The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy
John C. Rankin
(January 17, 2013)
[Excerpted from Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate, available at www.johnrankinbooks.com]
By the spring of 1990, just as the word went out from Boston NOW headquarters to dissuade any more counter-protest of us, I developed a more concerted worship strategy. This revolved around what I called The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy, and we were able to use it on various occasions. Our worship in song was a central element of the strategy; and service to the ministry of the sidewalk counselors was the fourth element (those who were there prior and after our presence, who seek to reach out one-to-one to women entering Preterm for an abortion).
Essentially, we began with guitarists who led us in contemporary choruses and classic hymns – choosing songs where the theology was strong, the melodies delightful and the appeal wide in terms of the cross-section of the believing churches.
When we did not have a guitarist on hand, we sang a cappella. In the best scenario, especially through March 1990, before the “word” was given by NOW to its supporters to desert their posts, there were always people worshiping in song and prayer, while others were conversing with abortion-rights advocates, while sidewalk counselors were doing their work, and while the banner was being displayed and the signs with their questions being held. Some people only engaged in the worship element, and never held a sign or engaged in conversation with the abortion-rights advocates. Some people concentrated on the signs and witness elements. People participated at the level they chose. And at singular times, we would gather as a whole group for worship, with the signs being held in the assembly, the banners being maintained at curbside and at the rear entrance.
Here is the liturgy:
Leader: We gather here today to seek God’s mercy, to stop the killing of the unborn in this place. Hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
People: This is what Yahweh says: “Go and buy an earthen flask, and with some elders and priests, go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, at the opening of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I speak to you.”
Leader: The Valley of Ben Hinnom in 600 B.C. was used for places of Topheth, where infant children were burned alive to the Canaanite god Ba’al. Topheth means a fireplace for child sacrifice. Today we stand in front of an abortion center [or political institution] where human life is destroyed [or mocked]. It is a modern, updated Topheth shrine.
People: So hear the words of Yahweh, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; this is what Yahweh of armies, the Elohim of Israel says: “Behold, I am bringing evil on this place, that which will make the ears of all who hear of it tingle.”
Leader: Judah faced Yahweh’s judgment in 586 B.C. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple they made into an idol, and thus, the destruction of the nation, followed by their exile to Babylon. To the extent that this nation sanctions and continues the practice of human abortion, we invite Yahweh’s judgment.
People: “For they have deserted me and made this place strange; they have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, unknown to their fathers and the kings of Judah, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.”
Leader: In the idolatry of Ba’al, the Hebrew people were seduced into believing that by burning their infant children alive they could gain fertility, peace and prosperity. Today we see an “idolatry of choice” where “choice” becomes a false god used to destroy unborn human life, instead of true choice which nurtures all human life. And it is overwhelmingly rooted in the choice of men who get women pregnant, only to then flee responsibility and true manhood.
In a life disrupted by a crisis pregnancy, human abortion is sold as a means to regain a lost sense of peace, order, stability and hope. But human abortion does not restore these shattered remains of God’s image. Rather, it only fractures a woman’s life more deeply yet, and allows the man to get off the hook. This is idolatry, and we Christians and Jews are just as vulnerable to idolatry apart from God’s grace.
People: “They have built the high places of Ba’al to burn their sons in the fire as a holocaust to Ba’al, something I did not command nor speak, nor did it come to my mind. So, behold, the days are coming, proclaims Yahweh, when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.”
Leader: Here, at a modern Topheth shrine, we have a signpost to our own nation’s judgment, of our own pending Valley of Slaughter. The victimizers become the victims, and one day human abortion will be remembered not as a woman’s freedom or empowerment, but of her and her nation’s slaughter. A slaughter not only of the unborn, but of women’s dignity and men’s dignity as life-nurturing humans.
People: “I will lay waste the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place. They will fall by the sword in the face of their enemies, by the hands of those who seek their souls, and I will give their carcasses as food to the creatures of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of hissing; all who pass by its heights will be appalled and will hiss because of all its wounds. I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and men will be caused to eat the flesh of each other during the stress of the siege poured out on them by the enemies who seek their souls.”
Leader: Jerusalem’s idolatrous sacrifice of her infant children led to a literal cannibalism. This nation’s destruction of her unborn progeny cries out for a modern equivalent. All the hallmarks of Sodom’s lawlessness only grow – sexual anarchy that leads to social anarchy and the trampling of the poor and needy.
The harvesting and cloning of human embryos for research and transplants is its own form of human cannibalism. And why do we presume that we are above the descent into literal cannibalism one day? From the ground beneath our feet there cries out the blood of millions of unborn U.S. citizens. We will reap what we have sown, apart from God’s mercy which triumphs over judgment for those who seek him.
People: Then break the flask in the eyes of those whom you brought, and say to them, “This is what Yahweh of armies says: I will cause the people and this city to be broken just like the vessel is smashed and cannot be repaired.”
Leader: The jar Jeremiah used was similar to those used to bury the charred remains of the sacrificed children. And the parents truly wept as they buried them. This is the terror of idolatry. But today, the idolatry of human abortion hides the terrible act of its destruction within the machinery of the suction apparatus, at the edge of the scalpel or through the assault of toxic chemicals. There are no coffins, no tombstones, and too often the grief remains hidden and festering.
As surely as Jeremiah’s breaking of the symbolic clay jar signaled Yahweh’s impending judgment, we believe Yahweh Elohim, the Lord Jesus, pronounces judgment upon the sites and apparatus of human abortion, upon its political and economic enablers, and upon those who cling to its idolatry while mocking the Lord and Giver of life. As Jerusalem became like Topheth, so too will the ethos of human abortion kill the culture that enshrines it.
Therefore, I break this jar as a prayer for Yahweh Elohim to bring an end to the evil of human abortion, and the male chauvinisms that undergird it. We thus proclaim God’s love to the women and their unborn children so victimized. I also break this jar as a symbol to break the powers of darkness which govern the abortion mind-set. In the name of Jesus Messiah, Yahweh Elohim incarnate, let it be.[break jar]
People: “In Topheth they will be buried until there is no more room to be buried. This is what I will cause to happen to this place and to those who dwell there, declares Yahweh. I will make this city like Topheth. The dwelling place in Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will become unclean in this place of Topheth, all the houses where they made sacrifices of incense on the roofs to all the armies of the heavens and poured out drink offerings to other gods.”
Leader: When Jeremiah broke the clay jar, he declared that he was not the Judge. He trusted Yahweh Elohim as the only righteous Judge, and faithfully called on King Zedekiah and the other leaders to put an end to the shedding of innocent blood. To do so, they had to first put away the sins of sorcery and worshiping the stars, also of sacred prostitution, which together leads to human sacrifice.
Likewise, we trust in the one true Creator and the power of honest persuasion in the public arena. No people are our enemies, even those who perform or support human abortion. Only the devil and his demonic host are our enemies. Thus, we appeal to men to become true men and honor all women as equals and complements, and we appeal to the hearts and minds of all people of good will – stop the killing.
People: Thus, we affirm:
- Yes to the marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime.
- Yes to loving and faithful fatherhood.
- Yes to women and their unborn.
- Yes to the image of God in all people — born and unborn.
- Yes to the power to give in face of the pretension to take.
- Yes to informed choice which serves human life.
- Yes to the power to bless in face of the pretension to curse.
- Yes to the power of love in face of the pretension to hate.
- Yes to the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.
People: Jeremiah then came from Topheth, where Yahweh had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of Yahweh’s house and said to all the people, “This is what Yahweh of armies, the Elohim of Israel, says: ‘Behold, I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every evil I spoke against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”
Leader: We are all stiff-necked apart from God’s grace, and we who are believers welcome the deepest and most challenging questions from abortion supporters, in the prayer that they are seeking the same grace in the midst of their broken lives.
People: Jeremiah also says, “Behold, I am setting before your faces the way of life and the way of death.” And Moses says, “Choose life.” So listen to the words of Jeremiah spoken to King Zedekiah: “This is what Yahweh says: Do justice and righteousness. Snatch away the one who has been robbed, from the hand of his oppressor. Do no violence, do not oppress the sojourner, the orphan or the widow, and do not pour out innocent blood.”
Leader: Jeremiah promised peace for Judah if King Zedekiah were to obey. The same promise is before us today, if we as a nation, beginning with our leaders, would turn away from the slaughter of unborn human children. Forgiveness is offered to all who seek it, and it is complete in its healing of past sorrow and guilt for those who dare to believe.
People: We say to all who would listen:
- You have the power to choose life, if you dare to believe it and ask God for it.
- If you do not have this power, what power and choice do you have?
- If you have power and choice, why not use it?
- Courageous and compelling choice always nurtures human life, and in Jesus Christ, such courage, power and choice is uniquely available.
[Note: for the sake of performing the liturgy, and thus to replicate a topheth jar used to bury the remains of such sacrifice, click on: http://almashriq.hiof.no/ddc/projects/archaeology/berytus-back/berytus39/seeden-tophet/. In this article of a 1991 dig in Tyre, the first figure, left item, is suitable. In the whole extensive article, the reality of the child/human sacrifice is, on the one hand, unavoidable, and on the other, avoided as much as possible until toward the end, but still muted. It is not pleasant for any archeologist to talk about.]