Summer’s End – Sun Sept 22, 2019
Today we celebrate the beginning of fall with, as the sign says, “Summer’s End Community Brunch.” I love that the organizing committee reviewed our lectionary-assigned biblical readings when they were coming up with this great event! Because… I’m sure that’s what happened. That, or this is an example of how God likes to show-off every now and then. In this case, by ensuring that the theme of “summer’s end” is found in our lectionary-assigned biblical readings. So says the prophet Jeremiah today: “The harvest is past, The summer is ended…”
The context of Jeremiah’s message for us today is, of course, much different than a community brunch to welcome the fall. The prophet Jeremiah lived and worked roughly 500 years before Christ, from before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians through the exile of God’s people from their land. The threat and the war prior to the defeat of the Israelites lasted more than a decade, during which time the prophet Jeremiah preached in and around Jerusalem. Jeremiah warned the people, along with their political and religious leaders, that destruction would come if they did not heed the word of the Lord. Many of Jeremiah’s early oracles chastised the people for their unfaithfulness, both in terms of how they practiced their religious faith and how they organized their society. Jeremiah saw the end coming with the rise of Babylon and pleaded with the people to change their ways and turn back to the Lord before it was too late.
The sounds of judgement coming from the pages of the bible are certainly not our favourite and yet there are almost always notes of grace to be found even in the most difficult passages. Today’s passage from Jeremiah is one of those passages that takes what many still think of as the mean and judgmental so-called “God of the Old Testament” and shows instead another side to God. “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick,” God laments through Jeremiah’s pen. The prospect of Jerusalem’s destruction brings deep anguish to the Divine heart. Then follows a kind of conversation… the circumstances of God’s people are seen differently by the people and by God. The people see God’s absence: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” God see the people’s unfaithfulness: “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”
As in many relationships, God and God’s people have different perspectives, different experiences of the relationship, and as a result, different feelings about it. Jeremiah records the people’s lament that God has not acted in the way they wished and expected: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” The people wanted God to work a miracle. God wanted the people to change their behaviour. It is a kind of impasse, but the mutual finger-pointing brings neither side happiness, for the prophet’s lament continues: “For the hurt of my people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” Jeremiah goes on to describe his and God’s weeping: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” Such divine anguish may sound empty in the face of the suffering of a people whose God seems silent. So where might grace be found?
Whew… heavy stuff on a day of celebration and fun! Unlike the cries of the people of Jeremiah’s time, today we celebrate “summer’s end.” And, of course, we celebrate the beginning of fall. What is it about the end of summer that you, personally, celebrate today? What about it are we celebrating as a community of faith? Is there any grief, any lament, that tinges the celebration for you? The shorter days. The cooler temperatures. The anticipation of snow in the forecast. On the other hand, what about the coming of fall is cause for celebration? Pumpkin spice. Beautiful colors. The settledness of routine. The point is that endings and beginnings are connected. Each season has its own sorrow and its own joy. Each season has its difficulties and its gifts. Reflection in times of transition helps us remember to hold whatever we anticipate at the beginning gently and loosely. For God is not beholden to our expectation.
The experiences of our ancestors in faith, as told in the biblical story, teach us that God wants a real relationship with us. Indeed, God insists on it! This means that what we do, how we behave, and how we pray, matters. It means that while God may be all-powerful, God chooses to limit that power for the sake of relationship with us. As one writer said, “The responsiveness of God is such that the divine intention can be affected and even altered [particularly] by words of confession and repentance… there is a willingness, if not a strong desire, on God’s part to avert judgment. But divine action is not apart from what is happening on the human scene.” (NIB, 649) It is both good and difficult news that we have the power to alter God’s action. And God has the power to act according to God’s own will, whether or not it matches us with our expectation or desire. Being in relationship means that both parties are impacted and influenced by the other, without being one and the same.
Being in relationship also means sharing the ups and downs of life, as our passage from Jeremiah shows us today. God weeps when we weep, while remaining firm about what God requires from our faith. And God rejoices when we rejoice. God’s love for us means that God’s power is found in the vulnerability to suffer with us in the most difficult times of our lives, and to celebrate with us in the best times of our lives – and in all the times in between. It is a real relationship, with all the ups and downs of our human relationships. We can always count on God to hear our cries, of lament and of joy, and respond with compassionate love.
Today God celebrates “summer’s end” with us, whether it’s pure joy or includes a tinge of sadness. And God celebrates the coming of fall with us, along with all the new season promises to bring.