The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 8A (6/29/2008)

The Word of the Lord

Lessons:      Jeremiah 28:5-9      Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18      Romans 6:12-23      St. Matthew 10:40-42

Prayer of the Day:     O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

28.5 Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6 and the prophet Jeremiah said, "Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7 But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8 The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet."

Jeremiah 28:5-9, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America).

Hananiah (translated: "The Lord has been gracious.") was a prophet who served God during the last portion of the seventh century before Christ. He was an optimistic prophet, and brought an optimistic word to the people. In his day, the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the country of Judah, sacked Jerusalem, and led many of its leaders away in chains. But Hannaniah's hope wasn't diminished. He believed God wanted him to bring a message of hope to the remnant of Judah; people who were left behind. In verse four, the verse that precedes this week's passage, we hear Hananiah speak on behalf of the Lord:

Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord's house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Babylon would fall. Judah would be raised. God's people would be restored. The people were delighted. It was just what they wanted to hear. God would vindicate them. Hananiah became a hero to his people. And they showered him with praise and adulation.

All, that is, except the prophet Jeremiah. With a wry smile, he said as much as: "Hananiah: oh that your words were true. It's a wonderful message. And I wish I could believe it, but I can't." Jeremiah then went on to bring his version of God's word to the people. No, God wasn't planning an immanent restoration of the kingdom. No, God wasn't pleased with the faithfulness of the people. And yes, God was visiting punishment on them by allowing their nation to be destroyed, and that work wouldn't be undone until they repented of their errant ways, and returned to the Lord.

Jeremiah wasn't a popular figure in Judah. And the people certainly didn't want to hear what he had to say. But as things turned out, he was right. Judah wasn't restored within two years as Hananiah had predicted. As a matter of fact, Hananiah himself died within two months (see verse 17).

The image of these two prophets is provocative. One, saying what the people wanted to hear, was received with joy, even though his message was false. The other, saying what the people needed to hear, was constantly questioned and doubted, even though his message turned out to be true.

How does God's word work in our lives today? Do we look through scriptures, hoping to find proof of what we want to believe? Or do we spend time with God's word, allowing it to comfort us when necessary, but also allowing it to chasten and purify us when that is what we need?

God's word is powerful, with the ability to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." May we read it with wisdom and insight, allowing it to speak to us as God would have it speak.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What was the difference between the messages of Jeremiah and Hananiah?
  2. How are the people's responses then similar to how people respond to preachers today?
  3. What course of events vindicated Jeremiah and his message?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What do I want God's word to say to me?
  2. What message from God (or from Scripture) do I find myself wanting to reject?
  3. How might I discipline myself to remain open to the unexpected (and unwanted) word from God?