The last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the Assyrians thrashing on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with prophets Micah and Isaiah telling them what is going to befall them if they don’t get their act together and pay attention to God and God’s desires. God’s desires for silly little things like seeking justice, doing kindness, and walking humbly with God. You know, those minor things that God is pretty clear about wanting from us. We want to make sacrifices to God to earn our way and keep God happy but what God wants is not sacrifice but for our hearts to be transformed. The kingdoms didn’t catch on and the Assyrians wiped them out, taking them away from their promised lands into exile.
Now we’re a couple of hundred years later. The southern kingdom of Judah had been returned from their Assyrian exile but quickly lapsed back into their old ways. Rather than learning the hard way, they chose to not learn the hard way. Much like a couple of hundred years earlier, they’re going to find out once again that straying away from God’s desires leaves them vulnerable to outside interference. In this case, it is the Babylonians who have come in and thrashed the kingdom of Judah taking most of the residents there into captivity. Not learning from their previous experience, history has repeated itself upon the people.
And they’re not happy about it. The people are reasonably certain that in their current predicament it is God who has forsaken them. They’ve been stripped of their property, possessions and wealth and carted off to a foreign land and they don’t like it very much. For that matter, we likely wouldn’t enjoy that very much. Think about your stuff and where you are located. Now think about not having any of your stuff and being located in an unfamiliar place. Even if we were exiled to Canada where most speak the same language and are very polite, we wouldn’t like losing our stuff and being forced to move. So the people are left with a feeling of being abandoned by God.
Now, it could be said they could own their situation. They could take responsibility for the errors of their ways and the failings of their hearts. They could be honest with themselves and their failings and recognize that living outside of what God desires for us leaves us vulnerable to pretty much about anything. This isn’t victim blaming. This isn’t sinner shaming. This isn’t a wrathful God punishing them. It’s the reality of the law of consequences for the people when they chose not to live by God’s word. A word that wants the best for them. And for us.
That’s where Jeremiah comes in. Another prophet bringing God’s word to the people. A word from God to people in a difficult situation.
Not that they necessarily want to hear it. That’s the bind that Jeremiah finds himself in. The people around him are not happy with God and Jeremiah doesn’t particularly want to get in the middle of all that. That’s why he is pushing back that he is only a young person and can have no voice. He’s not right about that and God lets him know in no uncertain terms. Go where I tell you, say what I want you to say, and all will be well. Trust me on this one, God says.
These folks are hiding behind these words that Jeremiah warns them with, “4Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” They think that all they have to do is be in the building or hide behind being temple people and that’ll be enough. Meanwhile, they’re out living out all the things that God said not to do. And wondering why things aren’t going well. Wondering why it feels like God has abandoned them.
Listen to what God asks them, 5For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6if 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, 7then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. This isn’t God threatening to abandon people if they don’t toe the line. This is God asking people, maybe begging people depending on the tone, to do these things so that they don’t put roadblocks in their path to connecting to God. God wants to be in a relationship with us and God’s going to be there one way or the other. The question is, much like our question this past Tuesday night, will we be there, will we be present to be with God? If we don’t act justly, if we oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow. If we shed innocent blood in this place, and if we go after other gods, what space have we made for our God?
God will never abandon us. God will never leave us. God will always be present. Our eternal and never ending question is, will we be present with God? Will we follow God and will we make space for God? Or do we do what we do and ignore God, and God’s ways, when it’s convenient to do so and turn to God when we find ourselves in a situation of needing God?
The danger is not in God leaving us. The danger is not in missing out on the kingdom of God in heaven. Christ assured us of that already. Whatever we may have done or not done we have confessed our sins, and will again in a few minutes, and will again next week and every week. The danger is missing out on the kingdom of God on earth. Here’s where we are and where we experience God. Or not.
Our faith is a gift from God. Our forgiveness is a gift from God. Our lives are a gift from God. Whether we respond to those gifts by living into God’s will is our choice. I suspect if the people of Jeremiah’s time had the ability to turn back the clock they would have made different choices to live by God’s word. Today and tomorrow, we can learn from the prophet Jeremiah’s words, we can learn from the people’s history and we can learn to choose wisely.