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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bleak (Jeremiah 10-22)

In America today, racist nationalists, including but not limited to Nazis, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the poster child for white mediocrity, threaten the security of our union.  Uniformed bigots cannot face the truth of being unable to succeed, despite every imaginable advantage.  America's failure to live up to its promise of equality for all manifests itself in these oppressors who pathetically paint themselves as victims.  In the past, when festering, systemic violence gave rise to racist power structures such as chattel slavery and fascism, America lost unthinkable quantities of blood and treasure to put them down.

The people of Judah similarly turned from justice. They chose idolatry over the one true God. God's advice to Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress. . . . Do not pray for the well-being of this people."  Jeremiah 11:14, 14:11. How bad does it have to get for God to tell God's prophet not to pray for God's people? Well, "They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal — something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind."  Jeremiah 19:5.

God poses an uncomfortable question to Jeremiah, a question I ask myself as I read Donald Trump's response to Nazi attacks on American soil, "Can a leopard change its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil."  Jeremiah 13:23.

Speaking metaphorically of the solution, God offers Jeremiah this parable:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
Jeremiah 18:1-6.  Less metaphorically, God promises to keep a remnant, but as for most of them:
“‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’

Jeremiah 19:7-9.   Is there a way to right the evils of unjust distribution of power, without violence?  Is history actually full of societies redeeming themselves without cataclysm, but the only stories we remember are the dramatic ones?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Recovery & Redemption (Jeremiah 1-9)

Our youth group took found a seat with a view of the river and broke out our sack lunches.  The rather on-the-nose Credence Clearwater Rival tune drifted across the public park. 

If you come down to the river
Bet you gonna find some people who live
You don't have to worry 'cause you have no money
People on the river are happy to give

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

A homeless guy approached our group.  Dad greeted him; as they exchanged small talk the man sprayed Lysol into its cap and took a drink.  Dad's fearlessness gave us permission to not be afraid.  We shared our lunches with him.  In between drinks of Lysol he shared the story of a tough life. We listened.  Then Dad said, "Hey John, put down the Lysol."  John couldn't do it and walked away.  

Unconditional love is a component of faith, but it is not the same as faith.  Dad knew that John needed more than just compassion; even though he probably also knew that John was by now incapable of taking that next necessary step.  Likewise, the Prophet Jeremiah brought word to the people of Judah who could no longer merely rest of being the chosen--even sufficient response was no longer possible.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jeremiah 7:1-10.  The charges level against Israel are both spiritual infidelity and social injustice.  Earlier, Jeremiah warns Israel that all but a remnant will have to be destroyed.  He describes the process like a woman giving birth.  
I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,
a groan as of one bearing her first child—
the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands and saying,
“Alas! I am fainting;
my life is given over to murderers.”
Jeremiah 4:31.  Jeremiah's laments rings hauntingly true, today.

Do you think there is hope for America to avoid disaster and step back from the destruction brought on by unchecked greed and marginalizing massive sectors of its population?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Being a Bummer (Zephaniah)

The people of Judah knew that under Hezekiah, Sennacherib's Assyrian army was at the walls of Jerusalem and had been repelled--or outlasted.  King Josiah had returned the nation to the ways of YHWH--the God of Jacob and Moses--and while the Babylonian Empire was on the rise, I suspect some of them were attracted to the idea of a day of vengeance would come when YHWH come in judgement.

Zephaniah had this to say about the Day of YHWH:
The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
 . . . . 
Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled!
She obeys no one,
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
she does not draw near to her God.
Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning.
Her prophets are unprincipled;
they are treacherous people.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
and do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous;
he does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice,
and every new day he does not fail,
yet the unrighteous know no shame.
So, when you have to keep correct your friends for their nonsense, you're in good company.  Zephaniah does let up at the end and leave open the possibility of a remnant of people true to God remaining through God's wrath.  Still pretty depressing.