Who Are We Listening To? (Jeremiah 23:9-22)

My head is reeling,
    my limbs are limp,
I’m staggering like a drunk,
    seeing double from too much wine—
And all because of God,
    because of his holy words.

Now for what God says regarding the lying prophets:

“Can you believe it? A country teeming with adulterers!
    faithless, promiscuous idolater-adulterers!
They’re a curse on the land.
    The land’s a wasteland.
Their unfaithfulness
    is turning the country into a cesspool,
Prophets and priests devoted to desecration.
    They have nothing to do with me as their God.
My very own Temple, mind you—
    mud-spattered with their crimes.” God’s Decree.
“But they won’t get by with it.
    They’ll find themselves on a slippery slope,
Careening into the darkness,
    somersaulting into the pitch-black dark.
I’ll make them pay for their crimes.
    It will be the Year of Doom.” God’s Decree.

“Over in Samaria I saw prophets
    acting like silly fools—shocking!
They preached using that no-god Baal for a text,
    messing with the minds of my people.
And the Jerusalem prophets are even worse—horrible!—
    sex-driven, living a lie,
Subsidizing a culture of wickedness,
    and never giving it a second thought.
They’re as bad as those wretches in old Sodom,
    the degenerates of old Gomorrah.”

So, here’s the Message to the prophets from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“I’ll cook them a supper of maggoty meat
    with after-dinner drinks of strychnine.
The Jerusalem prophets are behind all this.
    They’re the cause of the godlessness polluting this country.”

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Don’t listen to the sermons of the prophets.
    It’s all hot air. Lies, lies, and more lies.
They make it all up.
    Not a word they speak comes from me.
They preach their ‘Everything Will Turn Out Fine’ sermon
    to congregations with no taste for God,
Their ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You’ sermon
    to people who are set in their own ways.

“Have any of these prophets bothered to meet with me, the true God?
    bothered to take in what I have to say?
    listened to and then lived out my Word?
Look out! God’s hurricane will be let loose—
    my hurricane blast,
Spinning the heads of the wicked like tops!
    God’s raging anger won’t let up
Until I’ve made a clean sweep,
    completing the job I began.
When the job’s done,
    you’ll see that it’s been well done.

“I never sent these prophets,
    but they ran anyway.
I never spoke to them,
    but they preached away.
If they’d have bothered to sit down and meet with me,
    they’d have preached my Message to my people.
They’d have gotten them back on the right track,
    gotten them out of their evil ruts. (The Message)

Jeremiah had a hard gig as a prophet of the Lord. And what made it especially difficult was the continual stream of false prophets, preaching their “everything will turn out just fine” sermons in the face of economic injustice, social unrighteousness, emotional denial, and spiritual adultery.

Methinks that Martin Luther King, Jr. must have felt a kinship with the prophet Jeremiah. After all, he was much like a modern-day prophet. In word and deed, he kept asking people to close the distance between the values they espoused and their actual behavior. 

The terrible treatment King and his allies received during the civil rights movement through non-violent marches and demonstrations, brought-out the awful gap between espoused American values of freedom, fairness, and tolerance, and the reality that Blacks really did not possess these in any manner close to the white population. 

Every prophetic ministry compels people to come face-to-face with the disparity between beliefs and behaviors.

Jeremiah knew all about the gulf between expressed values and actual conduct. And he faced a very large chasm between the two. 

Like Reverend King, Jeremiah was imprisoned, had rocks thrown at him, and was jeered for his message of calling people to live up to God’s agenda for humanity. 

White supremacy, or at least white privilege, was taken for granted in much of America before King. In the same way, Israelite privilege was taken for granted in Jerusalem, in Jeremiah’s day. Unfaithful prophets kept proclaiming Jewish supremacy and insisted that the Lord would be on their side of things. 

But the Lord insisted that these supposed prophets have neither attended a meeting of any divine council in heaven nor ever heard God speak to them.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who create dissensions and hindrances, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. (Romans 16:17-18, NRSV)

The spirit of the age simply accepted power, privilege, and pedigree as the norm that ought to always endure. But God thinks differently about it. And so, the Lord sends prophets to call people back to justice, righteousness, and peace for the benefit of all persons.  

The zeitgeist of our own age is one of turmoil, uncertainty – and even chaos, violence, and death. We have our own contemporary self-appointed prophets who proclaim peace where there is no peace; safety, at the expense of others’ protection; militant forms of xenophobia; and an American exceptionalism which places a thin veneer of respectability over the graves of dead people’s bones.

The Lord will not contend with this forever.

An exercise in healthy introspection would be to consider these questions:

  • What are our most cherished values?
  • Where did we get them? Who are we listening to?
  • Are they God’s values? 
  • Who is really in control as the arbiter of values?
  • How might godly values of justice, righteousness, and peace be expressed in our everyday actions and behaviors?
  • Will we seek to engraft such values into our organizations, systems, faith communities, neighborhoods, and governments?
  • Can we work together in humility?
  • Do we have the courage to change, to share power, and to seek the common good of all persons?

Lord, have mercy, and grant us your peace.

All-Seeing God, you know the true state of every heart and every people group. Do your work of making me holy in all I do and say so that your values, and the words and ways of Jesus, might be expressed through me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 John 2:12-17 – Where Is Your Love Aimed?

I am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God lives in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (New International Version)

The true measure of one’s Christian belief and commitment is the direction of their love.

We all love. Its part of being a human. Where our love is oriented is the real issue. The trajectory of love is the best measurement of faith and belief.

To love our fellow humanity, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the neighbors around us, is to live in the light. It is the distinguishing mark of following Jesus. To hate humanity, to downplay love and dismiss it amongst believers, and to ignore the neighbors God placed us around, is to live in darkness.

A Christian is one who has received the love of God in Christ. Because of Divine Love, they know they are forgiven and have eternal life. They know, experience, and feel the permanence of godly love flowing powerfully in and through them to the glory of God.

Christians trust their gut, informed by the conscience testifying to the importance of love, and the Spirit sanctifying them with the primary tool of love.

So, when some folks come along and place a heavy emphasis on cognitive belief, eschewing the heart and the gut, it ought to raise some saved and sanctified eyebrows. To merely affirm a doctrinal statement, then turn around and aim love in the wrong direction, is to affirm a wrong belief. To hate people and love the world is just plain heretical.

The term “world” in the New Testament has differing meanings according to the context. Jesus stated that God so loved the “world” that he gave his only Son. That’s a reference to people, the entire mass of humanity on this planet. John, however, typically uses “world” as the antonym to the church, as if it were an evil opposite.

In our New Testament lesson for today, the term “world” are the patterns, systems, and operations of the world which are in direct contrast to how God operates and how the church ought to function. To love humanity is to hate the world and do God’s will. To love the world is to hate others and adopt a devilish agenda. For example:

  • The world engages in revenge and payback when wronged, whereas the Christian learns to believe God as the Judge, loves the person who has offended them through prayer for their enemy, and obeys God through good works that seeks the welfare of the other. 
  • The world uses other people as either objects of their pleasure or to get ahead in life, whereas the Christian believes God will take care of their needs, will seek to love the other person instead of use them, and would rather obey God than be selfish. 
  • The world thinks nothing of lying, cheating, and stealing, if they can get away with it, whereas the Christian believes Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, loves being a person of integrity, and obeys God even when it hurts.

Love in the Bible always begins with God’s love for people. This is the fundamental starting point for love because without God’s love, our love doesn’t get very far.

The world hates. God loves. Many people in this cruel and calloused world are unloving and unkind because they lack knowing that God loves them. If we do not believe or know that God infinitely loves us, then our words and our actions will reflect more hate than love.

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

Christianity does not come into existence by knowing some belief statements about Jesus. Rather, Christianity exists when individuals experience the white-hot burning love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus came not only for those who skip church and only occasionally read their Bibles, but also came for the hard-hearted prick, the immoral adulterer, the strung-out addict, the terrorist, the murderer, and for all those caught up in bad choices and failed relationships. 

God’s love is not based on our performance, how good we look to others, nor conditioned by our moods. The love of God only looks longingly at you and me with the potential of what we can become in Christ and cares for us as we are.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Christianity never begins with what we do for God to make ourselves lovely for him. Instead, Christianity always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wonderful love that exists for us in Christ Jesus.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4, NIV)

All the wrong turns in the past, the mistakes and the moral lapses, everything that is ugly or painful all melts in the light of God’s acceptance and love for us. It makes loving the world seem distasteful, like trying to eat sand. Love for God and neighbor is the true source of doing God’s will and the true measure of Christian belief.

In what direction is your love aimed today?

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 101 – The Ethics of King David

I will sing to you, Lord!
    I will celebrate your kindness
    and your justice.
Please help me learn
    to do the right thing,
    and I will be honest and fair
    in my own kingdom.

I refuse to be corrupt
or to take part
    in anything crooked,
    and I won’t be dishonest
    or deceitful.

Anyone who spreads gossip
    will be silenced,
    and no one who is conceited
    will be my friend.

I will find trustworthy people
    to serve as my advisors,
    and only an honest person
    will serve as an official.

No one who cheats or lies
    will have a position
    in my royal court.
Each morning I will silence
    any lawbreakers I find
    in the countryside
    or in the city of the Lord. (Contemporary English Version)

King David was one serious dude when it came to dealing with wickedness and injustice. He had a zero tolerance policy toward people who were deceitful and proud. David was determined to deal with slanderous and arrogant people. He sought to establish a rule and reign based in his own personal integrity and practice of being a king who seeks after what is right and just.

And so, David refused to take a second look at corrupt people and things which degraded and debased others. He gathered around himself officials who genuinely care about kindness and justice.

David was not about to put up with anyone in his court who had personal agendas of power and privilege at the expense of the powerless.

For David, a diligent and conscientious application of God’s just and right law was absolutely necessary to a benevolent reign in which everyone felt secure and were able to enjoy the Promised Land. Corrupt officials had no place in the kingdom and would be summarily dealt with.

Unfortunately, there are far too many leaders in our world today who create cultures of fear, insecurity, and walking on eggshells. They are crafty and deceitful, actually using organizational codes of morality and ethics to hide their damaging and destructive effect on people.

We may not be kings like David, yet we can share his stance of not avoiding the evil in front of us and dealing with corruption, dishonesty, and disingenuous behavior from others, especially those in positions of power and authority. Toxic authority figures actively isolate us, making us feel stupid and incompetent and afraid to share our struggles with others, so that they can maintain all of the power. 

How, pray tell, might us lowly persons take on those with leverage and power over us, whether they be job bosses, church pastors, local politicians, or family members?

  • Do everything from a place of integrity. Seek the Lord in doing the right thing. Ultimate power belongs to God, not some puny person who is master of a small world.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9, NIV)

  • Refuse to play their game. Don’t resort to gossip, backbiting, or displays of your own supposed power. Be just, kind, wise, and, most of all, humble. Virtue will serve you well. Vice will not.

Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships. (Proverbs 16:28, GNT)

  • Keep in mind that niceness is often used by corrupt leaders to keep others under their thumb. Dishonest and deceitful people are not necessarily bullying. They’ll use whatever means they can to get their way.

Flattery is nothing less than setting a trap. (Proverbs 29:5, CEV)

  • It is always our place to love, not judge. King Jesus is the Judge, not me, not you. Loving an unlovable person can only happen if we have a love for God which is able to see God’s image in every person we encounter, including that difficult leader. In the end, they will be held accountable – whether in this life, or in the one to come. Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” (Matthew 5:43-44, CEB)

  • Watch your back. Yes, we are to trust in the Lord. That doesn’t mean we implicitly trust everyone and/or every organization. Jesus said:

“Listen! I am sending you, and you will be like sheep among wolves. So be smart like snakes. But also, be like doves and don’t hurt anyone. Be careful!” (Matthew 10:16-17a, ERV)

We all, like King David of old, need an unequivocal commitment to a zero tolerance policy toward evil. It is simply unacceptable to flirt with it. Whatever we must do to remind ourselves of righteousness, and whatever boundaries we need to set, is most necessary, because no one who practices deceit will dwell in the Lord’s house.

Holy God of justice, I will make a covenant with my eyes to set before them no vile thing. Help me to be strong in your mighty power so that my daily walk of faith in Jesus is righteous, free of guilt, and enjoyable.  Amen.