Let us pray: Holy and awesome God, your love for us is as vast and as far-reaching as the east is from the west. We confess that we rely too heavily on ourselves and we do not rely nearly as heavily as we ought on you. In times of plenty and in times of want, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of new life and in times of death, keep our minds and our hearts centered on you. Remind us that in everything you alone are the LORD our God who brought us out of slavery in Egypt, who led us to the Promised land, who gave to us—in the birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus—the gifts of love and life eternal. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime; and the district
attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.
These familiar words from the second-longest scripted primetime series, Law and Order, opened every episode for twenty seasons, and continue to open each episode in syndication. As the opening suggests, Law and Order took its audience on a journey in which the police sought to arrest the correct party, and the District Attorney’s office sought to have the named suspects indicted and convicted of the crime in which they were accused. As audience members, we more times than not, cheer for the police and district attorney’s office. We want to see justice served and for the accused to receive a jail sentence for the crime we committed. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the audience would place itself in the place of the accused. I mean, who would want to have the responsibility for breaking a law and then face an accusation, an indictment, and a sentence.
Yet, that is the exact scenario we heard in the book of Jeremiah this morning. When we were in seminary, my husband tried several times to study the book of Jeremiah, but he could never get through it: not because he was busy with his school studies, part-time job, and spending time with me, but because Jeremiah is a hard text to read. Jeremiah is a hard text to read because it demands us, the reader, and the church, to place ourselves in role of the Israelites. It requires us to listen to God as God accuses Israel of having deserted its covenant with God. It requires us to imagine a scenario in which we have deserted our relationship with God.
One Biblical commentator wrote that placing ourselves in the role of the indicted is akin to a congregation attempting to sing a hymn with unfamiliar words and a difficult tune. It is not a pleasant experience to our ears or to us as we attempt to squeak out the words of the hymn. Yet, if we are willing, we can look beyond the unfamiliar tune and pay attention to the words of the hymn. For, in the words, we become aware of a deeper truth. Spoiler—we are not only going to be asked to sing an unfamiliar song this morning, we are going to be challenged to place ourselves in the role of Israel in this courtroom drama known as The Book of Jeremiah chapter 2.
The argument that God makes is not unlike an argument we may have found ourselves in before, “What did I ever do to your tribes and to you that made you seek after things that are worthless so that you became worthless, yourselves?” “[I initiated this relationship with you out of love and joy. I created you in my own image]. I heard the moans and cries of my people in bondage in Egypt. I delivered them from Egypt. I provided for them in the wilderness. I brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey” (Jeremiah 2:4-7). God continues, “Yet your ancestors responded defiling the land and making their homes loathsome. The priests did not seek my presence or blessing, and the proclaimed experts of the law knew nothing of my law. Shepherds rebelled against me, and prophets prophesied for Baal, [and spoke smooth words]. Your ancestors followed gods who were not gods at all, and they have passed those same behaviors onto you. [You now embody the misdeeds of your ancestors]” (2:7b-8).
Have you ever been there? Have you ever given every ounce of goodness only to be disrespected, disobeyed, and discarded? Have you ever been there? Gladly receiving freedom, providence, and a fresh start in a new place only to hoard resources, to cut off relationships, and to seek after the next pretty thing that caught the light? This text is hard to read, harder to hear, and placing ourselves in the character of the accused Israelites is grueling. Don’t give up. Don’t turn your ears off and imagine your happy place. Stay. Trust in the presence of God in this text and in worship here and now.
The accusation God brings to the Israelites nearly writes itself into our news headlines. As I prepared for this sermon, there were 88 fires burning in the Amazon. Many of the fires were set by farmers and others who want to use the land for agriculture and/or for the minerals contained within the soil. It gets better though; countries who comprise the G7 have offered assistance, and the president of Brazil has become suspicious of a country like France because why would they now take interest and offer assistance if there was no benefit waiting for them?
And what about us? Where do we stand in this court case? It is far easier for me to pick out people and to pick out how their behaviors rival those of the Israelites than it is for me to take a hard look and realize that when I point my finger at another person, there are three more fingers pointing back at me. It is far easier to lament about the resources we do not have rather than try to engage the work we are called to do. It is easier to let the larger institution: be it the church or government or whomever come up with a resolution, a law, or a practice, rather than to step out of our comfort zone to speak for what good, right, and just, and to resist systems of intolerance and oppression.
God speaks saying, “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit” (2:11). When do we, as a community of faith, know when we have made it? How do we know we have reversed the time trend of heading towards retirement to being fully alive? Is it when our budget runs in the black all year? Is it when we run out of bulletins and have difficulty finding a spot to sit in during worship? What scale are we using to measure our vitality? Do we need to change the scale? Do we need to discover what our goal and our profit is now, today?
God says to the Israelites and to us “Be appalled, be shocked” (2:12). Because only when, through the grace of God, we can sit through the accusation brought by God can we choose to repent. Only then, can we choose to ask “Where is the Lord?” in both times of want and in times of plenty, in times of health and in times of sickness, in times of joy and in times of mourning and sadness. When we feel ourselves becoming thirsty, we need to pay attention. We need to take stock and see where it is we are drawing our source of hydration: from some thin, temporary, thirst producing tonic, or from the eternal flowing waters of God’s love and provision.
We also need to remember that we do not stand accused alone; we are a community, and when one person grieves, we all grieve. When one person celebrates, we all celebrate. Do not be afraid or overwhelmed. God is with you. God loves you and this body, these representatives of Christ surrounding you, are with you and love you, too. As a community of faith, I invite you now to turn in your hymnal to #883 and to stand as you are able so that we together may affirm our beliefs:
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in
Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church:
To celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus crucified and
risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 https://www.google.com/amp/s/answers.yahoo.com/amp/qna/200800505170325AA6L67G [accessed 8/29/19]
 Feasting on the Word: Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol.4
 United Methodist Hymnal