12 September 2010
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 19C (RCL)
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Jeremiah wrote his prophecies near the end of the southern kingdom. He was seeking to explain why God, who had at one time been seemingly so good to Judah, should now turn and bring evil on them. Of course, we would say God had nothing to do with it — it was all just geo-politics. But Jeremiah was trying to fashion a working monotheism. If there was only one God, the same god for all nations, then when one nation conquered another, it must be God’s will. If there are many gods (for each nation), then disaster just means that one god has gained ascendancy in the divine council. But Jeremiah has to struggle to find a monotheistic solution. Now, we have an understanding of a God who enters human affairs, not just on the side of the victorious, but also with the sufferers. Jeremiah didn’t have the advantage of seeing God from after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Luke’s Gospel also gives us a parable of the God who enters human history on the side of the lost. If Jeremiah’s God punishes the unrighteous nation, then the conclusion is that same God will punish individual sinners. Jesus tells us God seeks the lost, rather than punishing them.
So, when we feel like we have messed up, we often expect God’s punishment. I think God’s justice and mercy are aspects of God’s love. If we were truly to see ourselves and our relationships (from family to nation) from God’s perspective, we would see both the horrible mess we have made of things, and the good in all of it, both God’s judgment and God’s love. But we don’t see things that way. We blame others when they have messed up — we blame them for their own misfortune even when they haven’t messed up. We blame them because it’s easier than seeing them and ourselves from God’s perspective. We blame ourselves when we have messed up, and run far from the presence of God.
But God chooses to come seek the lost (and hiding) rather than give them up. God so much desires the good in the whole, that God won’t leave us to our own devices. How differently the news would be playing out this week, if Rev. Jones understood that God’s judgment and mercy are aspects of God’s love. God must be weeping at those who choose not to be brought home.