhere around 625-585 BC, so roughly about 2600 years ago. It was written mainly in Hebrew, and was written when the Jewish people in Judah were a subject state, being ruled over by the Egyptians, and then – after a war between Egypt and Babylon – by the Babylonians. 

Judah rebelled several times against Babylonian rule, but was, each time, defeated, until finally, Babylon crushed Judah, destroying Jerusalem and its temple, and sent the Jewish people into their famous Babylonian exile.

Given that background, our reading seems somewhat remarkable. Jeremiah – prophet in a defeated kingdom – calls out to his people to not be swayed by those in control; and to assert the power of the Jewish god – the, to all intents and purposes, defeated Jewish god – over the gods of the surrounding victorious nations.

You can imagine the cries of the victors; “Our gods are powerful, and yours is not! The gods have spoken! We won, you lost – get over it!

But Jeremiah counters. Your gods, he says, are man-made. They are wooden dolls that cannot move or speak of their own accord. You dress them in fine clothes and present them with riches, but they can hear nothing, say nothing, do nothing. Our god may be defeated, but he is real.

I have to admit, when I heard Jeremiah’s description of these idols as scarecrows in a cucumber field, my mind did trip over to an image of a certain orange-skinned reality-TV star-turned-politician, standing blinking at the sun, his straw-hair and big red tie flapping aimlessly in the wind. And, whereas this is not the comparison Jeremiah is making – he, after-all is talking about a lifeless, bloated, dead-behind-the-eyes puppet, and not– er… I forget where I’m going with this.

Some form of orange trumpkin scarecrow...

But, seriously, Jeremiah is specifically calling out that these idols are inanimate; they are not living and can do no good nor evil. One could not say this about a certain US president, especially after the news we have heard in recent weeks about the US’s child-migrant separation policy. Unlike a wooden idol, Trump's decisions and policies have real impacts on real lives.

But one thing is certain – and it is the stressed element of our reading. 

You have probably not have spotted it, but, had you been living 2600 years ago, you certainly would have done so.

I said, at the start of my talk that the book of Jeremiah was written mainly in Hebrew. There’s one passage – one tiny verse in the whole of the book of Jeremiah – that is written in another language; in Aramaic. And that passage was read out tonight.

It’s verse 11 – and hearing this in another language would have made you sit up and take note. It says this: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.

And who’d have thought that 2600 years after that passage was written how true it would be? For who now can name the mighty gods of Babylon? Who can name more than one or two of the pantheon of the once-great Egyptian deities? And even amongst those whose names are known, which of these deities is now still worshipped? Those gods have perished.

Who knew? Jeremiah knew. He knew that these gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth would pass away from the earth and under the heavens. He knew that the Lord – the creator of all things – would prevail, no matter how defeated he looked.

And the same goes for our modern idols; for those who wish to make a name for themselves and to be remembered. In two hundred years, who will remember the name Donald Trump, save for a sordid page in our history books? In two thousand years, who still will care about him? He did not make the heavens or the earth. He will not prevail.

But the Lord? Two thousand six hundred years after those words from Jeremiah were written, the Lord is still known. He is still worshipped. And in another two thousand six hundred years, he still will be.

And so – even when all seems lost, even when God seems defeated and evil seems to prevail, remember the words of Jeremiah: do not be dismayed at the signs of the heavens as the nations are dismayed at them – for God will prevail. He is, as Jeremiah says, the one who formed all things. The Lord of hosts is his name, and his name will last for ever.


No comments:

Post a Comment