Clevedon Presbyterian Church
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Burning bibles

June 27, 2021
Martin Baker

27 July 2021                                            Burning Bibles Martin Baker

Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-31

36In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. 3It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin. 4Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. 5And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; 6so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. 7It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” 8And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house. 21Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. 27Now, after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned. 29And concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah you shall say: Thus says the Lord, You have dared to burn this scroll, saying, Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it human beings and animals? 30Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring on them, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah, all the disasters with which I have threatened them—but they would not listen.

We don’t often hear in church a reading like the one we have just heard. A reading that describes how a King so disliked what he saw written, that he burned the scroll. He burned the book.  In fact, it seems that this is the earliest recorded description in history of book burning.

But is seems that burning Bibles has been the activity of many rulers and powerful people in history, who have taken offence at what the Bible has said.

In our Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, we stand in this history of those who have insisted that the word of God in scripture should be made available to everyone in their own language. And history tells us that some of our predecessors who translated the Bibles from Latin to the common language, were burned at the stake along with their new translated Bibles. Labelled heretics.

In fact, the first translator of the Bible into English, John Wycliffe, had his poor old body dug up after he died from a stroke, just so this body could be burned along with his early translations.

Bible burning continues today, and the list of countries that take offence at the content of the Bible is still surprisingly long.

So, with Jeremiah, the King and those in power not only tried to stop him speaking, not only tried to have him imprisoned and finally murdered, but also tried to burn the words which he got his scribe Baruch to write down.

So why does someone go to all that trouble?

We start off today by reading,

36In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim (who becomes the Bible burner) son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today.

Jeremiah has to take a scroll.  Books as we know them weren’t invented in those days. A scroll was extremely valuable in itself.  Made most likely from vellum, leather, or a kind of paper from papyrus. So, to go and take a scroll was itself to embark on an expensive and very significant venture. Only the most important things were written on scrolls.

The word of the Lord continues to say

3It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Read back, Jeremiah has been going around talking about the idolatry and corruption he sees about him for years, and it hasn’t changed very much at all.

To get a scroll, write the message down, it was all about giving these words as much weight and significance as possible in those ancient days.

What would be anything like the equivalent today?  To give words weight, authority, history significance ?  

Perhaps Jeremiah might ask the question about us. Are we trustworthy? Do we base our views and opinion on things that are truthful?  How discerning are we? Do we listen to those voices that are based on lies, on fear, on hate? I was reading a commentary last week where Pastors in the largest protestant denomination in the United State, the Southern Baptists, are facing huge challenges from the mis-information that church members are feeding them on the from the internet and Q anon.  Q anon feeds the internet with baseless nonsense explaining what is happening in the world - and more and more people are listening to this hate and fear filled information.

And maybe that isn’t so different from the challenge Jeremiah’s is facing. His society is under threat. Babylonians in the North. Egyptians in the South. The destruction of the neighbouring kingdom of Israel. What do people do under threat? Human sacrifices in his day to Malloch, worshipping Baal, enslavement and terrible treatment of the poorest.

Are bad behaviour’s signs of deeper distress?

So much of our scripture emerges from times and places of crisis.  And again, and again where there are so many false beliefs, false God, we hear words that keep reminding us from the Psalms, “Hope comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. “

So, when we are tempted to listen to strange conspiracies and false news all the time we are encouraged to go back to God’s word, open our bibles, and hear, “do not to be afraid, trust in the Lord.”

Our reading today continues.

4Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him.

Jeremiah was so unpopular that he was prohibited from even teaching at the temple.  So not only does he dictate God’s words for Baruch to write down, he then says to him

I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; 6so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. 7It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.”

So, Baruch does what Jeremiah asks. And eventually we hear that the King discovers what is going on and gets hold of the scroll for himself.

And then we have this really odd scene.

The King gathers all his officials and gets someone called Jehuid to read the scroll and as he does so in front of all these officials, he cuts the bits off the scroll after they have been read, and throws them into the fire.

22Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.

It’s a scene of extreme arrogance. “You read it Jehuid, and I’ll show you what its worth. “ As he cuts pieces off this precious scroll and throws them into the fire.

We can imagine the King going “haa, I’ll show you who’s in charge.”

And then what happens. Is that the end?

No. God says to poor Jeremiah

28Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned.

30Therefore thus says the Lord concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He shall have no one to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity; I will bring on them, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah, all the disasters with which I have threatened them—but they would not listen.

We all hope and pray that Covid will never happen again. But we know that experiences and memories are being formed even today. As we hear about new variants, about the scare in Wellington.

Jeremiah might be asking us about the tough lessons we learn in the midst of so much loss.  The lessons that might need to be written even if we wish to destroy them.  Just as the Chinese authorities are destroying information now about the origins of the Covid virus.  

To write down even the lessons that reflect the consequences of mistakes and errors and poor judgement. What are the things we need to remember?

The words that are written, even though Jehoiakim wanted them destroyed, form the basis of the story we hear sitting in church this morning.  Jehoiakim did not want the world, did not want us,  to hear about the consequence of his terrible and corrupt leadership.  But the Book is rewritten.

Remember later Jeremiah will say those famous words Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

So, again, tough lessons from Jeremiah.

Some points from today.

Our Scriptures are divine. The have the power and are source of life and hope and healing. But there is also an anger in our Bibles. A condemning of evil and corrupt people and a reminder that there are always consequences for our actions - that in the end will be revealed.

Judgement is always uncomfortable. But we have this gift of discernment that we can learn, listen and change from the things that are wrong. That future is not decided and that outcomes can be changed.

What are we watching, who are we listening to, what are we feeding our hearts upon? Baruch speaking God’s word from the scroll at the temple. Or Jehoiakim and his pen knife and his fire in that cold room in the winter.

And finally, we are resurrection people.

A lot of people found what Jesus had to say was difficult. Towards the end people started walking out, leaving. In John’s Gospel Chapter 6.

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Whether its words about our environment or about the personal choices we are making with our time and money, Jeremiah’s words, that question and judge, are never easy to listen to.    Jeramiah always affirmed the hope and power that comes from the choices we make.  

For us, in the end we say “Lord to whom shall go. You have words of eternal life.”

AMEN