Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Respond” (Jeremiah 31:1-6)

Often, at a funeral, the minister tells us that the best way to keep the memory of the deceased alive is to put that person in our hearts and begin to live our lives through the best that that person gave to us.  In doing this, the minister tells us, that person lives on.  In this thinking, the minister is challenging us to respond . . . to respond to the death of someone we loved very much.

To respond . . .

I can remember as a kid really wanting a glass a milk.  So, I went into the kitchen, got down a glass, pulled the milk out of the refrigerator, and proceeded to pour myself a glass of milk.  Then, as I was turning to put the milk away, my elbow hit the glass spilling it all over the table.  Milk was everywhere.  Being a whopping five-years old, I busted out crying.  Of course, that brought my mother running.  

She wanted to know what the problem was.

“I spilt my milk.”

“Well, that is nothing to cry over,” consoled my mother.  “Just clean it up and pour yourself another glass.”

As a five-year old, when you spill the milk and make a mess, your first reaction is to panic and start crying.  Crying never solved anything . . . as they say, “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”  Instead, as my mother was suggesting, do something about it.  Clean up the mess and pour yourself another glass.  Respond . . . don’t react.

On this Easter Sunday that is the message . . . the “good news” . . . that we are being given.  We are to respond on this day, not react.

It may seem strange to be hearing a passage from the prophet Jeremiah on Easter morning, but I think that it sets the tone to the message of Easter that we are being given this morning.  As a prophet he had taken God’s message to the people to change their ways of idolatry and sin or face a major catastrophe.  The people did not listen and they were invaded and defeated by the Babylonians.  The city was destroyed.  The temple was torn down.  The people were exiled to Babylon.  These were not good days for the people of God . . . they had lost everything.  Everything they had known and understood was gone . . . dead.

And, so, they reacted.  They wept and lamented.  They wallowed in their situation.  They regressed . . . got depressed . . . and, generally thought that there was no reason to carry on.  One has to admit, going from what they had to what they got . . . well, it is pretty hard to see much light in the darkness.

Though Jeremiah delivered the words of doom for God to the people, he also brought to them hope.  Those words of hope are the words we heard in our reading this morning:
The Lord says, “The time is coming when I will be the God of all the tribes of Israel, and they will be my people.  In the dessert I showed mercy to those people who had escaped death.  When the people of Israel longed for rest, I appeared to them from far away.  People of Israel, I have always loved you, so I continue to show you my constant love.  Once again I will rebuild you.  Once again you will take up your tambourines and dance joyfully.  Once again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria, and those who plant them will eat what the vineyards produce.  Yes, the time is coming when watchmen will call out on the hills of Ephraim, “Let’s go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

Yes, Jeremiah says, God will restore the people; but, in order for that restoration to take place . . . the people will have to respond.  The watchmen will call out to the people to respond by telling them they must “go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”  This implies that the people are going to do something . . . not react, but respond.  God is not performing a solo dance; no, God is a willing dance partner waiting for the partner to follow in the steps of the dance.  God will lead, if the people will follow.  To follow they will have to respond.  If they respond, all is restored.

In this divine story of restoration and redemption . . . from the very beginning of our scriptures . . . we know that grace is freely given, but that it is not ours until we respond to the gift.  We have to receive the gift, use the gift, and make it our own.  Until then, there really is nothing.  This is a two-way transaction and for it to work there has to be a response.

In the gospel readings for this Easter Sunday the story of Mary Magdalene going to the tomb and discovering it empty is told.  In both stories Mary is distraught over the empty tomb . . . she cries.  Not only had she lost her beloved Jesus to death, now someone had taken the body.  This was insult to injury, and she cried.  Of course, we know that the Risen Jesus appears to her . . . consoles her . . . and, then tells her to get up and do something.  Jesus tells her to go and tell the other disciples that he is alive and they will soon see him for themselves.  Mary responded.  Mary did not have time to cry over spilt milk, she had good news to share.

To respond . . . the gift must be embraced . . . received . . . and made one’s own.  And, how does one know that he or she has received the gift?  Because it can be seen in the way that he or she lives life.  You live in Christ.  Or, as the epistle reading for this morning--Colossians 3:1-4 states it: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

The Easter Story demands a response.  It does not want us to react . . . to jump around the sanctuary doing a happy dance and shouting hallelujah.  No, it wants us to respond and do something that shows ourselves and the world that we have truly embrace its gift, message, and meaning in the way that we live our lives.  It wants us to take it to heart . . . and, by taking into our hearts, it makes us not only walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but to emulate his very words and actions as our own . . . to become Christ-like.

I think that it is fair that we gather together this morning to react to the “good news” of the Easter message.  That is what we call worship . . . we let out the great joy we have in this restoration and redemption story.  We dance a little . . . we shout a few hallelujahs . . . and, we bask in the moment.  But, we need to understand that this is just the prelude to the dance that God is inviting us to join God in.  While we are celebrating, God waits.  God waits for us to respond to the gift being offered.

On the hills of Ephraim, the watchmen are crying out, “Let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”  

The Lord waits . . .

Let us respond and receive the gift . . . and, may our lives show that gift to the world around us through the words that we speak and the actions that we take.  May we truly continue to allow the resurrected and living Jesus live.  Amen.

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