Jeremiah’s Call and Desperate Times

 A sermon preached at Wine Before Breakfast on Jeremiah 1.4-19. At this service we also blessed our beloved friend, Andrew Asbil, in anticipation of his consecration as coadjutor bishop for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

 

We never seem to start in an easy place.

Indeed, it has become something of a tradition
that the first service of Wine Before Breakfast each fall
begins in a hard place,
usually with a difficult text.

Often it is a harsh place of grief,
an abrasive place of lament,
or a disquieting place of prophetic judgement.

And maybe that is because we began seventeen years ago
in such a hard place.

It was one week after the devastation of 9/11.

The smoke was still billowing from the World Trade Centre,
as the world braced for retaliation, for war,
for what has resulted in the destabilization of the whole middle east,
and a refugee crisis of unspeakable suffering.

So we began in lament and for the first WBB service every September
we return to lament.

While lament is never the end goal.
lament is simply indispensable,
if we are to break through numbness and embrace hope.

And so we come this year looking for hope.

We dare to imagine something as unlikely as hope before breakfast.

Hope at 7.22 on Tuesday mornings.

And to make it just a little more crazy,
for most of this semester we will turn to Jeremiah for such hope.

To find hope we turn to the weeping prophet
who bears nothing less than the grief of God.

We need to turn to Jeremiah, I think,
because our situation is so desperate.

Just before I began my sabbatical last January,
I had a conversation with a seasoned Christian pyscho-therapist,
and I said that it seemed that we were facing something of
an epidemic of depression.

She shook her head and said,
“Not depression, Brian … despair.”

An epidemic of despair,
born of betrayal, loss and

the death of hope.

Forgive me for quoting Bruce Cockburn,
but he kind of nailed this 30 years ago:

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage,

suddenly its repression, a moratorium of rights,
what did they think the politics of panic would invite.
It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first,
but the trouble with normal is it always get worse.

Normal politics, normal economics, normal consumption,
normal resource extraction, the normal ideological idolatry in high places,

all this normality seems to breed a culture of despair.

It feels like there is nothing that can be done.
There is a sense of devastating inevitability to it all.

That is, until a prophet shows up and
breaks through our numbness with grief,
shatters our ideologies with the word of God,
and discerns in the midst of the despair,
nothing less than the hand of God,
coming to judge and to set free,
coming to pluck up, tear down,
destroy and overthrow,
as the preface to
planting and building up.

You see, whether we are talking about social structures,
political institutions, economic systems, the church, the academy,
or our own personal lives,
there can be no hope,
no path beyond this culture of despair,
without tearing down those structures,
those patterns of life,
those ideologies and practices,
that have themselves created the despair.

Without prophetic critique,
hope before breakfast will be little more than

cheap optimism at best,
and a pious cover-up at worst.

Now here’s a curious thing.
Jeremiah sees things because the word of God
has been put in his mouth.

He eats a diet of the word of God
and his vision gets clearer.

The word of God takes hold of him,
burns deep inside him,
and he begins to see things.

And often enough, these are terrible visions.
Often enough he sees violence and destruction,

terror and collapse.

He has seen the future, and it is murder.

But, precisely because he has seen so clearly
that the house of cards of his government, economy and religious institutions
is about to collapse,
so also does he have a vision beyond the range of normal sight
to see a planting of hope where there was despair,
a building of shalom where there was destruction.

Let me now take a moment to say something to our beloved brother,
and bishop-elect of the Diocese of Toronto, Andrew Asbil.

Andrew, I do not presume to tell you that your calling as bishop
is the same as Jeremiah’s calling so long ago.

But my hunch is that there is much of Jeremiah’s call
that speaks into our situation as a church in this time and place.

There are things that need to be torn up and pulled down.
Things that the church has come to hold as sacred,

but are in fact holding the Spirit captive.

There are sacrosanct things that need to be destroyed and overthrown,
because they hinder the ministry of the gospel.

And I pray that you will have the wisdom, vision and courage
to know what those things are.

But Andrew, I also want to bear witness that yours is a ministry of hope.
Yours is a ministry of planting and building.

Yours is a ministry that doesn’t always need to be out front,
but often is quietly in the background,
having a beer with someone who needs a word of encouragement,
and sometimes a word of correction.

You know that grief is the doorway to hope.
You know that hope shines through tear-filled eyes.

And you have engaged in such a ministry of hope in this community
for seventeen years.

We are grateful for your leadership,
and for your continuing faithfulness to
this Wine Before Breakfast community.

And we are honoured to bless you and pray for you
as you are called to the ministry of bishop.

Now, finally, to the rest of the community.
There are no guarantees, beloved siblings in Christ,
that we will find hope before breakfast every Tuesday morning.

But I invite you to hold each other in hope.

I invite you to enter the story anew,
to have your imaginations set free by dwelling in the Word of God,
to so eat of the word that you can see with devastating clarity
what needs to be plucked up, torn down, destroyed and overthrown,
in our culture, and in your life,
and to so richly be fed in this community,
and at this table,
that hope will be renewed,
and together we will plant seeds of the kingdom,
and build a life of justice and shalom.

Amen

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

Leave a Reply