So what the heck is going on with Jeremiah? Our first lesson on the Third Sunday of the Season of Creation contains a threat from the Creator to destroy creation. He uses language that echoes Genesis 1: “I looked at the earth, and it was without shape or form; at the heavens and there was no light.” [CEB] It is a return to the chaos before the Spirit wind fluttered Her wings, creating a disturbance, and God called light into being.
This is strong language. The prophet tells us that the Creator will wipe out everything as if the Earth and all of its living things never even existed. The only sliver of hope appears in verse 27, where the Creator says, “The whole earth will become a desolation, but I will not destroy it completely.”
Somehow I don’t find this the least bit comforting. Somehow this goes against the God I know whom the book of Exodus describes as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” [Ex 34:6] So, let me repeat the question: “What the heck is going on with Jeremiah?”
When I first read the appointed lessons for this Sunday in the Season of Creation, I was a bit perplexed. After all this is “Wind Sunday” and it seems like the only reference to wind of any kind is the breath of Jesus as he takes his final exhale on the cross. Neither Jeremiah nor Philippians mention wind of any kind. So I gave the lectionary a second look to make sure I hadn’t made a copy error. I discovered that these are, indeed, the texts we are given to read for this Sunday.
Then I set my sights on Jeremiah because it was the most disturbing of the three readings. It presents a picture of our Creator that isn’t even remotely in sync with my understanding of who God is. Faced with this dilemma, I did what all good Lutherans do when a Scripture passage perplexes them: I expanded the text and looked at the entire chapter. Scripture is never meant to be read in isolation, and I hoped that by looking at what surrounds our reading, I would understand it more clearly. Thankfully, this was the case.
What I’d like to do this morning is give you a little bit of context for today’s first lesson. This will help us answer the question “What the heck is going on with Jeremiah?” as well as how the prophet’s words might speak to us today.
If we go all the way back to the opening verses of Jeremiah 4, we will discover that this prophecy is not a threat from God. Instead it is a wake-up call. If we know anything about Old Testament prophecy, this is usually the case. Language of doom and gloom is not meant to predict imminent or future destruction. Instead, it’s meant to sound the alarm and wake people up. It’s meant to tell them that something has got to change, or else we’re headed for disaster.
We see this going on in the first few verses of Jeremiah 4. The prophet declares: “If you return, Israel, return to me, declares the Lord. If you get rid of your disgusting idols from my presence and wander no more, and if you swear by the living God in truth, justice, and righteousness, then the nations will enjoy God’s blessings; they will boast about him.” [vs.1-2, CEB]
Right away we see that destruction is not inevitable. There is a chance for repentance, for people to return to God. The call to repentance contains vivid imagery in verse 3-4: “Break up your hard rocky soil; don’t plant among the thorns. Dedicate yourselves to the Lord; don’t be thick-skinned.”
So the destruction depicted in our First Lesson is not a done deal. God is calling the people to repentance. If they change their ways, the implication is that they, along with creation, will be saved. So God tells Jeremiah to “Announce” this warning in Judah, “proclaim” it in Jerusalem, and “sound the alarm throughout the land.” [vs.5, CEB] Clearly, the Creator wants this message to be heard by all of God’s people. The hope is that they will not only hear it, but will act on it as well.
The next thing we need to do is figure out the nature of God’s complaint. What exactly are God’s people doing that has the Almighty so riled up? Well, its clear from the opening verses of chapter 4 that it has to do with idolatry. In other words, people are worshipping something other than God. They are putting their trust in all the wrong things. They have strayed from the values God has instilled in them such as “truth, justice and righteousness.” This may very well be where the text intersects with our lives today. The language of destruction Jeremiah uses is that of “a blistering wind from the bare heights.” It “rages in the desert toward God’s people.” It’s purpose is not merely to “winnow or cleanse” but to bring about utter “devastation.” [vs. 11, CEB]
I don’t know how you’re feeling these days, but the analogy of a “blistering wind” describes the state of our nation quite accurately. There is a lot of “hot air” blowing about. It’s purpose is not to bring clarity. It’s purpose is to utterly obliterate those whom we see as our opponents or enemies of the state. The language of “fake news” and the assault on the media is designed to make us question what is true and what it false. Memes on social media appeal to our most base instincts. We don’t really care if they are accurate or not, as long as they support what we believe.
Trust me, I’ve tried more than a time or two to correct false information I see on my friend’s Facebook feeds. I’ve post links to Snopes. I’ve researched the statistics they are citing and proven them to be inaccurate. But, guess what? All of my efforts have been in vain. My friends never took down these posts. They are content to believe what they believe even if it has been proven to be untrue. It’s a sad state of affairs, indeed.
There is a “blistering wind” blowing and it doesn’t show any signs of letting up in the near future, especially as we approach Election Day in November. This blistering wind is destroying us, and distracting us from what St. Paul says is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.” [Phil 4:8]
This is why the prophet is calling the people to repentance in Jeremiah 4. It’s the reason why we need to repent as well. If we continue down this path of division and distraction then I’m afraid the words our our First Lesson may become a reality. However, I believe Jeremiah 4 tells us that we are not without hope. There is still time to change our ways.
So, on this Wind Sunday, this is my battle plan for the coming months. Perhaps it will become your battle plan as well, as we try to steer the ship of our nation in a different direction. The first thing we need to do is breathe. That’s definitely appropriate for Wind Sunday, don’t you think? The words of a song I wrote come to mind: “Breathe, just breathe. Breathe, just breathe. Shed your troubles, shed your fears, shed your anger: God is here. Just breathe, just breathe.”
When we are feeling distracted and unfocused, we need to breathe. When we are on the giving or receiving end of a blistering wind, we need to breathe. When we are overwhelmed by the seemingly endless stream of bad news, we need to breathe.
It’s clear we have become reactionary people these days. Moral outage and righteous indignation are so commonplace that it feels like this is the normal way to treat other people. If we can take the time to breathe deeply before we react to any given situation, it will help to diffuse some of the heat from the blistering wind which surround us.
The other benefit of breathing deeply and purposefully, is that it gives us time to think. It is a prayerful response to the stressful events which surround us on a daily basis. It gives us time to think about what’s really important in life. It also helps us to get in touch with the Holy Spirit who breathes with us, and reminds us of all the things God has taught us to be: “true, just and righteous.” [Jer 4]
The second thing we need to do is become students of the Word. The one thing we can be sure of in this world is that the Bible is not fake news. Yes, it requires some interpretation and a better understanding of its culture context. But the Truth contained in this book is the firm foundation we can stand on. It always points us back to God, and helps to strengthen our relationship with our Creator and our neighbors, including the ones we don’t particularly like!
My suggestion is that we pledge to read the gospels as we get closer and closer to the coming election. Let’s contemplate the truth contained in them. Let’s ask ourselves if our words and deeds are a reflection of the words and deeds of the Jesus we see in the gospels.
We can argue about the fine points of what Jesus would do. In fact, a blistering wind surrounds this topic on a daily basis. However, there are some standards of basic human decency Jesus taught us, and these are non-negotiable: Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves; serving those who are in need; having compassion for other people instead of judging or demeaning them.
Friends in Christ, we have a lot of work to do. Destruction is not inevitable because God always holds out the possibility we can repent and change our ways. So, perhaps Jeremiah 4 has a lot more to say to us than I initially thought. Let’s ponder it’s words and learn from its wisdom. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck