“He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people”.
The level place: – life can be confusing at the best of times, and few would argue this is the best of times.
How comforting it would be to have authoritative guidance on what to do, teaching delivered from the mountain top.
But the Jesus of Luke’s gospel stands among the crowds, on the plains where their towns and villages are. He has just selected 12 remarkably ordinary and unpromising men as his apostles. People in all conditions of human life encircle him, looking for what confuses in life to be straightened out and made clear.
But what we have heard this morning, from the prophet Jeremiah, is:
The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse –
who can understand it?
If you have been trying to follow the ins and outs of diplomacy around the Ukraine-Russian border, the threats of war and retaliation, it would be helpful to be able to understand the human heart.
Or to make sense of a conflict in which a leader who puts on army fatigues to lead his troops is the winner of the Nobel peace prize.
Or closer to home, we could point to the controversies surrounding the Metropolitan Police Service – those who protect taking on the characteristics of those whom they protect against.
Sometimes we just long to know whom to cheer on and whom to jeer.
If I slap and kick my cat and post this on social media and then, when others complain, say I am sorry, can it be possible for me to mean what I say?
The heart is devious above all things, and hearing these words, I cannot but know that that includes me, my heart.
What am I to do?
Jeremiah spoke – spoke out – in times of considerable confusion and fear.
The Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar was the encroaching super-power.
In the Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s prime many prophesied; seemingly they said what Jeremiah said: ‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord’.
And Jeremiah denounced them as false prophets, those who used the talisman of the Temple to feed religious and moral complacency,
while relying on power politics and the counter-weight of Egypt:
“those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength,” as we heard at Mattins:
those whom Jeremiah identified as cursed.
But who was right?
There is a second audience for Jeremiah’s words, beyond fin-de-siècle Judah: – those who collected his words, who kept them and listened with renewed attention to them – those who had realised that Jeremiah was worth hearing, that in his misery and gloom he awakened them to a true discrimination, to a sense of what is real and lasting, and so to hope.
Who was this second audience?
Judah-in-exile, Judah after the fall of Jerusalem.
Not the Jews who had fled to Egypt, compelling Jeremiah to accompany them, and who had adopted the religious ways of that country.
But Jews in Babylon itself: –
those who had been through the ruin of all their false hopes and had suffered.
So we are able to hear Jeremiah today precisely because he has been found to be a trusty guide through confusion and falsehoods.
Those in exile may have wanted comfort, but they were not to be easily fobbed off. Jeremiah’s caustic words had the smack of truth.
And these words promise blessing as well.
What is it to be blessed?
In complex times, and times of increased grief, that is no simple story.
Being in exile or being in Jerusalem? Who is the more blessed?
Sheltering from the virus or taking risks?
Having money spent or having money saved?
Jeremiah answers, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,”
and he follows this up by adding, “whose trust is the Lord”.
that does not fear, is not anxious, in heat and drought,
a tree whose roots have had to go deep in unpromising circumstances,
a tree that consequently remains green and fruitful when others wither.
Not, we note, as in Psalm 1, because their delight is specifically named as being in the Law of the Lord: if that means in a moral code and cultic tradition per se.
But, rather, in trust – in faithful relationship.
And Jeremiah’s striking phrase: “whose trust is the Lord” allows us to say more.
Those who receive blessing in hard times and in morally dubious cultures –
like our own – are those who have learnt to mistrust their own devious heart,
and instead –and here we come to it – to find
in their innate capacity to give trust unselfishly
the pattern of God’s presence in their own lives and in their midst.
— Where do we find God, and God’s blessing, in our post-religious world?
Where God has always been.
Not in the desires of our hearts.
Not in our cravings for security and increase.
But in that part of our being which longs to give itself for Another;
that part of our being which delights in trustworthiness;
that part of our being which eschews superficial nonchalance but rather holds itself in peace and peaceableness,
that part of our humanity which is the image of the God who ever gives Godself faithfully and without reserve for love of others:
“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.”
And so we find ourselves in the company of Christians gathered around the rabbi from Nazareth on the level place, hearing afresh of blessing and woe,
of being unshaken by poverty or grief
because God’s work brings a great revolution in human affairs, and because our life comes uninterruptedly from this Kingdom of God, His fullness and His peace.
We see in Christ’s healing,
in the release He brings from demons,
and most fully in His unstinting self-giving on the cross of crucifixion
keeping faith with us,
He whose trust is the Lord.
He is raised, as our lives and hopes will be raised.
He puts new heart, an un-devious heart, within us.
So, stay saddened by the world’s sins and your sins.
Stay hungry for the one Eucharistic gift that truly sustains and unites life.
And continue to find in your need and the world’s need
your capacity for trust that is the Kingdom of God within.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Amen.