This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 20th, 2016.
Jeremiah is concerned with speaking truth, and truth can sometimes be painful. Jeremiah’s opening line of this passage is, “Woe to the shepherds.” The leaders of people of God, here probably referencing the kings of Judah, have failed the people. They have misled them and scattered the flock. A shepherd’s main task is guiding his or her flock, but this group has failed. Any amount of time spent in the church will bring about an example of a shepherd not tending to the flock. We can all think of the prime examples that come to mind. The scandals and swift downfalls are easy to notice. But, we might also do well to remember the small things that can lead a flock astray. Perhaps it is the simple temptation of a little more power. Perhaps, it is the allure of wealth and relevance. These small things can cause a shepherd to mislead his or her flock. As one preaching, Jeremiah’s hard truth probably calls for self-examination as much as indignation.
“I will attend to you.” These words from the Lord are of judgment, but they are also words motivated by care for His flock. The Lord has had enough and plans to take matters into His own hands. First, God will deal with those who have failed at their task. The judgment of God does not come from an arbitrary place. No, God steps into right a wrong to bring justice.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 13th, 2016.
The prophets often provide a good amount of challenging statements. Moments of despair and mourning fill the pages. But, also interspersed in the texts, are moments of hope. The prophets teach us that life is often an intermingling of despair and hope. Yet, in this selection from Isaiah a vision of hope prevails for the nation of Israel. Hope wins out in the end after so much despair.
The passage begins with God offering to build “a new heaven and a new earth.” The idea of ‘newness’ is a powerful one. Often we have read newness as a way of escape. We can leave behind this old-world to go on to a new place. Aided by our disposable culture, we feel that the old world will just be discarded. Yet newness can be read in a different way in this text. The old creation does not cease mattering. After all, just as we are part of that old creation, we will also be a part of the new. Likewise, this account is filled with references to the current creation. Jerusalem, vineyards, and animals are mentioned. This new creation seems to have elements of recreation and reimagining to it. The old creation will not so much be discarded as healed and remade.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 6th, 2016.
What happens when our reality does not live up to our expectations? For the returned exiles of Israel, this was the question. During the reign of King Darius, the people of Israel returned to their land and started to rebuild the temple. Pretty soon they noticed that their new temple did not live up to the picture of the temple they had from the past. One can sympathize with them. During the long exile no doubt the stories of the temple were told. The thought of returning home and seeing that former glory must have helped ease their pain during the nights they spent in a land that was not their own. Yet, they stood before a new temple that was under construction and it could not live up the first, no matter what they did.
The question of the exiles is one often asked by churches. Most churches can remember a sort of golden age. The time when the budget was better and more people were in the pews. Or maybe just a time when things seemed easier or when the world made more sense. It can be easy to look at the congregation, budget, connection with the community, or a whole series of measures and think “this is not what I expected it to be.” The question does not even have to stop at the church. It can extend wider to denominations or even take root at a personal level in one’s life. This question has relevance to us today in many ways.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 30th, 2016.
The book of Habakkuk often takes a minor role in our reading of the Minor Prophets. If referenced at all, it usually focuses on the famous refrain found at the end of the fourth chapter. A refrain that speaks of resting in God’s will no matter what comes. But, the impulse to jump right to those verses does a disservice to what transpires before. Similarly, there is a temptation to jump past the hard points in life. We want to jump past grief to comfort; jump past pain to healing; jump past doubt to assurance. But many times the hard times are an essential part of the overall process. This reading from Habakkuk gives us a chance to practice this discipline.
The Prophet starts out his account with a question and lament. “How long,” he asks “should I cry out for help?” The prophet is in distress, and he is fed up with it. For Habakkuk, it appears that God has not reached out to save him. God has not taken a look at his trouble. How do we help someone who is questioning God? What do we do when that person is us? Often, these questions don’t find much space in our churches. But the prophets and the psalms don’t seem as afraid of them as we can be. Commentators note that the beginning of Habakkuk’s claims seem vague, and perhaps that is for the best. We cannot write them off as a special occurrence, a one-time thing. Habakkuk speaks from a place that we all come to at some time or another. How can we speak about it?