Monday, August 25, 2008

Burning the Scroll

In December 604 B.C., Jeremiah was ordered by the Lord to write down all his prophecies on a scroll. The prophecies included many threats against the nation of Judah and its rulers and people, which would be enacted if they did not repent of their rebellious ways. Jeremiah, prevented from entering the Temple, sent his secretary Baruch to read the scroll to the people. The populace had gathered in the Temple for a fast. When they heard what Jeremiah had written, certain officials became interested and asked that the scroll be read in their presence too.

When Baruch complied, these officials took the words seriously and said that the king must be informed. Knowing that the king would not welcome the prophecies, they suggested that Baruch and Jeremiah go into hiding. The scroll was then taken into the king’s presence and read to him by a servant named Jehudi.

Since it was winter, there was a brazier with fire in it to heat the apartments. “Each time Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the fire in the brazier until the whole of the scroll had been burned in the brazier fire” (Jeremiah 36:23). The king then ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they had been hidden. The Lord ordered Jeremiah to write the scroll over again; it is likely that what he wrote now comprises the bulk of his prophecies that we find in the Bible. As we know, the king and his successor did not repent, and the threats in the prophecies of Jeremiah were fulfilled.

How often it has been the case that people refuse to hear or heed the word of God proclaimed to them. In Scripture we see it and in the history of the Church. It is very easy to assert that this pattern is showing itself again in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion today—which I think is true. Most of the leadership in the Episcopal Church and beyond is effectually “burning the scroll” by resisting and denying and trying to silence the authoritative word of God as received by the faithful from the earliest days of our profession. They continue to resist, and the road of calamity continues to be the main highway.

I think, however, there is great danger in stopping with such an indictment. Pointing the finger at others, even when there is good reason to do so, does not excuse the finger-pointers from being “scroll burners” themselves.

Unlike the king of Judah in 604 B.C., I believe that most of today’s “scroll burning” leadership does have at least a little something of value to contribute to understanding and living the Gospel. And it is a vital part of discipleship regularly and frequently to ask, “Where am I myself resisting the word of God? What do I not want to hear?”

I expect that, except for the great saints, every age, every individual Christian, has a blind spot somewhere in Christian profession. Other ages were cruel; others were indifferent to the suffering of the impoverished; others were complacent or lethargic. In each case those who believed themselves to be faithful could and did provide good reason for believing that their “blind spot” was consistent with the Gospel.

Pointing the finger, in love, is an important part of the Gospel, i.e. taking the speck out of a brother’s eye. We must not forget, ever, that taking the beam out of our own eye is even more important. These are the very words of Jesus. (See Matthew 7:3 and Luke 6:42.)

I suppose that God knows that fallen people, even the faithful, are prone to these blind spots, and that they plague our discipleship. I imagine that he has allowed for them, also, in the course of salvation history. May he open the eyes and hearts of today’s “scroll burners”; may he open my eyes and heart wherever that needs to be done.


Johanna said...

"“Where am I myself resisting the word of God? What do I not want to hear?”"

I also wonder--in addition to this--"what do I WANT to hear?" Am I bringing too much to the text so that it obscures the meaning/other meanings as well?

I think this is also a danger.

Thanks for posting!

TLF+ said...

Fr. David, your May sermon is posted at Stand Firm and is encouraging... but can you share something of how the four recommendations have played out as TEC continues to "burn the scroll"?

There are many parishes seeking a faithful way forward... has the model put forth in May borne good fruit for you all?