Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Old Testament Passage – A narrative of suffering and despair

My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” (Jeremiah 8:18)

One of the traits of the prophets is that they are willing to take on tasks that most other people would consider unattainable. But that does not mean they do not become heart sick when their purpose and mission seems to be for naught. That is the point that the prophet Jeremiah is at. The Divine knew and knows that it was a mission and task that would not have a joyful resolution. But the the warning had to be spoken and the people warned. It is no different today.

“Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (Verse 19a)

The great irony is that now when the terribleness of their (that is the Hebrews/Israel) is upon them, they ask why Yahweh is not there to help them.

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)” (Verse 19b)

And the Lord God answers, why did they stray from proper religion in the first place? Why did they not listen and heed the prophets I sent them?

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Verse 20)

The Hebrews, the people of Israel have waited and waited for relief from their woes and troubles. They ask where the Lord God has gone, and why they are so forsaken. But, beloved reader, this a narrative played out by the writer of the book of Jeremiah. While telling the truth of what happened to the Israelites when the surrounding nations took them over, it is not an accurate representation of the sentiments of the people who lived then. Yes, they suffered. And yes, they were warned and given messages of hope for the future. But the words we read here are most accurately the suffering and despair that the writer of the book of Jeremiah felt and wrote about. It does not make it less true, but neither is in a message from the Israelites to us.

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Verses 21 – 22, & chapter 9, verse 1)

It seems like every day in our modern newspapers and other forms of mass media we hear stories of suffering and despair. Things happen in our world, the news is sad, and we feel in our sinew and bones the pain and suffering. Anyone of us could tell the story of sorrow and lament, and ask why the Divine has allowed this to happen. Some wonder if it is our fault. Did we bring this upon ourselves? Would things been better if we had been more faithful? But then right on the heels of that lament is the question, faithful to what and who? Which faith tradition? Which group of faith tenets? I do not know of anyone who has the correct answer to it. Furthermore I suspect there is no truly correct answer. The best solution I feel is to just lament. And to pray. Not for speedy deliverance, but endurance and stamina. When the news and the world around us becomes saturated with loss, mourning, and despair . . . the best thing to do is cling to the Divine for the strength to endure. The Divine hears our laments, and while times may be grim, we have not been abandoned.

May you, beloved reader, find the balm that is our Lord God and in the Lord’s time may you be healed. Selah!

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Season After Pentecost – Holy Cross Day, 2019 Year C : Old Testament, Epistles, Gospel & Psalm Passages

The called and chosen people (or at least those whose descendants would come to be known as such) were complaining again. They did that lot. And frustrated with the complaints, the Divine allowed nature to invade the camp in the form of poisonous serpents. Fitting that the Hebrews (as they were known then) were spewing verbal poison. Creation tends to have that symmetry. Anyway, they complained and pleaded with their Lord God and the Divine relented. (Reminds me of what Jeremiah wrote about concerning the potter who reused what might have been a ruined pot.)

“And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Numbers 21:8 – 9)

It is Holy Cross Day today; a day when we consider what the cross has meant as an instrument of salvation. But what I am noticing about this passage this time around is that an image of their suffering was placed up on a pole. The bronze serpent was not causing the suffering but was an image and reminder of their suffering. In the same way Jesus on the Cross is an image and reminder suffering. Christ took on the sin – in some understandings of atonement theology. Jesus Christ did not cause the suffering but was a symbol and image for the relief from the suffering of sin. The pole was not empty, and the cross was not empty as a symbol of Christ’s and the Divine’s love and compassion for us.

I have always found the connection between the serpent on the pole and Jesus Christ on the cross to be an intriguing one. Holy Cross Day is a good time to explore what meanings and images the cross has meant.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-24)

It is interesting too that sometime the cross is imaged as being empty – meaning that Christ overcame death and obliterated the consequences of sin. Other times the cross has Jesus affixed on it, to continually remind us of what Jesus when through on our behalf. Of course, this is all atonement theology. I remember vividly some months back that I read an article in “The Mennonite” by a former college professor who questioned the Divine using a human sacrifice as an atonement. Did not think that would come up again in my thinking; but it did. Sort of collides with Holy Cross Day.

Paul says “he message about the cross is foolishness” so maybe I should set it aside. Yet, it is there in the story of Jesus Christ. The cross was many things in those times. Death by the cross was one of the most horrifying ways to die. And strictly speaking, Jesus did not chose it for himself. He accepted it as the consequence of being so outspoken against he officials (both civic and religious) of his day. And if the Divine is as all knowing and award, as the God-self is, then it was as it was meant to be. Mystifying, confusing, foolishness, wisdom that saved, well as the song goes, “even a wretch like me”.

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him
.” (John 3:13-17)

It was not Paul who made the connection between the snake on a stick and Jesus on the Christ. And it was, actually, a gospel writer who wrote specifically to establish the mysticism of Jesus Christ; the spiritual power and presence of the Divine made incarnate in flesh. So added to all the other aspects of the cross, now it is spiritual as well.

Maybe the best thing to do is simply accept into our own lives and faith what the cross brings. And praise the Divine for what it has meant to use and Christianity. May you, beloved reader, be enriched in your life by the symbols of faith that the Divine has given. Selah!

“O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.” ( Psalm 98:1-5)

 

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!

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 Old Testament Passage – Hope springs . . . through Sabbath observances?

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9b – 10)

The other Old Testament passage, beloved reader, is where Jeremiah is called out by the Lord and sanctified to speak the Lord God’s words – Jeremiah 1:4-10. I think I have written about Jeremiah’s calling before – considering this is the second time through Year C. And I am sure the passage has come up other times in other writings. But I digress.

The last few weeks have seen a theme of Israel and Judah being critiqued, scolded, and disciplined by the prophets. It is interesting to see, in the privacy of our own thoughts and reflects, if the exhortations of then apply to us now. Do they beloved reader? There is hope though in this passage, that if the exhortation is heeded and applied that darkness will give way to light. We could apply that to ourselves as well.

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Not only will darkness give way to light but, theses verses promise, light will come to others. Considering the dire situation that some of the Old Testament prophets describe, it seems pretty wondrous that this could happen. It also seems rather contrary and paradoxical in light of some New Testament understandings, that each person needs to make their own petition to the Divine and follow the example of Jesus Christ.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Verses 13 – 14)

The Sabbath is very important, so it seems, in this passage and to the writer of Isaiah. He starts out by speaking generally about being in good relationship with others – speaking well and offering compassion. But as he continues of instruction, he narrows down to the keeping of the Sabbath. It is interesting to think about this, contrasting what should be done on the Sabbath versus what is allowed on other days. And I have to wonder if this emphasis on the Sabbath made way for ever larger inconsistency between Sabbath living and the other days of the week.

I will have to think about this as the week moves forward; what the Epistles might say and what Jesus Christ himself might say – according to the verses and passages that comprise the RCL this week. You think too, beloved reader, and ponder. Shalom!

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!