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 duplicating 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