Christ Centered Resources

On Trial

Rev. Ed Searcy

Jeremiah 2:4-13
University Hill United Church : Sun, August 30, 1998
It must have been something to hear Jeremiah preach. Even after twenty-five hundred years his sermons still pack a punch. Jeremiah is more than a preacher ... he is a poet. Jeremiah is the master of metaphor. Witness today's text ... nine verses from the second chapter of Jeremiah. At first glance they look like any other text from the Bible: "Hear the word of the Lord ... Thus says the Lord". We're tempted to imagine that we've heard it all before. But, then, Jeremiah changes everything. Suddenly the congregation ... in the Temple perhaps or in the city gates ... is no longer at prayer. They thought they had come to hear a sermon, to be fed by "The Word of God". Jeremiah changes all of that as soon as he opens his mouth. His are not the words of a preacher trained in the seminary. No. Jeremiah is not preaching ... he is in court. Jeremiah is an attorney acting on behalf of a plaintiff in a civil suit. And not just any old plaintiff, either. Jeremiah has been retained by God Almighty. It doesn't take long for those in the galleries to figure out what is going on. They have happened upon a divorce case. A husband is suing for divorce ... claiming infidelity and unfaithfulness on the part of his bride. And just when the plaintiff's lawyer rises to give his opening speech an extraordinary event occurs. The plaintiff - God Almighty - gets up and gestures for his lawyer - Jeremiah - to be seated. It is the plaintiff himself who opens the case in court: "What wrong did you find in me that you went far from me and went after worthless things and became worthless yourselves?" Now, if you haven't guessed already the defendant in the case is Israel. The very people who hang on Jeremiah's every word. The people of Israel, who have come to worship God instead find themselves being sued for divorce by God. Suddenly their comfortable pew (or chair as the case may be) has become as uncomfortable as the seat of the accused at trial. As the plaintiff's speech begins you can imagine what the defendant is thinking ... "went after worthless things ... became worthless myself? What in heaven's name is he talking about? We did no such thing. Just wait until it is our turn to get in a word edgewise. We'll tell it like it really is. We did not go after worthless things. Never once. We only went after what we deserved. We sought security. After all, "in God we trust" may be a nice motto but it won't get you very far in the real world' Everyone knows that. So, we hedged our bets. We beefed up security. Added a few alarm systems here and security patrols there. And, just in case our currency lost value we invested heavily in Assyrian stocks and Babylonian futures. What is all this talk about going after worthless things and becoming worthless ourselves? We only wanted what was best for our children. We only wanted to be happy and to be free and to enjoy life. Is that all worthless? Wait until it is our turn to speak ... then we'll tell the judge a thing or two." But the plaintiff is in full flight ... "My Lord, they did not bother to look for me. They forgot about me. They stopped telling the story of our marriage ... how I rescued them from slavery and led them through deserts and pits, drought and darkness ... We went through hell together. And what do I get. Amnesia, that's what. Suddenly they have no memory of those days. They have a rather onvenient selective memory. Here they live in the land I gave them as if I don't exist. They act as if my property is theirs to do with as they will. Pollution. Injustice. Over-consumption. They don't care. Even their political and religious leaders don't seek me out. All of them run after things do not profit." "Things that do not profit?" ... the accused can hardly stand it. Suddenly they blurt it out: "Forget to call on the Lord? What are you talking about? Where have you been week after week when we were in Temple singing hymns and praying prayers and offering our own hard earned cash to you ... yes, to you. And speaking of cash don't you know what makes the world go round? Profit, that's what. GNP. Balanced budgets. A healthy economy. Without that no amount of praying and preaching will amount to a hill of beans. If you want to call that fooling around', if you want to call that idolatry', well you are entitled to your opinion but the verdict is not in yet" The judge's gavel is pounding ... "Order, order in the court. The defendant will remain silent until the plaintiff has finished speaking." "There you have it" says the Almighty, "there's the proof. Therefore I accuse you and I accuse your children's children ... After all, with ancestors like you they haven't got a hope of knowing me. You are guilty of breaking your solemn oath. You have treated our marriage vows as a joke. You have swapped partners all week long and then, on the Sabbath day, you act as if there is nothing wrong. Look ... look to Cyprus or Kedar ... Look to any culture on the face of the earth. Has anyone ever seen any thing like this? Has any people voluntarily changed gods before? It doesn't even matter if their gods don't exist ... They still remain faithful. But my people have exchanged a marriage with the Creator of heaven and earth for things that are of no worth." Turning to the bystanders in the public gallery the plaintiff shakes his head in despair: "Be appalled, O heavens at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate". And look. The bystanders in this court room turn out to be the heavens and earth. The universe is witness to these divorce proceedings and sits in shocked silence: "How could God's people ever have been unfaithful to such a faithful partner? Did they not realize how lucky they were to be married to One like this? How could they have thrown it all away on such a worthless fling?" The defendants, though, still sit defiantly erect still awaiting their turn to speak. The plaintiff summarises his argument ... as his legal counsel looks on, still dumbfounded: "Your honour, I accuse my people of two evils: one, that they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and two, that they have dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water." With that, the plaintiff walks across the court room finds his chair and sits down. All eyes turn to the defendants. The defendants who have been so eager to rise to their own defence. But they do not move. They do not speak. Instead they begin to weep. The court room is silent except for the sound of their sobs. It is something about the closing words of the plaintiff that finally breaks through their defences: "they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water." They have no answer to this accusation. Because it is true. It is so obviously true. It may not be true to anyone else in the court room but Israel knows it is true. Inside, they are dried up ... withered ... parched. Lord knows they try to store whatever blessings that shower on them from heaven. They build sanctuaries and liturgies, congregations and denominations ... and for awhile it seems as though each one will hold the living water. But slowly, ever so slowly they realize that each cistern that they build is cracked ... flawed ... leaky. Eventually each holy vessel, no matter how carefully constructed, dries up. Some make cisterns for themselves. They make their own individual life into a private holding tank. Into it they pour prayers and bible passages, good deeds and sacrificial gifts. Surely such a holy life will never run dry. Or so they imagine. But now the tears running down their cheeks feel like the last few drops of water seeping through the cracks. Others seek living water in bottled spirits, in climbing ladders, in building empires. Now not one of them speaks. What can they say in their own defence? The accusations are true. The evidence is in plain view. Why else are they running after each new spirituality' with its promise of life giving water? And why is their land so void of truth and justice ... so desperate for love of neighbour? The truth is they have long since given up drinking from the fountain of living water ... the source that bubbles up freely for every thirsty soul who cares to drink it. They have long since chosen instead to raise up generations of children who are taught to believe that survival depends upon producing and consuming cisterns of all shapes and sizes. In truth, God's own people must always depend for their survival on the grace of God alone. This is the first and primary thing ... the central reality around which all of life is to be lived: Life is the gift of God. The earth belongs to God. We live when we place our trust in God whose grace never runs dry never, whose love never ends. "Ah", you say, "but what about that angry rejected lover we just witnessed in the court room? The one who sat his lawyer down and then raged at his unfaithful partner? Do you call that love?" Slowly the defendants wipe their eyes and raise their heads. They stand ... at last ready to speak: "Yes", they say in one voice, "yes ... we call that love."