Sermon – 19 September 2004

For the last couple of months I have been focusing on the underlying tone of justice in the gospel readings that we have been having week by week.

This morning, I want to talk about something different, but related. I want to talk about way each of us is with God.

More specifically, I want to talk about the first reading that we had this morning. The question sung out by the prophet Jeremiah at us rings down the ages. And it rings around the world today.

Is there no balm in Gilead?

What does the prophet mean by his cry.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no God in heaven who can do anything about the world in which we live? Is there to be no food for the starving? Is there no peace for the frightened? No health for the sick? No good news for the dying?

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there nothing to heal the nations? Is there nothing to heal the soul? Is there nothing to soothe my heart and give me God?s shalom peace once and for all?

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Jeremiah the prophet is teaching us something by his cry. He is teaching us how to react in God?s presence to a world which is puzzling and which often seems hopeless.

You don?t need me to enumerate the situations which seem hopeless. Beslan. Sudan. Iraq. And plenty of places and people far nearer to home than that. The world is a place were things go wrong.

And in the middle of a similar world, a prophet cried ? is there no balm in Gilead?

It is a cry of lament from a prophet who knew that his cry was a part of the answer.

It seems to me that there are lots of different forms of religion in the world. And some are good and some are bad.

And one of the criteria for whether our religion is good for us is whether it allows us to be honest about things and address the world the way the world really is.

There is a dream in the biblical texts of a world put right. A world where there is no crying and no pain. A world of triumphant Halleluiah?s. A world where God?s people are at peace and all is right with the world.

But, so far it remains a dream, albeit one that is worth dreaming, but a dream all the same.

But the cry of the prophet challenges us to wake up. To wake from our slumbers and get up and face the world as it really is. To remember the hopes and dreams of peace and justice which we might dream in sleep and get up, face the world as it really is. And to start to work on the dream. A time to stop dreaming and to start to answer the question ? is there no balm in Gilead?

Gilead was a place where there was balm, of course. Gilead was a place where there were many herbs. It was a place of healing and refuge.

There was in fact balm in Gilead.

And there is healing and refuge in a world gone wrong.

The Spiritual that I sang is one of the ways in which the prophet?s question has been answered. What balm, what salvation, what healing there is for a hurting world lies in what we can do. To preach. To pray. To sing. To live the love of Jesus. To keep singing the songs of freedom even when, as it seemed to Jeremiah, there was little point.

You can feel Jeremiah?s melancholy state. Jeremiah was being honest about his world and the way he felt. Jeremiah was using a form of song which has largely passed us by ? the lament. Only very rarely do we hear lament ? usually in Scotland, a lament played by a lone piper.

But when things happen like the Russian school siege, is it not lament which rises in the human heart?

And Jeremiah can teach us how to be with God.

When sad things happen ? we can take it to God, just as when good things happen. Though these days this often seems to be forgotten.

There is a strand of Christianity which maintains that so long as you behave yourself and believe all the right things, then God will cause the sun to shine on you.

Tell that to Jeremiah. Or to Job. Or to a saviour who went to a cross for not better reason than telling people that they were loved, already loved by God.

All of this touches on the kind of spirituality, practical spirituality which I am trying to preach here. Simply put:

? You are loved by God.
? You are made in God?s image
? You are blessed by God
? Honesty is a part of the spiritual life
? And God will laugh with you when you are happy and cry with you when you are sad.
That is the basis of lament and it is something that Jesus himself suggested to the disciples that they would do. And I suggest to you today that as one of God?s own beloved ones, there is no shortcut to heaven. There will be lament as well as praise on the journey back to God.

Lament is the first step in getting back on our feet when things are going wrong.

Recognising the way things really are is a part of every spiritual tradition. Recognising the need to tell God how we feel about the way things really are is a part of every spiritual life.

And though there is melancholy, there is good news too.

For to address God is to answer the question itself. Is there balm in Gilead? Yes, there is the Lord our God.

Is there anything to say to people who are hurting, or hungry or crying out for spiritual nourishment? Is there anything to say to those in need? Anything for those who seek shortcuts to heaven? Anything for those who are numb inside.

There is the love of God.

There is a balm in Gilead ? healing for souls which are sore, salve for hearts which are troubled, salvation for sin sick souls.



  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon – 19 September 2004
    Excellent sermon – Yes, God is the answer, even when we try to pretend otherwise.

    Great idea, posting these sermons o­n your blog.  Thank you

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