This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 28, 2016.
Jeremiah shares freely a word of the Lord given him for the house of Jacob and the entire clan that bears the name of Israel. He presents this message and asks them to hear it, to listen to it. There is something transformational about giving pause to hear the word of the Lord.
The people are asked to listen to the cold hard facts of estrangement. God and his people are like a husband and wife at great distance from one another. Yahweh speaks as a husband to a silent wife while the whole family of Israel listens on. Their dreams have died. The beautiful relationship they had hoped for has gone sour. The husband rages with pain. He desires anything but this. Being cut-off is made more excruciating by remembering the kindness and love they shared when they had found each other in a barren land (2:2).
These tender memories bring strength to his argument, and he makes a tenacious case. With an abrupt tone, he confronts his wife by asking what evidence there is that he has not given his all to the relationship. “What faults did your fathers find in me? Tell me one way in which I have done you wrong.” The bride’s ancestors have also left him going after worthlessness and becoming worthless. They have gone away without even asking where is the One who brought us out of the land of Egypt and led us through the wilderness, a parched place, a land of darkness, where no one lives or even travels (2:6). The things they had faced before, they face now. They have forgotten that scarcity in the waste land was met with abundant provision.
God brought them through the wilderness to a fertile garden where they enjoyed its fruits. This raises some curious questions: What provisions have been provided to see you through even sparse times? In the midst of all that is going against you, what is going for you? How might your short-fall be its own provision? How do your limitations reveal the reality that there is enough? Before asking for more how can we give thanks for what God has already given to us? At every point along the journey, worship requires the expression of gratitude for the good care of God. Invite a person to give witness to a time when God brought him or her through. Invite another to share how far from God he or she had gone before realizing that God had not left him or her.
Jeremiah draws attention to those times when God had supplied all their needs (2:7b). And yet, when the children of Israel came into the land they made it unclean. They failed to see how the lines had fallen in pleasant place; how beautiful their heritage had been (Psalm 16:6). Instead, they turned it into something altogether disgusting. Faith was not to be found; even among their leaders. The priests cared nothing for the Lord. There was no prayerful inquiry about the presence of God. The pastors and shepherds were also among the transgressors, and the prophets were hot on the trail of things that had no lasting value. They wasted their time on nonsense.
But God does not give up on us. God pleads for us to return. God keeps on pleading for us and for our children and our children’s children. God, the Devoted One, desires to bring us to a place of devotion. How strange it is for us to not respond to God’s appeal. Yahweh asks the people to look at other nations and see if anything so incredulous has ever happened that a people changed its gods, even though they are not gods (2:11). The alternatives to faithfulness bring nothing of value. Who can trade up for another god that is not a god at all? This is beyond strange. Such a trade cannot be found. The eternal God is worthy of our devotion. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). There is no need for other gods.
Jeremiah faithfully confronted Israel with its infidelity. Their ambivalence is peculiar when compared with the loyalty of God, who desires to fill them with the finest of wheat (Psalm 81:16). God’s kingdom and mission yearns for well-being in the world. Jeremiah signs on to this effort and unites his voice to make this passionate appeal. God is positively, faithfully, hopefully resolved and devoted to our good care. Like a covenant of marriage, God keeps his covenant and loves us to a fault. We are encouraged to invest our best selves in keeping our side of this covenant.
Jeremiah has energy to give for this important and yet difficult conversation. Relationships do get tricky. Until you can agree on the problem, you’ll never agree on the solution. While Jeremiah accepts this arduous assignment, there will come a time when his energy will grow weak. He will become discouraged. He will grieve and long to exit; even escape (Jeremiah 9:1-3). “If only I were simply a wayfaring stranger and could go away and depart from my people.”
There are times when preaching the good news requires preaching hard news. The task requires energy and wisdom: energy exerted and wisdom discovered often after the sermon has been delivered. Preaching is a conversation between a pastor and a people and God. Preaching, like marriage, is characterized by sustaining conversations. Preaching is not a seventeen-minute activity on Sunday morning. It requires years of attentive listening and thoughtful expressions crafted in faithful conversation. Sometimes it is like a husband and wife talking long into the night because they really do care about their devotion to each other.
Stephen D. Graham
Tags: good news & bad news, marriage enrichment, preaching is a sustaining conversation