Sermon, August 28, 2022

A Sermon


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

August 28, 2022

“Quenching Our Thirst”

…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:4-13[i]

These words from a poet who died in 1939:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.[1]

My friends, Jeremiah’s age was not the first or the last to have lived through a time when things fall apart.  His people will be crushed by a foreign power.  He will flee for his life to Egypt.  The best and the brightest of his nation will be taken captive by the conquerors. 

            And we awakened this week to discover that a former president of the United States stashed government documents in his basement, some so highly sensitive that their disclosure could cost friends of our nation their lives.  We wake each morning to learn of new disasters – famine in Africa, war in Ukraine, drought in Europe and here at home, our environment in peril.  Some seek escape from the news, but ignorance of what is happening does not change the fact that it happened.  Some fall into a state of helpless despair, but if the psychologists are right and despair is “anger turned inward,” than we have embraced a maladaptive escape that robs us of agency.  We would rather be crippled by our inward anger than engage the sordid mess before us.   You heard the words from Jeremiah.  Are we so different?

            Look about you?  How many are with us this morning?  I have just outlined a host of problems that beset us.  Would you not think that at such a time as this, people might feel compelled to seek the aid of God?  Is it our cunning and intellectual skill that has led us to seek the gods of our culture rather than turning to the living waters of faith?  In our hubris we have sought to solve the problems of our own creation.  We turn to the god of science and work for a technical fix to the destruction of our sustainable future failing to recognize that science, corrupted by sin and greed, has helped to bring us to this place of impending doom. 

            Add to this malaise our collective inability to embrace the truth, and our impotence is complete.  We live in a time when “facts” are thrown aside and opinion reigns.  When asked why the then Press Secretary for the former administration had uttered verifiable falsehoods, an advisor to the then president, Kellyanne Conway, never answered the question but spoke of “alternative facts.”  We seem incapable of living in a world centered on truth.

            What is needed is what faith can offer.  Just as Jeremiah spoke of a nation that had lost its way, so, too, have we.  Unless we take seriously the nature of sin, unless we recognize our need to repent and set all things to the service of God, we will continue to twist our science to our advantage and seek to outwit our foes by using science to develop the next precision weapon rather than seeking to bring science to the service of creation.  In our sin, we twist all things to our own ends.  This will not stop once we have returned to seeking the guidance of God, but an acknowledgment of the pervasive force of sin will help us acknowledge our need to repent.  As it stands now, we think ourselves clever enough to untangle the twisted mess we have created.  What we fail to see is that we cannot untangle ourselves.  What is needed is the straight line of truth and a renewed commitment to walk where it leads.  It comes by way of a transcendent referent whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways.

             But I fear that I am “preaching to the choir.”  You who have gathered this morning already quest for the transcendent, already acknowledge God and have walked by the light God’s truth provides.  I am not reaching those who need to hear what I have to say.  They are not here and don’t much care to know what is being said. 

            In Jeremiah’s day, his nation would be defeated.  Many of his fellow citizens would be carried off into captivity.  Yet a remnant remained, a faithful few, and though the world was dark, the light of God’s truth sill burned.  Perhaps this is how we should view ourselves — a faithful remnant that remembers God’s demand for justice and God’s bias for the poor, that reminds the world of a truth bigger than ourselves.

            It may well be a lonely place to reside.  We may be seen as irrelevant fools who speak of things of old while the world presses on to what it perceives as the new.  But there looms a question.  Do you think faith to be foolish or our ultimate hope?  Do you think the world can set itself right if it never turns to walk in the way of God’s justice and peace?  Oh, it may well be that we are the voice crying in the wilderness but cry we must before we cannot cry at all.  Let us pray….

[1] From The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.

[i] Jeremiah 2:4-13

4Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

9Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. 10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing.11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.