August 18, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Jeremiah laments being given a word from God which speaks against the prophets of his day. These prophets dream their dreams, and proclaim them, but forget the name of the Lord.
This raises an important point about interpreting scripture. Here, dreams lead away from God. In the case of Joseph in the book of Exodus and another Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew, dreams come from God. What do we do when the Bible sends mixed messages like this? The classic liberal stance has often been to simply disregard dreams as being core to the Biblical message, since the Bible itself cannot agree. The classic conservative stance has been to demand that it be either one or the other, and then to overlay that view onto other texts and life as well.
But there is another way. When the Bible offers us contradictory images, such as both warning against and supporting kings in Israel, or dreams that draw us closer to God and dreams that lead us away, we are to think carefully, critically, prayerfully and discern on a case by case basis.
Is this dream from God with a message of warning or salvation, or, like Scrooge, is it a bad piece of potato we had at dinner?
Jeremiah speaks against the prophets who lead people away from God. This will get him into trouble, as we might expect. Jeremiah has been sent with a powerful word, a word which will:
pluck up and break down,
destroy and overthrow,
build and plant.
The word of God is not a trifling matter.
Today, we have our pick of prophets. From televangelists to the Discovery channel, from 24 hour news channels to blogs and websites, we can easily find those with whom we agree, and we can settle in our own enclave knowing what is right and wrong and knowing that if we could just get those folks over there to agree with us, we could solve all our problems.
What is more, those we like are always Jeremiah, as opposed to those false prophets over on the other side. The caution is that it is a short step from finding the prophets we like and declaring them to be true, to casting God in our own image.
I recently heard a program which featured a dialogue about abortion between an evangelical ethics professor and the woman who was formerly the head of Catholics for Choice. She did not leave her position because she had changed her mind, but because she wanted to be able to dialogue with those who disagreed with her.
They stated their positions, and as you might expect, they disagreed. Surprisingly enough, however, they worked to listen to one another. At one point, each of them stated something about their own side of the issue that made them uncomfortable, and something about the other side of the issue they found attractive. These were not people trying for a sound bite or to win votes, these were people who cared passionately about an issue and had committed to discussing it. This means that they commit first to listening.
At one point they each stopped and said, “Do you know why people do not do this more often? It is hard work! People do not want to discern and discuss, people want to win.”
See also Egypt, Syria, Congress, the immigration debate, the national security debate, and any number of other issues over which communities fracture into camps.
The problem is not that we are right and they are wrong or they are right and we are wrong. The problem is we all think it is about being right. The problem is that our fractured dreams and splintered views lead us away from the beloved community to which we are called.
Sometimes we justify our divisions using Jesus’ words this morning that he came not to bring peace but a sword, division, setting father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. We get self righteous, saying, “Well if people are speaking against me, I must be doing something right!” Or as Winston Churchill’s said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
It helps to see where Jesus’ words of frustration about not yet accomplishing that which he came to accomplish are located in Luke. They come right after telling the crowds:
Therefore I tell you,
do not be anxious about your life,
what you shall eat,
nor about your body,
what you shall put on.
For life is more than food,
and the body more than clothing.
Consider the ravens:
they neither sow nor reap,
they have neither storehouse nor barn,
and yet God feeds them.
Of how much more value are you than the birds!
And which of you by being anxious
can add a cubit to his span of life?
If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that,
why are you anxious about the rest?
And right before:
And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
As you go with your accuser before the magistrate,
make an effort to settle with him on the way,
lest he drag you to the judge,
and the judge hand you over to the officer,
and the officer put you in prison.
I tell you,
you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper.
The setting of these words is between how God provides all that we need, and the warning that we need to reconcile and setting our differences before they cost us everything.
The question is not simply who is right, but how we can see both Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly as children of God (Or Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh, or whatever pundits on each side you prefer). It is not about how self-righteous and judgmental we can be, but how we can practice generosity and hospitality and reconciliation in a fractured world.
This will cause division with those who have a stake in the fractures, who benefit from the partisanship, who gain from our differences. But when we realize that we all have some stake in the splintering of the world, maybe we can work together in its healing as well.
This week, how will we practice the love of God that is above all our earthly divisions? As the Talmud says, “You are not required to finish the work. Neither are you free to desist from it.”
Thanks be to God.