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.


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…


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.


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?


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 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.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Pentecost 9C

Luke 12:32-38

32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.


Distinctives of Luke, the featured gospel for lectionary year C include prayer, women, marginalized (decentralized?) individuals and communities, table fellowship, the word about the neighbor—neighborology. Since the first verse of Genesis, the Holy Spirit has been prominent throughout scripture's witness, but Luke-Acts of the Apostles brings a particular fulfillment of God's reign in the Spirit. In the traditions of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, in Luke the Spirit's presence and action inverts the status quo to create a common-wealth where everyone has enough, no one has too much or too little—an Upside-Down Kingdom, in the title of Donald Kraybill's classic book.

Luke is solidly set in measurable time and space. Stories only in Luke include the absolutely essential Christmas Eve Bethlehem Nativity account with shepherds, flocks of sheep, and angels, Good Samaritan, and Prodigal Son. Resurrection evening's Emmaus Road takes us back to Luke's many accounts of Jesus' table fellowship with all comers, to the upper room of Maundy Thursday, then forward to places, people, and occasions God is preparing for us.

Intro to Today

Two-thirds through the year, after four Sundays studying Colossians, we're back to Luke. Uniquely recorded in Luke's gospel and not in the other synoptics Mark and Matthew, today's reading opens with Jesus' command not to fear and why! Jesus then announces the reign of heaven is a gift, a given, not something we need to earn or even beg God for. Grace, love, and mercy among us is not a transaction or an exchange. Gifting us brings God delight and pleasure!

Alms and Hearts

After Jesus tells us not to fear because God is near, "Sell your possessions and give alms" (verse 33a) isn't about making a guilt-propelled contribution so you'll feel better about owning more than many others have; it's a concrete action that redistributes money and property, stuff, things to help create an evened-out society. It's wonderful to donate time, skills, money, household items (clothing, cars, etc.) for a favorite or urgent cause, and though most of us love to respond generously to specific appeals, alms-giving is a way of life for Jesus people. The Greek here is eleemosynary, a word I'd completely forgotten and then had to look up to spell the English version correctly.

Unlike the contemporary Western default, "heart" in the bible is not a warm-fuzzy-sentimental-romantic-lacy-floral-bouquet. In Hebrew biology, our willful intent resides in our heart. Jesus begins with treasure (thesaurus, our familiar word for a book of word synonyms and antonyms) and then goes on to heart. Similar to legislation often transforming attitudes, what we do with our treasures of money, time, and belongings actually changes our perspectives or hearts. However, related to feeling good, you've probably seen love in action or responded to a need and then felt your physical bodily heart skip a beat or race a little?!

Ready. Lamps Lit.

Middle-eastern born and raised new testament expert, the late Ken Bailey helps contextualize verses 35–40 to help us own it. I was surprised to learn the wedding party almost definitely was in a different section of the master's house, rather than elsewhere in the 'hood or a more distant location. You may have seen pictures or the real thing of those small clay lamps they used? The flame wouldn't last long; you needed to stay alert so it would't go out and so the lamp would stay upright.

Because if the servants are ready?

Banquets and Bounty

In John 2:1-11, Jesus' first act of public ministry (IPO/initial public offering) is a wedding party.

Early in Luke when Mary finds out she's pregnant, Mary sings the prayer of praise we call the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord; God has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…" [Luke 1:46-55]. Based upon Hannah's words [1 Samuel 2:1-10] and promises of scripture she'd likely memorized from a lifetime of hearing, Mary announces the birth of her baby will mean prominent humans losing their positions of arbitrary, coercive power; it will lead to sidelined "little people" getting enough all-around bounty – food, shelter, community – to live their Best Lives. Jesus' IPO in Luke also announces justice and plenty for all—the arrival of jubilee [Luke 4:16-21]. Sidenote: we're talking distributive justice in terms of who gets what, when, and how as well as the retributive justice of a day in court that holds perpetrators accountable and compensates victims.

Those who wait for the master will recline as he serves them! Reclining while dining was a posture for the wealthy who didn't need to be constantly ready in case of danger or a summons to work. These slaves were willing to work, but Ken Bailey suggests as the least skilled or experienced, they probably wouldn't be asked to serve at a wedding.

Regarding danger, you may remember instructions in Exodus 12:11 to eat the seder in haste ready to go with "a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand." Since that first fast food seder on the way out of Egyptian slavery, Jews now recline to enjoy the passover seder because they are free people who don't need to constantly look out for enemies.

The master as deacon (the Greek "servant" word) serving his slaves ("slaves" in Greek, though scripture tends to use servant and slave interchangeably) is very within Luke's themes of feasting and dining togetherness; it signals the Magnificat's economic / social leveling with its reversal of conventional roles to form a world that inverts the expected. It coincides with Jesus identifying himself in the image of the servant God as "one who serves."

Do we expect God or one of God's messengers to stop by with a solution to our worries, or with a party?

Bringing it Together

This weeks reading starts with, "Do not fear, little flock (flock of birds? flock of sheep?), it is the Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom." Don't be afraid.

By the end of the reading we've met a householder so generous he doesn't invite everyone (y'all y'all come) to the extravagant party—he takes the party to them and serves everyone himself. "Truly I tell you, the master will fasten up his belt and have the slaves recline to eat, and he will come and serve them."

What a picture of the God who enjoys gifting us with life-giving water from the rock, free lunches from the sky, community that considers everyone a neighbor. I love the idea of trying to duplicate this event, especially with so many immigrants in this area as well as across the country. But currently newcomers from other countries, and a whole lot of people who've been here a very long time that Covid has displaced.

This master's gracious generosity isn't an occasional special event. It's his lifestyle and God calls us to the same outrageous hospitality.

How about us? How can we follow the example of the divine universe owner and serve our neighbors? Equally, let's not neglect our own already in-house family and church communities?!