(Jeremiah 28) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 6, 2019 – UBC Digby
My great grandfather White lived, much of his life, farming near Port Maitland, Yarmouth County. He and my great grandmother had had fourteen children by the time she died, just after her 50th birthday. I do not know a great deal about Grampie White, but I do know he loved oxen. In many a photo of him he is pictured with a pair of oxen.
Training teams of oxen is a dying art, I suppose. I’m so grateful to Charlene, who provided this old yoke for display today. Oxen, to pull anything as a team, are yoked together.
But would you want to wear a big, wooden yoke on your shoulders? No. But that is just what the prophet Jeremiah did, at the command of God. Read all about it, in chapter 27 of his book. Jeremiah put on the yoke as a prophetic warning: this is what was happening to his people.
It’s 2,600 years ago, in the Promised Land. Empires from the north and the south have been battling over this middle ground, holy land to the Hebrews. The latest empire that threatens is called Babylon. Jeremiah speaks warnings of what is to come. And why it is happening. Much of the disaster is well-deserved, it appears. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah fall. They have failed God, and faltered, and they fall. They bear a heavy yoke.
Another prophet in Judea, named Hananiah, spoke on behalf of God, one day. Good news! “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Yoke broke. ‘Within two years, our stolen things and our imprisoned leaders and our people will be back where they belong, in our own kingdom.’
Oh happy day! you might think. And our better known prophet, Jeremiah, almost seems to agree. At first. “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied…”
Amen! But, wait til then. “Wait and see if this comes true,” preaches Jeremiah. “Wait and see if there will be peace.”
If you have read Jeremiah 27 lately, the previous chapter, you see all the warnings that this Babylonian takeover will be long and hard. Not short. So, who is one supposed to believe? Hananiah the prophet, or Jeremiah the prophet? Who is a true prophet? Who speaks what is real and honest and right?
We know the experience. We have a national election this month. The parties and the leaders vying for government have their promises, their platforms, their criticisms of their opponents. Who do you believe? How do you choose wisely?
Or other big issues. Climate crisis – is it a crisis? One expert says this will likely happen, another promises a different future. What doom and gloom is a correct forecast, and what hopeful plan is best?
For some of us, in our personal lives, choices can be very hard. Maybe you are sometimes like me: slow to make decisions. Do I sell my cottage? Do I sell it to my neighbours? What price do I ask? I second guess myself about these things.
Or, I want to talk to some friends who like to hike about spiritual things. Do I phone Greg? Or Daniel? Or Ellie? Or Melissa? Or Tony? I am slow to make those contacts. I feel unsure.
I think I am skilled at seeing the big picture, hearing different viewpoints, and weighing all my options. But when it comes down to choosing, I don’t know what to do!
I don’t know what I’d have done 2,600 years ago in Jerusalem. Do I believe Jeremiah, or Hananiah?
This morning we did read a debate. Not an election debate, a prophetic debate. The debate of the preachers over the Babylonian oppression of the Hebrews got heated. And did you see that? See what Hananiah did? He broke the yoke. He took the yoke Jeremiah had on his shoulders, and broke it. “This is what God will do for us! We will be free soon.”
No, that is not what Jeremiah proclaims, for God. The exile into Babylon has only just begun. The struggle will be long.
It was November, 1942. In Europe, the second world war was raging. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spoke in London to mark a victory against the German forces, at El Alamein, in Egypt. That battle was a turning point in the war. Churchill got a few laughs from the crowd when he, now famously, declared about that victory:
Now this is not the end;
it is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Such was Jeremiah’s message, in the sixth century BCE, in the Middle East. The end of oppression by Babylon is not soon to be over. We’ve only just begun to be conquered by that empire from the north.
You lie! You die, Jeremiah says to rival prophet, Hananiah. Within a year, he does die. And the Babylonian control of the Hebrew people goes on for sixty years.
So, Jeremiah was right, after all. He had been speaking for God, and Hananiah was not.
My friends, we know that many who claim to speak for truth are leading us astray. And many who claim to speak for God a leading us aright. Our own eyes deceive us, and our minds, at times. Oh, that a Prophet of Truth would be obvious, whenever we need guidance!
Such is our prayer; and thanks be to God, there are answers. The whole story of scripture guides us. The community of Faith through the ages guides us. And God’s Way becomes clear to us in Jesus, Son of God.
He also used the farming imagery of the yoke. He declared Himself to be the way for us to be with God in this life, as well as forever.
Christ said: “Come to me, all you that a weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mtt 11:28-29)
We can make our personal decisions, blessed by the One who is with us. We can plan for the unknown future, hand-in-hand with “the Man who stilled the waters.” We can listen to the prophets of our day, and understand them in light of the whole counsel of God.
In the name of the Father
and the Spirit of Truth.