I have been out of the pastorate of a stated congregation, except for eight months as an interim, since May of 1992. I am sometimes asked, "What do you miss the most?" (There are several things about pastoring I do not miss at all, I assure you. One is the warfare that swirls around people’s dissatisfaction with the pastor, which is common to every church I know.) But there is one thing I miss very profoundly and I was made aware of this again when I preached in the pulpit of my "home" church this morning, First Reformed Church (RCA) in South Holland, Illinois. I miss doing faithful, regular exposition of the biblical text.
Now I do preach a lot. And I do still preach expositions, in fact I do this primarily. But I also am asked to tackle subjects, themes and special events a lot. What made today so different was that I was asked to consider preaching from one of the Lectionary texts of the day. I chose Jeremiah 32. I chose it, I think, because I too rarely choose an Old Testament text from one of the prophets. (I have preached Genesis in its entirety, as well as from other parts of the Pentateuch. I have also preached wisdom literature and a lot from the Psalter. But the prophets have not been an area where I preached a great deal during my twenty years in the pastorate. (I think the radically different systems of eschatology inclined me away from them since I did not want to get into the various "hot button" controversies. This is, admittedly, a lame excuse and with age and experience I would not shy away now at all.) Anyway, I chose the text from Jeremiah 32 for today and I enjoyed preaching it more than I commonly enjoy preaching.
Read Jeremiah 32 if you get an opportunity this week. (I hope to out the video of my sermon on our Web site soon.) Right in the middle of all the gloom and doom of the Jeremiah’s warnings that God would destroy Jerusalem and Judah comes this amazing witness to hope in chapters 30-33. Chapters 30-31 are poetry. Chapters 32-33 are prose. And right in the middle comes this account of Jeremiah buying this land and sealing the deal. The whole act seemed senseless and, quite frankly, completely ridiculous if you follow what is going on here. What is really going on here? The answer is to be found in Jeremiah 32:27ff. and in the well-known promise that occurred earlier about the New Covenant written on the hearts of all who believe in a future day. God will bless his people, the whole earth will know good news, and the prophet demonstrates his confidence in this promise by this amazing act of faith in buying this land. Surely it was symbolic but it was also a very real and detailed account of a purchase made when land meant nothing to a starving and dying people.
I am not sure the good people at First Reformed Church got as much from this message as I did. (I am quite sure that they did not since the preacher always gets the most from his own preaching if his heart is truly open to the Spirit of God working through the act of his preaching!) I spoke with several friends before I drove to the airport to fly to Washington, D.C., where I am resting tonight. They encouraged me a great deal about the message.
Tomorrow I take part in the board meeting of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) here in D.C. Pray for me and for this strategic ministry to denominations, churches and leaders in our nation. It is a wonderful experience for me to be part of IRD when so much money and energy is being put into the so-called Christian Right, which I do not share great enthusiasm for as many of you know. There seems to me to be far too few groups that are taking the stands that IRD does without the methodology and strategy of the Christian Right. IRD has a solid perspective on the role of faith in democracy and also includes Catholics and Protestants working side-by-side for issues that concern many of us as active Christians in our culture.