Last week I began preaching on the prophet Jerimiah and suggested that it is important for us to listen for what the prophet spoke about because God puts the words into his mouth. The first chapter of Jeremiah is very much about establishing the importance of this very point – Jeremiah is important and listening to his voice is important. His words which are God’s words will include judgement and hope, words that are uncomfortable to hear because in them we hear God contending with people and their behaviour.
As we move now into Chapter 2 and through to Chapter 6 of Jeremiah what Jeremiah is doing is setting up the conditions necessary for repentance. He begins to outline what it is that the people had done wrong – which largely boils down to their decision to forget about God.
But here’s the problem when people are wrong sometimes, and probably a lot of the time, they don’t know that they are wrong.
Essentially what Jeremiah is saying is that back there in time you made some bad decisions and now you are not even aware that they were bad decisions.
Last week I emphasised the point that when we listen to these ancient stories we are listening to the living voice of God still speaking through them so in theses chapters of Jeremiah one of things that I think that we are hearing is the same thing. That at some point in our lives just like the Israelites we have passed the sign “Wrong way. Go Back”
We do as individuals, we do it as communities and we probably even do it collectively as humanity. We make bad decisions, wrong decisions.
Now as the author Kathryn Schulz points out often we don’t realise that we are wrong, we ar3e completely unaware that we have made a wrong decision and it is only when this is pointed out to us that we become aware and we might then regret our decision, or in our context as Christians admit our fault as we confess our sin.
Sometimes our wrong decisions can have big impacts on ourselves and on others and sometimes they are smaller. And there can be no doubt that our decision making have layers of complexity or that sometimes we can oversimplify the decisions.
If we make the wrong decision though it may be realised immediately or it may be we think we are still right and it may take us days or months or even years to realise, that is to say if we ever do! Yet the decisions we make and our awareness of them can change us.
Let me share a story about a time I did something wrong. I was at the National Assembly meeting of the Uniting Church. There were about 400 people in the room and we had been debating a sensitive issue for a few hours. Now in our meeting we were given the option of holding up an orange card, for agreement, or a blue card, for disagreement or concern, and we were coming to the final vote.
The last card I had held up was blue but now we were to make the final decision and the President of the Assembly called for us to hold up our cards and there was a sea of orange cards waving in the air and I thought to myself finally we have arrived. But then the President said wait we still have one blue card and holding my card aloft still I looked around the room for the blue card as gradually I saw more and more eyes turning to the corner of the room I was in. The person next to me nudge me and pointed at my card, oops – not the orange card I thought I was holding.
It was at that point I realised I had accidently grabbed the wrong card and waves of embarrassment washed over me as I changed my card whilst the whole meeting watched on.
Now this accidental choice may not have been deliberate but it still had consequences and I still feel a sense of shame and embarrassment when I think about this simple mistake. Of course, sometimes our decisions are more intentional but all of us can make decisions that are unknowingly or knowingly wrong and it is not until they are pointed out that we might feel that sense of regret and sorrow over the decision.
I would want to say though often life is more complex than simple right and wrong decisions and when we are given a decision to make we have multiple options.
Often as Christians we might think there is only one “right” choice to make from the multiple options but I am not sure that is the case. We can seek God’s wisdom and try to make the best choice from the options yet just as one there is only two options there can be options we take that later on we might regret.
The prophet Jeremiah is trying to help the people realise that some of their decisions, especially in relationship to God have been wrong ones.
They passed the sign!
They forgot about God’s love and grace and generosity. The made their own cracked cisterns rather than delighting in the living water of God.
Jeremiah is exposing the need for repentance and declaring that though they might think they are right the people have been wrong. They have chosen a path that leads away from God and into themselves.
As we listen to this story and we remember our own lives and the history of humanity we confronted to consider our own journey through life. This is why we confess our sins each week – even though sometimes we may not even know what those might be. We confess that we passed the wrong way go back sign.
We do it in our own lives. We do it as parents, as colleagues, as spouses, and as friends.
And sometimes we do it as communities, even as congregations. If we look back through the history of this congregations there is no doubt that we would find moments in which we ask, ‘Did we forget God? Did we take the wrong pathway?’ We certainly have done it as the church through history.
I remember meeting a young Baptist guy about 20 years ago who was doing his doctorate on the idea of confession and repentance because he was struggling with the fact his grandparents had been involved in running aboriginal missions in which children were taken from their parents. When many of the people involved were doing what they were they believed they were doing something right, not wrong.
The reading that we had from Jeremiah does not resolve the problem that he is naming for the Israelites or for us. Yet listening to the gospel reading for the day we do get a sense of how we might respond.
In Jeremiah we find a God who judges, who contends with the people for forgetting him. A jealous God. But here in Jesus we find a God who is encouraging humility, encouraging us not to see ourselves as better than others.
This is not about self-hatred or self-deprecation, it is about acknowledging that we are people that are like the Israelites. We pass the sign wrong way go back and we do not even see it.
Yet in the story we are also reminded that Jesus took the lowest seat of all on the cross and later was exalted as he was raised from among the dead and then ascended. The promise of God is that this journey from the humble seat to the exalted one is promised to you and I as well.
So have we been like God’s people of every age. Do you and I pass the wrong way go back sign? Yes. Do we hear the voice of God declaring our predicament? Yes. Do we find hope in Jeremiah’s promise of the Messiah and the coming of Jesus? No doubt we can.
Jesus presence in the world and his presence now through the power the Holy Spirit is a source of hope for us. Let us then consider our decisions, and the directions we have taken, and let us find hope in the one who stays with us even when we pass the sign wrong way go back.