Unless you have been to Bible study the past three weeks, you would have missed the continuing story told by Jeremiah about the horrible exile and captivity of the Israelites in Babylon, and more of the encouraging letter to Timothy in our Lectionary readings. We used other readings the past two weeks for the special Baptism Sunday two weeks ago, and for the Blessing of the Pets service last Sunday. Today, we are back to Jeremiah and Timothy, as well as another great story of Jesus’ ministry from Luke in our Gospel reading.
Jeremiah in his prophecy has been very pointed to the Israelites, with God telling them that the actions of their leaders and the people have been the reason they are now in such a mess. But in this reading today, Jeremiah tells the people how they are to live while in captivity:
--Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
--Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
--But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
I found several interesting views about the message that comes from this writing; here are 3 of them:
--I am unsure whether one can read into this a 'social resistance', but certainly we can agree there is a non-violent acceptance of the reality.
--Faith entrusts oneself to God’s loving care. If we can let go our expectations and accept the grace to thrive in surprising places, we may discover that we can count on God never to forsake us.
--Real hope for the people, according to Jeremiah, lay not in some immediate relief from social and communal death, but in living through that experience as faithful people, awaiting the Lord’s 'future with hope'. (Jeremiah told them there would be 50 years of dealing with this, so not a short term issue.)
I think today that all people can find a great message to live by here. In whatever situation we find ourselves, staying faithful to a loving perspective of living with others will go a long way toward making life better for all. I carefully said this in this way, because I want it to include a lot of different faith perspectives—the whole spectrum of Christians, Muslims, Jews, other religions, and even those without a specific religious view or non-religious one. For the refugees we hear about from Syria and other war-torn areas, isn’t that likely what they hope for and want to do in coming to a new place like the US?
I saw a recently posted reader board for a Methodist Church, which said, “God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians”. Just continually fighting with each other means we all become less faithful—we still should point out real problems and injustices, but we should be able to see love in all things (as hard as that seems at times). And withdrawing to ourselves also is not what is called for here—we need to be in the world working for a better one.
In the Timothy readings the past several weeks, Paul has been telling a much younger Timothy how to be a faithful servant for Christ. He is always being encouraged to be strong but bring a message of caring in his actions and words, and today’s reading is no different. In verses 12-15: “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
I see this in a similar way as the message from Jeremiah. We are to not to get too hung up over what words are said, but what is really behind the words—there is the real message being offered. If we are confident in the message of love from God that we bring, there will be no confusion about what we are doing and how we are living our lives.
The Gospel readings from Luke this season of Pentecost have been filled with the ongoing teachings of Jesus to the people around, especially the Disciples. In the first part of Ch. 17, which was used last week in the normal lectionary, Jesus told his disciples such things as: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble…If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” “
Today Jesus provides an example to all with the healing of the ten lepers. Jesus gets right to the healing by directing them all to the local priests for presentation, while healing them along the way. Interestingly, the only one to return to Jesus was a Samaritan, while the others were probably all Jews and knew what they should do as part of their religion in order to be allowed to rejoin society. The Samaritan, on the other hand, had a different intent—to thank the one he knew had healed him. This man recognized a larger importance than just his physical healing, that of spiritual healing and salvation. He trusted in Jesus as the Messiah. And because of his faith, he was saved.
There is hope here for all of us in these readings today. When we can get past the painful rhetoric and lies that permeate today’s politics and society as a whole (via social media, commercials, etc.) and look at where most people are with their lives’ experiences, we have the possibility of coming together to improve everyone’s lives. God has a role to play in this, and that is by providing His grace that we all can live by, and the example of Jesus’ work and life and words can show us how to act in this complex world we now have. May God be with us going forward and the Spirit live in us to do what is excellent in God’s eyes. AMEN