A sermon for the Third Sunday before Lent preached by Graham Low on 13 February 2022.
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. These are wonderful words from today’s passage. But they must be read in context, because the texts around these words certainly make the reader wonder if any blessing was on offer in Jeremiah’s time. The Book of the prophet Jeremiah is about the catastrophic fall of Judah and then exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC. This trauma and the struggles of the people for survival were catalysts for this book and they haunt every one of its 52 chapters.
It seems likely that the book was compiled over about four decades. Its strongest themes include rewards and punishment, the recompense for good and evil, and faithfulness and disobedience. Jeremiah is concerned about the judgement to come. Though the future perspective is often ominous, eventually there are some hints of a distant but new and enduring relationship with God.
Today’s passage reminds me of a large conifer that we had in our garden. Plants under and around it were stunted because they lacked light, nutrients, and water. Jeremiah is suggesting here that our lives can be stunted in a similar way. Like plants we need nourishment to thrive and grow. And we have a great need for deep reserves, for deep wells, for the times of limitation and even of famine that we may face in our spiritual lives.
Jeremiah reminds us that if we place all our trust in human beings we shall suffer like the plants in our garden. Yes, trusting in human wisdom alone may allow survival and even some growth, but Jeremiah states that it is only by placing our trust in God that we shall thrive. When heat or drought come, drawing on a deep and living stream, formed by prayer, by the sacraments and by scripture, will allow us to continue to bear fruit, without undue anxiety. And we may reasonably hope that we may be in a position to share that fruit with others.
Jeremiah reminds us that trust in God is key to providing the deep and spiritual roots which enable life to continue and thrive, whatever our lives bring to us. Throughout the book Jeremiah goes through frequent periods of profound doubt. Indeed, later in the chapter we have heard from today, he asks God to save him. And yet he states a confidence, indeed a stubborn trust in God, so that he does not seek to run away from God who, he says, will be his refuge on the day of disaster. It is that trust which gives him prophetic authority. It is that trust that enables him to say “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord” in spite of all the troubles around him and his people.
As we begin to approach Lent it is not too soon to start to gather resources to help us deepen our life in God. There will be suggestions for Lent reading in the next issue of the Parish magazine.
Trust forms a link with our gospel reading in which we hear of chaos among a multitude of people, pressing to be healed through touch by Jesus. In the middle of this Jesus gives his disciples an oddly mixed litany of blessing and woe. It seems that Jesus and the disciples are in a positive mood, encouraged by an overwhelming response to his healing ministry. But danger is about, as Jesus knows.
The question of where people place their trust is in his mind. Does their trust come from the power of his healing? Or does it come from God, the source of the healing? This is the God who will sustain him and his followers through the trials which are coming – with suffering and death. And so in these beatitudes, these blessings, Jesus paints a very sharp contrast between those who know that they do not have everything and look to God for their strength, and those who have more than enough and thus have no room for God, either to nourish or to challenge them.
One of the great collects set for this pre-Lent season prays thus:
O God, you know us to be set
in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature
we cannot always stand upright:
grant to us such strength and protection
as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations;
It seems particularly relevant to today’s world. It has no illusions about the dangers we face or our frailty. It is a call for God to grant us strength and protection, rather than for us to rely on the temptations which mortals may offer. This collect links with our readings which challenge us about how we live with vulnerability and uncertainty. They remind us about nurturing our inner space where God alone has a place. In spite of all the difficulties of Jeremiah’s world, his unshakeable trust in God in the depths of his being stands out.
May we be granted such trust in God that we may share in God’s blessings whatever life may bring us. Amen.