Updated: Jul 18
Sermon for Trinity 7 - Jeremiah and Jesus responding poor leadership
If I were a literary critic I would write that there is no real timeline to the book of Jeremiah, it lacks a consistent theme, and the narrative style lacks coherence or consistency. But where a critic might dismiss it as badly written, other scholars say that its messy style echoes rather well what it was like to live at that time under King Jehoiakim of Judea. This Monarch was something of a flip-flopper - regularly switching allegiances and taking protections from one national leader to another, his stream of decisions regularly brought new directions and dangers, making it very difficult for his subjects to keep up.
Life was certainly not stable under his reign and in response Jeremiah, utterly convicted as a prophetic witness for those times, wanders about - as much in the text as he did in the land - trying to point it all out. Wanting to draw his community back towards the divine leadership that gives true hope, true direction and lasting security even in the midst of wobbling times. But, the people keep settling for less, keep trusting in the wrong things and often decide they don’t want to hear his uncomfortable message at all.
Some might say that the England footballer Marcus Rashford is something of a present day Jeremiah; the young black man who last year spoke so powerfully to government in defence of low-income families and children last year, who shone a light upon policies that disproportionately disadvantaged, the already disadvantaged. The same young black man who was met with abhorrent levels of disdain when this week he was racially abused along with two other players. Abused by a number who, ironically, included a father … who later confessed that his own children had benefited from Rashford’s social justice work last year. Marcus Rashford’s statement is an exemplar in humility and grace.
Prophets come in many shapes and sizes, and what we learn from both Rashford and Jeremiah, they rarely get the thanks they deserve, and their messages don’t often give them lasting glory. What we also learn from them though, is that real leaders don’t play to the crowd. They shepherd even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular.
Like Marcus Rashford’s campaign to highlight the hunger causing food inequality in government policy last year, Jeremiah also named and diagnosed what was at stake. He criticises the King’s chaotic and knee-jerk leadership and speaks of the people’s misplaced trust, before giving voice to these hopeful promises of rescue, better leadership and new stability. Shepherds who will not lose their sheep. Diligent, attentive, and compassionate leaders who join in the work of God in leading the people back to such safety and stability that they will then become fruitful and multiply.
What a wonderful way of describing what good leadership does - it instils confidence, it listens to need, it places people first, and it shares that with others.
Which brings us seven centuries on to hear of Jesus Christ in Mark’s Gospel, walking amongst another group people in chaotic turmoil - sheep without a shepherd. Leaderless, wandering, not knowing where to place their trust. We hear the level of anxiety in their clamouring at Christ for answers, for food, for healing.
A people who are like a rudderless boat going around in circles, like a scattered flock facing a wide open expanse, like a people suddenly left with the full responsibility of the pandemic in their own sanitised hands.
The readings today are urging us all to see the attributes of true and good leadership which is unbelievably timely at this moment in our politics and society where our current leadership is being rightly scrutinised and questioned. Many of us, Chris Whitty included, recognise the roll-of-a-dice and a-hope-for-the-best strategy by which we are presently being led. And today’s readings show us the disarray and chaos that such leadership brings about for their people, the anxiety and chaos, the misplaced trusts and hunger of need it creates. They also remind us what we are to do.
As the present-day people of God, Jeremiah tells us not to naively put our faith in poor leaders and not to just vainly hope for the best, but to place our hope in the very best, in divine leadership, in the One we find in the Son of God himself.
As the present-day Body of Christ, the example Mark offers us today, show us in Jesus that we are, to teach, to feed, and to reconcile. We aren’t to stoke the anxiety and chaos but become balm. We can throw a life raft out to those who are vulnerable if we lead by example; if we place the needs of the other before ourselves and make choices that prioritise others, before our own needs. We can choose to follow his loving leadership rather than this loose and fast gamble.
And by keeping with Christ we will hold those who are lost or afraid, anxiously caught by the exhaustion and chaos that comes from poor leadership. We will model the compassionate leadership we have received … since we turned to the only one, who has our best interests fully at heart.
Please continue to wear your masks,
please continue to sanitise your hands,
please care for others and
Please stop this roll of the dice by our government
wreaking the havoc it threatens to do so.
Amen The Rector, The Rev'd Arwen Folkes (July 18th 2021)