‘Jeremiah and the new covenant’ – 18th March, Passion Sunday

Based around Jeremiah 31:31-34.

There’s an amusing, short-short version of the Old Testament that goes as follows:

God : Don’t do the things I’ve told you not to do.

Man : Gotcha.

God : Great – we’ll get on fine.

Time passes…

Man : God?

God : Yes, my son?

Man : You know the things you told us not to do?  We did them….

God : (Sighing) Right. I’m going to punish you, then I want you to behave and not do those things again.  Can you manage that?

Man : Yep.

God : Awesome.  Let’s do it….

Time passes….

Man : God…sorry…we did them again…

And so on.

There is a lot of truth in humour. You’ll hear it said that the Old Testament describes the covenant relationship between God and His people, a relationship that is based upon the Law.  Now, what do we mean by that?

God struck a covenant – a type of contract, if you like – with the people of Israel that He would be their God, and they would be His people, if they would abide by the Laws he set before them. The Laws were given to Moses in the form of tablets of stone; they were written on scrolls of parchment to become the central part of the Torah – what we know as the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy and Leviticus provide a written down set of instructions – the Law – by which God’s people were to act and behave to maintain their side of the covenant.

And like all rule and law based systems – like our own modern society – we then get in to the whole area of interpretation.  There’s a joke that I’ve heard about lawyers and economists – ask two lawyers and you’ll get three opinions. And so it is in the culture that we read about in the Old Testament, based on the legalistic covenant between God and man.  We have sixty volumes of the Talmud – learned writings from scribes, rabbis, judges and prophets that help interpret the Law and apply it to everyday life.  As life got more complicated, there were more opportunities for loopholes and ‘grey areas’ to appear in the application of the Law. A good ‘modern day’ example of the interpretation of the Law of the sabbath was noted by the physicist, Richard Feynman, who was asked by an Orthodox Jew whether electricity was fire, because the questioner was trying to work out whether using ANY electricity on the sabbath was permissible.  The physics answer is ‘No, electricity isn’t fire’.  The Talmudic answer is ‘It depends what you’re doing with the electricity….’  If you’re interested in this particular problem, there’s a good article on Wikipedia called ‘Electricity on Shabbat’.

Having said that, though, we know that the Israelites didn’t exploit the grey areas; they drove a chariot and horses through the centre of God’s Law.  After all, these are the people who within a few weeks of being told ‘No idols’, are making golden calves to worship.

Punishment follows, then God relents, brings the people back to him, helps them along….and then the people do something else.

And Jeremiah writes at a time when the ‘something else’ has been bad indeed. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, writes at a time of exile. The country has been devastated, and Jerusalem has been destroyed by Babylonians. Jeremiah is in and out of prison, and his book reveals the anger of the Lord at the people – particularly the leaders of Israel – who have not been faithful to God by maintaining justice and obedience. The destruction of Jerusalem, the scattering of the people of Israel, the exile, is seen as a punishment by God for this failure.

You can almost imagine the more thoughtful people saying “We’re in a mess; and it’s our fault. We knew the Law, but we still were not faithful to it, and because of our disobedience and lack of faith in God and the Law we have been again punished. Why do we keep on like this? What is wrong with us?”

The book of Jeremiah is primarily the prophet telling the people hard truths from God.  But in the middle of his book, comes two Chapters – Chapters 30 and 31 – that are sometimes known as the ‘Book of Comfort’.  In the middle of his gloomy prophesying, we get tonight’s reading.  A statement of great hope from God, in the midst of the people’s despair. God tells the people – of both Israel and Judah – that He will make a new covenant with them to replace the one that he made with them when He led them from Egypt to (eventually) the promised land.

God is acknowledging that the covenant has been broken repeatedly by a faithless and ungrateful people, who haven’t treated God as a loyal bride would be expected to treat a bridegroom, but have, basically, cheated on Him and turned away from Him.

A new covenant is then described.

Whereas the old covenant was written on stone and parchment scrolls, and needed a library of explanatory texts and an army of experts to interpret, this one will be written on the hearts and minds of the people.  It’s not going to be a case of folks having to read up on it; the law will be in them, part of them.

Now, at this stage, this might start making the people feel a bit uneasy; if they have the Law written in their very being, then surely they’re in a worse position than they were previously.  There is no excuse for not knowing and understanding the law; and if the old covenant requirement of obedience ‘or else’ still applies, then things sound bad….

But wait.

Let’s listen again to what is written in Verse 34;

“No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”


It’s not saying ‘know the Law’.  It’s not saying ‘they will all know the Law’. It’s saying that under the new covenant the people will all know the Lord. They will know God. They will be in relationship with Him.  Something rather different!

And then the final words ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ – there is nothing conditional here. God is wiping the slate clean – the covenant will not be dependent upon the people behaving in a certain way; sins will be forgiven and forgotten.

The old covenant failed because it relied on man’s faithfulness to God, and because of man’s very nature it was almost guaranteed to fail from the off.  The new covenant, spoken of here by Jeremiah, and brought to us through Jesus Christ, cannot fail because it relies on God’s faithfulness and grace to us.

That covenant is with us, now. It is written in our hearts and minds, made available to us by God’s incarnate word, Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God!


Reader Joe Pritchard

‘Crisertunity’ – 25th June, 2nd Sunday after Trinity

Based around Jeremiah 20:7-13.

In one episode of the TV show ‘The Simpsons’, Lisa says to Homer ‘Dad, do you know that in China they use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?’  Homer, not renowned for his language skills, replies “Yes! Crisertunity!”

I’ve been reminded of this exchange most days for some weeks now; we seem to be living through times of crisis when the very fabric of our society seems to shift as Government seems to be fumbled, accidents and terror attacks take dozens, if not hundreds of lives, and our national institutions and relationships with other countries look like they will undergo massive changes.

We have the crisis; we just don’t yet seem to be seeing much opportunity.

In fact, we probably need a prophet to help us out; not a pollster, pundit or astrologer, but a good, old fashioned, Old Testament prophet.  The Biblical prophets had pretty straight forward job descriptions; To explain the plan and purpose of God and tell us what he will do in the future, and to turn people away from evil and back towards the will of God so that they might be saved.

But they were also men.

Tonight’s reading from Jeremiah isn’t the usual ‘fire and brimstone’ we might expect from the Biblical prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekial. It’s the words of a man who is expressing the anguish and torment within him – partially, as he sees it, from being a prophet of the Lord.

Jeremiah began prophesying around 620BC in the reign of Josiah, and continued through a time of massive unrest when the fate of Judah itself – like many other small nations of the Middle East – was being sealed by the rise of the larger empires such as Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, and by the time he finished his writings – around 587BC – Jerusalem had been destroyed and the majority of the people had been taken to exile in Babylon.

Amongst the prophets one thing that is interesting about Jeremiah is that he wasn’t shy about telling us that he was human; he wrote several verses that are often summed up as expressing feelings of  ‘woe is me!’.  These are called his confessions, or his lamentations.

Tonight’s reading is the last and longest of these lamentations, and like the previous confessions it showed something of the inner turmoil and unrest that Jeremiah felt. I think that these confessions make Jeremiah more human in many ways than the other prophets. If you think about it, his job on a day to day basis was not an easy one.

Jeremiah’s grumbles are written in a format and structure that would be familiar to anyone who has a knowledge of the Psalms.  The ‘Lamentation Psalms’ are psalms in which the writer is directly addressing God on the event of some calamity; more than that, they frequently have a direct complaint against God, and some theologians have argued the ‘Lamentation’ is too wishy-washy a word to associate with these Psalms, and that we should just use ‘Complaint’. Because that’s what’s happening – the Psalmist is addressing a complaint to God – either for himself or for the community as a whole.  If you want to read a couple of these Psalms, take a look at Psalm 13 or Psalm 74.

Jeremiah starts by accusing God of deception; basically Jeremiah feels that God conned – some translations use the word seduced or enticed – him in to the job of Prophet.  One of my commentaries uses the phrase ‘God had been excessively persuasive’.  In the second part of Verse 7, Jeremiah starts complaining about his own situation “I am ridiculed and mocked”, and then in Verse 8 continues in this vein; by preaching the word of the Lord he’s put himself in the position of being insulted and vilified by the people.

Verse 9 is Jeremiah feeling sorry for himself again; he’s experiencing that major problem of a prophet of the Lord in that even if he’s reluctant to speak the word of God  – in this case to protect himself – Holy Spirit will be working within him to compel him to speak out – as Jeremiah himself puts it, the word of God is like a fire in his bones trying to burst out, and he can’t stop it.

In Verse 10 Jeremiah again regales us with the activities of his ‘friends’ who seem to be waiting for him to make a mistake, and his enemies, who’re waiting for him to prophesy again so they can take their revenge on him.  This wasn’t an unusual fate for prophets – on more than one occasion in his career Jeremiah was beaten up for speaking God’s work when the people didn’t appreciate it.

We can probably all feel for Jeremiah – he’s between a rock and a hard place; compelled by the Holy Spirit to do the right thing, but scared for his life and well being if he does; friendless, feeling sorry for himself, stressed; perhaps even powerless – what’s the point of prophesying the word of God if no one listens and some even regard you as a liar and troublemaker?

There’s a quote from Gandhi – “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” – that Jeremiah would have probably appreciated.  Because in Verse 11, he remembers just who he has got on his side; the Lord God. In Verse 11 Jeremiah re-states his trust in the Lord, and in Verse 12 he requests that the Lord punish his enemies.

And finally – in Verse 13, Jeremiah praises the Lord.

Because despite his grumbles, Jeremiah has been promised by the Lord that the Lord will be with him through his work; and even in the depths of this lamentation, in Verse 11, he reminds himself of that “The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior”.


Do you think it feels a bit odd to be complaining and grumbling at God? I know it does to me, sometimes, but at other times I have to admit that I’m tempted to start my prayers with “Hey, Lord, where ARE you right now? We need some help here!”

But I think that the desire of God isn’t that we have a ‘fair weather friend’ relationship with us.  I think he wants us to be able to come to Him ‘warts and all’ – to be able to bitch and grumble at whim when we feel things have gone pear-shaped – because it is only through honesty in relationships that true relationships grow.

Like Homer Simpson, we’re not immune to the crises of modern life. Nowhere in the Bible – Old or New Testament – does it say that being faithful to God will give you a ‘Get out of trouble free’ card in life.

Right now, MY heart is full – personal issues, terrorist attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, political crises and scandals. “Lord, where are you? We’re here; we’re suffering; your people are crying out. I am suffering; I am crying out too. Where are you? “
But then, like Jeremiah, I remember “The Lord is with me” – and I start looking for His work. And I remember the words of Jesus to his followers “And I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I have His promise; like Jeremiah, I can take the promise of the Lord and work with it; it may not be easy, but I know that, no matter what, God is with me. And all of us. We need to have faith, and look for His works.

Reader Joe Pritchard

Christ the King – Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20 (20th November, Christ the King)

Christ the King

Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word, Jesus Christ, our Savour. Amen. Please be seated.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.

Now what might surprise you is that this feast was only added to the Western liturgical calendar in 1925, when it was celebrated in October, and was only moved to it’s current position on the last day of the Liturgical Year as late as 1969.  It might seem strange to us to think that it took the Church 1900 years before it actually got around to adding the celebration to the liturgical calendar, but that’s the way it was; whilst Christians acknowledged Christ as King of Creation, the institutional Church just took it’s time recognising it formally.

Just to put things in to context, the first celebration of the Feast of Christ the King took place less than 10 years after the end of what was still being called ‘the war to end all wars’.  Mussolini’s fascist party was in power in Italy.  In Germany the leader of a small political party called Adolf Hitler was starting to make a name for himself, and the US was enjoying the ‘Roaring Twenties’, just a few short years  before the Great Depression would lay waste to western economies.  Here in the UK, government policies were laying the foundations for the 1926 General Strike.  All in all, the world was somewhat out of control.

What better time for the Church to formally acknowledge that, despite what’s happening in the world, Jesus Christ is indeed King of the whole universe.

And as we look at the world around us today and consider the upheavals and changes that 2016 has brought us, we might consider that it’s worth our while being reminded that despite everything, Christ is indeed King.

And who better to help us remember than the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is probably better known for being something of a misery guts than for what he actually said.  He’s been called the ‘weeping prophet’, and to call someone a Jeremiah is to basically accuse them of being overly pessimistic.  But Jeremiah was a bold and brave prophet; he answered God’s calling and whilst he was not always enthusiastic about what God called him to say to the people, he did so with boldness and ‘said it as it was’ – if you sinned, you were called out even if you were the King.

But tonight’s reading, although it starts harshly, is one in which Jeremiah offers the people a small bit of hope when they were in desperate need of it.

The time to which this refers is a bad and uncertain time for the people of Judah; a smallish nation surrounded by large powers, Judah had had to decide who to support in a period of conflict – Egypt or Babylon. Judah ended up being invaded by Babylon and the Babylonians appointed Zedekiah as King. Unfortunately, Zedekiah chose to turn against Babylon, who then laid siege to Jerusalem.  When Zedekiah pleads with God for help in Jeremiah 21, God basically says that you’ve brought this upon yourself, that he will help the Babylonians, and that he’ll hand over Zedekiah and ALL the people to Babylon.

Poor old Zedekiah never really lived up to the meaning behind his name – “The Lord is my righteousness”.

And by the time of tonight’s reading, somewhere around 586BC, Jerusalem was in ruins, Solomon’s temple destroyed, and only a few agricultural workers had been permitted by the Babylonians to stay in the land.

Our reading tonight from Jeremiah starts with the Lord denouncing and accusing those who have been ruling Judah.  Let’s remind ourselves of God’s statement through Jeremiah to the people.

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture….Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and not bestow care upon them, I will bestow punishment upon you for the evil done.”

And the Lord isn’t forgetting HIS role in this; he promises that he will gather up the people from where He – the Lord – has driven them, and that he will bring them back and give them leaders – shepherds – who will serve them well, calming their fears and protecting them from harm.

We’re seeing the difference between the ‘bad shepherds’ that ruled during the time that led to the destruction of Judah and the ‘good shepherds’ that the Lord will put in place. Shepherds – Kings – who will genuinely care for the people, who will tend to their needs, who will watch out for the lost and the missing, and who will remove fear and terror from their lives.

Jeremiah is able to give the people a small, but bright, glimmer of hope.  Like a patch of blue sky in the grey sky of winter.

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely, and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called : “The Lord our righteousness.”

This is a messianic passage; the word ‘branch’ here is actually rendered as ‘Messiah’ in some Aramaic paraphrases of this text. The King to come will have all the traits of a good King, and those of a good shepherd, and more.

Although Zedekiah didn’t live up to the meaning of HIS, very similar name, we know that Jesus the Messiah, foretold in this passage, will do what is just and right, and be a shepherd to all his people.

Our own leaders tend, however, to be closer to Zedekiah in their attitudes and behaviours.

The word of the year, apparently, is ‘post-truth’.  I have to say that when I first heard this word my eyebrow was raised almost to my hairline…which is quite something for me.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘post truth’ as:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

We currently have a period of great uncertainty in politics; a time when if you ask enough of our so-called leaders a question you’ll get any answer you want. I’m sure that we’ll soon have leaders declaiming that ‘black is white…if that’s what you want it to be.’ We have strong leaders who don’t seem to be caring for all their flock; we have others who, shall we say, are true exponents of ‘post-truth’ politics.

At times like this we Christians need to bear in mind that ‘post-truth’ is simply a mealy-mouthed way of saying that our leaders no longer feel they need to be honest with us; that they will not necessarily “reign wisely and do what is right in the land”. Instead, they’re more likely to ‘go with the flow’ and end up being those shepherds that Jeremiah warned us about – the ones who scatter us from our pasture, and who don’t care about us.

At times like this, we must remember that we have one King who is not ‘post-truth’ – He is ‘the truth’. Jeremiah was able to tell the people the there was good news coming.

And tonight, as we celebrate that Christ is indeed King of the Universe, we too can bear in mind that a true good shepherd reigns, and no post-truth tomfoolery can take that away.

Let us pray that the reign of Jesus Christ will live in our hearts and come to our world.


Joe Pritchard – Reader