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Re-form is an ancient act

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Reign of Christ Sunday – November 26, 2017

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 and John 14:27

During the last half of the 6th century BCE, a young Israelite, named Jeremiah, received a call to prophesy. The role of a prophet in ancient Israel was to be a spokesperson who would serve as a channel of communication between the human and the divine worlds. Jeremiah was reluctant to fill the role of a prophet, protesting that his youthfulness did not prepare him for the task and he did not know how to speak.  God however, promised that He would help him by putting God’s words into Jeremiah’s mouth and make him a prophet to the nations.

Now there was a call to action! When Jeremiah saw his own country lose its political independence and become a Babylonian province, he took up the call and over time became what we might call an outspoken prophet – advocating re-form, or a new way of doing things. He heard the cries of the exiled Israelites living in Babylon: They moaned about being displaced from their homes and excluded from their familiar practice of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Their complaining was directed at God for abandoning them, and they were depressed living in a strange land with foreigners and surrounded by many false gods.

Jeremiah responded to the many cries with a firm message and a strong voice.  He said to the exiles that they should settle down and make a new home for themselves and their children and grandchildren.  He warned them that their exile could be lengthy and their moaning and groaning would not assist them to be productive. Above all, Jeremiah reminded them that they were a covenant people. His message was, “Wherever you pitch your tent, God is there” –  God is not confined to a certain place, and they needed to broaden their practice of worship.

Re-formers throughout history have used their voices and uttered strong messages to bring attention to issues that need to be changed or improved. There are countless examples of modern re-formers but for today I’ll just highlight three individuals:

1) Rosa Parks, a determined, black woman was living in Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1950s. She was on her way home from work and took a seat on a city bus, in the section for ‘white people only’—this was clearly an illegal act in a segregated city.  She was stubbornly demonstrating that the amenities of life be made available for all people. This single act of courage prompted, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. It eventually led to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

2) A second example and much different from our first is Ralph Nader, a concerned American who led a major campaign in the 1960s for greater automobile safety. He worked tirelessly to ensure vehicle manufacturers conformed to legislation to provide safer automobile construction to reduce highway fatalities. Nader saw some deficiencies, had the insight to realize that the severity of accidents could be reduced and indeed took the steps which led to a significant increase in the survivor rate.

3) Our third example is of a teenager, so as you can see–there isn’t a minimum age-requirement for someone who sees a need for change and then takes action. Malala Yousafzai, was living in Pakistan and became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child. Her involvement resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat for her, in October of 2012, a gunman shot Malala in the head when she was traveling home from school. Fortunately, she recovered from her injury and has since been advocating for a national education system for all girls with the establishment of the Malala Foundation. At 17, she was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize

I’ve listed just three people from different decades in the last century, the possibilities are endless. Can you think of others throughout history who would be regarded as reformers?  (pause)  If I handed out pieces of paper and asked each of you to write down a name of a courageous individual who has taken action to make the world a better place, together we would come up with a enormous list and a huge variety of significant people.

And as you can see, the work for re-formers is not easy and it is often dangerous. They are often called disturbers and rebels and receive insults and death threats from unhappy citizens. Most people do not like change – it upsets the status quo and makes us look at injustices, which we often try to ignore. Modern-day re-formers, like Rosa, Ralph, Malala and the others whom we all paused to remember were concerned people who played a prophetic role to re-form inequities and imbalances in society.  Were they people from a higher echelon of society or just normal folk like you and I?  Well, Rosa Parks was a seamstress, Ralph Nader a lawyer and consumer advocate, Malala Yousafzai, was in fact a student. There isn’t a requirement for a certain level of education or certain ability, I guess the requirement is seeing the deficit or inequity and then having the courage to do something about it.

Re-formers have been active throughout the ages using their strong voices and actions to improve life. Some of them we hear about because their actions make a significant impact, noticed by many people.  Many re-formers go unnoticed – quietly working to bring about improvement – one day at a time, often behind the scenes.  Have we ourselves seen inequities that needed some quiet action, have we been willing to take that step to help make a difference?  As Children of God, we are called to follow our Saviour; Jesus was a radical re-former, bringing the Kingdom of God to live in the hearts of people.

In the reading from the gospel according to John (14:27), we can imagine John recalling the words of the prophet Jeremiah and putting them into his text to remind us we are not left without resources to live in this world. The Power of God’s Spirit goes with us wherever we make our home. Each of us is called to bring change – to be merciful and to seek justice.  Whenever we bring change in the name of Love, we are partners with Christ in re-forming the world.

 

Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church and Heather Tansem, Elder at Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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