Saturday, November 26, 2022

Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Advent

Last Sunday we concluded the church's year by celebrating Jesus Christ,

…the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16

As the northern hemisphere approaches the time of year with least daylight and inches toward the winter solstice, the first Sunday of Advent opens wide a new year of grace. We light candles at home and at church; glowing warmth from a fireplace or wood burning stove brings a lot of comfort in some homes. We ended the old year with a splash of apocalyptic (uncovering, revealing, signs and wonders in creation and in the everyday world along with coded speech or art that needs to be interpreted); we start the new year with apocalyptic, too. The unfamiliar, upside down, inside out, strangeness of apocalyptic literature or art signals "look! listen! the end of the world as we've known it!"

This new lectionary Year A features the Gospel according to Matthew for most of the gospel readings; today's apocalypse is a parable from Matthew 24:36-44. However, for these Advent Sundays I expect to blog about the first readings that all come from the first section of Isaiah (chapters 1 through 39) that's mostly from Isaiah of Jerusalem who ministered before the Babylonian exile.

Advent imagery and scripture subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, disease, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival in our midst as a human baby. God in the manger? How counter-intuitive is that?

As we await and expect God on earth, close to us as one of us, advent is a season of hope. Blue, the color of hope, is the contemporary liturgical color for advent. With its emphasis on light that continues through epiphany along with its theme of hope, Advent is the favorite season for many people.


Advent 2022

Immediately before today's reading, Isaiah chapter 1 rants about the vision he saw concerning violence, bribery, injustice, empty religious festivals, sacrifices, and extravaganzas. In Isaiah 1:17 God charges us, "Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

The first advent, ad-venire, coming, or arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened in Roman occupied territory after 700 years of enemies—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, Rome. Advent imagery and reality subverts the status quo of violence, injustice, hatred, hunger, and fear as the world anticipates God's arrival as a human baby. Reformer Martin Luther insisted to see the fullness of God's power and the style of God's reign—"look to the Bethlehem manger! Look to the Calvary cross!"

During Advent 2022 we wait for Jesus' arrival into territory already occupied by: Covid? Armed conflict, maybe particularly the Russian Federation's (mostly President Putin's) war on the sovereign nation of Ukraine that has grieved Western hearts, though worldwide at least a couple dozen wars continue to rage? Competitive consumerism, especially during the gift-giving December holidays? Wall Street, the DOW and the NASDAQ? Crypto currency? Social media? Ethnic conflict? It seems as if stabbing has become the new shooting? What other death-dealing, life-negating entities and activities overwhelm our living spaces?


Today's Reading

Isaiah 2:1 "The word Isaiah…saw." A visible word! Hebrew here is dabar that denotes both speech and action. Visible words? How about us? Sacraments, visions, dreams, paintings… advertising art! Do you know Tom Wolfe's book, The Painted Word?

Isaiah 2:4, "…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah's 8th century contemporary Micah 4:1-3 also included this life-giving promise.

Paradox in this passage is Zion was not the highest mountain, and "the nations" were not caravanning to Jerusalem and Mount Zion. Also, God's people were not unique in considering their capital city the center of the world. Imagine!

Isaiah 2:3 "God of Jacob" – Genesis 28:13-15, Jacob's dream, Jacob's ladder: land; offspring; God's constant, abiding presence; homecoming.

All of Isaiah conveys an expansive worldview with a universalism that insists Yahweh is God of all, God for all. No more us and them!

Psalm 122:1-2 for today: I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Matthew's Gospel

Here's a highlights summary of the Gospel According to Matthew outside of my reflections on one of today's scriptures so I easily can link back to it.


Matthew's Gospel

Every year on the first Sunday of Advent that's always the Sunday closest to Saint Andrew's Day on November 30th, the church begins a new year of grace. Gospel readings for this formally designated Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year A are mostly from Matthew. During the great 50 days of Easter, all three lectionary years feature John's gospel.

Along with Luke and Mark, Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus with a similar perspective, despite each having a markedly different personality. Syn=together (synthesis, synod, synagogue, synopsis, synergy, synonym); optic=related to vision (optician, optical, optometrist, optimistic, optimum, optimal)


Overview

• Date and Author

circa 80 - 90

There's no historic indication of "Matthew" as author until the second century, but we can assume followers of the apostle and tax collector Matthew similar to the way we consider the community that surrounded John the beloved disciple authored John's gospel.

• Sources

Matthew contains 90% of the verses in Mark, the earliest canonical gospel. (Luke contains about 50% of Mark.) Matthew and Luke both contain parallel, sometimes identical passages not found in Mark. Scholars still speculate there might have been a no longer extant written collection of Jesus' sayings, sometimes referred to as "Q", from the first word of the German Quelle—river or source.

• Language

Scholars still aren't certain, but suggestions include Semitic Greek, or possibly Aramaic that was the vernacular Hebrew Jesus spoke.

• Setting

Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Antioch in Syria, where they first called Jesus' followers Christian – Acts 11:28. That particular Antioch's part of present-day Turkey. There's also an Antioch, Ohio, USA.


World View / Content

• Book of Beginnings, Book of Origins = biblios geneseos. Matthew presents a new Genesis, a New Creation as he tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

• Matthew's genealogy goes back to Abraham, Father of the Jewish nation, in whom all nations would be blessed. Matthew's Jesus is Son of Abraham, who blesses all people everywhere. Matthew's Jesus is Son of David, not a temporary, short-term monarch like the old David, but this new David reigns for all eternity, embracing all creation.

• Matthew's Jesus is the ultimate Rabbi – "teacher" – who wants students, pupils, learners.

• Concern about fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies and predictions

• Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God because of the Jewish proscription against saying G-d's name aloud.

• Angel's visit to Jesus' stepfather Joseph; Joseph's dream to flee to Egypt. Possibly an echo of Joseph the dreamer in Genesis? (Luke tells us more about Mary.)

• Visit of the Magi at Epiphany in response to a dream: ethnic foreigners from a different religion reveal God for the world. Scripture does not say how many kings there were, but tradition says three because the text lists three gifts.

• Jesus as the New Moses – "a prophet like me," as Moses himself predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15
* Flight into Egypt – Jesus as refugee
* New Exodus out of Egypt with Jesus as freedom-giver, liberator, like the first Moses
* Five discourses that parallel the Torah/Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses: Jesus as a new Moses, the gospel as a new Torah. The Sermon on the Mount explicates ten commandments/ten words God gave the people through Moses at Mount Sinai.

(1) chapters 5–7
(2) chapter 10
(3) chapter 13
(4) chapter 18
(5) chapters 24–25

• Matthew 16:18; 18:17 – the only gospel that uses the word "ecclesia," and has some instructions related to church order and structure. Ecclesia is the Roman city council, New England town meeting. Ecclesiology, ecclesiastical are words about the church. In southern California there are quite a few mostly Spanish-speaking assemblies that style themselves iglesia.

• Before Jesus' resurrection Matthew calls God's people "Israelites"; after the resurrection he calls them Jews.

• Concluding Great Commission in 28:16-20 positions the Good News as salvation (integrity, wholeness, shalom) for everyone everywhere.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Reign of Christ / Christ the King

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued [exodus, a new deliverance, a new freedom from slavery] us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to Godself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Christ the King / Reign of Christ

Every year the church's year of grace concludes by celebrating Jesus Christ as Lord of all. Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe in 1925.

The language of Christ the King – a male monarch with single, singular authority – trips up some people. Once again explaining circumstances as cultural (ways people relate and create meaning) sometimes feels tired or too persistent, but the two millennia ago Greco-Roman culture would not have taken a female redeemer seriously, nor would a woman connect with Old Testament passages about a coming savior and a messianic age. As we've discovered, Jesus son of David, child of Mary and son of heaven, inverts and subverts the way it's always been – the endless recycling of the same thing that always ended in death – in almost every detail, including his inclusion and affirmation of women.

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, in Saxon English the Lord provided the loaf or the sustenance for the citizens of his realm.

You may have come across kindom of heaven. For sure we all are close kin to each other in Jesus, our elder brother; we absolutely are interconnected with a high degree of responsibility and accountability to one another (as Jesus counseled, to be saved, keep the commandments, keep covenant with all creation). However, "kindom" erases the reality of Jesus' power and the wisdom of his rule; it comes close to obliterating our need of a Savior who is both fully human and also God in our midst. It even removes Jesus as sovereign!


Cosmic Christ

Particularly this chapter of the letter to the church at Colossae brings us the pre-existent and still regnant Christ who fills and rules the entire cosmos, who subverts empire, inverts the political, social, economic, and religious status quo, who is the image and the reality of God parallel to In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. (John 1:1) Colossians 1:15 announces, "Christ is the image of the invisible God"; in John 14:19 Jesus tells us, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Everything I blogged during July on Colossians 1:15-20 for Pentecost 6 works well for today. I mostly wrote about resisting empire and overcoming in general; there's no need to say it all over again, except my last paragraph:

If – because! – Jesus rules the cosmos and us as individuals, then Samsung, BP, and Shell don't. If – because! – Jesus is our ultimate authority, then the Russian Federation and the United States government aren't. Because Jesus is Lord, national flags and corporate logos aren't our central symbols. The cross of Calvary is.

The reign of the crucified and risen Lord has no limits, no checks and balances. It is comprehensive. Notice the repeated word all in today's scripture!

Luke 23:33-43 is the gospel for this Sunday. You might be interested in reading through Luke 23. Notice how many non-israelites, non-Jews, "outsiders" say something about Jesus' kingship. The king whose throne is a cross of shame!

Luke's lectionary year ends today. Next week the first Sunday of Advent begins a new year that features the gospel according to Matthew.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Pentecost 23C

Isaiah 65:17-18, 21-22, 25

17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating,
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy
and its people as a delight.

21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat,
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.


Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom
So Far

The witness of scripture ranges from the First Creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, to bondage and liberation, gifts of covenant and land, exile and homecoming, to incarnation, death, resurrection, and the New Creation at the end of Revelation. Scripture gives human creatures a place within the created order and a call to steward, maintain, treasure, and support the rest of creation; the Ten Words or Commandments that relate human creatures one to another and to all creation are critical for the planet's survival. The Creator God covenants with all creation, and as creatures in God's image, so do the people of God.

This is the next to last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday we celebrate Reign of Christ, and then the hope-filled season of Advent begins a new year. For the past three months the lectionary has focused on experiences of uncertainty, exile, and homecoming to a place that has been almost totally destroyed, and no longer could support anything resembling life as they'd known it—and probably assumed it always would continue. Habakkuk, Haggai, and Jeremiah's latest writings brought realism about the people's past and most recent situations along with God's promises of future restoration.

Today's first reading is from the third part of the long book of Isaiah that's in three main sections. Chapters 1-39, "First Isaiah" mostly written by Isaiah of Jerusalem (with a few insertions of passages from others) ministered before the Babylonian exile. Isaiah of Jerusalem was the subject of God's dramatic call we find in Isaiah 6. Addressed to people exiled to imperial Babylon, chapters 40-55 comprise Second Isaiah that opens with "Comfort Ye – Every Valley Shall be Exalted." Almost everyone knows those words and music well from Handel's Messiah that has become an icon of Advent hope for Christians as we anticipate Jesus' birth in our midst. Scholars don't know much about Third Isaiah, whose inspired words form chapters 56-66, but evidence says the writer was active during the time the city of Jerusalem was being restored, the temple being rebuilt.


New Creation

Today's scripture starts with God's promise of New Heavens and a New Earth. In a very practical sense, that newness will include houses and fertile land. This assigned reading ends with friendship and reconciliation among all creatures in all creation. You've probably seen at least one Peaceable Kingdom painting by Edward Hicks? I did realize he'd painted more than one, but several websites said 62 versions! A Society of Friends or Quaker minister, Hicks lived from 1780-1849. Quakers are one of the historic peace churches, and it's interesting Hicks chose this passage to illustrate. It's also clear the writer of Third Isaiah knew and drew upon a similar passage from Isaiah of Jerusalem that's widely considered a reference to Jesus of Nazareth as a descendant of Jesse:
From Isaiah 11

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
4a With righteousness he shall judge for the poor
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic is a genre found in literature and in the visual arts. Although it means revealing or unveiling, it has achieved a popular connotation of devastating destruction. Several Old Testament prophets use apocalyptic imagery; in the New Testament, the gospels of Mark and Luke and the book of Revelation include sections of apocalypse. Every year Advent opens with a splash of scriptural apocalyptic because God in our midst will signal the end of the world as we've known it, but definitely not in a negative sense.

Scripture moves from the waters of the old creation to the rivers of the new; the narrative of scripture moves from the garden of the first creation to the city of the new creation. That "end time" of the no more of cycles of war, violence, famine, hatred, deceit, and deprivation will be a time of the fullness of redemption for all creation, not solely human creatures. The wolf shall live with the lamb … the calf and the lion will feed together… The apocalyptic, eschatological, "final things" feast of the Eucharist is sign, symbol, realization, and reality of the answer to the apostles' question to Jesus, "will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?"

Are we ready to celebrate Reign of Christ / Christ the King? Are we ready for Advent 2022? Are all of us ready to explore and trust that uncertain post-Covid new normal? Are we ready for the end of the world as we've known it?

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Pentecost 22C

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

1
15 In the second year of King Darius,

2
1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 "Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say: 3 'Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?'

4 "Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel," says the Lord; "take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you," says the Lord of hosts, 5 "according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear."

6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: "Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with splendor," says the Lord of hosts. 8 "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine," says the Lord of hosts. 9 "The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts, and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts."

Haggai

Another writer from the Book of the Twelve or minor prophets whose words and work may be relatively minor in length, yet major in import and influence, Haggai ministered after the Babylonian exile. "Back home" in Jerusalem, leaders and regular people sought to rebuild a semblance of life as they'd known it, a tenuous new normal that included a new temple. Haggai was especially concerned about the physical temple with the liturgical and revelatory cult surrounding it; "house" refers both to the first temple the Babylonians had destroyed and to the new one on the way.

Two decades into return to Judah, through Haggai God promises restoration so full and complete this new House of the Lord would be even more splendid than the previous one. Given that the second temple never was as opulent as the first, this sounds contradictory, but for Haggai, the overall well-being of the people, of their political, social, and economic life together was closely tied to acknowledging God's primacy and ownership of everything.

Putting God first by looking after the needs of our neighbors means to know God in the biblical sense of caring for what the late Robert Farrar Capon describes as the least, last, little, and lost. (And isn't every individual and every group in those categories now and then?) Post-resurrection followers of Jesus extended God's charge to loving neighborology by creating egalitarian communities. Although we follow Jesus by affirming every individual, group, and aspect of creation a neighbor, it's usually best to start with those who are physically and geographically nearest us. Who wants to be like an ultra-rich who sends millions to overseas causes and concerns they've never met or maybe even seen pictures of, yet who ignores obvious needs next door?

"…all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you," says the Lord of hosts, "according to the promise that I made you [the word that I covenanted] when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear." vv.4-5

The temple is gone, yet God is with the people. God is never confined to a particular place. Referring to "out of Egypt" reminds the returned exiles that despite precarious wilderness conditions, God provided for their real needs and will continue to do so.


Where We Live

Two more Sundays, and we'll have walked, prayed, studied, and worked through another year of grace. Bringing its words alive in our own context is one of the outcomes we seek from scripture, yet every passage won't apply to every contemporary situation.

The past few months of Jeremiah, Lamentations, Habakkuk, and now Haggai have been about people in fear of exile, then actually displaced to a strange country, later back in the land God first promised Abraham and Sarah. But the place they returned to was very unlike the turf that had yielded plentiful crops amidst fairly healthy political, religious, economic, and social life.

As concerned and prayerful as we must be for situations like those in Syria, Ukraine, and other countries around the world, just as when we seek care for our neighbor, we need to begin with the nearby and closest at hand.

Covid has caused changes, displacement, disappointment, and unexpected outcomes worldwide. Our old normal is gone; we're chasing after a future new normal. Will we know it when we see it?

Every scripture doesn't necessarily apply to where we are, but can Israel's and Judah's experience of exile and homecoming, hope for rebuilding and the reality of God's presence be instructive for us? Can some of the texts we've recently looked at help us move forward? I don't know.

However, in three weeks, on 27 November, Advent begins again with songs and scriptures specifically addressed to people who feel homeless, have been exiled from old normals, who long for and need meaning, structure, and stability. God is God of History, and not a distant deity who vaguely observes the endless recycling of the same thing. God is involved in history, in our lives and our dreams as we seek to rebuild a semblance of life as we'd known it, that tenuous new normal.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pentecost 21C / Reformation

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

1
1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
The Prophet's Complaint

2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous;
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2
1 I will stand at my watchtower
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me
and what God will answer concerning my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faithfulness.

Reformation / Pentecost 21

Reformation Day is October 31, the same day as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve. Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church because the church door was the town bulletin board, and with All Saints on November 1st being a holy day of obligation when people were required to attend Mass, he knew everyone would notice his list of grievances against the Roman branch of the church. When October 31 isn't a Sunday, the church celebrates Reformation on the last Sunday of October.

Synchronicity is so fun! Since I'd recently blogged about Jeremiah 31:31-34 that's the first reading for Reformation every year, I decided to visit the first reading for Pentecost 21—from Habakkuk. One of the twelve books sometimes referred to as Minor Prophets because of their length, and not because of their content or import, it doesn't feel as familiar as Amos or Hosea. However, Habakkuk 2:4 contains a primary Reformation text and concept. The Apostle Paul included it in Galatians 3:11 and Romans 1:17; Martin Luther claimed faith or dynamic trust as the key to our relationship with God. Given that the Revised Common Lectionary is a 3-year cycle, it was providential and synchronous to find this passage scheduled for this Sunday.


Reformation

It doesn't take long on earth to learn how important communication is to any relationship. We're very familiar with God speaking to us through scripture; most of us have more than one hard copy of the bible, and many visit different bible versions online, but easy access to scripture hasn't always been the case. Although presses with static type had been in existence at least since the ninth century (the history of type is three millennia long, but you need to define and describe each step along the way), Johannes Gutenberg's innovation of moveable type made it possible to quickly print bibles, tracts, catechisms, and other "print media."

In this ecumenical twenty-first century, it may feel unfriendly to observe the Reformation that split the church and restored the gospel, but despite differences and distinctions, contemporary theology and practice of most Christian traditions and denominations – including the Roman Catholic – align with Luther's insights and demands for change and renewal, so why not a special day for the Reformation, and also for a church that's always reforming? The phrase Ecclesia semper reformanda attributed to Karl Barth, became one of the catch-phrases of Vatican II.

But let's not celebrate Martin Luther! Don't celebrate Jan Hus, the Czech reformer whose life bridged 14th and 15th centuries (Luther said he stood "on the shoulders of Jan Hus"). Don't celebrate renewers of the church John Wesley and Pope John XXIII. Celebrate God's grace and freedom in the love of Jesus Christ. Celebrate the church's mission and future. Celebrate the first fruits of the new creation in the reign of the Pentecostal Spirit of Life.


Today's First Reading

I've heard Habakkuk pronounced with accent on the first syllable, and with accent on the second. Take your pick. Researchers haven't yet unearthed much of anything about this prophet.

At ease with God and deeply trusting God, Habakkuk begins with complaints to God against God! Notice he "saw" the oracle. In 2:2 God instructs Habakkuk to "write the vision." Words usually can be read aloud and heard, but before that happens, we first need to see them. And dense as humans sometimes can be, we often need to see the word writ large enough that someone running past them still will notice and read (and heed?) them.

Habakkuk becomes a sentinel at the lookout point that starts chapter 2; he has decided, "I will keep watch to see what God will say to me and what God will answer concerning my complaint." Watching to see God's words. What do you make of that?

In continuity with much of Isaiah, similar to Jeremiah's new covenant promise, God answers Habakkuk's How Long? complaint with counsel to wait for the newness that will arrive (4:3 "at the appointed time" – what we'd call kairos rather than chronos time), because death, violence, and injustice never lasts; God's final answer always is resurrection and newness.


Where We Live

These days few people obsess about sin the way Luther and his contemporaries did, but in many ways our context is similar to the Reformers'. New science and technology, social change, tumultuous secular and church politics, natural disasters, *even* a pandemic that killed more people than Covid has (so far). Since the Reformation the Western world has experienced the Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions, a production-related industrial revolution, an ongoing digital revolution … a comprehensive list probably doesn't exist.

We may not take sin and hell to heart as seriously as Luther did, yet in this ultra-rationalized world, even those of us active in church and synagogue make careers of adding up our achievements, comparing ourselves to others (or to our own potential), chasing the best life and technology upgrades. Wondering if there's any way we can help even a little to heal creation even a little.

We may not take sin and guilt as seriously as Luther did, but at least as much as Luther and his cohorts, we can trust the word of righteousness and life in Jesus Christ God declares to us and for us before God does anything in us: it's assuring to know the faith that saves us first belongs to Jesus Christ and not to us. And then, good works of service and of presence, generated by grace, become our response. Like all people everywhere, we need to know life first as gift, existence as graced.

To paraphrase a commentary I read, today's reading from Habakkuk is about God in the long run, God in the longest run. As it was for Abraham, for all of us it's about the journey. To walk by faith means trusting God as we keep on keepin' on putting one foot in front of the other even though we can't see the destination.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Pentecost 20C

Jeremiah 14:8-9, 21-22

8 O hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler turning aside for the night?
9 Why should you be like someone confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not forsake us!

21 Do not spurn us, for your name's sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain,
or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God?
We set our hope on you,
for it is you who do all this.

Jeremiah

Next week for Reformation I won't blog Jeremiah because I wrote about his New Covenant passage last week; I don't know if I'll reflect on another Reformation scripture or on one of the texts for Pentecost 21. That means today is the last Jeremiah for this lectionary year and calendar year.

Over the past couple of months we've studied only a very small portion of a very long, extremely dense book that Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch began writing before imperial Babylonian armies and authorities wrecked the city and the temple. Jeremiah continued with letters and oracles to the Judean (mostly) leaders exiled in Babylon (some of the "regular people" stayed behind). When we started what became a Jeremiah series in mid-August for Pentecost 10, via Jeremiah we heard God's reassuring, "Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? … Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord." (Jer 23:23-24) That first Jeremiah post also included a little of what scholars know about Jeremiah's background and ministry.

We've observed similarities among Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Luke. All three books emphasize living out God's call to distributive and procedural justice, and to loving kindness within the community in order to create a true common-wealth where no one has too much or too little. All of them are all about showing helpful (don't just tell me, please show me!) compassion to those who have only a little, especially to widows and orphans, who in that culture were particularly vulnerable in every sense. All have examples of treating strangers – whether passing through, displaced from their homeland, or otherwise recent arrivals – as if they were native-born, whatever their religion or ethnicity.

The lectionary readings have skipped around Jeremiah in a crazily random way, but as we wrap up this week, in chapter 13 verse 9 the people remind God of what chapter 23 later echoes, "…you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name."

In Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Luke to know God is to act in ways that fulfill the ten words or commandments of the Sinai covenant and embody the divine image God created us in. To know God means acting to create the reign of heaven on earth: to demonstrate to the world that God is a God near by and not far off—God indeed is in the midst of us, God is present in the people called by God's name.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Pentecost 19C

Jeremiah 31:27-28, 31-34

27 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28 And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.

More Jeremiah

Amidst destruction of their homeland/promised land, in the midst of exile to a strange land, through Jeremiah God assures people of both the southern kingdom Judah (location of Jerusalem and the J-Temple) and the long-defunct northern kingdom Israel that future life will emerge from death.

On the last Sunday of October, we'll celebrate Reformation Sunday. Texts for Reformation are the same every year and include Jeremiah 31:31-34. Luther and other theologians very accurately found God's incarnate Word Jesus Christ throughout the Spirit-breathed Hebrew scriptures we share with our Jewish siblings. The apostle Paul assured us, "…in Jesus Christ every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.'" (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Martin Luther famously discovered and uncovered Jesus Christ in almost every Old Testament passage, and we often refer to Jesus as bringer of a new covenant, as the fulfillment of all God's promises, yet God announced this particular hope for a living future to Israel and Judah, not to the church.

To some extent we cannot help but interpret scripture through the perspective of twenty-first century individualism with its assumption of autonomous individual actors. As much as this passage is about the God who covenants with each of us in baptism, the culture where it originated could not have imagined a solitary person unbound and unresponsive to a community, along with a community that was protection and refuge for the individuals that formed it.


New Covenant

Over the past few years this blog has talked about neighborology: the word about the neighbor, the other than us. I've mentioned strong similarities in worldviews of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Luke; theologies of all three books insist our love of God best becomes embodied in service to our neighbors. Despite the Common Lectionary being compiled a half century ago, it's no surprise they included quite a few readings from Jeremiah and Deuteronomy for this year C, Luke's year.

Very loosely, a biblical or ancient near eastern covenant is an agreement or pact; biblical covenants all are covenants of grace. Creation itself was the first covenant recorded in scripture; then covenants with Noah, with Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, ten words – a decalogue – at Sinai via Moses, later on with King David.

However, in substance this suddenly new form of the law is no different from the good news of the ten commandments of the Sinai Covenant. The new covenant God promises through the prophet Jeremiah was (and still is!) a deeper, more internalized, more fully responsive way of living with the covenant of promise that binds God to people, the covenant of obedience that binds people to God and to each other.


Where We Live

Our modern tendency to equate heart with emotion and feelings is another difference between Jeremiah's world and ours. Because in Hebrew biology the heart is the seat of will and intention rather than emotion, a covenant inscribed on hearts would lead everyone to obey instinctively. Our scripture even claims, "No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me." In short, people won't need to think so hard about their next move.

If "no longer shall they teach … for they all shall know me," does that mean no more God-talk? Not exactly! In that day we'll absolutely continue to proclaim and re-enact salvation history in liturgy and sacraments. If we don't keep remembering, for sure we'll forget. We'll also keep on keepin' on reading and studying scripture, but for everyone "in those [future] days" it will be reminder more than instruction.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Pentecost 18C

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

5 "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
Jeremiah 29 Build Houses Seek the Well-being
Covid-induced Exile

The entire bible witnesses to God's way of being and living together, but (maybe particularly) the books of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Luke emphasize what we've referred to as "neighborology," or the word about the neighbor.

Covid Is Not Over, but there are many signs (1) Covid probably will stay with us for longer than the foreseeable future; and (2) now that many social and other restrictions have been modified or lifted, it's time to imagine, explore, and try on for size necessarily different and updated … everything.

Aspects of our current situation aren't very different from the dislocation God's people felt when Jeremiah wrote to them. They'd literally been picked up and relocated from their promised homeland onto turf of yet another empire. When "life happens" unexpectedly, it's not necessarily negative to simultaneously focus on where and how we'd been, along with imagining the future we'd wanted or expected.

However, like exiles in Babylon, we still need to live right now, and in Wendell Berry's famous words, Jeremiah basically advises them to "practice resurrection," to live as if the disapora already was producing and enjoying fruits of the new creation. Our interdependent global community keeps showing us if we're thriving and healthy where we live, that well-being will ripple and radiate around the world.

The ongoing pandemic has taken us from the expected familiar, removed a lot of the expected from our everydays. As absolutely everyone encounters frustrations and probably some elations during this phase of rebuilding and revival, my Five Minute Friday free write this week on the prompt "become" reflects on living together into wellness.

Here's the complete Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry.

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.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Pentecost 10C

Jeremiah 23:23-29

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?


Overview

The Tenth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! "Ordinary" time will continue over three more months until Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday that celebrates the sovereignty of the risen and crucified Jesus Christ. Then we'll enter a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.

Our Old Testament/Hebrew Bible reading today is from the prophet Jeremiah. A very quick overview of OT structure and content:

Torah, sometimes called the five books of Moses, not because Moses wrote them, but because Moses is a central character and their general content reflects his leadership: Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – Deuteronomy.

Prophets, with "former prophets" of historical bent: Joshua; Judges; 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel; 1 Kings, 2 Kings. "Major or Writing Prophets" 1, 2, and 3 Isaiah; Ezekiel; Jeremiah; Book of the Twelve, sometimes called "Minor Prophets" because of their length, not because of lack of importance.

Writings, a truly miscellaneous collection that doesn't have the same canonical content everywhere. Writings include the vital to the church Psalms; plus Job, Proverbs, Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Song of Songs; Ecclesiastes. I've probably omitted a few.


Jeremiah

Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition. Saul/Paul of Tarsus also came from the tribe of Benjamin!

Jeremiah is very much within the classical tradition of Hebrew/Israelite prophecy that brings us a Word from the Lord. The popular sense of "prophet" refers to someone who foretells future events. However, scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen, also frequently based upon the logical outcome of behaviors and events. Later in the history of Israel the roles became somewhat conflated.

As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. Jeremiah also is very much within the covenantal tradition of Deuteronomy with its charge to care for the neighbor, to look after society's marginalized. This especially may include immigrants, whether refugee, asylum seeker, intentional migrant, or any of our current categories of outsiders. Like Jesus' mother Mary and Jesus himself, Jeremiah is another example of someone who had memorized and internalized scripture so he could quote and live that Word of Life.

This is Luke's lectionary year. Luke's gospel has a similar political, cultural, religious, social, and economic perspective as Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.


Jeremiah 22

Immediately before today's short reading, chapter 22 is one of Jeremiah's most famous. Jeremiah addresses Josiah, who was one of the only good kings of Israel. Known as The Boy King because he assumed leadership at age 8, Josiah took care of powerless widows, orphans, strangers, sojourners. In short, Josiah literally did justice and righteousness as God calls every one of us created in the divine image to do.

Jeremiah 22 also reminds us Israel's God is not only God of liberation (rescue-redemption} from bondage, slavery, and death, with the subsequent gift of a Promised Land; God also gathers the people together and enacts homecoming (restoration) from exile and estrangement.


Where We Live

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. 23:23-24

Unlike the Ba'als and other assorted gods connected to a particular place and that required sacrifice, tribute, and other displays of loyalty, Israel's God filled the cosmos, yet was as close to each person as their own heart. Yahweh-God's only loyalty test was love of God, neighbor, and self. Distinguishing false "prophets" and true speakers of God's Word is one of the primary concerns this passage brings us. Jeremiah's ministry bridged times before the Babylonian exile, during the exile, and after some of the exiles returned home, started rebuilding city and temple and "rediscovered" Torah. You may recall during this era they found themselves colonists of yet another empire—Persia.

This late-pre-exilic caution reminds us people in all kinds of leadership sometimes (often?) do and say what they believe the people want to hear for whatever reason. They well may want to keep their jobs or get re-elected; at times they're honest and moral yet inaccurately believe maintaining an unworkable status-quo for a short while or short-term inaction won't be harmful, and for sure it will save taxpayers a whole lot.

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. 23:28

These words surprised me! Scripture brings us many examples of God speaking through dreams; God probably has revealed quite a bit to you via dreams, or at least opened your heart to possibilities you hadn't imagined during the day. But just as with anything we hear anywhere, we need to prayerfully and patiently run everything past God's criteria of love, justice, non-violence, and hope. As Christians, Jesus is our ultimate example.