Jeremiah….was not a bullfrog (part 4)

jeremiah-anathoth-bull-frog-part-4

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy, Knute Rockne, Billy Ocean, and    John Blutarsky

 

There are times of intense pressures in history that are complex, unpredictable, and ultimately fatal to whatever you may have wished for in your time. You can feel yourself being dragged along by forces beyond your control. At the time this is happening you are more likely to underestimate the significance of events than you are to exaggerate their importance. That is reserved for when you make mountains out of mole hills. The end of the age of Judah was no mole hill.

Jeremiah had lost the best king he and his fellow Hebrews had ever known. Josiah was killed in battle with Egypt having foolishly ignored his prophet’s advice. In a ten year period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet sought to do better with Josiah’s third son, Zedikiah, who was placed on the throne at the age of 21. This effort was difficult in that while Josiah did everything God asked him to do, his son is described as doing only “evil in the sight of the Lord.” To say the least, the prospects were not good.

And yet, Jeremiah goes and invests in real estate near his home town of Anathoth. It was a family transaction, but one designed to communicate his confidence that God was not done with them yet and to affirm his commitment to the future of Judah. It is like buying stock when everyone else is selling (and for good reason.) It’s the opposite of ‘white flight’ from transitioning neighborhoods, which took the form of everyone being carted off to Babylon or fleeing to Egypt. He was going to stay and it is sad that events overwhelmed him and he was swept away to Egypt instead.

In the final part of my series “Jeremiah Was Not a Bullfrog”, I want to talk about “The Investment” and the role this great prophet plays in our being here in worship as a Christian people. His investment in us goes well beyond a field at Anathoth. He left us with a legacy that not only told the story of the people of God, but opened us into a new and compelling understanding of what that history means and where it leads.

It is his faith language that opens us to see Jesus in a different light than we otherwise would. I hope I can help us appreciate that contribution, but also to awaken us to how Jeremiah’s life and witness continue to challenge us in our day through a new covenant, written upon our hearts.

Grace and Peace,

Ed Light

Jeremiah … was not a bullfrog (part 3)

375-there-is-a-balm-in-gilead54“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

If one cries out for a healing balm, it is because they are hurting. One can suffer alone or as a community. Sharing pain in community may seem better, but it means that there is more suffering. For Jeremiah, it is both personal and corporate, which is what makes his take on the history of his people, the great tragedies of his day, and his own personal loss so profound. This is reflected in his Book of Lamentations:

“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 a vassal.”

 Everything about Jeremiah’s ministry centers on the destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, and before, Israel. He mourns the loss of his ‘messiah’, Josiah, the king who did everything God asked him to do.  He watches as his people are carried off to Babylon and then he is whisked away to Egypt. Like the trail of tears experienced by our own Native Americans, it is pain too great to carry in a lifetime, a generation, or throughout eternity. The oppressor may say “get over it”, but you can’t. Ask survivors of the holocaust and their children’s children. It doesn’t work that way. This Sunday “The Balm”, coming from Jeremiah 8:18-22 looks at the inseparable issue of suffering and healing in the series “Jeremiah Was Not a Bullfrog.”

So where is there healing? Can it be found in the Truth Commissions of South Africa? There are many who say yes, it is. There is the confessional, the apology, the compensation, all of which are more than the verdict. But where was God when it was all happening in the first place. ‘How’ (the principle word in Lamentations) could God allow this to happen? What is startling in Jeremiah and Lamentations is that the destruction at hand was God’s plan!

What got Jeremiah in trouble was this notion that God is not with us, but is against us. It may have been his device to convey that there is nothing you can do about the Babylonians at the gate, but it is entirely within his theological world view that God uses suffering to get our attention. There may be a balm in Gilead, but there is also a God that is not pleased with our faithless ways, our pursuit after other ‘gods’, and the way we treat others, particularly the weak and vulnerable. Jeremiah was charged with a failure of patriotism, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and speaking falsely concerning God. History revealed that he was right, and they were wrong.

This is all that a prophet can rely upon; that God is speaking through this ministry that was thrust upon him and that eventually, history will reveal the truth of it all. An age does not go by without this witness being present, whether we recognize it or not. As always, God is with us, but it is always on God’s terms.

Jeremiah ….was not a bullfrog (part 2)

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I was listening this afternoon to voices of those too young to have a memory of September 11, 2001 talk about their experience of learning about that terrible day. Some had watched the video of two aircraft crashing into the twin towers. Others said they could not and would not watch it. From what they had learned, it was too terrible, and they are right. Like those of us too young to have a direct relationship to the attack on December 7, 1941, they must learn from the witness of others and to the various histories that are written in the all too soon aftermath. What these young students have learned is that the world changed that day.

As we are focusing on the prophecy and enormous contribution of Jeremiah this month of September, we are remembering that terrible morning fifteen years ago, trying to come to grips with a world that changed and is still changing, or among those too young, wondering what the world was like before 9/11.

Jeremiah was there the terrible year of 587 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and all they held holy. His whole world changed and it didn’t help a bit that he saw it coming. There may have been several “I told you so’s” as they dragged him off to Egypt, but what else could he have done?

Some of us believe that he and his scribe Baruch had spent much of their time editing a history that begins with the death of Moses, and through many crisis’, right up to the death of the nation itself. Jeremiah understood the power of history and how a people understand their story. He believed that God, like a potter at the wheel, is shaping us through history.

On this fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, I will be talking about how we are shaped by the history in which we live, but also how even those who were not here yet, are impacted by a world that has changed.

One of my decisions about how I approach the Bible is to accept the proposition that the six books of the Deuteronomic history, Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel and Kings, are edited and revised compilations by Jeremiah and Baruch. It is obvious that they are continuous stories, preserving the contradicting and duplicative sources from which they are drawn. But what seems clear is that they are all leading up to the two world changing events, the collapse of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. and Judah in the south in 587 B.C. The moment that is referenced as to what began that inevitable collapse is the story when the people asked Samuel for a king so that they could be like other nations.

Samuel knew this was a bad idea. They were not supposed to be like other nations. God told him to grant the request, but first warn them about the consequences of their actions. What results is a clear description of every kingdom throughout time. God was supposed to be their king and the prophets, the voice of God spoken into the ears of the people. One decision made wrongly, and everything changed. The history of those books detail the decisions of the people of God and their leadership; decisions that were good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad always outweighed the good.

Perhaps this was only their plight. Or maybe, it is a pattern that has haunted the history of all peoples who fail to live up to what they were called to be. God shapes us, like a potter, sometimes, reshaping the pot on the wheel as needed. Occasionally, breaking the pot, and starting over from scratch. Jeremiah uses both these images to deal with what was happening in his day, but they did not listen. Have we, can we, do any better?

-Rev. Ed Light

Jeremiah ….was not a bullfrog

SermonSeries Jeremiah

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens,        ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.  

 It is the best known opening sentence since “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There is a resonance with Dickens that has made him a must read in Western civilization. It is this same resonance that makes Jeremiah a must read in our culture of faith. He lived in the best of times and the worst of times of Judah. His contribution to the Biblical witness of those times and all that led up to it is vital to all we know about the history of Israel and movement that gathers around Jesus.

This month I will be sharing a sermon series about the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah (who was not a bullfrog!) Through four key passages of the book that bears his name I hope to open us to the prophet that quite likely was second only to Moses. A priest and prophet, perhaps even a law giver and principle historian of the Jewish tradition, he was a product of a tale of two cities: Shiloh and Jerusalem. His life spans the great hope of Josiah and his far reaching reform of Judaism, a king who did everything God asked him to do, and the demise of the kingdom of Judah and the destruction of everything they held dear.

Dr. Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? was transformational for me in his understanding of Jeremiah’s and his faithful scribe, Baruch’s, contribution to the written legacy of early Judaism. Or perhaps Baruch and his inspired prophet Jeremiah led to the formation of the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But Friedman’s scholarship has made a strong case for their authorship of the law book of Deuteronomy, strangely found next to the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Temple during their life time. In that book are eight unique Hebrew phrases found only in two books: Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.

If this is true, it opens up questions about the Deuteronomic history, six books of the most indispensible telling of the story of the Jewish people from Joshua and Judges to the books of Samuel and Kings. These stories, so familiar to us, theologically and thematically, lead to the time of Jeremiah and Baruch, and their beloved king, Josiah. What once was an everlasting covenant, on the tragic, early death of Josiah, becomes a conditional covenant which requires the faithful living of both king and people. It opens the door to the expectations of a Messiah who will come and restore what was the hope of Josiah and his reformation.

To understand this approach to reading the Bible, one must become aware that the people of God where divided by a common religion. The tribes of the north (Israel) had a priesthood that was believed descended from Moses. Those in the south were served by priests believed to be the sons of Aaron, Moses older brother. The northern faith community was centered on Shiloh which hosted the tabernacle and the Ark; until David took it away and brought it to Jerusalem and the sons of Aaron. Within two generations, Israel and Judah would be in a civil war until Assyria destroys Israel and the priest of the north flee to the south. Those sons of Moses would be sent to a village of Anathoth, not far, but far enough from Jerusalem. It is the place of Jeremiah’s birth to a descendent of those northern priests.

I think I have spent forty-seven years in ministry preparing to give this series of sermons. Some of you have heard bits and pieces over the years, but in September I hope to pull it together that we might let this great prophet speak to our day, our faith, and the hope that is born out of both the best and worst of times. – Rev. Ed Light

 

Vulnerabilty Without Boundaries

Breaking Barriers

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” – Soren Kierkegaard

“The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism. ” – Reinhold Niebuhr

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray

As we are talking about “Breaking Barriers” this month, we cannot help but address the fear that lives within the boundaries of our own making. These walls make us feel safe. Like the hastily formed garments made of fig leaves, they seem a necessary evil to protect us from our fears. Sure, they itch terribly, and we are dreadfully uncomfortable, but surely they are better than whatever we fear is just beyond the walls we have created for ourselves.

Sunday we will be looking at this through the lens of Mark’s story about Jesus and the desperate Syrophoenician woman who takes everyone out of their comfort zones. It is a boundary old and well established invoking fear and resentment of language, culture, ethnicity, and gender. These are the issues of vulnerability which caused Adam and Eve to become the tailors of anxiety as they try to overcome the vulnerability of their own nakedness. We are still trying to build those walls today.

Dr. Brene Brown writes in her new book “Rising Strong” that “vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” It brings to mind the defensive strategy used by Adam and Eve in claiming their own “nakedness” (which means, vulnerability.) God responds, “Who told you that you were naked?” It leads to a very now common exercise of making excuses for oneself at someone else’s expense.

“We need more people,” says Dr. Brown, “who are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret—people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up.” It is possible that the unnamed Syrophoenician, leaping over all the social barriers between her and Jesus, is a good example of what we need more people to do.

Grace and Peace,

Ed Light

Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

… our rules, expectations, and boundaries are inherently already broken …

One of the characteristics of Jesus and Paul is their constant pushing at the commonly accepted barriers that separate us from each other. These are those expectations built into the social contract forming particular behavior. They define us as to who we are and what is expected of us. Jesus and Paul often touch this ‘third rail’ of proper society and the result is often ‘shocking!’ “Breaking Barriers” is our sermon series to address those issues starting next Sunday.

These barriers are about the rules, ethnicities, the expectations of identity, associations, and age that dominate cultures and the institutions, both religious and secular, emerging over the course of time. These understandings are short hand ways of making it through the day. When someone messes with those boundaries, there is confusion often leading to anger and rejection.

The series starts this Sunday, August 30, with “Breaking Rules” addressing the concerns of the Pharisees and experts in the law who push back at the poor job that Jesus is doing supervising his disciples. In the sermons that follow we will see Jesus “Breaking Ethnic Boundaries”,  “Breaking the Expectations” people had of the Messiah, and “Breaking the Age Barriers” that were commonly understood. Finally, his  “Breaking Cliques,” well known both in school lunch rooms and the workplace as well as places of worship.

While these are all issues in the Jewish society back in the day, we have seen over the centuries the leadership of his Spirit doing the same thing in countries and cultures. It is not so much an effort to affirm that ‘rules are made to be broken’ as it is a recognition that our rules, expectations, and boundaries are inherently already broken as they lack the wisdom, love, and grace of God.

Accompanying the Gospel of Mark readings will be passages from the Epistle of James. This letter is an example of an emerging social consciousness in the young faith that is still living in the synagogue, but stretching out beyond the Law of Torah. These are the vital issues of the first century of Christianity which continue to stress the church today.  Join us for these five Sundays and allow Jesus to push at your limits and open your imagination to a God that is greater than you think.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Ed Light

Freedom is….

LIBERTY bell cut

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” – Kris Kristofferson

Freedom is a feel good word that politicians like to use. It has high value in American culture and you can rarely go wrong crying ‘freedom!”

Listening recently to an interview with the governor of Louisiana as he was visiting in London, I heard him questioned about his use of “no-go zones” in London and Paris and the lack of assimilation of Muslims in Europe. This talking point was recently admitted by Fox News as being a false claim made by an on air consultant. British Prime Minister David Cameron labeled it as the opinion ‘of a complete idiot.” The governor did not back down from his statement while refusing to offer background or the whereabouts of these zones. Whatever his special knowledge of Europe which comes as ‘news’ to the Europeans, it was what he said about America that got my attention, and I think there is a truth to his view of America as he understands it that deserves our attention.

His point was about the necessity of assimilation, restoring the old metaphor of the great melting pot in place of the emerging image of the salad bowl. In one sentence he said that immigrants need to adopt the customs and values of the majority of Americans in order to enjoy the freedom America offers. As I thought about what I had heard, my son said “did in really just say that in the same sentence?”

Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? Leave behind your cultural heritage, religion, family values, and ethnic identity so that there is nothing of yourself left to lose so that now, you can be free. Our fore bearer immigrants fled persecution of their beliefs, family traditions, and ethnicity. They felt no need to adopt the majority culture that was already here in Native American populations. Sadly, they persecuted the natives and each other over competing beliefs and territory. They enslaved people forcing a culture that was in no way beneficial for them. We watched as Catholics, Jews, Africans, Irish, Asians and Italians struggled to maintain their identities and cultural traditions as have Native Americans. Today we imagine ourselves more enlightened. But to hear a national political figure hearken back to the old, long discredited idea that to earn your freedom you must ‘melt in our pot’ and embrace the majority is greatly disturbing.

Freedom is not leaving everything behind. It is the opportunity for all to achieve self-determination, without fear from the tyranny of the majority. This was, after all, the great concern about democracy. “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?” asked loyalist and congregational pastor, Mather Byles leading up to the American Revolution. He was surely proved wrong by history, but right in terms of the need to preserve liberty for all, majority and minority alike. Within the genius of our democratic experiment is the role of the courts to protect our liberties from those who would ‘melt’ us into their pot.

Kristofferson said of his song, “Me and Bobby McGee” that it developed out of an a Fellini film about a man who leaves a feeble girl behind on the side of the road, only later in life to be confronted by what he had lost and the guilt for what he had done to gain his freedom. This is the feeling he had writing this song. What all of us want is for freedom to be just another word for all we each want to be.

Grace and Peace,

Ed Light