Monthly Archives: April 2013

Corrupted Justice: Jeremiah 5:18-31

Icon of Jeremiah

Icon of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 5: 18-31

18 But even in those days, says the LORD, I will not make a full end of you. 19 And when your people say, “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” you shall say to them, “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”
 20 Declare this in the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah:
 21 Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
 who have eyes, but do not see,
 who have ears, but do not hear.
 22 Do you not fear me? says the LORD;
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
 though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
 23 But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
they have turned aside and gone away.
 24 They do not say in their hearts,
 “Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season,
 the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.”
 25 Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have deprived you of good.
 26 For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others.
 Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings.
 27 Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery;
therefore they have become great and rich, 28 they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;
they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,
 and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
 29 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD,
 and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?
 30 An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
 31 the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
 my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?
In a brief interlude in the poetry (v. 18-19) we see some hope in the future, it is a dim hope, but it is a hope nonetheless when people after all the destruction ask ‘why has this happened’ and the answer is simply you chose to serve strange gods, so you have gone to serve strangers in another land. In a broken home sometimes someone has to leave, but God has not closed the door to a return, in fact it seems to be God’s continual hope through all the pain, yet God will not be tame or mocked. The relationship will not be one where God will bend to whatever the people think is right. God has not given up on God’s vision of justice and shalom. Yet the people are not in a place where their eyes can see or their ears can hear yet because their heart is in the wrong place and one the wrong things. Literally they are heart-less or empty hearted (NRSV senseless) and their heart is no longer in the relationship with God.

Justice has been so corrupted towards the wealthy that the cause of the orphan and the needy are neglected. The way things are remain irreconcilable with God’s vision of justice, and yet the very mouthpieces that should be calling for faithfulness and correction are behind the corruption. Prophets and priests rule and direct falsely and the people love the falseness. Patrick Miller speaks truth about this passage when he states:

This is a strong indictment of a community in which the politically powerful and the well-to-do amass possessions and wealth at the expense of the marginal and those in society who do not have the protection and power, in which flagrant manipulation of the socioeconomic system to the advantage of the advantaged is simply ignored. The picture is as familiar at the beginning of the third millennium CE as it was in the first millennium BCE. (NIB 6:621)

The Bible often has harsh words for those who are wealthy and in power, especially among the prophets. Most people assume wealth in the Bible is primarily viewed as a source of blessing, and that is one theology present within the Bible, but more commonly in the prophets and throughout most of the New Testament power and wealth are temptations and things that may distort one’s relationship with God. This is difficult for most people to accept, and I struggle with it myself but God does have a vision of a society that all can live in justice and peace and everyone has enough. Perhaps it is a utopian dream, perhaps it is naïve, and perhaps looking at the world through a dream like this opens a person to see the dystopia within the reality they live in, but at the same point just because the way that the people love and the prophets and priests in Jeremiah’s time proclaim may be easier, it doesn’t mean it is the right way.

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The End Of The World As They Know It: Jeremiah 5 : 7-17

Icon of Jeremiah

Icon of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 5: 7-17

 7 How can I pardon you?
Your children have forsaken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of prostitutes.
 8 They were well-fed lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.                                                           
 9 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD;
 and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?
 10 Go up through her vine-rows and destroy, but do not make a full end;
 strip away her branches, for they are not the LORD’s.
 11 For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have been utterly faithless to me, says the LORD.
 12 They have spoken falsely of the LORD, and have said,
“He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us, and we shall not see sword or famine.”
 13 The prophets are nothing but wind, for the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them!
 14 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts:
Because they have spoken this word, I am now making my words in your mouth a fire,
and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them.
 15 I am going to bring upon you a nation from far away,
 O house of Israel, says the LORD.
It is an enduring nation,
 it is an ancient nation,
 a nation whose language you do not know,
nor can you understand what they say.
 16 Their quiver is like an open tomb;
all of them are mighty warriors.
 17 They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
 they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
 they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
 they shall destroy with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust.
R.E.M.’s song It’s the End of the World as We Know it fits well here:

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and 
snakes, an aeroplane and Lenny Bruce is not afraid. 
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn – world 
serves its own needs, dummy serve your own needs. Feed 
it off an aux speak, grunt, no, strength, the Ladder 
start to clatter with fear fight down height. Wire 
in a fire, representing seven games, and a government 
for hire at a combat site. Left of west and coming in 
a hurry with the furys breathing down your neck. Team 
by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered cropped. 
Look at that low playing. Fine, then. Uh oh, 
overflow, population, common food, but it’ll do to Save 
yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, 
listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and 
the revered and the right, right. You vitriolic, 
patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty 

It’s the end of the world as we know it. 
It’s the end of the world as we know it. 
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. 

Six o’clock – TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign 
towers. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself 
churn. Lock it in, uniforming, book burning, blood 
letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. 
Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down. 
Watch your heel crush, crushed, uh-oh, this means no 
fear cavalier. Renegade steer clear! A tournament, 
tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, 
offer me alternatives and I decline. 

It’s the end of the world as we know it. 
It’s the end of the world as we know it. 
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. 

The prophetic poetry of death continues, as does the language of God’s woundedness. This will continue through much of Jeremiah, for the prophet points to the end of a world. These are words designed to rend the world apart, to point to an end that is coming. This has nothing to do with the frenzy some people get wrapped around thoughts of the end of the world people would talk about in Revelation (and most people fundamentally misunderstand most of Revelation—especially as it has been twisted around in the interpretations in the movies or literature like the Left Behind series). No this is about the end of the world as the people know it. Temple and priest, prophet and king, Jerusalem and Judah, wealth and prosperity, home and heart are all approaching a time when they will all be consumed by war.  God seems to still be looking for a way to pardon, but sees no way and so the end of the relationship is coming so that perhaps out of the death of the relationship something new might evolve. The root is to be left, so that perhaps something new might grow. The prophets words burn and consume, these are words that point to destruction and they are indeed painful for the prophet and their eventual result will consume the people. They point poetically to the future that is on the horizon and the on the horizon is the smoke of an approaching army.

The nation that will eventually come is Babylon, although the prophet may not know who they are at this point. As an American, we are very blessed to not have had a war take place on our soil since the Civil War (1861-1865) and except for those who have served in conflict overseas the utter destruction of warfare has been lost. In an invasion the invading army takes the harvest to feed their soldiers, sons and daughters would be killed, raped or enslaved, flocks become feasts for the invading army, herd become spoils, the fruit of vines and fig trees may be taken, then as in the earlier image in this part of the poem the branches may be stripped away-used in fires or simply burned to deny the food to the residents of the land under siege. Walled cities were the places where people would flee to, but a siege is a horrific experience once food or water becomes short. We will have ample time to deal with the horrors of a siege later in Jeremiah. The future is dark, the words are painful, and the prophet tries to point to a reality that the world as they know it is ending, but apparently the people feel fine.

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Searching for the Righteous One: Jeremiah 5: 1-6

Icon of Jeremiah

Icon of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 5: 1-6

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look around and take note!
 Search its squares and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth—
so that I may pardon Jerusalem.
 2 Although they say, “As the LORD lives,” yet they swear falsely.
 3 O LORD, do your eyes not look for truth?
 You have struck them, but they felt no anguish;
 you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction.
 They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to turn back.
 4 Then I said, “These are only the poor, they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.
 5 Let me go to the rich and speak to them; surely they know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.
” But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.
 6 Therefore a lion from the forest shall kill them,
 a wolf from the desert shall destroy them.
 A leopard is watching against their cities;
 everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces—
 because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great.

Where is the righteous person, show me the person who I can look at and say all this pain it really is worth it. Yet the vision, the hope seems dashed. God is so deeply wounded that God that God’s pain seems to be overwhelming God’s love. Such is the risk of caring deeply. You can say many things about the picture of God we see in Jeremiah, but you can never make the claim that this God does not care and is uninvolved. In an intentional echo of Genesis 18 when Abraham intercedes before God for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and bargains with God down to ten righteous people, now God tells Jeremiah ‘just find one.’ Things have become so bad that the people are living in a lie and the lie has become their reality. It is as if they have told themselves over and over again a falsehood until they believe it is true. Beyond that they have begun to believe that the lie has divine sanction. Something is so horribly wrong in the relationship of the people with God that it appears irreconcilable.

Jeremiah seems to say back to God, do you not want to see the truth. You have sought and believed the best possible in these people. God seems to have, in Jeremiah’s mind, done everything to interpret the peoples actions in the best possible light and the divine trust has been met with increased recalcitrance.  Yet, Jeremiah too seems reluctant to give up hope. These are his people, his family as well and so he goes first among the poor, and then assuming it is ignorance (remember this is a pre-literate society where the poor would have been unable to read and this is a time where most people would have made it to the temple primarily for festivals if they were able) Jeremiah goes to the elite. Those who have no excuse, who can read and would have been taught the law of God which contains the vision of peace and justice God desired for them to live in, and they too have refused to live within it.

In a relationship we see a God who doesn’t want to believe that things have reached this point, but has seen the hopes and dreams of the relationship dashed by the people and we hear the wounded words go forth. The very animals of nature begin to represent the destruction that is coming, the people have become like sheep without a shepherd and their fence has been taken away. It is almost as if the shepherd walks away with tears in his eyes, exhausted from trying to lead and protect them surrendering them to the natural consequences of the world they live in.

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Have We Made The Church Into A Gated Community?


The church has sometimes been compared to a country club when it becomes primarily a social activity, but as I have become aware of some of the broader trends in the church over the past generation I began to realize that this derogatory reference missed the point. You see a country club is a social and entertainment function, and while it may connect with work and family it often remains one isolated segment, but one of the major movements in Christianity has tried to become something much more. When I first started thinking about this my first thought was to use the term ghetto, which Wikipedia defines as “a part of the city where a minority group lives, especially due to social, legal or economic pressures.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the inadequacy of this provocative term because the church is not a minority group, and unlike minority groups in a ghetto which may not have a choice to reside within the area they are confined to, the church has over the past 30 years increasingly walled itself off from the outside world. Many processes of developing a culture of the programmatic church have become more and more church-centric, where we train people to participate in church activities which are separated from the rest of their life in the world, where people can listen to exclusively Christian music, watch authorized Christian television and videos, read Christian approved books, shop in Christian bookstores, date on exclusively Christian matching sites and become more and more isolated from the rest of the culture that has little or no interest in the predominantly conservative Christian sub-culture. It is a mindset where the rest of the world is filled with evil influences and it is a church against culture mindset that has been manipulated and played by both media and political forces for their own gain. As Reggie McNeal insightfully states:

The idea of what it meant to be Christian became synonymous with what it meant to be a committed church person. Further, the measure of personal devotion to God was the degree of one’s separation from the world outside the church. This meant centering one’s life on the church and its activities, usually pulling away from people who weren’t willing to do the same. The primary focus of evangelism was converting people to the church culture. (McNeal 2009, 42f)

We have created our own gated community, a place where we can stay and not have to venture out into the world very much. More and more portions of the Christian church have pulled away from the rest of the world in a reaction of fear. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way, nor was it ever meant to be this way but this is not new, it has been a process that has taken place over the long history of the Christian church. Until recently mission work entailed converting the people you were doing mission work among to not only Christianity but also the broader culture that the missionaries were coming from and the work became linked with colonialism to the point where the “three C’s of colonialism” were Christianity, commerce and civilization. (Bosch 1991, 305)

Perhaps there have been moments in time where a predominantly Christian in title civilization existed, although I have yet to see a civilization truly based on love of God and neighbor, and perhaps many long deeply to a return to some mythic Christian age, but the reality is that we live in a thoroughly secular age in a pluralistic and post-modern world. There is an increasing sense that at least some churches have moved to a footing of church against culture, rather than openly going out and engaging the culture the is out there in the world. Success in this view of church meant creating ‘full-service’ churches with exercise gyms, day cares, schools and coffee bars. Now there is nothing wrong with any of these things and in a purely attractional model of church where people see what is going on and they naturally want to be a part of this it sounds great. But what happens when people don’t want to live in gated communities with homeowners associations? What happens when the people within the gated communities view the outside world as a danger? What happens is isolation.

The other problem is that the gated community model of church looks very unchristian, at least as far as it relates to Christ.  When Christ was constantly moving beyond the boundaries of what the religious people of his own day considered acceptable, and the early church found itself being pushed farther and farther out into the world, much of contemporary Christianity has been content to shelter behind its own wall creating bigger and better programs. Unfortunately Reggie McNeal hits on the head some of the things I have heard from people outside the church:

The program driven church has produced a culture that is despised, not just ignored, by people outside the church. Their antipathy for what we call Christianity exists for all the wrong reasons. Basically it comes down to our failure to demonstrate the love of Jesus, passing by people not like us on the other side of the road on our way to building great churches. (McNeal 2009, 93)

Many of the things that we do as church are very good things, and I am fortunate to serve a congregation that is increasingly active in the midst of the world—but as a programmatic church we do struggle with this. How do we begin to shift the measurement from how much time people spend doing church activities within the walls of our church to the manner in which their time within the walls of our congregation equips them to be a blessing to the world around them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers:

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. (Matthew 5: 13)

Salt is not just for seasoning, in Jesus’ time salt was for the preservation of foods-but it only preserves if it is rubbed or somehow absorbed into the item that is being preserved. We may forget that it was predominantly the Pharisees as they were portrayed in the gospels who were worried about being contaminated by the outside world, that the contamination of the outside world would dilute their own righteousness. In Jesus we see just the opposite, a movement outward where holiness and righteousness become a blessing and transform those primarily kept on the outside of the walled cities of his time or excluded from the synagogues. Think on how many times a person who is unclean (like lepers or the woman with the flow of blood) or sinners and tax collectors are mentioned within the gospels. Perhaps we too need to learn how to take down the barriers we have set up to isolate ourselves and be willing to see where Christ is already at work in the midst of the rest of the world.

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The Prophet’s Agony: Jeremiah 4: 19-31

Job by Leon Bonnat (1880)

Job by Leon Bonnat (1880)

Jeremiah 4: 19-31
 19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly;
 I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
 20 Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste.
 Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment.
 21 How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?
 22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me;
 they are stupid children, they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.
 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.
 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.
 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
 and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
 27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation;
 yet I will not make a full end.
 28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black;
 for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.
 29 At the noise of horseman and archer every town takes to flight;
they enter thickets; they climb among rocks;
all the towns are forsaken, and no one lives in them.
 30 And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in crimson,
that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold,
 that you enlarge your eyes with paint?
In vain you beautify yourself.
Your lovers despise you; they seek your life.
 31 For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,
anguish as of one bringing forth her first child,
the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands,
“Woe is me! I am fainting before killers!”

In entering the prophet’s poetry we come to experience some small part of the agony of his profession. His whole life, even his very health becomes consumed by the foreboding fear of what is to come. He sees the disaster which he feels he has no power to stop, and yet he takes the fear and names it, places it into words. Perhaps he hopes that by painting reality through the dystopic  lenses that perhaps someone might hear and turn, that perhaps the uttering of this potential reality might alter the reality that comes, otherwise he is looking at the end of the world as he has known it.

The Bible has an audacious belief that the human conduct matters for the well being of creation, in fact the whole notion of shalom and justice are not merely human concepts in Hebrew thought, they effect everything and Israel and Judah’s failure to live this vision is poisoning the earth. From the beginning of the Genesis story Adam and adamah (the Hebrew word for soil/earth) are tied together and in Genesis 3 the earth bears the price of the man’s disobedience:

And to the man he said,”Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘you shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; Genesis 3: 17

This is a poetic and theological description of reality that Jeremiah is living out of. It is also behind Paul’s imagery in Romans 8:18-25 where creation will be set free by the children of God being revealed and beginning to live out of their identity and into God’s shalom.

The final image of the poem at this point shows the distance between the poets reality and the peoples with the offensive imagery of a foolish prostitute. When invading armies come and the capture a city the soldiers do not pay, they take what they want-and yet here is Judah represented as a prostitute who is decking herself out in her finest jewels expecting payment, but what Judah will find is rape. As I have  said in earlier posts it is an offensive image, and yet it is the image of the poetry which is trying to rouse the people from their slumber.

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An Extremist for Love-A Sermon on Paul

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

St. Paul Writing His Epistles probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1618-1620)

We live in a world where so many things seem to be dominated by fear, and it makes having any real conversation about difficult issues challenging. Even if you look at the national debates we cannot talk about gun control, immigration, budgets, treatment of detainees, or any other serious issue without the specter of fear being introduced to the conversation. Now don’t get me wrong, humanity has an undeniable dark side, we cannot go through a week where the lead story plastered over the news in the bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon, and the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas without acknowledging that there is a dark side in people, in systems and even in the best of institutions. It could become so easy to give in to the darkness around us and yet we have the witness of so many of those throughout history who have continued to point to the light in the midst of the darkness. As I talk about Paul the apostle I am going to begin by going to another letter writer in the church’s history, you see quietly in the midst of all the other news this week there was a significant anniversary this month. 50 years ago, on April 16, 1963 from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the Letter from the Birmingham jail in response to eight white clergymen who had written “A Call to Unity” asking him to tone done his rhetoric and his actions and allow time to change things. I’m going to read a brief excerpt from this letter, because it points to what I want us to hear about Paul today.
…Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love you enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice:”Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln, “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Paul was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, even though previously he had been an extremist for hate. His encounter with the risen Christ had changed him to the core of his being. From one who had sought to wipe out the early Christian church to its most vociferous advocate he was ready to go to the ends of the earth as a creative extremist, sharing the gospel of God’s light, love, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. He endured rejection by his own people. In Paul’s own words:

2 Corinthians 11: 23-27
23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Yet Paul was so captured by what God had done in Jesus Christ, he never backed away from his convictions even when he knew what it would cost him, like his Lord Jesus never did. He saw God’s story and his story intertwined. We encounter Paul in Acts today preparing to go to Jerusalem, now many of his comrades have either through visions or through being able to see what was ahead have tried to talk him out of going, but Paul responds to them:

Acts 20: 18b-24
“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike– the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus– the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

He had tasted God’s dream for the world, he was literally held captive by God’s Spirit, his life was so consumed with God’s love and grace, God’s dream for the reconciliation of all the earth and his vision of the light that he willing endured the times when the darkness seemed so strong. He loved his people, even when they seemed unable to see or hear the message of peace and reconciliation that God had opened up to them in the gospel. He loved the world that God had sent him out into, he loved these early churches he had founded with all their struggles, with all their issues, with their own ways in which they embodied the best and worst of the world around them. He viewed him story as caught up with God’s upper story so that :

Romans 8: 17-19
17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

That somehow who we are matters to the rest of the world, that God so loved the world that God set aside a people for the reconciliation and renewal of the world. That God doesn’t want to be separate from the world, but rather God wants to dwell with us. We who are wrapped up in God’s love will often find ourselves coming face to face with the suffering in the world. You see Paul was as an extremist of love was swept away in God’s vision of the way the world was going to be, the kingdom of God was such a palpable reality to him that he saw his and our stories intertwined in bringing about God’s vision and so in hope he was able to take up the hard word Jesus had for those who would follow him:

Matthew 16: 24-26
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

Unfortunately the NLT change the translation midstream, for the same word is they use for life they translate soul in vs. 26, and Jesus isn’t talking about merely what happens after we die, Jesus wants us to pour ourselves into being people who can be extremists for love in a world that God loves. We are to be like Paul and like Jesus, agents of the light. When the world encounters fear, we are to bring peace and hope. When darkness seems powerful we point to the light. We are called into a journey with God and God’s story comes down to be a part of our story. We are called to be a part of what God is doing the world, to be agents of peace and love and reconciliation in the midst of the world. Yes, Paul was an extremist, but he was an extremist for love. Even when harm was caused to him he did not respond in kind. And we are those who are the recipients of this message of peace and love and reconciliation passed on from generation to generation to where we too now have the calling to be the creative extremists the world so desperately needs.

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On the cutting room floor

cutting room floor

Words and ideas that never reached the light of day
Lay scattered and cast aside on the cutting room floor
The potential of a thousand worlds that never found their creation
Their inspiration expired prior to their birth
Or their potential and light was stolen by some sister or brother
Who came to the world fully formed while they lay in their wake

Would that they could all be saved and treasured
But alas only a few find their way to rest upon the page for the world to hear
To live a short but brilliant life in the eye of the mind
And lay down to rest content in the subconscious memory
Bearing the seeds of more thoughts and ideas yet to be born

Perhaps those on the cutting room floor came to early or too late
Perhaps someday they will be reincarnated into something new and greater
But for now they rest on the cutting room floor
And no one hears their falling and no one marks their resting place

Neil White, 2013

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The Poetry of Death and Destruction: Jeremiah 4: 11-18

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo

Jeremiah 4: 11-18

 11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse- 12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.
 13 Look! He comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles– woe to us, for we are ruined!
 14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved.
 How long shall your evil schemes lodge within you?
 15 For a voice declares from Dan and proclaims disaster from Mount Ephraim.
 16 Tell the nations, “Here they are!”
Proclaim against Jerusalem, “Besiegers come from a distant land;
they shout against the cities of Judah.
 17 They have closed in around her like watchers of a field,
 because she has rebelled against me, says the LORD.
 18 Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you.
This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart.”
The prophet lapses into his deathly poetry again, trying desperately with his words to shake his people out of what Brueggeman calls their “religious indifference and covenantal recalcitrance”  (Brueggemann 1998, 56) Yet the words seem to be falling on deaf ears, the party continues and nobody wants to sober up and go home. Yet the Northern tribe of Dan is proclaiming the disaster that is coming.

Though it will be the Babylonian army that will come and lay siege to Jerusalem and take the people into exile, they are not named. The people and the prophet live in different theological realities.  The prophet sees the way in which God is sovereign over not just Israel or Judah, but over the besiegers and conquerors as well, and that God is indeed moving in judgment towards the people of Judah for the ways they have not kept their covenantal faith.

The people are presented with two conflicting realities. The rulers and the priests pass on the platitudes that things are ok, as well as apparently many of those looked upon as prophets. They continue to prop up the Davidic regime and the temple hierarchy, and the people really have no reason to question the way things are. It is a much different world, where most people are illiterate and do not have anything beyond their oral memory to challenge the king and the priests who not only bear the recorded word of God, they are the only ones who are educated enough to be able to approach the words we take for granted. Also worship has become focused on the temple, and so most people may make it to the temple for the festivals (much as people who come at Christmas and Easter) and may have their own practices which may or may not line up with the temple ideology, but they are reliant upon the priests and the king to point them to what covenantal faithfulness looks like. Jeremiah, the prophet and poet, is one of the few voices of dissent pointing to the way in which the leaders have failed to be the exemplars of covenantal faithfulness that may lead the people back into God’s way of justice and shalom.

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What I learned about myself, life and God from my child on the Autistic Spectrum: Part 4

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(

This is my final installment on this for the time being. There are certainly more things I have learned but for now this is enough to say.

8.  Familial Image of God, this comes more from the experience of being a father in general, rather than the father of my son in particular, but being a father made me realize the amount of personal investment I have in my own son—and that would not be something I would be able to walk away from, nor would my son be able to end his relationship to me as his father. Aren will always, no matter what he does throughout his life, have a place in my heart and nothing will change that. There is nothing he could do that would make me disown him. So long as I live I will not give up on him. I will always attempt to support him as best I can. On the other hand, he is his own person and I want him to grow up and continue to develop his own personality and identity. I want him to have the ability to follow his own dreams and make his own mistakes. I want him to have the freedom to fail, to stumble and to get back up and I think that is part of what the concept of grace is all about. Who he is as my son will never change, he will always be that, but who he is as a person I want him to determine on his own, and I will be his biggest cheerleader throughout that process but I will not force him to follow in my footsteps. The more I encounter God, the more I think there is something to this picture of God as a Father who is not uninvolved, but who is gracious. A God who wants us to find our own identity, but we also never lose our identity as children of God.  I try to as best I can to be the type of father who models the way Martin Luther talks about God the Father who want us to come to him as loving children come to a loving father.

9. Dealing with the dark side of reality. I have been accused of being the eternal optimist, that even in the darkest experiences of life (which I have had my share of) I still seek for the gift in the suffering, the lesson in the pain and I know this does not come immediately, yet my son wrestles with the self destructive and environmentally destructive nature of humanity with a very different lens. One of the most profound conversations I have had with my sons a couple times over the last year is , “With all the evil that people do, what right do we have to exist?” No otherworldly vision of Christianity has an answer to this, yet the faith of the early Christians was very worldly, and they took very serious the reality that God indeed loved the world, and in strong contrast to many modern Christian belief systems the entire purpose of life was not to escape the world (actually that was the worldview of one of the early Christian heresies called Gnosticism) but rather that as followers of Christ (or more generally God) they were caught up in the dream of God for the renewal and reconciliation of the world.  Both the Jewish people and early Christians had the audacious view that they were a part of God’s plan for the renewal of creation, this is the reason Paul can write in Romans that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” The dark side of reality is present, real and painful and yet part of the Christian hope is that it is not the final answer and in hope we yearn (and work) for something better.  

10. The reality that even when we are unable to receive love, love is still given. I think most parents have times throughout their childrens’ lives where they have trouble connecting, where the advice, care, support and love are not able to be accepted because the children themselves are in a process of growing up and becoming their own selves. My son in his own way is navigating the early teenage years where his journey is different than mine was, and yet there is definitely a change. He no longer needs or honestly wants the same level of attention, he is becoming more self sufficient and I am proud of him for that. Are there times I grieve the type of relationship we had earlier, yes, but I try to let him know that he is loved and valued but there are times where he doesn’t seem to want to hear this anymore.  I think many of us go through this in our relationship with others and with God as well. I think many, and I certainly did, go through a phase where we have to figure out who we are as individuals, and individuals trying to negotiate different and new relationships and sometimes (at least for a time) the old relationships get put to the side and the ones that are valued are come back to. I also have had several points in my own journey with God where I have had to argue something through, I’ve gone through several difficult things in my life that I had to make sense of, and part of making sense of that was arguing with God about it for me. In those times when I may have been arguing with God and may not have always wanted to hear what God had to say, when I may have wanted to push God away I found God waiting patiently through the process.

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The Siren Call: Jeremiah 4: 5-10

F4 Wedge Type Tornado, nearly a mile wide that hit Binger, Oklahoma

F4 Wedge Type Tornado, nearly a mile wide that hit Binger, Oklahoma

Jeremiah 4: 5-10

5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say:
Blow the trumpet through the land; shout aloud and say,
 “Gather together, and let us go into the fortified cities!”
 6 Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, do not delay,
for I am bringing evil from the north, and a great destruction.
 7 A lion has gone up from its thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out;
 he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste;
 your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.
 8 Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and wail:
“The fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us.”

 9 On that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded. 10 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ even while the sword is at the throat!”

 When I lived in Oklahoma, tornado sirens were a way of life. When spring came you knew that if the siren was blaring its dissonant tones that you needed to check the TV to see where the storm might be and how dangerous the storm was. Some storms were storms that you could weather in place, going to the safe room in your house. But some storms, if you were in their path you didn’t want to stay in place and wait out, you needed to flee to designated areas that were better able to withstand the winds.  And yet sometimes even fleeing to a strong place is not enough, as was the case of the F5 tornado that struck Oklahoma City in 1999 destroying or badly damaging over 8,000 homes.

Jeremiah has the unfortunate role of being the siren, alerting the people to a disaster they do not expect nor do they want to see. War is approaching, an unspecified invading  army is coming to lay waste to the land. Destroying cities, burning crops, killing and enslaving and the Lord has withdrawn the protection they have relied upon in the past. The prophet goes even farther, to place the Lord behind the movement of the predicted enemy. The Lord has made a choice, a dreadful choice, a choice against his former people. It is a choice the prophet has allowed us to see the Lord agonizing over, and yet the pieces are in motion, the storm is in motion and yet the prophet continues to hope for a turn. The prophet desires for the people to put on sackcloth, to lament and wail, and perhaps the Lord will turn once more.

The very people who should be keeping the people in the relationship with God, the king-priest-prophet have become the very people who have dulled the people to the siren’s call. There is a Davidic king and the temple which the people have begun to place their trust in, yet the prophets are always pointing to God’s vision of justice and shalom (harmony/peace) and the ways that the people have betrayed this vision.

Jeremiah makes a bold statement, in essence placing the blame at God’s feet, for the people have heard and received the message that it is well (most likely from the king and his officials, the priests and the prophets) while terror approaches. One of the roles of the prophet is to stand between the people and God, challenging both. The prophet will love both God and the people and weep with and for both of them, and in standing between the two his heart and body will be broken. Yet Jeremiah, among the prophets, seems to stand alone-for the other prophets of his time seem to be singing in unison with the kings and priests. Jeremiah speaks dangerous words, but they are the words of the faithful willing to enter into the struggle with God, to challenge God, to even go so far as calling God a traitor while still remaining in the relationship. As Moses in the Exodus, Jeremiah intercedes for the people he loves and yet even Jeremiah will have his limits as we will find.

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