"We are here not only to transform the world but also to be transformed." Parker J. Palmer
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Thursday, October 6, 2011
Mammoth Diaries, Day 1
I am nestled in a warm cabin for five glorious days of rest and pure relaxation. Unexpectedly, we were greeted by early snow -- the first of the season. After a week of 70's and 80's at home, this is a pleasant shock!
The snowfall muffles everything with its pillowy calm. I spent the morning drinking coffee and reading various things. In my devotions, I landed in the Book of Jeremiah.
This is what the Lord says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’
That last line is a killer. I don't want to be like Israel in Jeremiah's time. It's the opening lines of this message beckon me. Lord, I do ask for the "old, godly way," and certainly want to walk in it.
So what is the "old, godly way"?
The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:
“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!”
But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.
Stunning words. This is all the more poignant for me because just yesterday I had a discussion with 70 high school students on this very topic. I am currently teaching on the Gospel of Mark in my class, and yesterday we were in Mark 7, where Jesus confronts the legalism of the Pharisees with surprising anger. He shames them boldly and then turns to the crowds, inviting them to hear:
“All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” (Mark 7:14-15)
One of the students said she doesn't like it when she is at church, or in school, and there are things being taught about God, but her mind and heart are somewhere else entirely. I pulled out an old tired (but still true) youth pastor-ism in response:
"Going to church (or a Christian school) makes you a Christian as much as going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger."
Certainly not an original thought, especially now when I read Jeremiah's prophecy from thousands of years ago, where he confronted the Israelites for the same thing! They found shallow comfort in going to the temple, hoping their presence there would cover a multitude of sins. In the same way, we must recognize that the ways we love (or don't love) our neighbor say much more about the states of our souls.
God told Jeremiah to tell God's people that we must admit that we cannot say we love God if the fruit of that love is not overflowing into our relationships and our communities. God was (and is!) angry with His people for not serving the poor, and for worshiping false gods. Perhaps we do not offer burnt offerings to other gods in 2011, but we certainly sit at the altars of things that we think will meet our needs... (can anyone say, iPhone 5?)
I kept reading this morning in Jeremiah, though I was feeling more convicted by the minute.
I listen to their conversations and don’t hear a word of truth. Is anyone sorry for doing wrong? Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”? No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle! Even the stork that flies across the sky knows the time of her migration, as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane. They all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know the Lord’s laws.
Lord, like storks, turtledoves, swallows and cranes, may we "migrate" back to you, our true home. May our hearts and minds be warm for your presence and your calling on our lives. And may that time in your presence, where we pay attention to your still, small voice, prompt us to go out and be your love in the world.