Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Preacher and Seeker speak of Judah’s desolation, and hope

Seeker: “At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.” (Jeremiah 4:11-12)
Preacher: We feel the heat in the summer, and it drains us. The sweat pours off of our brow but there is no relief in sight. The heat takes all of our energy, and our ambition. All that is left is suffering. Yes, Seeker, that is the sentence that the Lord God spoken against Judah. Upon hearing this the called and chosen people must have felt like wilting away. Of course, some did not believe that Jeremiah knew what he was saying, or that he was creating woe and bad news for his own purposes.
Seeker:
How, Preacher, could not they hear and understand that the Lord God had lost patience with them; maybe again, and maybe they thought it would not come to pass on them. But it is hard to ignore, “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” (Verse 22)
Preacher: Such warnings have been made by many who preach and prophesy. We do not know if there were others who feigned to speak the word of God, and said much of the same thing. The book of Jeremiah was written at the time when the kingdom of Judah was heading for decline, although they did not know it. King Josiah was in power when Jeremiah was called to prophecy. Although the people of Judah did not know it, their best, ie most religious, years were coming to an end, and ahead of them was exile. Maybe they were not aware of the transition, or more aptly, what this transition would mean.
Seeker:
So when Jeremiah says the Lord said, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” (Verse 23) the Divine (through and according to Jeremiah) was seeing the end of religious faithful and the decline into non-righteous worship.
Preacher:
When Judah (meaning not so much each individual person but the complexion of the nation) abandoned worship of the Lord God, the consequences were dire. “I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.” (Verse 24)
Seeker: “I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.” (Verses 25 – 26)
It is prophetic in the sense that it was seeing a future that the people of Judah may not have been aware of, and individually – as you said – may not have been culpable for.
Preacher: We cannot be sure of the chronology of Jeremiah’s prophesies. Yes, it might have been predictive of a future that was not realized. It might have been a warning based on how the nation had drifted from proper worship under previous kings. Maybe the prophecy was to make them sit up and take notice; to preserve what had been established.
Seeker:
Interesting that it was because of the actions of other nations that Judah, that is many her citizens, we taken into exile. I have to wonder if some asked, “How can we avoid this?”
Preacher: Ah, that would be based on an assumption that they listened to Jeremiah.
Seeker: And that they truly heard the Lord God speak through Jeremiah. “For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.” (Verses 27 – 28)
Preacher: There is an interesting mix of hope and hopelessness in this passage, as Jeremiah speaks it. Not a full end, but an inevitability in its coming. You can almost imagine the same thing being said of our modern times. Jesus said of the people while he walked the earth – that they can tell when the weather is changing but now when the political and social climate is changing. Global climate change exempted however! I think if we had prophets now, they would be listened and heeded as much as back in Jeremiah’s time. Although, there are individuals, many individuals in fact, who have seen the changes come. Their words have not been set down and preserved as the prophets of the Old Testament have been. But maybe they are more numerous than the prophets in the Old Testament. I think that is because the Spirit of the Divine speak more readily now to the hearts of believers. Maybe we have to just cling to the promises of the Lord God, that hard times will come but it will not make a full end.
Seeker: Selah!

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Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalms Passage – Hope when you are known by the Divine

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Because I am writing ahead, I am sitting down to write on the psalm passage on an evening when I am usually writing on an epistle passage. Hmmm . . . . Facing the enthusiastic psalmist or the exhorting apostle . . . . which sounds more appealing on a hot summer evening? But then I realized that the psalmist actually has me pegged – the Divine knows what my struggles are. Knows where I find joy and when I have to seek joy out. The Divine knows what brings me hope, and what can dash my hopes.

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.” (Verses 2 – 4)

It is actually comforting to be known so well. Now, that may not be the case with everyone . . . being known so well by the Lord God. If their “fear of the Lord” is actually fear, it may be intimidating to be so well known by the Almighty Ultimately Holy Lord. What is needed is to know not only the Awesomeness of the Divine but to also know the compassion of the Divine, and the Unconditional Acceptance of the Divine. I do believe the psalmist knew the Lord God in that way.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Verses 5 – 6)

Maybe the psalmist is putting a little bit of hyperbole prose in this passage; if the psalmist speaks of the Lord God having this depth and breadth of knowledge, then he must be able to attain the knowledge. On the other hand, I had to remind myself that the Divine knows me that well. Maybe it is not knowledge that stays at the forefront of the human mind.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Verses 13 – 16)

Imagine, beloved reader, the Divine knew us before we had any concept of the Divine. When I was but an infant (you too) the Lord knew me, and knew who and what I would become. All the missteps I took to get to where I am, the Lord knew of. The long roads and emotional journeys. The things I had to learn over and over and over and over and over . . . . again.

Imagine too that the Divine knows (and knew) how I struggle with certain passages. Consider all that was put into place so that you and I would be where we are now. Even more so, that others who were part of our journey were also nurtured by the Divine; an intricate maze of people interacting with each other, all on their own journey but also interconnecting with each other so that the solo journeys were linked and dependent on each other.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Verses 17 – 18)

If for no other reason than that, we should never lose hope. Whatever journey you are on, beloved reader, you are not alone. It may seem that your path winds hither and yon, through slogging mud and delightful meadows; and the Divine is aware of all of it. How can it be that our missteps have the potential to lead us to exactly where we should be? NO, beloved reader, never lose hope! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – Hope from the Potter’s Hand

We have been hearing a good deal of grief on the part of the called and chosen people. And a good deal of exhortation from the prophets. When we lift those words from the Old Testament and apply them to our world and lives, we seem to take that grief and exhortation into our world as well. It was with a joyful heart, then, that I read this passage of hope.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” (Jeremiah 18:1 – 4)

In high school I took a class in pottery. I really loved it! In one image of myself I could see myself throwing pottery and sculpting. But I was so dependent on the affirmation of others and not confident enough in myself, that I was discouraged on my first and second attempt, I abandoned that dream. There are so many things I wish I had persevered on. Thanks be to God though, that I refused to wavering from writing! But, I digress.

“Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” (Verses 5 – 8)

I think, beloved reader, that is one of the best reasons that the Jewish nation endured to modern day. Enough good was seen by the Divine, and done by the people, that the Divine kept remaking it over and over. The same may be true for us. In the midst of all that is going on in our world, if we would show forth good and believe in the Divine . . . . perhaps the Divine would pick up the ruined “pot” that we (meaning wider society) are and re-make us into something salvageable and worthwhile. I think of all the political news and rhetoric; the good and the bad seemingly existing side by side, and hope that enough good remains long enough for the Lord God to remodel us and not toss aside unconditionally. As if, however, the Divine would do that.

“And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Verses 9 – 10)

That is the fear. That is the warning that the writer of Jeremiah spoke to his audience. And that, beloved reader, is the warning I give also. Do not let the evil that exists around you pull you down and mar you in the sight of the Divine. And, remember, the sight of the Divine is everywhere!

“Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.” (Verse 11)

Is the Divine Potter sitting in heaven, sighing as the world spins round and round on the Divine’s potter’s wheel? One could fear, I suppose. But I have seen skilled potters steady a vessel, and where disaster might loom at every turn of the wheel, a true artisan can steady the wheel and rescue the creation. Praise to the Lord that the Divine is so talented! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When the Lord complains . . . about the called and chosen people

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 2:4)

Sometimes I have to be very loud and insistent with my family. I suppose that is a common experience with parents/spouses – that you have repeat yourself in no-uncertain terms and volume. Important messages and understandings can be lost if you cannot get and hold their attention.

“Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” (Verses 5 – 6)

It may be worthy of noting, beloved reader, that the biblical commentators are no help in discerning these beginning verses. Maybe the meaning of these verses is so self-evident that they did not feel much explanation was needed. Different paraphrases and translations make it clear that the Lord God the Divine is complaining about these stubborn people!

“I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.” (Verses 7 – 8)

The bad times and the rough journey had come to an end. The people were back in the land that had been promised to them so long ago. But did they give thanks? No! Did they seek out the Lord who had brought them there? NO! Did they worship the Lord and follow in the worship practices that were taught to them? NO!! What is a Parent and Lord God to do with such children!!

“Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” (Verses 9 – 13)

To the Divine it is an unimaginable thing that they would trade in the Living God who has given them so much for false gods that have given them nothing. And we could and would stand in equal surprise and shock . . . . if we had not done the same thing.

I tell my family time and time again the same thing, teach the same lessons, and model the same actions and attitudes – but they do not listen and learn. Now, I do not mean I am so perfect. And I am not talking about life lessons; I am trying to teach them how to clean up after themselves and take care of their own needs. But it is like talking to a pile of stones. Which, coincidentally, is just what the “house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel” were accused of worshiping! (Not the same rocks though.)

My point is, it can take a lot to get through to a person or group of people. The things that should be obvious – wash the plate and pot, put away leftover food, pick up after yourselves – and – worship the Lord who brought you into abundance, remember the lessons learned in the desert, show gratitude and awe that you have been brought into a good life – are missed, glossed over, or forgotten.

People like Jeremiah were called to give testimony and prophesy to the people who had gone astray. Now granted, this is a straying that took place over many generations. It did not happen as soon as the people passed over into the promised land. Does that make it more acceptable and understandable that they drifted from the Lord God? Should it? Part of the cycle of the lectionary year is calling people back to faithfulness. In years past I have made note of the themes of the three lectionary years – A, B, and C. These themes are especially emphasized during the high seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The Divine can and does call us back to faithfulness at any and all times of the year. Is perhaps the Divine calling to you? Maybe complaining about you? Oh beloved reader! Do not let it be so! Shalom!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Preacher and Seeker tell us what is the Divine’s portion when terrible and sad things happen to fervent and devoted believers, and those who do not believe

Seeker: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!”
Preacher: Why do you call on the Divine, Seeker? What do you hope to gain or get from the Lord God?
Seeker: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
Preacher:
Yes, the Lord God has been given credit for calling out and establishing many nations and civilizations. And if we include out circles and traditions of faith, most nations, cultures, and civilizations can claim this.
Seeker: “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.”

Preacher: Oh Seeker! Are pleading the case for the Israelites as the psalmist set the framework; or are you thinking of other people in other places and times? All people who have felt they were called and chosen, only to have ruin and oppression come upon them feel this way. It is not always the case that the Divine has turned away.
Seeker: “They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.”

Preacher: Who are really angry at? The Divine, or the nature of humanity when it turns on its own? Who or what are you pleading to?
Seeker: “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.”

Preacher: So if the Lord God favors you and yours over another, then you will be loyal and worship the Lord God with fervor? But if fate and circumstances are against you, you will be against the Divine? That it is an agreement you will never see come to pass. The time is long gone that nations and cultures plea as one voice. Jesus Christ came to show us and exemplify for us that each person must come before the Divine and plead his or her case. Jesus Christ also shows us and intervenes for us with the Divine. It is no longer the nation that must plea, but each individual soul and spirit.
Seeker & Preacher: “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1-2, 8 – 19)

Preacher: “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Seeker: You are correct, Preacher. I have let my sorrow cloud my thinking. The Lord God has shown time after time what is expected of us. We cannot and should not blame a nation because it seems that the favor of the Lord has been withdrawn from us. What ever this world and humanity has done to us, we cannot place the blame for that pain and distress at the feet of the Divine. It is not in this world that we receive the truest favor of the Lord God.
Preacher: “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
Seeker: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!” (Psalm 82)

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – When sad things happen to a Good Loving Divine

I am at a decision point again concerning which Old Testament passage to use. Both passage are critical of the people of Israel and Judah. Isaiah compares them to a vineyard that was carefully and tenderly planted but something went wrong – terribly wrong.

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1 – 4)

Jeremiah is speaking for the Lord God against the prophets of that time. The prophets, unlike Jeremiah, are not faithfully speaking the word of God but are created prophesy out of thin air and their own imaging. The Lord God (through Jeremiah) says that things are as bad as when Baal was worshiped instead of the Lord God. The implication is that the Israelites, before and while they were being formed as a called and chosen people, were seduced in the past and are being seduced now my false worship and the prophets are doing nothing to stem this inclination.

Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.” (Jeremiah 23:23 – 27)

In both passages the Lord God is determined to put an end to what has happened. Isaiah says,

“And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” (Verses 5 – 7)

And the Lord God through Jeremiah warns,

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Verses 28 – 29)

What we have to remember, beloved reader, is two things. First – The Lord God seeks to be in relationship with humanity and creation. “In the beginning” the Divine wanted to do something with the lifeless chaos we now call earth. Starting with bringing order and a system to the vastness, to coaxing life where there was not life, to creating humanity – the Divine wanted to create relationships. So it is vastly wounding (if you can wound the Divine) that humanity turns away and craves other things. Second – this is according to two humans who may or may not be point perfect in understanding the Divine and the motivations and sentiments of the Divine. We can and do know that the Divine seeks relationship because Jesus Christ was sent. But knowing the sentiments of the Divine during the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah – that is a little more challenging. Test it out for yourself, beloved reader. Take the invitation to be in relationship with the Lord God and Jesus Christ. Discern for yourself what the Trinity wants. I can guarantee you, you will bring joy to the Divine by reaching out! Selah!

Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – The Lord God sets the standards

I turn to Hosea – not the Hosea who is scorned and abandoned by his wife, but the Hosea who is pondering and interpreting what he feels the Divine is saying. And perhaps Hosea can understand and interpret so well what the Divine is saying because he feels the pang of missing someone who has become close to his heart. We mourn and rage the most when the tender parts of our hearts are trampled on. Why would it be hard to believe that the Divine also feels deeply the lose of the called and chosen people.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:1 – 8)

I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Have you known someone like that, beloved reader? Who seems to genuinely and affectionately love child? Who values and protects the innocence of children who that person has not connection to? You can see them in your mind’s eye, can’t you? Gushing and adoring young children and taking delight in their freshness and innocence. I am like that; I smile at babies and young children. Knowing or assuming the protectiveness of parents, I do not break that circle of protection. But in my heart I am encircling them with love.

That is the essence of the Divine. Bending down to us, the Divine’s called and chosen people – yes, all of us! Encircling us in love, and seeking every possible way to nourish us. That is why I cannot embrace this concept of an “Angry God.” There must be some other way to understand that aspect of the Divine.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.” (Verses 9 – 11)

“ . . . for I am God and no mortal” How telling is that? We don’t expect our fellow human to be kind and compassionate 24/7 365 days out of the year (366 every fourth year). But the Lord God is telling us, through Hosea, that no matter how much we may hurt the heart of the Divine, only love is there. Love that seeks to entreat and discipline, yes, but love nonetheless. And we, beloved reader, are expected as followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ who embodied the Divine to follow that example. Oh, what a task we have ahead of us! Selah!