First reading for Pentecost 13C:
Jeremiah 23:23-29Intro: Prophets; Jeremiah; Community
23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27They 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. 28Let 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. 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
We're ⅔ of the way through the church's year of grace. We've been hearing stories of faithfulness and receiving wise counsel related to ways to walk the talk.
Today we'll look at another passage from Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of four Major Prophets in the Old Testament—"major" in terms of length, number of verses and pages. Jeremiah lived and spoke God's word before, during, and after the Babylonian exile. Of the other major prophets, Ezekiel, who was a priest in the holiness temple tradition, prophesied before and during the exile. We divide the book of Isaiah into three parts: chapters 1-39, before the exile; 40-55, during †he exile; 56-66 after the exile. The words in Isaiah come from at least three different authors. The last major prophet, Daniel, is a book about a prophet rather than a book by a prophet. The Hebrew bible did not originally include Daniel, but later placed the book of Daniel in the writings (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Jonah, etc.) rather than in its collection of prophecies. Daniel is very very post-exilic, about 200 years before Jesus of Nazareth's birth. The prophet Jeremiah probably did not write the book of Lamentations; opinions on authorship still vary some.
Jeremiah was a priest from the tribe of Benjamin, very much in the covenantal neighborly traditions of Deuteronomy. Other Benjaminites include King Saul [1 Samuel 9:15-27], the first of the three rulers in the united monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon; and Saul/Paul of Tarsus [Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:4-5]. Deuteronomy is highly concerned with justice and righteousness, especially in how we treat the least of these, back then particularly widows, orphan children, disabled, less-abled, and anyone with few resources. Deuteronomy focuses a lot on the land, on its stewardship and care, on treating the land we rely on for life with justice and righteousness.
Last week we talked about Abram/Abraham, as Abram and Sarai moved from being a solitary couple into a community larger than the grains of sand on the beach, greater than the stars in the sky. When you live around other people you need guidelines for living safely and well. Same with us. We start out as relatively solitary individuals, then in baptism become part of a world wide and historical community that's greater than all the stars, more numerous than all that sand. We need a "how to live faithfully." For us as well as for God's people Israel, the commandments are part of the working papers for living in covenant with God. Together with each other. Wherever we venture out there into the world.
The word about our neighbor. A few weeks ago on Pentecost 8 we discussed Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Good Sam. Remember Jesus' followers asked him, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus told them: "a guy went down to Jericho..." Last week: God moves Abram/Abraham and us from more or less solitary into a community of trillions plus. This week: reflecting the neighborly land traditions of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah shows us how – and how not – to live together.
God asks through Jeremiah, 23"Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the Lord.
Near by, close by, at hand, etc. would be immanent, immanence. Far off, far away, out there, etc. refers to transcendent, transcendence. Fill heaven and earth is ubiquity, ubiquitous. Martin Luther refers to the ubiquity, the every-where-ness of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and also the ubiquity of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ.
In the previous chapter 22 and in the first part of our current chapter 23, Jeremiah speaks against false gods, fake prophecies, a lot of it "feel good" words people would enjoy hearing but that are not from God. In this twenty-first century we get a lot of that. Examples include prosperity preaching; the religion of excessive sports. Richard mentioned the commercialism that has become pervasive, 7-days long every week. The Sabbath still is Saturday – that never changed – yet every one of us needs a time for worship, time to cease from producing and counting, whether that's Saturday, Sunday, or a weekday if your employment has you working on a weekend day.
Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann cites three non-negotiables: the commandments (of course); the tithe (everything always belongs to God, but symbolically we return and offer back at least that formal 10%); the Sabbath.
23:29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord... I mentioned how especially in Southern California we know about life rising from the apparent near-total devastation of a wildfire. Some seeds need to be seared and singed by fire in order to break open, start reproducing, and become fruitful. Like us?