The Prosecutor’s Case
A drama/sermon on Jeremiah 2: 4-13 by Nathan Nettleton, 29 August 2004

God is deeply hurt and offended by our rejection of God in favour of things that are worthless, but Jesus has made possible both our forgiveness and our reconciliation.

The passage from Jeremiah is an example of what the Hebrew scholars call the rib form - an ancient legal case in which God is the plaintiff against his people. I decided to experiment with taking not the content, but the form of the passage and preaching from it. The modern equivalent of the rib form would be the prosecution lawyer’s summing up speech. For this sermon, then, I tried to write such a speech for a case taken up against humanity on behalf of God. I dressed the part, memorised the script, and acted it out. I am particularly indebted to Steve Roder, a barrister and lay preacher who advised me on language and lent me the garb.


May it please the court: Your honour, learned friends, ladies and gentlemen of the jury; over these past few days you have heard the testimony of many witnesses, and now as we approach the end of this trying affair, it falls to me to sum up the case for the prosecution.

As you have heard, the victim of these crimes, Lord God of Heaven and Earth, attempted on numerous occasions to seek reconciliation before eventually, in exasperation, agreeing to press charges. And so, having refused every olive branch offered, the accused, known to the court as the human race, sits here before us accused of the following:

defilement of the land,
corrupt misappropriation of resources,
desecration of sacred heritage,
and culpable living.

May it please the court: It is difficult for any right thinking person to comprehend not only the magnitude of these crimes, but that they could have been contemplated in the first place. As has been made clear to this court, the victim, Lord God, has been, by a very great margin, the major benefactor of the human race throughout their life. Right at the very beginning God was the midwife of their lives, pulling them kicking into life, and in that moment of crisis when it was thought they would fail to live, breathing spirit into them.

As they grew to adulthood, God was always there for them, protecting and nurturing, offering guidance and direction, and frequently rescuing them from the disastrous circumstances they seemed so often drawn to. Ladies and gentlemen, you saw the tears and the pain on the face as God testified to having personally rescued them from slavery in a foreign land, leading them safely through a drought stricken wilderness and relocating them in a new land where God offered them permanent tenancy, rent free, in return for no more than carrying out basic care and maintenance of the land and its people. This was a plentiful land full of rich fruits and good things, easily capable of sheltering and feeding them all with abundance.

Indeed it is difficult to comprehend that that such an extravagantly generous benefactor could have been treated with such callous disregard and malicious treachery, the particulars of which it has been our sorry duty to sift through these last days. May it please the court: You will excuse me, I hope, for having to rehearse some of them again before you now before you consider your verdict.

You have heard a string of expert witnesses testify as to the horrendous extent of the defilement of the land that has occurred at the hands of the accused. Waterways have been poisoned, land stripped of forests and exposed to salination, countless species of birds, animals and fish exploited often to extinction, rivers damned, wetlands covered in concrete, fragile habitats destroyed, and even the air pumped full of offensive fumes and dangerous gases. May it please the court: as you consider these facts, I would ask you to take account of the images presented to the court of the extraordinary beauty and diversity of the land when it was created by God and given so generously to those now accused. I would remind you of the complex interconnections within it and its inbuilt self-balancing systems. And most of all I would ask you, the jury, to look again into the eyes of the one who created all this and sense the depth of pain of one whose life’s work has been so savagely vandalised and defiled.

May it please the court: You have heard evidence too of the corrupt misappropriation of resources by the accused. Overwhelming evidence has been presented of the ample sufficiency of the resources bequeathed to the accused by Lord God, resources intended to ensure that all people were provided with the means of abundant living. And before you has been put the sorry litany of corruption, dispossession and embezzlement wilfully carried out by the accused, motivated, one can only assume, by naked greed and the most cold-blooded disregard for the rights of others.

Testimony has been given as to how less than one third of the population has consumed more than 75% of the earth’s resources while two thirds of the population have been denied access to adequate housing, essential nutrition, safe drinking water and basic freedoms. You have heard of national borders being protected by military force to secure this ongoing inequity. All this in flagrant contravention of the expressed will of Lord God who provided all things. May it please the court: the prosecution accepts that, as the defence has been at pains to establish, not all the accused were equally culpable for the actual perpetration of these atrocities, but we rightly have laws against aiding and abetting and against living off the earnings of crime. Thus they stand accused as a group and I would call upon you to find them guilty as a group.

The charge of desecration of sacred heritage is clearly a charge of quite different order. Though we have not called witnesses to refute the argument of my learned friend that the injuries are not so widespread, we certainly take issue with his spurious conclusion that this renders the offence trivial. May it please the court: I ask you, the jury, to recall to memory the anguished testimony of the victim, Lord God, and to take careful note of the betrayal, humiliation and contempt suffered.

Lord God established covenants from early times with the accused, covenants that provided for mutually beneficial relationships between creator and created. God left a perpetual inheritance of sacred stories, rituals, disciplines and relationships that evoke meaning, purpose, wisdom and integrity and transmit them from one generation to the next. No more precious gift could be imagined and yet, as has been graphically illustrated before the court, this sacred heritage has been repeatedly and viciously desecrated.

This sacred heritage has been shamefully used as the basis for intolerance and oppression. Its mysteries have been calculatingly misconstrued as accessible to only a privileged few. It has been exploited as the means for extorting both money and personal services from vulnerable seekers. And perhaps most widespread of all, what was intended as an all-encompassing and life giving sacred union has been marketed and partaken as a mere weekend hobby.

May it please the court: as I’m sure you in the jury can now plainly see, all this has laid the ground work for the destructive, negligent and grossly delinquent pattern of behaviour that resulted in the final charge, that of culpable living. Culpable living, as has been clearly explained by his honour, is a particularly serious offence consisting of living in ways which recklessly expose others to significant danger of hardening of the heart, pollution of the mind, dulling of the perception, disintegration of the conscience, quenching of hope and a consequent slow strangling death of the spirit.

After the many explicit and horrifying accounts we have had to endure these last few days there seems little need to rehearse any of the particulars again. Suffice it to say, may it please the court, that in addition to the needless and tragic demise of so many potentially creative and joyous lives, this has caused agony beyond belief to Lord God who created all people with infinite dignity and worth.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you retire to consider your verdict, I ask you to keep before you the pictures of that tormented and agonised face. The contorted features as the poison hits God’s veins of living water. The sunken cheeks and listless body as God queues up in a Sudanese food aid station. The terrified eyes as God’s children are stolen away under genocidal government policies. The infant face of God looking out through the barbed wire of an immigration detention centre. The look of cowered subservience from God after relentless beatings and rapes by a so called caregiver. The angry and hopeless scowl of the adolescent God starved of any example of authentic loving and compassionate spirituality. Remember the extraordinary history of generous self-giving by the victim of these crimes and take those images with you as you deliberate, and then bring back to us what is surely the only verdict possible in this case. . .

Excuse me, I’m in your honour’s hands, the clerk of the court has just asked to communicate with me.

I’m in your honour’s hands, something has arisen, and with your permission, your honour, I need to have a brief word with the victim before I can explain this to the court.

May it please the court: Your honour, it has been brought to my attention that a man has already been tried, convicted and executed for these charges - one Jesus of Nazareth, some years ago. The opinion that he was in fact innocent has been widely circulated and accepted in most quarters but the conviction has never been overturned. Lord God was aware of this previous trial, in fact the erroneously convicted man was Lord God’s own son. May it please the court: I have brought it to the attention of Lord God that res juditica, the court is bound by the previous decision in the matter and thus it is not possible to try a new accused if the previous conviction has not been quashed. Lord God has accepted this ruling and wishes to convey to the accused once again a desire to drop all charges in return for the accused’s willingness to enter mediation with a view to full reconciliation.