Sunday, October 25, 2015

This week's lesson (October 24-30): more woes for the prophet

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."                                              -- Romans 8:26, NIV.
You're not supposed to pray the way Jeremiah prays.

Imagine what would happen, for instance, if your pastor asks for prayer requests . . . and you respond with Jeremiah 18:19ff --  "Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?"

Or imagine what would happen if your pastor began the morning prayer in church with these words from Jeremiah 18:19ff:
"Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying . . . give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle."
And while I've attended many seminars on the subject, I've never heard a speaker suggest you can add more power to your prayer-life if you just quote these words from Jeremiah 20:7-9 --
"O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long."
In short, Jeremiah's prayers are not models of faith, hope, or love -- and they are certainly not the kind of prayers I usually hear in church.

Instead, they are bitter.



And in the Bible.

All of which suggests that we don't always need to pray the way we should.

No, sometimes we can pray the way we are.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

This week's lesson (October 17-23): rebuke and retribution

"Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people." -- Jeremiah 9:1f, NIV
Jeremiah was a true prophet.

That's why he tried to quit.

Read his book, after all, and you understand why Wikipedia defines "jeremiad" as:
a long literary work . . . in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective, and always contains a prophecy of society's imminent downfall . . . 
. . . kind of like an AM radio talkshow.

And just like those talkshows, Jeremiah has nothing good to say about his society.
  • Not its foreign policy.
  • Not its tax code.
  • Not its religious or political leaders.
  • And especially not its prospects for the future!
If you can't say something nice, in other words, then Jeremiah goes right ahead and says it . . . 
Which is nice work, if you can get it.

In fact, it's actually kind of fun.
I mean, we all know how fun it is to condemn the sins of others.
And if AM radio (and religious TV) is any guide, then doing so is both popular and profitable.
All of which suggests a lot of people would have been happy to volunteer for Jeremiah's job -- and even more would be happy to volunteer for that job today!
But not Jeremiah.
No, Jeremiah does not enjoy denouncing others.
He does not enjoy denouncing their sins.
He does not rejoice in the troubles ahead -- even though his people deserve them.
No, Jeremiah did not volunteer for this job; in fact, he repeatedly tried to quit!
Out of all the people who ever preached a jeremiad, in other words, Jeremiah may have been the most unwilling of them all.  
Maybe that's why he got the job.
And maybe that's why some people should not.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

This week's lesson (October 10-16): the last five kings of Israel

"We ought to obey God rather than men." -- Acts 5:29, KJV
A guy like Jeremiah -- you have to wonder about his loyalties.

I mean, we're God's people -- right? The remnant. The only ones around who worship the right God in the right way (and on the right day besides).

So where is Jeremiah when we need him?
  • When we had a chance to break free from Babylon, remember, Jeremiah said we shouldn't do it.
  • When Babylon attacked, Jeremiah said we should surrender.
  • And now that God's people are living in exile, Jeremiah says we should "seek the prosperity" of  Babylon "and pray for it," for "if it prospers," then we will prosper (Jeremiah 29:7).
Like I said, it kind of makes you wonder whose side he's on.
If you love your country, after all, then you support your country. 
If you love your church, then you support your church.
And even if you think God's people are wrong -- even if you think they've made some kind of mistake . . . even then, you don't go tearing them down. Not in public. Not out there where everyone can see it.
No, there's a time to speak up . . . 
And a time to shut-up and salute.
But if Jeremiah doesn't understand what it means to be loyal -- what it means to support God's people, no matter what -- then you have wonder . . . 
Just who does he thinks he is?
And who is he really following?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

This week's lesson (October 3-9): the crisis within and without

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." -- Jeremiah 2:13, NIV
Nothing is more seductive than "sunk costs," i.e. the money you've already spent (and can't get back).
  • You've already spent $500 on repairs for your junker of a car? All the more reason to spend another $500; otherwise, you've just "wasted" the money you already spent -- right?
  • You've already poured umpty-billion dollars and upmpty-thousand lives into a war of choice? All the more reason to keep pouring in those dollars (and those lives); otherwise, everything you've done is all for nothing -- right?
  • And if Judah's political, military, and religious policies don't seem be paying off just yet . . . then who's going to stand up and say, "It's time to cut our loses, admit our mistakes, and try something new"?
Jeremiah -- that's who.
And in the second-chapter of his book, Jeremiah points out that Judah's policies are more than just wrong.
No, they're also stupid.
It would be bad enough, after all, if Judah disobeyed God AND got something for it -- if disobedience made it rich, powerful, and admired.
Unfortunately, Judah's policies have done nothing of the kind.
That's why Jeremiah stands up and says, "Enough is enough."
That's why Jeremiah stands up and says, "This isn't working."
That's why we still need Jeremiahs -- Jeremiahs who kick us off the treadmill and point us in a new direction.
And no, it's not easy to do this; people always pay a price for change.
"But if we don't pay that price," says Jeremiah . . . 
"We're sunk."