Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Edgar Bazan ~ Redeeming Justice

What is justice?

The theme of justice is pervasive in the Bible but also is widely misunderstood by its readers. Commonly, people depict justice as a harsh judgment or deserved punishment, portraying God as the ultimate punisher or executioner.

But if we look closely in the Bible, this is not how God practices or brings about justice to the world. For God, justice fundamentally has to do with right and good relationships, with fostering and encouraging wholeness and wellness for people and their interactions. The end goal of justice is to make things right by redeeming not destroying.

The ultimate example of this is when it is written, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save the world through faith in him…” God was redeeming the world through Jesus, and for all practical and theological purposes, through this God brought justice by loving all people and not wanting anyone to perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not come to condemn us but to save us, to give us peace. That is God’s justice.

The Book of Jeremiah presents us with the biblical context to learn how this applies to us as people of God.

Consider Jeremiah 7:1-7:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

This text summarizes the issues that Jeremiah address throughout the book of Jeremiah.

The historical context is that in the days of Jeremiah (ca. 600 B.C.), the people of Israel were facing threats from foreign powers. The northern kingdom of Israel was history, taken into Assyrian captivity. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had defeated Assyria and was making his way into Judah. The threat was imminent, they had nowhere to run, and they were soon to be crushed and taken.

The question that I ask when I read this part of Israel’s history is: how did they get there? Did not God promise them a land of honey and milk, and to bless them? Indeed. God said: I will bless you to be a blessing (Genesis 12); you will be my treasured possession out of all the peoples, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exodus 19).

So, what happened then?

Beginning with Abraham, the people of God (Israel) had entered into a covenant with God to be blessed with the purpose to bless others and to minister God’s love to all people as a missional agency. They were supposed to be different: priests, holy, a blessing, on a mission alongside God to bring healing to the world from sin. They were constituted to join God in “all that God is doing in God’s great purpose for the whole of creation and all that God calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.” (N.T. Wright)

But over the years, they forgot time and time again who they were meant to be and went from blessing to suffering to oppression, from a Promised Land to a wasteland, for they stopped being the missional agency of justice in the world. Their religion became an oppressing behavior rather than a missional faith. They became unfair, uncaring, selfish, and unjust; oppressors of the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and shed innocent blood (7:6; 19:4).

And this is what the book Jeremiah is all about. As they were facing another threat from a foreign army, Jeremiah was sent to call them out. He, along with other prophets, tried to warn Israel about their sins and the consequences of not keeping God’s covenant.

Ironically, they did not listen to Jeremiah because they felt safe by having the temple in their midst –that which was meant to remind them of their covenant with God. But the opposite was the case. For them, the temple had become an icon of invincibility, and they thought that by having the temple in Jerusalem their lives and nation would be spared. They had a superstitious religion with empty displays of fasting and prayer, but that lacked any inward reality of faith and commitment to God.

Their confidence for their survival was in the Temple, not in God, to which the Lord responded, “Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” They had been deceived by the false witness of false prophets and God is telling them, “the temple has no power to save you.”

So, the prophetic word of Jeremiah is basically about two main concerns: their idolatry by putting their trust in the temple, and their disregard for the well-being of their neighbor.

For this, Jeremiah, along with many other prophets like Isaiah and Amos, were calling out Israel because they had forgotten their calling. And even after hearing the prophetic word of the prophets they were still not getting it. They were worshiping the temple, while God was telling them,

For if you amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)

This is clear, there is no room for confusion, yet they were still not getting it. I mean, how much lower did they need to fall to figure out that they were wrong? Stop worshiping the temple and attend to the needs of those around!

This is the prophetic word of Jeremiah to the people of God that is essentially a wakeup call that demanded from them, as well as from us, to love God and act justly with all people.

What do we make of this? How does this prophetic word speak to us today?

Well, Jesus spoke about some of the same concerns in Matthew 25:35-40. He said,

I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:36-40

Let’s make sure we are getting this right.

God’s calling of Israel and consequently of the church through Jesus is for the blessing of the nations, of all people, particularly those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and marginalized. When our mission becomes anything else, we are in the wrong.

What’s our story? What about us? Are we getting it or are we missing the mark too? God is advocating for those in our midst who are invisible to most, for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. Are we acting justly? Are we helping heal and redeem those who are hurting?

Let me give you a specific example to really challenge us today.

Let’s take the widow and the orphan as an example. For all practical purposes, they are also the single parents and their children living in poverty, who have been abandoned by husbands or wives, and are raising their children by themselves. Many of them struggle every day to provide for their children for they need to work twice as much just to provide for the basic needs of their children. Things like childcare, food, clothing, and transportation are barely met. Just think about how much they need to work when daycare cost is at least $1,000 for two children. Add to that rent or mortgage, food, car expenses, clothing, etc. Single parents are fighting for their children with little to no help. How does this make you feel?

Furthermore, consider how little quality time they get to spend with their kids and the side effects of this unjust situation. Next time you see a kid getting into trouble, and you ask, “where are their parents?” Maybe the answer is, “his parent is working two shifts that day while being threatened to be evicted if they can’t afford to pay the balance of their rent, while at the same time trying everything she can to keep her boy in school, so he can have a better future.”

Don’t you think God hurts when God sees his children been treated and judged unfairly, with no regard for their struggles and well-being? God cares and advocates for single parents and their children.

In many ways, this was my experience too. I was raised for several years by a single parent. My mom had me when she was 18 and had to work day in and day out seven days a week to provide for the needs of my brother and me. We were raised by our grandmother in our early years because my mom was almost always working. We never lacked anything because my mom was a hard worker, but we missed many things and time with her too. I am proud of her. I thank God for how she cared for us, but I wish I had more time with her.

Today we are reminded of our calling through the prophetic word of Jeremiah. I am here because my mom was brave and strong. But I am also here because churches – people – went into the community, to children like me, and brought Vacation Bible School, worship, and so on into my community. I did not go to church; church came to me.

Where is our church going today? Or have we settled? Can we not just focus on us, on our temple, but also on what is happening around us in our community?

What are we known for?

Are we known at all?

Can we bring our minds, hearts, and strength together and see our ministry of reaching out to others with at least the same passion we have when we are taking care of ourselves? I know we can, but will we?

Ask yourself: What is driving our vision for our church? What kind of church do we want to be today, and what do we want to leave behind to our children?

The book of Jeremiah is about this kind of stuff. The Gospel of Jesus is still about this stuff. Even James echoed Jeremiah and Jesus when he wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27) And yet still, people before Jesus and after Jesus remain concerned about the wrong things.

Our vision must be about real life: tangible, practical, redeeming, and healing justice. “The notion that the Church is a place only for spiritual deepening, character-building, mutual care and service ignores Jesus’ core message… the inauguration a new reign of justice and peace.” (Storey, preface) We don’t just pray for justice and peace; we act on it. We don’t ask God to send someone to do something about it, we say here I am, Lord, send me.

To all of us, we need to be more intentional about engaging with those God cares about, those who God is naming before us today. Remember that biblical justice is about aligning with God’s commands and faithfully keeping God’s covenant which then, in turn, is reflected in how we treat our neighbor: our aliens, orphans, and widows… our single parents and their children.

We have the mandate to make our world better not just for us but for those who are hurting and in need. We can’t honestly represent God and be Christians if we don’t care about this. Our lives and faith must be in agreement.

The people of Israel were promised a future if they amended their ways of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). So are we: we are promised a future too.

Does our corporate church and each one of us as individuals and disciples of Christ have a voice in favor of those God names in our Bibles and commands us to care for? Would our church speak up and act?

My friends, today God is challenging us to think outside the box – literally – to hear to voices beyond this holy space of worship; to practice God’s justice –a redeeming justice that is concerned about contributing all that is good and kind to others.






NRSV Bible

Storey, Peter John. With God in the Crucible: Preaching Costly Discipleship. Abingdon Press, 2010.

Wright. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Zondervan, 2010.


Robert Carter ~ Steinbeck and the Prophet Jeremiah

Our two boys, Brennan and Jared, enjoy different types of food. Jared, our younger, has a palate mostly formed by traditional foods that most millennials in Western culture crave. Brennan, on the other hand, has always had a curious, gourmet tongue. We shouldn’t have been surprised at his pre-teen culinary adventures or his fascination with the TV show Master Chef; even as a toddler he would eat Pad Thai and Jambalaya. Sometimes, just for fun, we would offer him lemons or limes cut into wedges so that we could witness the uncontrolled pursing of his entire face that would quickly follow his bite. He’d always go back for more, though! Sometimes we would all take turns with wedges of lemon, the objective being not to allow the acidity of the fruit to pucker our faces. We never succeeded in the challenge—we all scrunched. The reaction was as swift as it was lemon_cutuncontrollable. When we bit down on the lemon, we’d pucker. Watching someone else might bring a slight sympathetic pursing to our own lips, but not much. To get any measurable effect, we had to actively participate.

Jeremiah 31 comes out of chronological order, for it clearly belongs to exilic Judea. Babylon has captured Jerusalem, ransacked its resources, brutally massacred many of its people and carried captive the balance (except a few poor farmers who were left behind as caretakers of the demolition). Even though Jeremiah is not one of those exiled to Babylon, he continues to provide prophetic hope to his forlorn people through letters sent to his people. In this particular letter, Jeremiah becomes the linkage between God’s promises for yet-to-be newness and the embittered exiles who are certain that they are unfairly suffering for the sins of previous generations. A creative proverb was gaining popularity among these disenfranchised refugees—everybody was sharing it on their Facebook wall: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:29b).

Taken literally, we can argue that this proverb is incorrect, for we’ve done our own experiment, and we know that the sour grapes (or lemons) must touch our own tongues to cause any measurable biological reaction. But we know better, don’t we, than to get technical with this proverb? We recognize symbolism, poetic license, and language usage well enough to know that this carefully-crafted proverb is intended for greater application. And we also know that it’s frighteningly accurate when understood in its intended literary form! Ever wonder what it feels like to be Hitler’s grandchildren, left with the emotional burden of his bigotry? Try to look a Native American in the eye without remembering that your forefathers confined them to their reservations. Your ancestors are long gone, but you still bear the burden of their wrongdoing.

This proverb was accurate in the immediate context of the exiles referenced in this passage, especially for those born in their Babylonian displacement.  Their forefathers’ persistent, generational disobedience brought God’s judgment and the loss of their fortunes. These exiles found themselves part of a foreign culture—one that threatened to erase their Jewishness. It didn’t seem fair that they were paying the bill for their ancestors’ sins.

This maxim is also accurate in the larger context of our world— Adam and Eve ate “sour grapes” and the world’s teeth have been set on edge ever since. In addition to the broad-spectrum brokenness of the post-Eden world, Adam and Eve’s disobedience also unleashed what theologians call “original sin.” Every child comes with his own inherited capacity for evil. The seed is there. Yes, the proverb is accurate, but that doesn’t make it seem any fairer.

Then we pause to look at ourselves, our families, our churches, and our communities; this adage proves true for us, too. We tend to embody the brokenness of our parents. Their sins seed ours; their failings escalate ours.  And we cry, “Foul!” Why should their evil actions become our burden?

  • As Steve stumbles back to his college dorm at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning he wonders, “Would I be this way if mom hadn’t regularly put whiskey in my baby bottle?”
  • Esther continues to consume three times the daily amount of sugar recommended even though she is borderline diabetic. “Mom and grandma did the same thing. They drew me into this love for sweets. Sure they both lost limbs and died at a young age. That’s normal around here, you know.”
  • Twenty-five-year-old Mike finds himself frequently captivated by sadistic fantasy and wonders if he is destined to join his incarcerated father someday.
  • Bill and Paula, a young couple, struggle to manage their money. They’re always paying their utility bills after the disconnect notice arrives. It’s stressful and aggravating; yet, in a weird kind of way, it seems normal to them. That’s the way their parents did it.
  • Thirty-five-year-old Sally wonders why she always hits her electric locks on the car when a black man crosses the street. She doesn’t feel racist! But why does she do it, then? Her reaction is quite different when a white man crosses in front of her—little fear there. Then she recognizes how the media portrays black men as criminals. She recalls how her mom and grandma taught her to be spooked by men of different color. Chagrined, Sally looks in the rear view mirror long enough to catch her daughter covering her eyes. “The cycle is complete,” Sally thinks, “I’ve taught my daughter the same racism that I learned from my folks.”
  • Anthony swings the punch that he vowed he’d never throw. He never wanted to be like his volatile, out-of-control father. Now at the age of thirty-five he’s looking more and more like him!
  • Rhonda finds herself belittling her husband again—right to his face and in front of her kids. She wonders why she behaves so poorly. Then she recalls, “Mom always did this to dad, and so did grandma. It’s not my fault,” she reasons, “that this behavior comes instinctively!”
  • Patrick, a middle-age father, shudders in horror as he steps away from his 14-year-old daughter’s bedroom. He had done the unthinkable. He swore that he would never do to his children what his father had done to him and his siblings. It’s as if he took his rightful place in a messed-up genealogy.
  • Eli reels in a large catfish from the Ohio River. Then he throws it back fuming, “It kind of stinks that our forefathers polluted this river to the point that we can’t even keep the fish.” Leaving, he throws his trash from lunch in the water’s flow—“Why not? It’s already polluted!” Besides, that’s what his uncles do…
  • Evelyn, a young grandmother, seems to intuitively know how to manipulate, effectively employing passive-aggressive measures to control her husband, adult children, nieces and nephews. She always gets her way, but it creates co-dependency, anger, and hostility. She often loathes her behavior—she knows it’s not right. How did she ever get started down this path? Then she realizes that her mom and grandmother had the same skill set.
  • Judge Conley looks at his docket, quickly recognizing the last name of the defendant in the narcotics distribution charge. “Must be Paul’s son,” the judge thinks! “It’s the family business, I guess! Like father, like son!”

The exiles welcomed the proverb because they felt that it effectively expressed both complaint and defense. Their complaint asserted, “It’s not my fault!” Their defense reasoned, “I can’t be any different! I’m part of a domino effect that began in the Garden of Eden. I didn’t put my domino in position—dad and mom, community and nation did that for me! I can’t break the cycle—why even try? As messed up as my life appears, it actually feels kind of normal and comfortable to me!”

So why would God take issue with the exilic usage of this proven-true proverb? Is God denying this thing we call generationalism? No, here’s why God was getting fed up with this Babylonian meme…

The proverb ignores personal responsibility. It was true that the exiles were suffering for their parents’ sins; but it was also true that they, too, were continuing to participate in the same kinds of broken ways in their new environment. While they obsessed with the grapes their fathers consumed and the resulting puckering that it brought to their lives, they were reluctant to acknowledge that they also ate the same kind of fruit—just from better-groomed vines. The net result was the continued contortion of life. Their denial allowed them to color their newly-formatted quests for power, sensuality, and pleasure in lighter tones that passed undetected. For this reason, God was tired of the proverb—it avoided personal responsibility, placing all the blame on the previous generation!

The proverb ignores “free will.” Verse 30 uncovers a new understanding of personal choice and consequence given to each individual. You are not confined to the composite of your upbringing. You are not doomed to repeat the sins of your father or mother, uncle or sister. You have the ability to make personal choices of which only you will be accountable.

51r57tjwb0l-_sx322_bo1204203200_John Steinbeck composes his monumental book, East of Eden, with amazingly accurate sociological and theological expression. This story, a retelling of Genesis 3-4, is set in Northern California’s Salinas Valley during the early 20th century. Before moving to the Salinas Valley, the good-hearted Adam Trask lived on a farm in Connecticut that had been willed to him by his father, a crook in his own right. Meanwhile, Steinbeck begins to develop another character, Cathy, a young girl who from birth possesses an innate capacity for manipulation and deceit. After killing her parents in a fire she set, stealing their money, and leaving town, Cathy sets a trap whereby she seduces a brothel owner for her financial benefit. When this brothel owner discovers Cathy’s evil intentions, he beats her severely, leaving her for dead.  Soon after Adam finds her, nurses her back to life and marries her. Cathy never returns Adam’s love; she only marries him because she knows he is her ticket out of Connecticut where rumors are starting to gain traction that perhaps she is not the innocent, bereaved daughter after all. Once the Trasks arrive in the Salinas Valley, Cathy discovers to her horror that she is pregnant. She unsuccessfully attempts to abort the fetus, delivering twins instead. Cathy refuses to even gaze at the twins, telling Adam she has never loved him or the boys. Soon afterwards, she abandons her family, never returning. Cathy changes her name to Kate to mask her identity, moves to Salinas proper where she resumes her work as a prostitute, manipulating and ultimately poisoning her Madam so that she can take over the business. Her work culminates in the blackmailing of many of the influential men of the area.

Adam is left (along with his housekeeper, Lee) to name his boys, Aron and Cal, and do his best to raise them amid his deep depression. From an early age, Aron reflects Adam’s good-heartedness while Cal replicates his mother’s manipulation, lack of compassion and cruelty. When Cal discovers that his mother is not dead as he was told but rather a Madam at one of Salinas’ brothels, he determines to meet her. After his encounter, he is convinced that he is doomed to follow in Kate’s pattern of brokenness, deceit, manipulation and anger. Adam’s housekeeper, Lee, who has extensively researched the biblical story of Cain and Abel, advises Cal that God intends each person to choose his own moral destiny rather than be controlled by the legacy of his parents. This idea, captured by the Hebrew word timshel (meaning “you may”) in Genesis 4:7, counters Cal’s fatalistic idea that he has inherited his mother’s evil and is without hope in his own destiny. Readers catch a sliver of that hope for Cal as the story concludes; when dying Adam raises his hand at Lee’s request to bless Cal, he whispers one word, “Timshel.”

Cal seems to be the embodiment of this proverb quoted in Jeremiah. Cathy ate sour grapes, and Cal’s teeth were set on edge. Not only had he inherited sin through both his parents; he had also inherited a DNA strand that disposed him to operate in strikingly similar ways to his mother despite the fact that he was raised by Adam and his good housekeeper, Lee, entirely in Cathy’s absence. Steinbeck refuses to leave Cal in his hopelessness. Instead, with pure literary genius, he infuses the narrative with Lee’s extended Biblical conversations, highlighting Cal’s ability to choose for himself what kind of man he will be.

And so God pushes back against this Jewish truism because it fails to recognize our powerful endowment by our Creator to make personal choices that defy the stack of cards we have been dealt.

Our Wesleyan Arminian doctrine is important here.  On the one hand, it informs us that all are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and that all have sinned—no exceptions (Romans 3:23). This is bad news! On the other hand, it refuses to leave us in the position of hopelessness and helplessness, no matter how malformed we are from birth. This is good news! God’s Word reminds us that we are a people with amazing individuality (free will) to choose our own actions (Jeremiah 31:30).  God has not predetermined who will push back against sin. We alone make that choice.

The proverb ignores God’s planned newness. God determines to provide for the Cals (and you and me) of our world to be something different than heredity would seemingly allow. Jeremiah 31:31-34 sums up the way free will overtakes both inherited sin and negative imprinting.It’s not by laws on the books, by gritting one’s teeth, or by a nagging spouse. God’s plan, rather than utilizing coercion, is about newness gifted to us just as undeservedly as our inherited sin. This newness is accomplished through his healing forgiveness for the puckering of our lives (both through the sour grapes our fathers ate and the ones we willfully chewed on our own). How can this be? Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, Eden’s toppling dominos are disrupted. The sin that threatened to irrevocably give bad direction to our life became subject to the grace of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

We accept personal responsibility for the way we have personally leaned into the brokenness that came upon us at birth, both through heredity and imprinting. Then we make a choice out of our free will not to walk in those same kinds of fatalistic patterns. Most importantly, we understand that this cannot and will not happen through our own power alone. It will only come about through God’s newness breathed into our hearts. Jeremiah calls this the “new covenant” written into our minds and hearts. Ezekiel pictures this newness as a “heart of flesh” that replaces the old stony heart (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The Apostle Paul thinks about this newness as the transformation of a “renewed mind” (Romans 12:2).

The next time I brave an un-sugared lemon, lime, sour grape, or persimmon I’ll cringe from top to bottom, and it’s going to remind me of how crinkled my life is by heredity and imprinting. But I hope it also brings an internal “thanks be to God” as I remember the promise of newness God gives for “teeth set on edge.”

James Petticrew ~ Holy Tenacity


I have been reading Jeremiah over the past couple of weeks – not an easy read in many ways – but certainly for me a thought-provoking one. Something struck me while reading: the recurrence of a word which also reminded me of a chapter in a book by Eugene Peterson. After a great deal of rooting around in boxes in the garage, I found Eugene Peterson’s little book of reflections on Jeremiah called The Quest for Life at Its Best. In this wonderful wee tome Peterson talks about this word which had struck me so forcefully. It’s the word persistently.

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.” Jeremiah 25:3

With those words Jeremiah describes his ministry as a prophet to the people of God. It’s been 23 years ….“persistently.”

For 23 years he met with God and listened to God and then shared God’s message with God’s people. If you know anything about Jeremiah you’ll know that it wasn’t 23 years of unmitigated success – anything but. Much of the time he was ridiculed, abused and imprisoned. Yet day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade, Jeremiah persistently did what God had called him to do. He didn’t give up, he didn’t move to a city where people were more responsive, he didn’t modify his message. He persistently carried on doing what God had called on him to do. Peterson remarks, “the mark of certain kind of genius is the ability and energy to keep returning to the same task relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a life time. To never give up and go on to something else; never get distracted and be diverted into something else”

I have been thinking a lot about Jeremiah and his persistency the last couple of days. It’s reminded me that what God calls us to do often calls for something we don’t regard as very glamorous; it’s what I would call holy tenacity.

Peterson defines it as the ability to return to our God-given calling “relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a life time. To never give up and go on to something else; never get distracted and be diverted into sometPot-Noodlehing else.” I have to be honest and say holy tenacity doesn’t come easy to me. I belong to the Pot Noodle* generation, where we expect instant results. The stories we tend to celebrate in church life are the leaders and churches who achieve success quickly – 500 new people in five years impresses us. It probably should too. We should celebrate God’s blessings. However, we seldom celebrate those who minister “twenty three years…persistently,” who, like Jeremiah, approach what God has called them to do with a holy tenacity over an extended period.

I suspect that for all of us, whatever God calls us to do and to be, there will be a need at some point  for this self same holy tenacity. It takes holy tenacity to be a teacher, to return to the classroom day after day when often there are more problems to be solved than successes to be celebrated. It takes holy tenacity to be a parent at times, to keep on loving and being firm when it would be easy just to be apathetic and give in. It takes holy tenacity to build a business that reflects the values of the kingdom of God rather than one that simply generates cash. It takes holy tenacity to represent God in an office year after year. I wonder if God led you to read this because he wants to remind you of the need for holy tenacity in doing what he has called you to do?

What we are talking about here is more than dogged determination and drudgery. Peterson comments, “don’t feel sorry for Jeremiah. He was not stuck in a rut, he was committed to a purpose. Jeremiah shows no evidence of bored drudgery. Everything we know of him shows that after 23 years his imagination is even more alive and his spirit even more resilient than it was in his youth. He wasn’t putting in his time. Every day was a new adventure of living the prophetic life. The days added up to a life of incredible tenacity, of amazing stamina.” Those words excite and inspire me; that’s the kind of holy tenacity I want to develop. I want to be more alive, more imaginative, more resilient as I grow older and I serve longer in my calling. Which made we wonder, how was Jeremiah able to develop and sustain this holy tenacity?

A read-through of the book of Jeremiah soon reveals the source of Jeremiah’s holy tenacity. Just look at these verses.

Jeremiah 7:13: “And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer…”

Jeremiah 7:25: “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.”

Jeremiah 29:19: “Because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the LORD, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 11:7: “For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice.”

Jeremiah 32:33: “They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction.”

Jeremiah 35:14: “The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me.”

Jeremiah 35:15: “I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds.'”

Jeremiah 44:4: “Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!'”

Eight times God says that he has persistently reached out to his people. Do you see the implications of these verses for understanding Jeremiah’s holy tenacity? Jeremiah developed and sustained his holy tenacity through being in relationship with a holy tenacious God, a God who persistently, repeatedly, constantly and urgently reached out to his people and to the whole of humanity.

I think I am beginning to understand how holy tenacity is developed now. Its not an end in itself; rather, it’s the overflow of our relationship with God. Jeremiah had holy tenacity because he was so close to God that his life reflected God’s character. I should have known that holy tenacity wouldn’t come easily or instantly.

After all my reflection I have come to the conclusion that just like Jeremiah I, and you too, will only develop this holy tenacity which is so vital to our callings by spending time with and listening to the God who is tenacious in his love and mission to all of humanity and to us as individuals. Jeremiah says that during the 23 years he ministered persistently, the word of the Lord came to him. In other words, he persistently spent time in God’s presence, listening to God’s Word. I can draw only one conclusion: a lifetime of holy tenacity ministering for God will take a lifetime of holy tenacity being with and listening to God.


*Great Brit equivalent to Cup o’ Noodles or Ramen.

Timothy Tennent ~ What the Church Can Do During Exile

One of the most remarkable, and often overlooked, passages in the Old Testament is the letter Jeremiah wrote to his fellow Israelites who had been carried off into Babylonian exile (See Jeremiah 29). He told them (contra the false prophets of his day) to settle down, accept the judgment of God, plant crops, have children and hope for a better day – which will be 70 years down the road when they will be restored to their land.

They were now captives in a foreign land. The Babylonians were as cruel then as ISIS is today. It would be difficult to erase from your mind the picture of your enemy coming and ripping open the wombs of mothers, destroying your homes, stripping the gold off of the Temple and then burning it to the ground. The anguish and pain is beyond description. This is why it is astonishing when Jeremiah goes on to say something which is unprecedented in the ancient world: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7). This is the Old Testament equivalent of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). When Jesus said, “You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemies” he was not quoting the Old Testament, but the popular distorted ethic of his time. When Jesus said, “love your enemies” he was actually re-stating what Jeremiah had said in his letter centuries earlier. This is because the same God who revealed himself to Jeremiah was walking among us in Jesus Christ.

We are all indebted to N. T. Wright for his tremendous work in helping us to reframe our perspective from “those who have passed through the Red Sea and are dwelling in the Promised Land” to “those who have been taken into exile and are awaiting our future promises.” We all grew up singing songs like “I’m dwelling in Beulah Land!” and “We’re marching to Zion!” We are still awaiting the new songs of lament which will guide us as we dwell in our own version of Babylonian exile. Our captors will demand that we “sing the songs of joy; sing for us one of the songs of Zion” (Psalm 137:3). But, we cannot sing the songs of Zion when we are in exile.

But Jeremiah reminds us that we do not respond with hatred or anger to those who have plotted our demise. We pray for the peace and prosperity of the country. We pray for the well-being of a church which celebrates false prophets (Jeremiah 28).  We realize – and this is the real lesson of Jeremiah – that judgement is actually a “means of grace.” The historic churches in the western world are under God’s judgment. I do not want to add to anyone’s weariness by repeating all the signs of this. But I do think we need to remember that Jeremiah promised that in 70 years their exile would come to an end and that God would, once again, bless them.

In other words, sometimes we have to trust God to do his work in the lives of our grandchildren. We may not see it in our lifetime. But, in time, God will show us that even this time of judgment was because of His love for us. He purges us and prunes us so we will, once again, bear fruit. I am now preparing for exile. I am asking God to help me to settle down and even prosper during this time. I want to learn new songs of lament. In the process, we will be deepened in our love, enlivened in our witness, and fruitful in our faith.

Dr. Timothy Tennent is President of Asbury Theological Seminary, which launched Seedbed resources. Wesleyan Accent is hosted by Seedbed and is pleased to reprint this piece originally found at www.timothytennent.com. 

Bishop Bill McAlilly ~ Growing Deeply

This sermon was preached at the opening worship service of a November meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

For six years I lived among live oak trees on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, weekly, I drove down Highway 90 between Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs, Mississippi – the “beach road” as we natives call it, where there were hundreds if not thousands of live oak trees that are massive in scope and scale.

These massive, majestic, evergreen trees (did you know they are from the evergreen family?) are the envy of every child who ever dreamed of the perfect tree to climb. The limbs hang low and those that have any age to them offer a sense of protection and permanence. If only I had had a tree house built in one of those when I was ten!

The interesting thing that I learned while living amongst these massive trees was that the reason they were so strong, grew so tall, stretched so wide and offered such shade, was that their root system was deep and wide. We know the central root of any tree is the taproot. In a live oak the root is called an anchor root. It literally anchors the tree deep then grows wide with a root system that stretches around and around the tree, often four to seven times the diameter of the tree.

After Hurricane Katrina, though, some live oaks died. In fact, you can travel along the “beach road” from Louisiana to Alabama and see a hundred or more of these live oaks that died. Some creative artists have come along with a chain saw and carved magnificent art out of them. Beautiful in their own way, they have become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

I’ve wondered if that might be a metaphor for where we see ourselves in the church today. Some congregations are deeply rooted, engaged in mission and faithful discipleship. Others, once beautiful places of vibrant and vital community, are now artifacts or museums. There are many causes of such a decline. Times of drought, lack of proper nutrients and too many storms threaten trees. In congregations, decline is the result of an unwillingness to engage the neighborhood with the good news of Jesus Christ.

So the question I ponder in this season is: “Lord, are we rooted deeply enough in you that when the drought and storms come we will continue to bear fruit?”

The roots of my faith and life come from places where water is plentiful and trees grow large and tall, roots grow deep and branch out. I’ve learned over time, however, that storms will stunt and heat will scorch trees and fruit is sometimes scarce. It seems to me, this might be a place where we in the church find ourselves.

Jeremiah is clear. Blessings come when one roots one’s life in trust in the Lord. Old Testament theology does not distinguish greatly between trust and faith. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thy own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5) Seems like a simple, easy thing to do – to trust, to have faith. There have been a few times over the last fifteen months or so, as I’ve stepped into this new life as an Episcopal leader, when I’ve wondered if I’m rooted deeply enough, if my anchor will hold, if I’m planted closely enough to the source of living water.

Jeremiah didn’t have a College of Bishops or Council of Bishops or even an appointive cabinet to lean on. He was on his own. I wonder if he had, might he have said some things differently, prophesied with less vim and vigor? No, times were desperate and he was passionate. In fact, if you look at the first six verses of chapter seventeen, he wasn’t doling out blessings; just curses. Which, these days, if you are a Bishop, you understand quiet well.

In Jeremiah’s time, there was turmoil and exile. Hearts were hardened. The enemy lurked just outside the gate. He longed for more for his people. He longed for them to be planted deeply in the soil of faith in trust in the Lord. He knew that if he could call his people to a deeper life and more faithful trust in God, that when the hard times came, and they surely would – as surely as I’m planted by beautiful Lake Junaluska amidst these beautiful mountains – they would come. He knew if one was grounded deep in the heart of God, not one’s own heart, but in the heart of God, when the dry seasons came, fruit would still be born.

Like Jeremiah, we are in an awesome and definitive moment in the history of the Church and the world. When Jeremiah came on the scene, there was great anxiety in Jerusalem. In 587 B.C., the party was over. If we are paying any attention to our rhetoric and to our activity, we are caught in a similar place of anxiety. We live with war and rumors of war. We ask, when will the shootings end? How many children have to die? We Imagine No More Malaria yet we grieve with Bishop Unda in the loss of his daughter to the dreaded disease of Malaria.

We wrestle with immigration and we wonder, “How long, O Lord?” Regardless of the places the Church has sent us, “How long, O Lord, how long?” So we come together, seeking to be rooted in something deeper, something more profound than the shield of the Office of the Bishop.

And here Jeremiah spoke in a time of great need for the people of God. As Jeremiah stepped onto the stage of Biblical history, he was deeply rooted in the old memories of Moses, as they mediated in the teaching of Deuteronomy. The covenant was central to all Jeremiah taught and believed. The covenant – deep, demanding and intimate in relationship. (Bruggeman: A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, pg. 328) Jeremiah’s words must have been shocking to people who believed that you should only etch divine or good things on the heart. The central passage of one of their central books Deuteronomy provided as follows: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.”

And yet, we struggle. We work to clarify our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ only to discover we take one step forward and two steps back. We get crossed up with one another because we differ theologically on how to best navigate the changing cultural landscape as it relates to our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.

How shall we struggle to identify what keeps us rooted and grounded in our shared covenant even when we are not in agreement? How shall we “hang in there” with each other – not in spite of, but because of our different views? We share deep roots. Our Wesleyan heritage is rich and grounds us deeply in the love of God and love of neighbor. We share deep roots and from what I’ve noticed over the last fifteen months, our branches spread wide.

I give thanks to God that all of our branches don’t grow in the same direction. I wonder what it might mean to model personal integrity and authenticity in our differences while modeling how we commit to staying at the same table? In my own conference, I have reconciling congregations and congregations that hold “True Love Heals” conferences. Some of us feel called to be prophetic; others of us feel called to hold the tension of the opposites while we wait for God to reveal a solution. Others of us feel strongly that God has spoken.

What are we to do? How are we to navigate this impasse? We come together as a Council of Bishops, active and retired, torn by our own inability to find agreement on the best way forward and deeply divided by how best to live into the covenant of our ordination as elders and the covenant of our consecration as Bishops. As a Council, we mirror the great divide that exists politically and socially. We agree to disagree. We bend our covenants. Do we deepen our roots in Christ and in one another?

Then, here is Jeremiah; a poet who is acutely sensitive to the pain and failure of his community. Window dressing was not going to address the problems Judah faced. Window dressing will not be adequate for facing our differences this week and beyond. So Jeremiah sets out to tell a better story, to help Israel live a better story. To reposition and imagine a better future in terms of its commitment and reliance upon Yahweh.

Between a blessing and a prayer, Jeremiah spoke. Our trust in God draws us to trust in each other as rooted in God’s hope and love as people, as the Council of Bishops, as a Church. Blessed is the One who trusts in the Lord. Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed. Save me, O Lord, and I will be saved. (Jeremiah 17:14) This is one of several that Jeremiah prayed, really, as confession. Praying out of hurt, grief, anger, and a sense of acute danger, the poet prayed. How do we lead the church in this time in a great cultural change? What is our heart’s desire? How do we hold this tension between doing no harm and doing good?

Pain forces us to seek out a doctor. It is a characteristic of our human psychology that we only look for a savior when we are in trouble. (~Celebration, February 1983) Friends, we are in trouble. I’m reminded of the story of a man lying by the pool of Bethsaida who knows that the only time the healing will come is when the waters are stirred. Well, it’s been a long time since the waters have been this troubled in our church. How will we be made well? The constrictions of the human condition ‘force’ us to acknowledge our ultimate powerlessness. Nothing, nothing is sufficient for us – except God.” (~Celebration, February 1983)

We must risk being a part of the story. We can trust in ourselves, our priorities, our strengths and become like a shrub in the desert, with no relief, living in the parched places of the wilderness. (Jeremiah 17:6) Or, we can listen to Jeremiah who calls us to place our trust in the Lord who is the fountain of living water. So that we are like a tree planted by the water whose roots grow deep in loving God and loving what God loves. For me, it is incredibly difficult – this notion of surrendering. Every day I wake up and pray, “Today, Lord, I surrender,” but by lunchtime, I’m large and in charge! Is this really what Jeremiah is after in his prayer for healing? To surrender?

I believe Jeremiah is calling us to a deeper life, a deeper place than we have been. Shall WE be so bold to proclaim that WE have all the answers? On the one hand we don’t want to give way on important moral issues. On the other hand we don’t want to give way to our need to be right, to be superior, and to be in control. Sounds a bit like original sin to me. My sense in this moment is that our task is at a minimum to learn to withstand the storm, the winds, the rain, the flood, and become who God is calling us to be in this moment.

In recent days, I have turned to the familiar words of Thomas Merton, “I don’t know if I’ve ever done your will. All I know is that I want to do your will. I’m not certain I’m pleasing you. All I know is that I desire to please you.” Isn’t that what we ALL desire? To live in God’s will like a tree planted, deeply rooted and grounded in God’s love.

Wherever we find ourselves on this theological continuum, we are called to a mystery of transformation. (Richard Rohr, pg. 36, Hope Against Darkness) It is a mystery, this life with God in Christ Jesus, who for the sake of all of us, walked the way of suffering all the way to the cross. So when we place our lives before the cross, none of us is in charge, none of us in control, nor was Jesus. On the cross, someone else is in control. Someone else is in charge. Someone else understands.

After Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf coast, we were no longer in control. Gone were our homes, cars, stuff and churches. All we had was each other and our faith in Jesus Christ. Today, a storm is brewing around us, maybe in ways that we have not seen in forty years. It is a storm that we cannot control, try as we might.

This morning I received a devotion in my email inbox. It captured my mind with these words: “We are not going to solve today’s difficulties with “either/or” thinking.” That will lead to more information but will also lead to splitting. Splitting institutions, even splitting within an individual. It will not lead to wholeness, which is the understanding of salvation in the Old Testament. In fact, most of us are divided within ourselves this week. So we must go down on our knees and into the mess in order for us to move through to that new place where God is leading.

At the end of the day, if we fail to hold on to one another, if we fail to surrender to God, and if we fail to be deeply rooted in the deep love, the love of Christ Jesus, we will miss the grand opportunity that lies before us. How shall we live together and what shall our witness be?

Heal us, and we will be healed.

Save us, and we will be saved.

And then, then our hearts will be pure.