God’s Word; Burning

Sunday, November 22, 2020
Pastor Mark Aune

Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; then 31:31-34 

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen

Last week was a hard week. Hard on everyone. I’m not going to lie to you or even to try and sugar coat it because you are feeling it as much as I am. There is a collective sense that the gravity of Covid 19 in our midst is getting heavier and heavier and numbers tell the truth. They always do. But numbers don’t have feelings.

Numbers cannot capture or express what it feels like to bury a loved one, lose a business or a job, not go to school and see my friends, quarantine in my own home for 10 days, not come into our sanctuary to worship, sing and talk to people.

As we sit on the doorstep of Thanksgiving, the one holiday of the year that isn’t burdened with undue financial or relational expectations, the impact of the virus spreading like wildfire is hitting us square in the face.

I won’t get to see my mother on Thursday. She will spend the day alone. She tells me she will be fine, that she understands in order to be safe this is what we need to do, and I believe her. She is right. But I’m still sad about it. It bothers me. It stinks. But we do not want to put her at any risk. While my head tells me one thing my heart feels something different.

It would be easy to give into despair right now but what would that say about our faith?

Despair begins to creep in when you forget who you belong to.

Fear can dominate when you are cut off from God and the Word of life God has given to us.

We see a prime example of what happens when God’s word is disregarded and ignored in our reading today from Jeremiah.

God speaks to Jeremiah – Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations.

It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Instead of a spoken Word from God, Jeremiah is instructed to write it down. He dictates the Words from God to his scribe, Baruch and Baruch writes them down.

  • God’s hope is that the Word will effect change in the people.
  • That it will bring them back into a relationship with God.

It may be, says the Lord, that they will turn back to me so I can forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Jeremiah’s Word from God is a word of judgment. It is not good news for the people. In fact, Jeremiah is banned from the temple, so he tells Baruch to go into the temple and read the words from God. The scroll is then taken to the King, Jehoiakim, and this is what happens.

Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment, and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.

This image of the king cutting off pieces of the scroll and tossing them into a burning fire is compelling and disturbing at the same time.

It speaks of arrogance, self-absorption and a total disregard to the Word that gives life.

The king forgets a key component of what it means to live with uncertainty, in a time of transition and struggle.

The written word read to the king was a clear reminder that a relationship with God comes first and last.

It is all that matters, and it is the one thing that equips a person or a people to live with uncertainty in a time of struggle.

With every slice of his pen knife the king is cutting himself off from God.

With every puff of smoke from the burning scroll, the king’s relationship with God drifts away into nothing.

This image is a warning.

I wonder, what does my pen knife look like and how do I use it?

What does your pen knife look like? How do you use it?

In what ways do we cut ourselves off from God’s word of life?

When we are cut off, left to our own devices and ways, we drift away from God into despair and uncertainty.

What the king doesn’t realize is that the fire will consume him, and it does. Jehoiakim, Jerusalem, the temple and the people are conquered by the Babylonians and all is lost. Judgment comes and the disobedience of the people is punished. Just like Jeremiah said it would be.

But just because the king shows a blatant disregard for the law and the Word of God. Just because the king literally cuts up God’s Word and burns it on a charcoal fire – it doesn’t mean the Word is gone. Oh no. This Word is much more than what is written on a piece of paper.

It is from Jeremiah, this prophet of doom and gloom who finally point God’s people to something new and different.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This is God’s reply to our sin and disobedience.

This is God’s reply to our despair.

It is as if God finally has enough and says, I’ve got this now.

  • I will initiate the relationship.
  • I will create something new.
  • I will write in on their hearts this time.
  • Not on tablets of stone or even on a scroll.
  • If I write it on their hearts it will last – it will be permanent and because it is written on their hearts, they will be changed from the inside out.

Their hearts of stone will be broken, and their hearts will now be alive for me.

Their hearts will burn with a new kind of fire, with an intensity that will be unlike anything they have ever felt before.

This new covenant, this Word from God is the Word that comes in the flesh;

God in human form, born in Bethlehem, born to be a King.

A King sent to renew and rekindle our relationship with God in a manner that creates life changing and life-giving faith that does not give into despair or fear.

And because of this King, through this King we know and live this promise – they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

For Christ our King and the fire that burns within us, we say thanks be to God. Amen

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