This does not seem to be a good time to celebrate. For a few decades now, Americans have engaged in increasingly bitter political battles. Every four years when it’s time to elect a president we think, “Can it get any worse?” And then this year happened!
So much screaming at one another. Hateful, ultra-partisanship politically and socially and religiously. Anybody who is remotely conceived to be different, foreign, non- or un-American is attacked as an “other.” “They” apparently are on the side of evil and all the “we” folks must, then, be on God’s side.
Coincidentally, this fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon falls on a Sunday. And so should a preacher tasked with discerning and speaking a “word of God” to her or his congregation focus on that, or on one of the lectionary scriptures, or somehow attempt to intertwine it all even if it takes a giant leap of theological effort? Or maybe just stand before the congregation and pray for 15 minutes, seeking mercy and peace and reconciliation? (I’m just glad I have only to write a blog, not preach a sermon as part of a worship service.)
Still, into all that I read words from Jeremiah 4, from a very different time and place: “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
The truly amazing thing is that God didn’t give up on those people so long ago. They would have to experience a cleansing fire, so to speak, a time in exile. It would be a time when they would no longer know how to sing the songs of Zion in a strange and foreign land. Yet God would rescue them–again. Just as God had done for God’s people in Egypt, and as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah. Once more God would find these children of Abraham, like lost sheep or coins that have slipped behind sofa cushions (see the lectionary passage from Luke 15 for those stories).
“For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.”
What marvelous words those are: “I have spoken, I have purposed.” They remind me a lot of prophetic words from Isaiah:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” –Isaiah 55:10-11 NRSV
We human beings have such an amazing ability to do stupid stuff. We demonize strangers. We cause pain and heartache. We build walls. We burn books (thinking, I suppose, that ideas will be consumed, as well). We go to war. We think we’re at the center of the universe, the people God cares about most. We consistently set to one side all the truly wonderful things we could rejoice about, just so we can focus on what makes others different from us. How “we” are better than, holier than, more loved than “them.”
Three thousand people died on that awful Tuesday morning fifteen years ago (yes, it’s been that long!). Tens, or perhaps more likely hundreds of thousands more have been killed since, many in God’s name. Countless numbers of others have been wounded physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. They’re left homeless and hungry and alone. It’s enough to make any of us give up hope. Yet I keep coming back to those words: “I have spoken, I have purposed.”
If there’s a reason to celebrate today, that may be it.