Friday, 13 June 2014

Scared to be a Jeremiah

Lectionary passages for June 22, 2014.  Jeremiah 20:7-13, Psalm 69: 7-18, Romans 6:1b-11, Matt. 10:24-39

Jeremiah is a role model, a man of God who does the right thing even when it hurts. In verses 1-19 (essential background to today's reading), one of the head priests, Pashhur, took exception to his prophecies and had Jeremiah put into stocks overnight, displayed like a criminal at a major city gate. As soon as Jeremiah is released, he renames Pashhur, calling him "terror all-around." Then Jeremiah resumes his unpopular work. Why keep going with the unpopular message, even throwing gas on the fire, knowing it won't be listened to and you will be hurt?

Our lectionary passage picks up here, with Jeremiah doing some introspection. He acknowledges that his work brings derision from others. Even his friends are watching him like vultures (v 10) and he wishes he hadn't been born (v 14 and following). He feels deceived/persuaded (NIV), and enticed (NRSV) by God into this difficult, no win job. He'd rather not have this work, but the message inside him has to get out..."within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones, I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot."

Jeremiah's job is eating him alive, why does he stay the course?  In the middle of his lament, we find a remarkable bit that helps to explain his perseverance. In verses 12-13, he acknowledges that God tests the righteous and looks into their hearts and minds. Jeremiah is at peace, because he is committed to God. Then he praises God for caring about the needy. I assume he includes himself as among the needy, but this certainly isn't only, or even primarily, about Jeremiah's situation. Jeremiah is always about the larger picture, the end goal.

Wow. In the midst of his turmoil, Jeremiah is able to do it all. He releases frustration by ranting about the unfairness, accepts his lot and commits to doing what he is called to do, he thinks about others, and he moves forward in the certain hope that God cares.

Few of us are ever as important as Jeremiah, but we have all faced situations where doing the right thing, or speaking up with what others don't want to hear, is excruciatingly hard. It is easier to be quiet when we fear we might be attacked for speaking.  That quietness, however, can be damaging too-maybe not to ourselves personally, but to the community.

I heard a story on the radio this week about a woman in Sherwood Park who has a mom's work-out club in her garage. Some neighbours are protesting. While I'm not sure of all the details, bylaws, thing really stuck out to me. The woman said she was unaware of the concerns of her neighbours until city officials were involved. She said that no one approached her personally to talk about their concerns before she was reported. When she attended a "secret" meeting of neighbours (to which she had not been invited) she said she felt lynched there.

That is sad. Not surprising, but sad. Concerns should have been brought personally as a first step. Perhaps misunderstandings could have been avoided. Instead, the quietness, the secret alliance gathering, and the anonymous reporting had created a huge issue, a media story, and likely all sorts of misinformation and misunderstandings flying around  and causing major hurts instead of minor, more treatable, irritations.

Of course, a personal connection may not have worked. It would have felt risky for the person confronting this woman. But where do we put personal "safety" on the line to open conversation, share information, and engage well in community discernment?

Another example is that of David Suzuki. No matter what you might think of him personally, he has been an important contemporary prophet. He has consistently raised concerns about human treatment of the environment even in the face of derision.

How are each of us called to speak up to issues and difficulties in our own environments? Do we stay quiet even when there is fire in our bones?

Psalm 69 echoes Jeremiah's plight, but like Jeremiah, the Psalmist is still able to praise God. Romans 6 speaks of being so in tune with Christ that we die and rise with him-and Jesus certainly didn't hold back under threat! Matthew 10 approaches conflict with humility and fearlessness-a commendable combination!

These scriptures certainly encourage speaking up when it is needed, but the costs are clear. Most of us, maybe even all of us, are rightfully scared to be a Jeremiah-but if that is what we are called by God to do, we have to give up the wearying job of holding it in and speak up with the kind of humility and conviction Matthew talks about.

PS: I apologize for being slow to post Lectionary Reflectionary in the last few weeks. The June rush of kid's concerts, summer worship preparations, meetings, etc....has me scrambling a bit. I know I'm not alone with the feeling of longing for the slower pace of summer to arrive!

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