In this lead up to the election, there seems to be a tremendous focus upon whether or not we are God’s nation on earth. I realize that my Facebook feed is only anecdotal and limited by the fact that it includes only those with whom I am friends and/or pastor and those who have sought me ought for their various reasons. But there is a great deal of back and forth among my FB friends about our national status before God. Again, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us this morning, this argument is nothing new. There may be nothing new, but that familiarity and ground well-travelled certainly deserves a strong reminder, and maybe I need to discuss some differences even as I point us to Jeremiah’s hope!
One big difference, for starters, is that Jeremiah was prophesying to Judah, the Southern kingdom of God’s chosen people. No doubt the northerners and southerners fought every bit as much as we do in the states over which is better, but both Israel and Judah were kingdoms of God’s people. They had simply been divided because the people forgot the true king! (OK, technically, the king forgot the King, but you get the point.) Unlike us in the modern United States, both the people of Israel and the people of Judah could trace their respective lineages to Abraham, both had the prophetic traditions reminding them of their responsibility and call to be a nation of priests and light unto the world, and both claimed a right to exist in God’s promises to David and then Solomon. Both were as “people of God” as descendants of both Union and Confederate soldiers are today in America. I know! Ouch! A little civic wedgie to go with our spiritual wedgies this morning. . .
Another similarity, of course, was the perception in how the two kingdoms were governed. Both Israel and Judah traced their governmental heritage through the torah. Now, while neither the northern kingdom nor the southern kingdom tended to do a good job, both were meant to run themselves according to God’s revelation. That revelation had social, economic, and political repercussions, which is probably why both kingdoms chose to ignore their responsibilities even as they were desperately seeking their privileges. Way back in the torah, you might recall, Israel was instructed that it was to be honest in its dealings with foreigners and with one another. The combined kings were told that, so long as they kept the Covenant, God would bless them. They were also warned that a failure to keep the Covenant, a willingness to fall into idolatry of any sort, would result in their disgorgement from the Land.
One of the specific blessings was the promise of rain, and that is obviously the important in the passage we are considering today. Israel, as you many know, and really much of the area around it, is rather dry. There are not many creeks and rivers. There are few ponds and lakes. Even today the modern political state of Israel finds itself struggling with water needs. Given the weather patterns, little rain falls between late Spring and late Fall. In fact, it is the Fall and Winter rains which make the land arable. This understanding is not new. God, in Leviticus 26:4 and Deuteronomy 11:14, promises that He will send the rain as part of His covenantal blessing with Israel. The corresponding curse, of course, for failure to keep the Covenant, was that God would withhold that same rain. That is our theological background of our reading from Jeremiah today. The people of God were experiencing a drought. In a people chosen by God and promised both a blessing and a curse, what should they have inferred about the drought in Jeremiah’s day?
Now, unless you think we are being a bit too hasty or you are quick to point out that the vagaries of the world’s weather pattern are not enough to confirm this inference of divine judgment; other parts of the text, some read and some skipped this morning, confirm our understanding. Verse 7 acknowledges that their sins testify against them. And verse 12 brings in the added judgments of the sword, famine, and plague. The drought, combined with these last three judgments, ought to be enough that the blind can see and the deaf can hear that God is displeased with Judah! Back in Chapter 2 of his prophesy, Jeremiah directly accuses Judah of forsaking God, the living water, in an effort to fill their broken cisterns by means of idolatry. Judah has forsaken God; and God has withheld His grace . . . for a time. In fact, God instructs the prophet not to intercede on their behalf and even announces through the prophet that He will not accept their sacrifices because they are wholly committed to Him.
For those of us who like to think of God as a big buddy in the sky or as anything but as equally committed to justice and righteousness, these instructions may seem . . . mean or cruel. But such judgment, in the end, is hubris on our part. Do we really think ourselves able to evaluate God’s commands and judgment? And, given our failing eyes, do we really believe ourselves able to see beyond the judgment to the deliverance that God ultimately promises His people? You see, if we stopped at God’s pronouncement that He was withholding grace and fought about the appropriateness of that, we would miss the deliverance ahead. Look again closely at the words of the prophet. Though he has been instructed not to intercede on behalf of the people, still he does make an appeal to God based on God’s revealed character. Verse 9 Why should You be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by Your Name, do not forsake us! And verse 21 Do not spurn us, for Your Name’s sake; do not dishonor Your glorious throne; remember and do not break Your covenant with us. . . We set our hope on You, for it is You who do all this. Even in the midst of this judgment, God’s prophet understands and expects God to deliver His people. Why would God deliver His people? Because He has promised! And He is a God who always keeps His promises! Thankfully, and mercifully, the Judge is also the Savior! That is a message we would all do well to remember.
So, why did I think Jeremiah a good place for us to be this morning? What was in Jeremiah that I felt we as a congregation needed to hear? Two things really stand out to me in light of discussions going on around us. The first is this public discourse about us being God’s chosen or favored nation. Are we? Do we really think that the United States of America is God’s chosen people? Sure, people outside these walls claim it. Some expect to be sucked up to to curry votes. But do we think this country is God’s favorite?
I hope your answer is no for two reasons. First, we are reminded in the Testament that follows God’s ultimate deliverance of His people, you know, Jesus, that God’s people is the Church. I know everyone here remembers Confirmation class and can define the Church and Her mission in accordance with the catechism on pages 854 and 855 in our BCP’s. Ok. I know you don’t remember the class; everyone just refreshes their memory when they are incredibly bored by our sermons. Why are you chuckling? You think we don’t see? Turn there. Have a refresher glance. In particular, look at its mission on page 855. Do we live in a country that is prays and worships, that proclaims the Gospel, that promotes justice, peace, and love? If only 1/5 of us Americans go to church and less than ½ of us self-identify as Christians, we are failing on the first instruction and the second. I guess the election proves we, as a country, promote justice, peace, and love, right? Again, why the chuckling? Seriously, though, if America is God’s favorite or chosen people, we are doing a terrible job of living into our calling. And that failure ought to terrify us.
Secondly, how does God treat His people when the fail? Heck, how does God allow His people to be treated when they do follow His instruction? Judah and Israel received the curses from God because they fell into idolatry, right? God kept His promise to them. He withheld the rains; He allowed armies to conquer them; He disgorged them from the very Land He promised their forefathers and foremothers. If we as a nation are His people and we are failing God as a nation, what ought we expect to happen to us? And nearly as bad, what ought we expect if we are doing His will? Jeremiah gets three years in a cistern for his faithful preaching and prophesying. That’s not exactly the reward promised by the prosperity gospellers who tell us we deserve a mansion, a private plane, and successful businesses for deciding to worship and follow God, is it? And Jeremiah is not alone. Scripture is full of people doing God’s will who suffer, culminating in the Passion and death of our Lord Christ, the only One to keep His torah, the only One sinless before God. God uses redemptive suffering . . . A LOT . . . to reach us humans. If we are His chosen nation, maybe we should expect some suffering that needs redemption? I’m just sayin’ . . .
Whether the United States of America is not God’s chosen nation is, in the end, of little consequence to you and to me. We are part of His chosen people; we are the Church, that visible and invisible Body called to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. That’s our job, yours and mine. Are we doing our job? Are we living as if He is alive and that His Resurrection has meaning for us? Certainly, at least in one way, we have failed as a community. We are, what, a month into a drought here in central Tennessee. How many of us are praying for it to end? I share that guilt, right? I blamed the lack of rain on Jerry for changing the drainage system around the rectory. He worked at that and, ever since, we have had no rain to test his work. Is the basement drier? Yes. Is it because of Jerry’s work? We don’t know. It has not rained! You and I claim to be God’s chosen people. We claim that we are inheritors of His power. We are instructed to intercede on behalf of others. We even claim this as part of those benefits of His passion during the Eucharist, right? Why are we not praying to end the drought?
Back to the election. How many of us are praying to God that He help us as a country discern our next leader, or are praying to God that He begin to equip our next leader to be the leader we need?
How many of us are praying against the violence in the Middle East?
How many of us are working to feed the hungry here in Middle Tennessee?
How many of us are working to clothe the poor in Central Tennessee?
You and I, by virtue of our inheritance as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, are uniquely equipped to fight the things that God hates, to serve those whom God loves, and to be the hands and feet and voice of our Lord! What kind of job are we doing? Are we living like we believe those promises? Are we allowing His voice to be co-opted by those who would continue to enslave those around us?
I know this has been a bit of a downer. I have probably afflicted the comfortable a bit too much this morning. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not point each one of us, myself included, to the God of Jeremiah and us, the judge AND deliverer. Jeremiah’s message was a hard one to hear and a hard one to give. It is hard to hear and hard to tell people that they are failing God. The truth, of course, is that we often are, right? We are all sinners in His sight. The gracious news is that God will deliver His people!
You and I live on this side of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, and so we know the way in which God has begun to fulfill all His promises. But even here, on the side of the Resurrection, you and I still do not understand how our redemption, how our vindication, will ultimately happen, do we? We still live on the wrong side of the Second Coming. How can we all share in His glory? How can we all be kings and queens? How can there be no tears? Are we going to be in church for all eternity? For all we know with certainty, there is much yet to be revealed. And like the people of Judah, who are about to see God’s prophet imprisoned in a cistern and their way of living wiped out by a conquering army, you and I are called to remember that God is the One who calls us into existence, who creates His Church even as He created the world, and the One who fulfills all His promises.
In the end, it does not matter whether the United States is His chosen people. He invites us all. And for those who have accepted that invitation, like you and like me, there is a responsibility placed upon us. We are called to live as if we truly believe He has been raised from the dead. Such a calling means we intercede, we feed, we teach, we proclaim, and we serve. It also means we will likely suffer. Brothers and sisters, this election that is fast approaching is not one that truly determines our fate. That election was sealed a long time ago, when you and I were marked as His own for ever. Now, now we are called to live as if we believe we are elected, called to share in His glory and His light for all eternity.
In Christ’s Peace,