Sermon preached on 10 October 2010

Here’s what I said this morning. More or less.

Unfortunately I forgot the video camera this morning, which is a shame. There’s a rather poor audio version though – I’m afraid that’s all I have.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I’d like to focus on Jeremiah this morning – he is over there in the windows and thus I look at him every day. However, we don’t ponder him terribly much in church, yet he is a major prophet and well worth pondering once in a while, if not more often.

We’re in the middle of a little run of Jeremiah. Last week we had the start of the book of Lamentations – traditionally associated with him. Today his letter to the exiles living in strange cities and next week we get another bit.

The lectionary compilers in trying to be kind to us – there is quite a lot of Jeremiah – and we could have a chapter a week to get us through the year. However, Jeremiah seems so often seems something of a gloomy soul – wailing over the people’s sins and telling them to buck their ideas up or be ruined.

Ruin comes anyway and the prophet then gets the miserable job of saying “Ha, I told you so” to the people of Judah. Though he’s such a soor-puss, I do sometimes wonder whether he enjoyed doing so anyway.

The big theme in Jeremiah is the threat that came from the Babylonians. Buck up and be good, says the prophet to Judah, or the Babylonians will come to get you.

And sure enough they do.

The text that I want to focus on today is that line in this morning’s first reading, “Seek the welfare of the city where I (that’s the Lord) have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Its one of those positive jewels which shines out all the brighter from Jeremiah because of the misery that surrounds it.

When I first looked at this during the week, I wanted to polish up that jewel and offer to you a brilliant reflection on how we need to seek the welfare of the city – this glorious city of Glasgow and pray for its welfare and meditate on the idea that in its welfare we will find our own welfare.

Its a neat idea for a sermon – one could also throw in the city motto – Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word and preach a nice safe sermon about how we’ve all got to work for the common good and the good of the city in which we dwell and all will be well.

Well, its a fine idea and that’s where I’m going to end up this morning. But first lets see what it was really all about for that idea is to take it ever so slightly out of context.

For Jeremiah is not writing to a settled community.

He is not writing to people who are at peace.

He’s not really writing to Glasgow’s west end.

The exile has happened. What happened was that the people’s enemies took them capture and sent them away to Babylon. But not all the people though. The Babylonians took away the thinkers, the scribes and the preachers, the professors and the teachers. They removed from amongst the people those who were the guardians of culture and those who could think. Imagine. The universities empty. The teaching hospital with no teaching staff. The writers and the popstars, the documentary makers and the journalists, the managers and the payroll clerks.

All led away to Babylon. The west end would be decimated.

Even the bloggers would be led away in chains.

Jeremiah writes to that situation. The steeples of the churches of Great Western Road falling over with no-one to maintain them. the roads impassable with potholes. The sewage system broken and stinking. The city falling to pieces before his eyes and only a puppet government left in mock administration.

Such is the situation in which Jeremiah laments.

And faced with such destruction who wouldn’t.

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people. How dejected is the prophet who looks on as the city crumbles.

In such a time as that, Jeremiah write to the exiles. These are the people who have been sent away to Babylon – 500 miles or so from their homeland. Its as though most of the people of the West End were ripped out of Glasgow and scattered in exile on the south coast of England.

The poor exiles. What were they doing. Doing what exiles do, I guess. Doing their best to live and trying to keep culture alive.

You can imagine them gathering of an evening around a glass of Babylonian wine and quietly singing to themselves – O flower of Judah, when will we see your like again….as tears rolled down their cheeks.

However Jeremiah – the prophet of God, old miseryguts himself seems to advocate another song.

He says – sit up, live well and contribute to the place in which you are found. Let your song be: I belong to Babylon, dear old Babylon town….”

Seek the welfare of the city in which you are in exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf. For in its welfare you will find your own.

Today of course, we are a much more muddled people. As we worship here it is more than mere national roots that give us identity and I’m glad that this is so.

I try never to forget that I am an incomer to this city. I need to remember that though I have roots here, I’ve come to this city not once but twice to settle here. And I must not forget when I preach here about exile and war and capture and ethnic cleansing and violence and corruption and all those horrible things which seem to happen in the Hebrew Bible that folk in this congregation have suffered them too – either directly or by extension through the experience of what has happened to their own relatives.

In this context, I am content to take pluck Jeremiah’s jewel verse out of context and to ask whether it is a useful totem for us as we wonder how to build great cities in the UK today.

For we are a gathered people. A muddled people. Some in exile. Some in their homeland.

As a congregation here, we have settled people, we have wandering people. We have those who have hopped denominations to find a resting place and those who have never known anything but the Episcopal Church all their days. We are a muddled up, mongrel people who unite around ideas and hope. And aspirations for peace and justice. And worship and a shared sense of Joy in being welcomed into the companionship of God.

For such a people, let us not be shy of stealing Jeremiah’s thunder and taking his words entirely out of context and misappropriating them to ourselves. (For so often that is what the gift of Scripture is for).

Let us bind this idea on our hearts and minds and indeed, seek the welfare of this city and of this congregation which meets therein.

For in the welfare of each is welfare for us all.



  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    I love Jeremiah. I don’t think he ever has a dishonest or a mean thought – though he has angry ones. I think he is entitled – he was not treated well. And I don’t think he really enjoyed all the gloom. He just got to the point of seeing all too clearly that believing that God would protect Jerusalem because God was believed to have his home there was tosh. God was having to destroy what he had created in order to let it be built again, and it was not, Jeremiah thought, God’s fault.

    And I think he would like the further application of his words. I think he was a man who knew there was only one thing to do – work for good as hard as you can. Do all the life-giving things.

  2. Evidently, the microphone doesn’t like being propped up behind the MC’s chair. We shall know for next time.

  3. You guys have an MC? Exciting! I maintain it would be cool if churches had actual DJs, getting the congregation in the mood, like warm-up acts in showbiz 🙂

  4. the V.R. surely?

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