What do you do when the world you grew up in changes beyond all recognition? What do you do when the institutions that you have relied upon appear to be breaking apart? What do you do when your society is threatened by forces that are beyond your control? How can one go on when your community is devouring itself through conflict? These are all questions the prophet Jeremiah wrestled with as he followed God's call to bring God's Word to a people in crisis.
The prophet Jeremiah was called to be God's voice to the people of Israel while their society was falling apart from within and being assailed from without by the superpowers of the day. As a prophet, he was not called so much to predict the future, but rather tell the truth about what God was doing right in the moment Israel was living through. This was no easy task for him then, or us today. As a prophet who served in trying times, Jeremiah has much to say to anyone facing adversity now.
At times, Jeremiah would be called to bring a hard word that told people where they were going astray and accelerating the decline of their community, such as when he spoke: "But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit." Jeremiah 2:11 (NRSV). Jeremiah would often face the anger of the community because of the message he had to bring. He would lament his isolation from, and ostracization by his community. Other times, Jeremiah would be caught up in the conflicts of a divided society. One faction, angry that he had chosen the wrong side, would abduct him and take him into exile in Egypt. (Chapter 43) What the community could not realize as it lived into its worst fears, is the love that Jeremiah had for God and the people he served. Jeremiah suffered because he loved his people and his land and would not give up on either.
Yet, through all of this adversity Jeremiah remains a prophet of hope. When the chips are down, he puts his money where his mouth is and invests in his community. (chapter 32) When given the offer to seek safety in Babylon, he decides to follow God stay with the people in Jerusalem despite the risk. (chapter 40) He ends up being abducted (chapter 43) because he tells the people not to flee, but to trust in the power of God. He gives messages of hope to those who have been exiled to Babylon, to open their eyes to the power of God's Spirit, which is stronger than any of the forces of the age.
This hope is culminated in Jeremiah's vision of a New Covenant written on people's hearts where they no longer have to guess what God's thinking because they will know God with an intimacy we can only imagine. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33 (NRSV)
So, if you have courage to look at where the faults of our time may be and if you have the desire to find hope in surprising places, I invite you to follow the story of Jeremiah with us this fall in worship and study. For in our time we are seeing pressures from without and pressures from within that threaten to devour us and our world. Yet, like the prophet we hold onto the promise of healing (chapter 8). I pray that by reading, contemplating, studying and praying about God's Voice in the time of Jeremiah we can find the hope of what God may be saying to us today. Come along with us at Holy Cross Sundays 10 AM this fall.