Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sorting Through the Information Swamp.

Lectionary Passages for June 29, 2014. Jeremiah 28:5-9, Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6: 12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

 Jeremiah doesn't give up. Even though he's been put in stocks for his unpopular message, he goes right back at it when he is released.

Chapter 28 continues the story of his struggle, but it can be hard for us to understand if we read the lectionary bits in isolation from the surrounding context. We also don't tend to spend much time reading Jeremiah, so it can seem kind of archaic and very far removed from today's concerns.

However, the message here is screamingly relevant as we try to navigate the information swamp that is our digital world. Jeremiah is only one voice among a number of prophets. How are people supposed to figure out who to listen to? What information is correct? Who speaks for God?

Hannaniah prophesies that Babylon's control will be broken, that articles taken from the temple at Jerusalem 3 years earlier will be returned, and that all exiles will return. This is exactly what people want to hear. Independence sounds good and the priests want their control (and wealth) back. Doesn't this sound like a campaign speech? It's an easy message to speak because it speaks to people's hopes, and it promises immediate relief. Jeremiah (v5-6) would like this to be the case, and responds diplomatically, saying "may the Lord make it so!" (although there may be sarcasm too!) Then he goes on with the message no one wants. He tells them they should accept the yoke of Babylon for now, (in chapter 27 he actually started wearing a wooden yoke as a visual aid to his message) it will be generations before they will be free. Jeremiah does offer hope-eventually they will be restored, but his immediate message is to peaceably accept foreign rule, to build houses and plant gardens. They are to settle in, not fight the Babylonians.

Jeremiah accuses Hannaniah and others of lying to the people with too good to be true messages-messages that were more about their own aspirations than God's. He urges them to think about whose message lines up with God's prophets from the past. He also tells them that the true prophet will be known by the prediction coming true.  Later that year, as Jeremiah predicted, Hannaniah dies.

There is so much here that is relevant as we struggle to understand and sort through the many messages we receive today. Jeremiah's guidelines are helpful. Are messages in line with what we know of history and God's story in our past? Are we too easily convinced by what we would like to believe instead of doing the proper discernment and practical thinking that leads to good choices? Finally, do we pay attention to predictions and outcomes and then learn from these as we go forward?

Too often we simply believe the convenient, most immediately hopeful message and ignore the real prophets because we don't like their message. Climate change is a good example. We know we need to change our lifestyles, but it's easier to simply believe in the next  new energy saving technology instead. We ignore history (think Easter Island) and keep believing that someone somewhere will invent a solution. Perhaps a better start to a solution is to look at God's word-to love others, to only use what we need, to care for the poor.

The Matthew 10 piece is an interesting "chaser" to the Jeremiah. The "little ones" referred to aren't children or the outcast as we often assume. They are the prophets and righteous people! Like Jeremiah, they often have a hard road, they've spoken tough messages, they've incurred hard feelings. It's likely not an easy thing for someone to step forward and offer the compassion symbolized by the cup of cold water. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, the first leaders. They will have a hard road too-blessed be the ones who help them! Was there anyone who offered a "cup of cold water" to Jeremiah?  I guess I have to keep reading to find out.

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