A couple weeks ago I was having dinner with some friends. Several topics from the news were scattered throughout the meal:
Fires raging through the west. Through the Amazon. Through parts of Europe
The shattered prospects for the women and girls of Afghanistan
Proliferating hate groups
The compounded tragedies of Haiti
And so on.
A subject emerged, each of us offered a couple sentences. Then there would be a brief, awkward pause. And then conversation shifted back toward safer ground. It’s as if we had a silent pact to not ruin our meal and all of our conversation by focusing on subjects that are painful, overwhelming, and prone to generate a sense of despair.
Jeremiah would not have been a welcome guest at such a meal. Or anyone like him. The prophet Jeremiah, as you’ve just heard, was not the sort of person to touch upon a devastating subject and then drop it out of politeness or weariness or a desire for denial. He was not interested in being polite and delicate. This prophet spent decades urging the people of Israel to honor their covenant with God, follow the ways of faithful justice. He insisted upon bearing honest witness to the pain and devastation surrounding him. And he wouldn’t shut up about any of it…which earned him a lot of personal suffering and ridicule.
He wasn’t welcome at very many dinner tables of his time. Or, really, anywhere else. He insisted upon naming the horrors of the day. He repeatedly attributed those horrors to falling away from the ways of the Holy. To idolatry. He wouldn’t be silent about any of it. He wouldn’t change the subject in more palatable directions after an awkward pause…
In today’s scripture, for example, he describes the wake of warfare. A puppet king of Israel installed by the Babylonians got too full of himself and attempted a rebellion. Like any empire, the Babylonians didn’t like that. So they ravaged the nation…this cycle of rebellions being subdued went on for a while. Eventually the Babylonians entirely destroyed Jerusalem and hauled its people into exile.
Misled by leaders who have abandoned God, the people suffer deeply. The earth itself suffers beyond measure. For the ancient Israelites, the price of forgetting their covenant…the price of forgetting the Holy One among them…is high.
The earth itself has been uncreated…it is waste and void. Humans have undone the work of God. In this passage, the cosmos has been returned to its original state of chaos, returned to the void that God hovered over in Genesis.
There is no light
The mountains are shaken at their foundations
Birds have disappeared
The land is barren
Bearing witness to all of this causes great agony for Jeremiah. And anger. And tears. Look! He says over and over again. Look at what is happening. God’s creation has unraveled. Look at what we have wrought.
Two and a half millennia later, his message could easily be the same. Only perhaps even more urgent. We are witness to centuries of misplaced faith in the idols of profit, nation, militarism, hate, and hubris. We are unmaking creation as it has existed throughout all of human history. When we let ourselves feel what is going on, the suffering of the earth and its creatures is enough to bring on pangs of agony and tears of sorrow.
So we may not look. We may not listen to the Jeremiahs among us.
We may not want to see what there is to see. Really.
But the message of the prophet is clear. Because in order to change…in order to alter direction…in order to repent…we first have to look honestly at the ruin around us….Look at what is being lost and laid waste by human error.
But here’s the thing. Jeremiah could look honestly at the catastrophes of his time and place because he knew love. His sorrow and anger sprang from a deep love. Love of God. God’s love for him. Love of the covenant and the deep community it was meant to create. Love of people. He could look at daunting realities and still know that love endures. Forgiveness endures. Divine presence endures.
After every rant, Jeremiah returns again to the ultimate grace of the Creator. Just as he does in today’s scripture.
Look at all this ruin.
Look at the price of human foolishness.
And remember, also, that God will not yet make a full end to it. Because…well…love
There can be a re-creation. A new creation.
That is the basis of our faith
We need only to act upon it because…
What happens is a consequence of our actions. The world is in our hands. And we are held in love, empowered by love, called to love.
Because of that love, we must stick to difficult conversations….
Because of that love, we must look at things we would rather ignore
Because of that love, we must challenge the institutions destroying the world
Because of that love, we dare to begin reconstituting the world…
The price of doing otherwise, the price of forgetting God’s presence among us in the world, is much too high…
-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk
Sermon September 11
“The Price of Forgetting the Sacred”