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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - Terror on Every Side

Bishop Barron - Terror on Every Side

Bishop Barron - Terror on Every Side

Peace be with you. Friends, today we return to Ordinary Time. So after the long Lenten and Eastern season, then we had Trinity Sunday, then we had Corpus Christi. Now we come back to Ordinary Time. And it's my joy today to focus on the first reading, which is taken from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. We hear occasionally, but not all that often, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. But he's one of the key figures in the Old Testament. Along with Ezekiel and Isaiah and Daniel, he's one of the so-called major prophets. That means, first of all, someone that wrote a really long prophetic book, as opposed to the minor prophets, but also someone who really had a major impact on the life of Israel.

So Jeremiah is someone that we should attend to. Maybe just a little bit about his personal history. Born, they think, around the year 650 BC. So think of King David somewhere around 1000 BC; we are a few centuries after that. He dies, Jeremiah dies, about 570 BC. Now, the important thing to know is he's doing most of his key work in the years just prior to, and just after, the Babylonian captivity. The year 587 BC: that's a key date for people reading the Bible. Because you could argue that it's the central preoccupation of the biblical authors. A lot of the biblical writings that we have were written in the years after the Babylonian exile. Well, Jeremiah is a major player at this time. He's speaking the word of the Lord at this sort of climatic moment in Israelite history.

Now, what was the theme of Jeremiah's preaching? And here things get a little dark, because his theme was kind of a terrible theme. He was predicting a great disaster for Israel, and it was the coming Babylonian captivity, which involved the conquering of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple. The temple meant everything to Old Testament Jews. So as this prophet is predicting it's all going to come crashing down, it didn't exactly make him Mr. Popularity. In fact, our word jeremiad, if a politician or a cultural commentator is giving kind of a dark assessment of things, we say it's a jeremiad. Well, that's from these texts of the prophet Jeremiah. One thing I should mention... One place we hear from the prophet Jeremiah a lot is at ordination liturgies.

I've been to a lot of those, and they usually read from the call of the prophet Jeremiah. He's called by the Lord and he says, "Oh, Lord, I´m too young". And Yahweh says, "Don't say you are too young". "A prophet to the nations I've appointing you"; "From before your mother's womb I've known you"; etc. So Jeremiah was called very young, but then he was given this kind of a terrible obligation to preach not a message of uplift and hope but kind of a message of gloom and doom. In fact, as the Babylonians were moving in around Jerusalem, his message became "You should surrender". You are a patriotic Israelite, and these enemies have come to the gate, and the messenger from God says "Give up"!

You see why his nickname was "terror on every side". That's the way the people characterized poor Jeremiah, because he was telling kind of a terrible message, and he was met with terrible opposition. So we hear in the reading for today: "I hear the whisperings of many: 'Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!'" That's typical of the prophet Jeremiah. And if you look a little bit earlier in this chapter twenty, you will find that the high priest in the temple had put Jeremiah in the stocks. Think of people in colonial America. In the stocks, where he was subjected to public ridicule. And just before the passage for today, we find this: "I have become a laughingstock all day long; everybody mocks me". Jeremiah even complains to God: "You duped me, and I let myself be duped".

It's tough being a prophet; it's tough speaking the word of God. Believe me: it often leads you precisely into this state of mind. People denouncing you in every side. "Everybody mocks me. Even it seems God has led me into this situation". But, but, listen now to what comes next. Just when you think Jeremiah is about to give up: "If I say, I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name, then within me, there's something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I'm weary with holding it in, and I cannot". Yes, it's terrible speaking the word of God. That what he's saying. But it's like a fire burning within me. I couldn't possibly hold it in; I couldn't possibly not speak it. Even though the result of it is terror on every side, everyone denouncing me. I love this, too, in the passage for today. Even as he acknowledges all the negativity of his prophetic mission: "But the Lord is with me like a mighty champion. Therefore, sing to the Lord, praise his name". Being a spokesman for God?

It's miserable, and it's wonderful. It's the worst possible thing, and your heart would burst if you didn't do it. It's terror on every side, and the source of all sweetness. I think of that character from one of Samuel Beckett's plays: "I can't go on. I'll go on". That's sort of what it's like to be a prophet. Ok, so you say, "Alright, I get it, with Jeremiah, and I guess maybe priests and bishops and professional religious types, they are kind of in this space". Mmm. Do not let yourself off the hook that easy. Remember Vatican II, everybody: every baptized person is priest, is king, and prophet. "Oh! Not me"! Remember Jeremiah. Don't say, don't say "Not me"! "I knew you before you were born". "From your mother's womb I called you". "I have sent you as a prophet to the nations". "Oh yeah, that's priests and bishops". No, no. Vatican II everybody. It's not just the privileges that come to the laity from Vatican II. It's the duties and responsibilities. And here is one of them: you've got to be a prophet. You've got to speak the divine word.

Now, maybe not in the sort of fully professionalized way that a preacher or priest would do it. But, by God, you are on! Every one of you, every baptized person, you are on for proclaiming the word of God. Easy? Try it sometime. Today? Are you kidding? I think back to someone like Fulton Sheen, the great Fulton Sheen. But he was talking to a culture that was very agreeable to the basic assumptions of biblical Christianity. Most people in 1950 in our country would have accepted the basic biblical view of life. They were sinners, of course, and he was exhorting people and informing people. But most people would have agreed with his basic assumptions. Now? Are you kidding? We are living through one of the most secularized times in our history. For most of human history, most people would have assumed you needed some kind of relationship to God to be happy, to be fulfilled. It's now, in recent years, for the first time really in our human history, a large contingent of people, certainly in our Western culture, feel that you can be perfectly happy apart from God. Secularism? It takes all kinds of forms, doesn't it?

The "I invent myself" culture. "Don't tell me what to do". "I don't need any transcendent referent". "My freedom determines the full meaning of my life". That's the default position for a lot of people in our culture. Ok, so, you get up publicly, and you begin talking about God, and the ways of God, and God's demands, and what God is calling us to be. Now, maybe not in Jeremiah's way exactly or in Fulton Sheen's way. But every baptized person, you bet: in your family, in your community, in your place of work, that you should announce your Christianity? Absolutely! How is that going for you? Believe me, it'll look a lot like terror on every side. Doubt me? Go on YouTube, go on any of my YouTube commentaries, and look at the comments. Go on Reddit sometime. Do you know that website? One of the most popular in the world. People share their opinions. I've done a couple of things where I've talked about religious matters. Watch the reaction. What happened to Jeremiah... Well, you know what? It happens to really all the prophets, up to today, including you when you speak the word of God.

So, do we give up? You bet it's terror on every side when you speak the word of God frankly and honestly in the public place. But, but, enter into that space in you where you feel exactly what Jeremiah felt. At the same time it's like a fire, and it'll consume me if I don't express it. At the same time it's the source of all sweetness, even as I face tremendous opposition. Somehow I would die if I didn't speak it. That's what it's like to be in the prophetic space. Sense, everybody, exactly what Jeremiah sensed, as he is in the stocks, as everybody mocks him, as the people and the leadership of his community turn on him. He can still say, "The Lord is with me like a mighty champion".

I think everybody, especially now, especially now, we need prophets. We need people that speak the word of God. Yes, in the public place; yes, in the media; yes, in the universities; yes, in the places where the culture is formed. And if we don't do it, it's not going to get done. And again, Vatican II: the universal call to holiness. That's not whistling Dixie. "That's a nice little phrase. Oh yeah, the universal call to holiness. That's great"! Yeah, but you know what it means? It means you've got to do what Jeremiah did. You've been called. And like Jeremiah, we are all tempted to say, "Oh Lord, not me. No, no, no. I'm too young," or "I'm too unexperienced," or "I'm too uneducated," or whatever excuse you've got. God has no time for that. No, no. "I called you".

Why are you baptized? It's a very interesting question to think about, Christians. Why are you baptized? That just happened by dumb chance? Dumb luck? God summoned you. That's the sign of God's summons to you. And part of what he called you to be and to do is to be a prophet who speaks his word. Will it cost you? Uh-huh. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about cheap grace, right? This ain't cheap grace. It'll cost you. But it's like a fire that will devour you if you don't speak it. It's like an infinite sweetness at the same time as a challenge. Maybe take a look this week at the book of the prophet Jeremiah, and realize it's not just a story of some ancient figure. It's your history, and it's my history. And God bless you!
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