Friday, September 30, 2022

Pentecost 17C World Communion Sunday

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:22-24

1 How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become subject to forced labor.

2 She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers,
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
they have become her enemies.

3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations;
she finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate;
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

5 Her foes have become the masters;
her enemies prosper
because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

6 From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
before the pursuer.


Lamentations 3:22-24

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God's mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 "The Lord is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in God."

Lamentations

Traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, who probably didn't write it, the book of Lamentations reflects the mood of the psalms of lament. Unlike the book of Jeremiah with its cautions, warnings, and hope, this poetry offers few solutions or explanations. The overall mood of Lamentations is similar to the psalms in their trust and intimacy with God in every aspect of life from hopelessness to celebration.

Other than from Holy Week liturgies at Resurrection ELCA in Boston and Northminster PCUSA in San Diego, I'm not familiar with Lamentations and don't recall if we even did a quick overview of the book in seminary even in the Old Testament survey.

However, long ago I bought and long since then discarded (because the recording quality was truly could not have been worse abysmal, though the performance was excellent) a vinyl LP of French baroque composer François Couperin's Leçons de ténèbres that musically interpret Lamentations 1:1-5, 6-9, 10-14 for tenebrae services in Holy Week. I may have mentioned I gave up linking to YouTube videos because they don't necessarily stay there forever. Have you noticed the YT message, "this video has been deleted" doesn't say what video it was? In any case, I strongly recommend you find and listen to Couperin's exquisite music, and YT has quite a few options.


World Communion Sunday

Every year on the first Sunday in October, many churches worldwide observe World Communion Sunday. Although Christians are a religious minority, rippling around the globe from one time zone to another, Jesus people from countless cultures and many styles of Christianity evoke the real presence of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as they proclaim hope and trust in a future for the cosmos.


Grief Lament Hope

The poet who wrote these songs of sorrow wept over the devastation of Jerusalem. It probably didn't look very different from what we've been seeing from Ukraine. What do you lament today? Please remember, God cares about everything, from the cosmic macro to the individual micro.

What losses do you grieve? Do you fear your hopes for the future never will happen? If you're in the USA or UK, sorrow over political divisions? Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine? Effects of planetary neglect and plunder that hurricanes Fiona and Ian just now made glaringly apparent? Divisions in your family or marriage? Workplace discord? Random violence? Mass shootings?

What can local assemblies and the church catholic lament on World Communion Sunday? Even if you're quite recent to the church during the past decade, unless you joined within the past two years, the post-Covid church already is very different from the one that was there when suddenly The Church Left the Building in a way very different from the way it "always had done" after the sending charge on Sundays. The church's real work is in the world, but for a while we had no option to return to the building to be fed with Word and Sacrament even though Sundays continued their relentless return.

Whether via Zoom or video, hybrid worship isn't leaving. Because actions and words of the person presiding consecrate everything on the table, concerns about how far a communion table reaches during a Eucharistic liturgy have almost been resolved. More major is whether or not the (statistically very, very many!) long-time members and regular attenders who literally drifted away during covid will return because we had so many programs and activities that require more people than we have now and how do we reach more people and even how can we relate to those who've stayed along with anyone new?

What can local assemblies and the church catholic hope for on World Communion Sunday?

That's all for today. Join this blog next week at the same place, similar time. May your laments generate hope and bear fruit for world and church!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Pentecost 16C

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar [of Babylon]. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3 where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

6 Jeremiah said, "The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, 'Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.'" 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out the silver to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the silver on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase containing the terms and conditions and the open copy, 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.

13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land."

Recently in Jeremiah

• From Pentecost 10, a little about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah on Pentecost 12.

Pentecost 13: Jeremiah at the Potter's House.

Pentecost 15: – 911+21; un-creation; new creation.

Pentecost 16: Balm in Gilead.


Today's Reading

One commentator cautioned, please don't read this passage as an entry in Jeremiah's journal! Contemporary scholars believe the book of Jeremiah and the five books of Moses that comprise the Pentateuch were compiled into the form we have today back in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, probably during the era of Ezra and Nehemiah. Though this reading is about the historical Zedekiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, and others, and it places the narrative in measurable space and time, like all inspired scripture it's theology at least as much as history.

As chapter 32 begins, Jeremiah has been confined (basically imprisoned or under house arrest) to the palace courtyard, due to his telling King Zedekiah news the king didn't like. Most likely this is the second Babylonian siege of Jerusalem; armies surround the city walls, imprisoning the city. With Jerusalem surrounded and deportation from the Promised Land imminent, Jeremiah embodies hope for a future where houses, fields, and vineyards again will flourish in Judah.


Land

From first creation at the start of Genesis to the new creation at the end of Revelation, land anchors the people's relationship with God and with each other, Creation itself was God's first covenant.

And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." … Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. Genesis 1:9-11

God placed our first parents in a garden that properly tended would grow into a city. "Stuff happened," and with Sarai/Sara, Abram/Abraham set out in radical trust for a place God promised to show him. I often paraphrase Walter Brueggemann's "Justice is important, but food is essential." No land? No food. The future of the people and the future of the land are inextricably intertwined.


Hope

Judean leaders soon will be deported from the Land of Promise God trusted them to steward and care for. They can't see a future, probably can't imagine one (same as us when we're stuck). In a situation that looks and feels hopeless, Jeremiah embodies hope. Jeremiah shows them hope by signing a deed for a parcel of his family's land. BTW, two deeds were common in that time and place. The one in a sealed jar was an original "clean" copy for reference and safekeeping; the other could be changed or altered if necessary.

Some of the provisions for the year of Jubilee specified a way land could remain in a family in case the person who lived and farmed it couldn't afford to continue. This was possible because as the Jubilee text explains, land, earth, turf belongs to God; God is ultimate steward and caretaker—the final "sayer."

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; you are but aliens and sojourners with me. You shall grant redemption of all the land of your possession. Leviticus 25:23-24

God is the landowner, but all creation has high stakes in the land. Without the heaven underfoot of dirt and soil…? You may know about the kinsperson-redeemer from the book of Ruth.

If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. But if there are not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of Jubilee; in the Jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned. Leviticus 25:25, 28

Jeremiah is Hanamel's next of kin with right and responsibility of go'el, protector or redeemer of land so it can stay in the family to keep them fed and sheltered. The right of redemption is possible because God owns the land and everything on the planet; therefore, land is inalienable.


A Future

In a symbolic act that's easy to interpret, Jeremiah signs the deed for property that will have fields and vineyards he likely won't live long enough to experience. Jeremiah brings the future into the present; he shows the future to everyone in the courtyard! You may remember Jeremiah is the one who famously counseled (mostly community leaders) exiled Judeans to seek the good of that strange to them place. To build houses, plant gardens, care for their neighbors. To create a literal "common wealth."

We think we know about resurrection out of ruins, new life from death, new creation from the ashes of the old, yet in the thick of loss and despair, we often cannot see it and therefore have trouble believing it.

Every time we assemble around word and sacrament, we bring a fully restored and redeemed future into our present, however broken it looks, however bleak some days may feel. Like Jeremiah with his signed property deed, in Holy Communion we see, feel, taste, hear – and sometimes smell – the reality of redemption. Jeremiah placed the deed in an earthenware jar because it needed to last a long time, into a far off future.

How about us? Do we trust God's new creation? In addition to celebrating Holy Communion, as we remember this planet's and the people's future belong to each other, what are some other ways we can embody the fullness of redemption to come, however far away it may feel and be?

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Pentecost 15C

Jeremiah 8:18–9:1

18 My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
my heart is sick.
19 Listen! The cry of the daughter of my people
from far and wide in the land:
"Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?"
("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?")
20 "The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved."
21 For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken,
I mourn, and horror has seized me.

22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

9 1O 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 the daughter of my people!

Sorrow

The world wants me to be okay,
but my joy is gone

The world wants me to move on,
but grief is upon me

The world wants to avert its eyes from suffering,
but my heart is sick.

Joy will return when it returns
until that time, God, grant me
the courage to weep uncontrollably
a willingness to let my tears flow
an openness to feel deeply
and the freedom to grieve.

—AMEN

Prayer for Pentecost 15 by Bruce Reyes-Chow from his Weekly Word


Recently in Jeremiah

• From Pentecost 10, here's a little about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah on Pentecost 12.

Pentecost 13: Jeremiah at the Potter's House.

Pentecost 15: – 911+21; un-creation; new creation.


Prophecy, Idolatry

This reading almost definitely originated before many citizens and leaders were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon; we've mentioned kings and people chasing after other gods – idolatry – self-serving national leadership that led to overall neglect of God's covenant charge to especially care for immigrants (whether passing through, relocating for better opportunities, or seeking asylum from intolerable conditions), orphans, widows—Jesus' "least of these" who lack organic social and financial support. The prophets insist that to know God is to be acquainted with and then to do God's mercy, love, and justice.

As scripture makes clear, idolatry isn't always (usually isn't), making a physical object and then giving it tribute of time and money; the Golden Calf Event is one so transparently obvious we can't forget it! Idolatry is placing anything other than the God of the covenants, the God of Jesus Christ first in our lives. Contemporary idols of wealth, jobs, excessive sports, national supremacy sometimes begin as a relatively minor aspect or activity in our lives, and then expand to occupy too many resources, too much space and time.

Similar to people who imagine sitting in a church or synagogue pew for an hour or two every single week and doing whatever will benefit their own bottom line after they leave, God's people have been acting as if God were a magician. v. 19, "Is the Lord not in Zion? Is Zion's King not in her?" v. 20, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." As if God's supposed residency in the temple on Mount Zion and the reign of the monarch (a king that was God's concession rather than God's preference) would be salvific. As if planting, growth and harvest always happen in spite of everything, because isn't there some kind of magic removed from human responsibility to steward the land with practices that care for creation rather than neglect it and wreck it? Well, actually, there is no such magic.


Lament, Balm

We trust prophets recorded God's words to a particular community in a specific season, and we affirm scripture as God's word to us, but always with interpretation that first acknowledges its original context.

You may have heard Jeremiah described as the "weeping prophet." The entire long book contains a whole lot of sorrow, much of it similar to psalms of lament. Every Jeremiah commentary I've looked at said it can be tough to discern whether God, Jeremiah, or the people are speaking at any given time throughout Jeremiah. Most commentators believe God almost definitely speaks in this passage of brokenness, sorrow and tears, as God becomes intimately involved in human activities, in the total, earthbound human condition. In a similar way, Luke 19:41-44 describes Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

In the land distribution we read about in Joshua 13:8, 24-25, Reuben, Gad, and (half of) Manasseh inherit Gilead. Gilead is the scriptural name of the region east of the Jordan River—today's Transjordan. Gilead was renowned for a natural healing balm. I've read that balm was abundant and readily available; I've also read it was relatively rare and therefore precious. In the "Did You Know" category, biotech company Gilead Sciences aptly took its name from the biblical Gilead.

You've probably sung the African-American spiritual that assures us there is balm in Gilead. As Christians we interpret Jesus as our healing balm. I especially love the song's simplicity. When I accompany "Balm in Gilead" on the piano, I usually stretch out some of the chords with eight notes (four in each hand), but similar to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," it needs only light, very minimal instrumental support without intricate rhythms, riffs, and chord changes. It easily sings itself!

Refrain: There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

1 Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again. Refrain

2 If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, "He died for all." Refrain

3 Don't ever feel discouraged,
for Jesus is your friend,
and if you lack for knowledge
He'll not refuse to lend. Refrain

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Pentecost 14C

911 twenty-one years 2022
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

11 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 the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, 12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

22 "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."

23 I looked on the earth, and it was complete chaos,
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not make a full end.

28 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.

Recent Jeremiah Sundays

• From Pentecost 10, here's a little about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah on Pentecost 12.

Pentecost 13: Jeremiah at the Potter's House.


911

9/11/2001 + 21 = 2022

Twenty-one years later, where has the grief gone? Where have the memorial services gone?

This blog follows the Revised Common Lectionary; have you noticed that every so often the appointed scripture feels especially appropriate for the day at hand? Today's first reading is another reflection from the long, dense, book of Jeremiah; this week's saga of un-creation feels like the two decades ago reality of Ground Zero. It feels like the effects of human neglect of creation.

Thursday evening September 13, 2001, my Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America across the street and the one around the corner, a nearby Roman Catholic, that big United Methodist, and the United Church of Christ that bordered this neighborhood and the adjacent one gathered at the ELCA across the street and celebrated Eucharist. In the wake of unprecedented destruction on USA soil, yes, we offered thanks-giving! A glance into all creation healed and whole. A moment in the future God dreams of and calls us to help create.

Every now and then, people online still ask "where were you when you heard the news?" Monday evening 9/10/2001 I'd gotten back late from a seminar for the year-long Community Economic Development Certificate program I'd just started at San Diego State. Tireder than usual, I'd gotten up maybe an hour later than I typically did. By the time I turned on the morning news, the news had gone live. I watched the second plane hit the second tower.

Where were you?


Knowing God

Jeremiah 4:22 – God's people do not know God.

Especially for the prophets, to know God means acquaintance with God's ways of justice, righteousness, love, and mercy, and to do them. We recognize God's presence and learn to know God from the written words of scripture, in the preached word (as the Reformers insisted), in the sacraments, in creation, supremely in God's incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah was outraged at a series of wicked, bad, evil kings. You may remember even having a human monarch was God's concession to the people's desire to be "like other nations?" Self-interested, greedy national leadership and the threat of Babylon ultimately resulted in most of the elite being deported to Babylon and most of Jerusalem destroyed.

In classic prophetic style, Jeremiah spoke truth to power, probably while God's people still were in Judah; his word images evoke the creation narrative of Genesis played backwards into chaos and darkness, and cities "in ruin." With sizable populations, financial, political, religious, and educational institutions, their function as cultural and commercial crossroads, city has become a synonym for civilization.


Where We Live

"Dipping" into scripture to find a text that describes what we want to talk about, or to prove what we've already decided can be dangerous, naïve, and often results in bad theology. But doesn't "the whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn," (4:27-28) sound like the un-creation of ecological devastation and climate change? Too much of creation's grief is the result of human carelessness, corporate and national greed, of not "knowing God" in the prophetic sense of doing justice, righteousness, mercy, and love.

God's promise through Jeremiah, "Yet I will not make a full end [of the land]" sounds like the earth care-creation justice many of God's people have become passionate about, as we pray, study, work, and hope toward the fullness of the new creation.

In the meantime, in spite of the status quo, because of the future God dreams of and we hope for, we keep gathering to make eucharist, the feast of life and reconciliation of all creation, for all creation.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Pentecost 13C

Jeremiah 18:1-11

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 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.

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me:

6 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. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 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. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 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.

11 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."

The Potter's House

• From Pentecost 10, here's a little about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah on Pentecost 12 last week.

This passage opens with God instructing Jeremiah to go to a potter's house because the pottery-making process will be a great illustration of God's words through Jeremiah to Judah. Whether your creativity tends toward artisanal with woodworking, cooking, baking, gardening, or knitting, or maybe you're artistic with words, paint, music, weaving, sculpture… oh, artisan and artist overlap and can't be separated, and you totally get how material you work has its own mind and pleasure, you understand disappointment when things don't go as expected, the joy of a good outcome.

• How can any of the creativity you enjoy be an analogy for God's work and our ministries in the world?


Potter and Clay

An English language instructor could explain the differences with examples, but for today's purposes, metaphor, simile, analogy, likeness, comparison, allegory, parallel, and allusion all are literary devices that help us understand an event or situation in light of another object or happening. Then there's sign and symbol—different topics for another, extended conversation.

Pastor James Howell, whose preaching notions lectionary blog is one of my favorites, posted a video of a visit he made to a Potter's House to help him prepare for preaching this passage. (By the way, I've quit linking to videos because they're here today, gone tomorrow. And isn't it annoying that you don't know which one "This Video Has Been Removed" refers to?)

A condensed version of what Pastor James says about pottery:

Potters use theologically suggestive terminology. Clay gets spoiled, so the potter reworks it. If it's wonky, the potter has to redeem it. The clay talks back to the potter. The clay is passive – but has its own life and nature that can resist the potter!

The potter opens up the clay. Keeping the clay centered is key and requires two hands to shape, reshape, begin again, refine. Hard clay is a challenge, so the potter adds water (so can we think tears? Baptism?). The clay gets exhausted and gets set aside.


Analogy and Reality

We talk about comparison, analogy, metaphor, yet Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit is Living Water. Water is the literal womb of earth's creation and of our creation as individual humans. After we first see light of day, waters of baptism rebirth us in so many senses. Waterways are the planet's circulatory system.

Scripture frequently images the Spirit of God as wind or breeze. When Adam received the divine breath, he came to life. The breath of forests, trees, and other plants are this planet's lungs.

• What additional biblical and other examples can you think of?


Where We Live

God's promises carry the condition of obedience, the necessity of keeping covenant with all creation. In classic truth-to-power prophetic style Jeremiah lines out if-then alternatives. Sometimes for better, other times for worse: "if you do this, that will happen." Our behaviors have consequences, and often we have no choice but to live with the results of other's actions.

Jeremiah's God "plucks up and pulls down, destroys and overthrows, builds, and plants." God calls Jeremiah (over nations!), "to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." God calls us to those same ministries.

To quote James Howell again, "Pottery is frustrating – and Jeremiah pinpoints that moment the potter (God) wants to start over and make the clay [the southern kingdom Judah in this case] into something new and different. Israel is wonky, needing redemption. Israel and all of us need to interiorize Augustine's famous thought: 'O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.' Not just as individuals either! – but as a people, as the family of God."

As a "professional creative" who often goes a bit crazy (wonky?) trying to get a design or a project both technically correct and lookin' good, I really LOVE knowing tearing down, ripping up, starting again from ground zero is good theology even for what's really the minutiae of everyday life.

• How about you?

Jeremiah's short essay doesn't mention firing or glazing that "finish" a plate, cup, jar, or bowl so it can't be further altered expect by breaking it. I have the strong impression God usually leaves many of our surfaces unfinished to rework later for another purpose.

• What's your experience?

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Pentecost 12C

Jeremiah 2:1-13

1 The word of the Lord came to me, saying: 2 Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord:

I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.

3 Israel was holy to the Lord,
the first fruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it were held guilty;
disaster came upon them,
says the Lord.

4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 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?

6 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?"

7 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.

8 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.

9 Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
and I accuse your children's children.

10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look;
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.

11 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.

12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked; be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,

13 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.

Jeremiah

Last week the lectionary began six weeks of major prophet Jeremiah for the alternate first reading. Unless events derail me, I'll blog five weeks in a row of Jeremiah. The first week, Jeremiah 1:4-10, (I wrote about Isaiah) narrated youthful Jeremiah's famous call to uproot and to build; this week features his first words recorded in the book that carries his name.

From my blog two weeks ago, here's a little about Jeremiah.


This Week's Scripture

…is often considered a legal "oracle of judgment" with God's plea and indictment of Judah for overall faithlessness and especially idolatry. God recalls Israel's devotion through the wilderness wandering—in Brennan Manning's words, "in the desert Yahweh and Israel rendezvoused." God describes God's people back then as Holy to the Lord first fruits, the best of the harvest, splendid quality worthy to offer back to God.

God wonders what the ancestors could have found so despicable about God because they "went after worthless things and became worthless themselves." Scripture describes stuff in the category of the word for worthless as vapor, vain, vanity, mist, emptiness, "the nothing."

We are what we eat. Body of Christ, given for you, Amen?! Fresh greens from the backyard garden? We are what we worship! Worship the holy God of love, justice, mercy, and resurrection and become holy as God is holy!

Didn't I recently mention John Calvin's conviction that humans are idol-makers? The Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant begin with no gods other than the true God who brought us out of Egypt. Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for First Holy Communion – with the commandments. As Luther pointed out, we really only need one commandment, the first one, but the other nine clarify the first.


God. gods.

Neither the ancestors nor the religious leaders even asked, "Where is the Lord?" Not some miscellaneous random deity, but the real God Yahweh who rescued us from slavery to empire, led us through deserts, pits, drought, darkness, and desolation —(but! during those forty years God also fed us with water from the rock, manna from the sky), brought us into a good land of plenty and increase.

God still rescues us from misplaced allegiance to things, entities, and ideas that cannot save, objects that often deal death rather than offer life.

What idolatries relate to our current international, national, and local contexts? Small-g gods include consumerism; sports, politics (all sides); self, nation; success, church, family, technology. These all are good values, but not ultimate ones.


Water – Word – Water

One commentary observed that cisterns to hold water year round but especially during the dry warmer seasons were products of recent iron age technology, and logically, leaking containers can't hold water. We need water for life. Technology definitely occupies huge pieces of many lives, sometimes even makes inroads into hearts and affections. What are some contemporary parallels to leaky cisterns that don't hold water? Can't provide life?

God first spoke through Jeremiah to people of Jerusalem about to be exiled; later on God's people back in Jerusalem would have read this text written down or heard it being read in public. During those post-exilic years of reconstructing everything, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Hebrew Bible), other parts of our Hebrew Bible, and the book called Jeremiah all were assembled and codified. God still speaks via Jeremiah to us in the twenty-first century church and synagogue.

Just as the sacraments connect us with God's people in every place and every time – past, present, and future – scripture is a Word for everyone everywhere, all the time. We often talk about permeable, porous, or hard national-international borders. In God's world, borders between times and places all are permeable.

On the last day of the festival [Sukkot–feast of booths or tabernacles], the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" John 7:37-38

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Pentecost 11C

Isaiah 58:10-14

10If 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.

11The 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.

12Your 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.

13If 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;
14then 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…

Isaiah

The 66 chapters of Isaiah divide into three sections that are distinctive in content and in style:

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: chapters 1-39

• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon: chapters 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye – every valley" from Handel's Messiah and other memorably poetic passages.

• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile: chapters 56-66. Back in town trying to rebuild physical, communal, and religious structures; attempts to restore meaning.


Historical Notes

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; some stayed in Babylon instead of going back to Judah; following God's advice via Jeremiah, they continued to be good neighbors, to create sustainable living conditions that could carry people and land into the future.

Those who returned to Judah found themselves colonials of yet another empire: Persia this time.

For close to a hundred years after the exiles returned, Jerusalem mostly remained in ruins. As restoration began, rebuilding the temple especially concerned Haggai and Zechariah; Nehemiah focused on rebuilding city walls; Ezra's passion was restoring worship. In addition to definable structural concerns, they needed to reconcile social, economic, political, and religious divisions. During those years God's people "rediscovered" Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament that form the Pentateuch); as they read, studied, and lived by the counsel of the inspired texts, they became a People of the Book.


Today's Reading

Many post-exilic scriptures provide examples and models we can follow. This first reading from Third Isaiah outlines hope-filled, shalom-full urban renewal.

Last week Jeremiah reminded us God is God of exodus; God liberates us from slaveries of every kind and settles us in land that yields crops and community. As Jeremiah pointed out, God also is God of homecoming who gathers people from exile and dispersion (any of many literal or figurative diasporas) into safe settled places.

Isaiah 58:10a "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…" echoes last week when again we talked about Jeremiah and his emphasis on especially distributive justice, on social and economic equality, on making sure everyone has adequate food and housing.

Isaiah 58:12 "Then 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."

Back in Jerusalem the temple was gone, the city was in disrepair, almost no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild physical infrastructure that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild reliable human substructure that would include neighborhoods of real community and hope.

How many times have I mentioned God gave Israel the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant after they'd been freed from slavery in Egypt? The commandments provide guidelines for staying free, starting with the overarching proclamation "No gods other than Yahweh," the God of love, hope, liberation, and justice. Like much of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke, this scripture is neighborology where people trust God and one another.

Notice the map for rebuilding shalom includes faithful Sabbath observance.


Sabbath

Situations of coercion such as a job you detest that's the only real option, etc., offer almost no choice in what you do and how you act. Especially since the industrial revolution when even more output became mechanized, rationalized, automated and "means of production" became a buzzword, the planet literally never has stopped humming along, never quit turning out "stuff," some of it essential to existence, some of it non-essential or even superfluous.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
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.

Where We Live: Sabbath

Many post-exilic scriptures provide ideas we can use; restoration, hope, and homecoming are themes we need every day.

We know a whole lot about cities and communities that need rebuilding.

COVID and its ongoing fallout has made everyone aware of how fragile mental, emotional, and social well-being can be.

COVID has revealed even more, even deeper cracks along with great possibilities in a church we'd long known needed another re-formation.

Does God's advice through Isaiah offer helpful counsel and hope for our futures?

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. … Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:12,15

By the way, the actual Sabbath never changed from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, the final day of the original old creation [Exodus 20:1-17; Genesis 2:2-3]. The early church started a tradition of worship on Sunday the day of resurrection, first day of the week, start of the new creation.

With prohibitions on doing (working at!) something as simple as flipping a light switch – you even light the candles that usher in Shabbat before the resting day itself – "Sabbath" is a necessary time out, a literal ceasing from producing, counting, working, but not a time of laziness and shiftlessness. If you work in a fire, police, hospital, transportation, or other facility that needs to be open 24/7, you can designate and keep another time of sabbath. Please don't use your day off to go shopping, do that yard work, or cook in order to stockpile the freezer!

In the Spirit of the Exodus out of imperial slavery, sabbath is an opportunity to receive life as gift, to recognize existence as graced. In the shadow of a world consumed more and more by incessant production, purchasing, and using rather than thankful living… God commands us to slow down, to stop, and to keep sabbath.