The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Jeremiah 20.1-11a; Romans 14.1-17
In E M Forster’s wonderful novel, ‘A Passage to India’, there’s the fateful visit by Mrs Moore and her party to the Marabar caves with their haunting echoes
. As you may remember, Azis, with huge pride, organises what turns out to be a disastrous visit. The echoes from those caves are a metaphor for what then continues, reverberates, throughout the rest of the story. But as Mrs Moore becomes separated from the rest of the party in the caves, the sound of the echo is all around her and we’re told
‘Suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity.’
She thinks that Christianity can’t stop talking. It’s obviously not a complement that she’s paying to religion, to the church, this condescending description ‘poor little talkative Christianity’. It’s a description though that sticks in the memory, like those echoes in the cave never leave Adela in the story.
The prophet Jeremiah suffers at the hands of the terrible figure of Pashhur, a high ranking official, the chief officer in the house of the Lord. He’s so bad a person that Jeremiah nicknames him ‘Terror-all-around’ to his face, not an act that will endear his enemy to him.
We heard all about it in our First Lesson. And then, in Shakespearean style, we hear the speaker break into what we might describe as a soliloquy, as he shares with us his inner feelings, shares with God his inner feelings. Here’s a man beyond talkative, here’s a man who cannot keep silence
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
One of my favourite Sunday afternoon films is ‘Calamity Jane’ with Doris Day. I know that it’s a strange segue from E M Forster via the prophet Jeremiah to Doris Day in a cowgirl outfit but forgive me. Because in that film she stands up and sings a kind of soliloquy herself
In the song she says
Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free
Now I shout it from the highest hills
Even told the golden daffodils
At last my heart's an open door
And my secret love's no secret anymore
She cannot but be talkative, she cannot keep silent. Love demands she speaks and love demanded that Jeremiah did not, could not keep silent. His love of God, his love of justice, his love of truth just meant that he had to speak, be talkative – and St Paul was just like him.
Paul knew that keeping on talking about Jesus would just get him deeper and deeper into trouble. After all, the one who was known as the chief persecutor of the church was now its supreme spokesperson, the supreme apologist for the faith. In our Second Lesson Paul is calling for attention to be paid to the needs of every person, that out of love for God, we love our neighbour and show them respect, both in our actions but also in our talking.
Christianity is of its nature talkative because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. We give voice to the Word, we witness as we speak, out of our poverty – yes, Mrs Moore was right we are poor – and with a burning fire within us – the Holy Spirit that gives us the words to speak - yes, we are talkative.
But we talk
never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another
as Paul says but because our ‘secret love's no secret anymore.’ With Jeremiah we cannot shut it in, we cannot shut it up. We speak because the Word is to be spoken.