How do we turn back?
By The Revd Robert Jordan MA
One of the greatest realities of our faith is that we are not deemed to failure. That in God there is always another chance, and when Jesus came and showed us the way forward this was made particularly clear. God knows us well, knows who we are, what we can do, what we can't do, and what we find so difficult to do. Because this is so, in our faith journey we will always find the possibility of turning back from where we have ended up when it is the wrong place, this is what repentance is all about, and never more clear than in these two readings.
Jeremiah: the context is one of drought, which affects human beings, the earth, animals. And the prophet speaks from this reality of mourning - a painful plea - words that describe a dried up relationship. The prophet, in the name of the people, calls out to God, recognizing the failings and at the same time recognizing that God is the saviour and source of hope: they know God is not a stranger..."You are in the midst of us...don't forsake us" but God is not happy, if we read on to verse 11 it would seem God wants to disown the people: don't pray for them. God points out the false prophets that lead the people astray. And yes, all that is true,and yet the prophet does not give up...he pleads passionately to God - "Have you completely rejected the people?" One question after another, so similar to what we ourselves do in our relationship with God.
And then we have the master stroke from the prophet...yes God, you know the people, what they have done, but having said that we read: "Remember and do not break your covenant with us...", because, we could say - this is God's weak spot: the covenant, the one God time and time renews, in spite of everything. The new covenant we will celebrate today.
And even when the matter of the rain returns at the end of the chapter, it does have a twist: Is it not you, O Lord, who gives closeness after the separation.
And Luke...the author of the Gospel calls this reading a parable but let's be honest, this seems more a description of reality that Jesus has seen while walking the villages than a story. Two attitudes - the "What a wonderful chap I am, I do everything right", and "What a miserable chap I am, I don't seem to do anything right".
One set himself apart from everybody else: "Thank goodness I am not like those" (something that we can see far too often in the world today), and then we hear of the person who the Pharisee has given thanks that he is not like - the tax collector, who only pleads for mercy.
These two readings side by side challenge my thinking about our relationship with God. Particularly when we believe and accept that in Jesus we are reconciled to God and we are new creatures: creatures who are given a new possibility - we can turn back from our mistakes. So if we believe in the love of God shown in Christ we have been restored - we are not horrible people, rather we are people so loved that we are healed people, and yet because in Christ we are placed in a common relationship with everybody else,this does not mean we are better than everybody else, and so we cannot look down on the rest of the world, we share with all people God's creation and our place in creation.
... the people turn to God in the despairing situations of life but soon turn from God. Turning to God means turning away from where we were; turning away from God means turning to that which denies God. The call to seek that closeness which is the best description of the good relationship God wants, is based on humility and the recognition of our vulnerability and frailty, this is something we all are, and it is good to recognize it is there.
We are called to renew the covenant in the shared bread and cup, not because we are soooo good but because we are sooooo loved. And this sharing is a reminder of this commonality we share: Jesus' love for all, which makes us all one, equal in need of..and in gratefulness for that love. It is part of the wonderful process of learning to love and be loved, of being forgiven and to be forgiving.