Sixth Sunday After Epiphany - Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, and 1 Corinthians 15:12-20


Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on God’s teaching day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season. Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals, and make mere flash their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness. The lessons we read today address the fundamental questions of trust and identity. How do the people of Israel understand themselves? In whom do they place their trust? Jeremiah, and all the prophets, remind them that most importantly, they are God’s people, living in covenant with the God of Abraham and Sarah. The theme of trust and security is one of the ongoing struggles we read about in the Old Testament In the book of judges, the people of Israel have no human king. God is their king, and God raises up charismatic leaders when the people have need of them. Finally, in the time of the prophet Samuel, the people demand a king, “so we can be like other nations,” they say So God gives them a king – but keeps trying to remind them that God is really in charge In later years – in the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah, for instance – the people have divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. When threatened by outside forces – Babylon, Assyria – to whom do they turn for security? Instead of turning to God, the kings and the people are quick to seek political alliances to keep them safe. They do not trust God to help and protect them. The prophets proclaim that this attitude is unfaithful to God. According to the prophets, the people of Israel and Judah pay for their unfaithfulness when God allows them to be overtaken by hostile powers. The readings from Jeremiah and Psalm 1 address the question of identity and trust head on. Will you trust in God – in God’s law, God’s promises made in the covenant with Israel? Or will you trust in something else – something finite and mortal? Israel’s identity was based on the Torah – the law given them by God, who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and made them God’s people. Their identity is based on the covenant – the relationship of promise and trust – they had made with God. Who are you, people of Israel? The writer of the first psalm gives the answer: we are the people brought together and sustained by God’s law, and the covenant God has made with us. Jeremiah reminds the people – we are the people who trust God above all else. As Christians, we, too, find our primary identity in our relationship with God. We are God’s children. In baptism, Paul says, we have been raised to new life in Christ Jesus. We are included in the promise that those who trust in God are like trees planted beside a stream, which have a constant source of water even in times of drought. We also know Jesus Christ, who called himself Living Water, and promised that no one who believes in him will thirst again.  It is God’s promise of new life that has Paul so excited in his letter to the Corinthians. Apparently some among them had been questioning whether or not they believe in the resurrection of the dead Paul responds – if it is not true, then everything we have been about together has been in vain. For Paul, the cornerstone of Christian faith was in the resurrection – the triumph of God in Jesus over death and sin and hell. Jesus died and was raised so that we might also have eternal life. That is what Paul means when he says that Jesus is the first fruits – Jesus’ resurrection was a sign that God has conquered death, and that all who live in Christ will share in his resurrection. There is one particular class, in all the years I went to seminary, that I remember often. The class was actually taught as a model of how to teach adults – and I guess it was effective, because the lesson I learned has stayed with me all these years. The professor started the class by asking us to get out a piece of paper, and divide it in half. On one side, he said, write all the ways you answer the question, “Who are you?” So we all got busy writing, and when we shared our answers, they were all similar: answers like spouse, parent, student . . . How would you answer that question? Who are you? Then our professor asked us to turn to one of the psalms – I don’t remember which one now. Read the psalm, he instructed, and write down the answers you think the writer of the psalm gives to the same question: Who are you? This time, answers were very different: Sinner – forgiven by God – dependent on God – Fundamentally, the writer of the psalm saw him or herself as a Child of God. It amazes me that none of us seminary students had given that answer. But perhaps it isn’t so amazing, given the way our culture teaches us to understand ourselves. By our work – I’m a teacher, a computer scientist, a construction worker. By our family relationships – I’m a parent, spouse, child. But not by our fundamental commitment to God. The question of how we understand ourselves is closely linked to the question of trust. In what, or whom, do we place our trust? In our education? Our savings and retirement planning? Our job or profession? In our family relationships? In the power of modern technology and modern medicine? What is the first question we ask of someone we meet – “What do you do?” And by that we mean, what is your profession, your job. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. Education, work, family, medicine, are all gifts from a loving God who wants our lives to have meaning. And greeting someone at a party with questions about their religious commitments might not go over too well. But the question of identity remains. Who are we? Whose are we? And how do we remember, in the midst of a culture that believes otherwise, that our primary identity is found not in our work or family or income or lifestyle, but in our baptism? We live in fear-filled times, which often drive us to look hard for something we can trust. The media and the government play to our fears, hoping we will look to them for security, and our money and our votes will follow. Graphic reports of violence in Iraq and the Middle East and in our own communities. Warnings about global warming and the demise of social security. Personal experience of cancer and alzheimer’s. Confict and violence in homes and workplaces and even churches. We can easily become overwhelmed by the level of suffering and need in our world, and our response can be fearfulness and hopelessness. Into this broken world, God has spoken a word of hope. God’s Son was born, and lived a human life, and died. And then God raised him from the dead. Death is not the end. What we fear does not have ultimate hold over us, because Jesus triumphed over sin and death, once and for all. We do not put our faith in a Lord who lived 2000 years ago – but in a Lord who is alive now. Jesus offers himself as living water. In the waters of baptism we are given a new identity as God’s own children forgiven, beloved, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are given the gift of new life – renewed hope and freedom now, in this life, and eternal life with God. One of my very favorite prayers is the one we say at baptism, and I’ve often used it in daily prayer to remind me of who, and whose, I am.  Let us pray together now: We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen. Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe                                                 February 11, 2007

Photo taken at Battleship Rock in the Jemez mountains, New Mexico

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