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.

Luke 12:22-31 – Do Not Worry

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (New International Version)

Worry is debilitating. It sucks the life out of us. And Jesus doesn’t want us to live that way. So, he makes it clear that we don’t have to.

Jesus cares about your whole life, not just the spiritual part. Your physical, mental, and emotional needs are also important to God. The Lord wants you and I to thrive and flourish in this life – free from worry.

In our anxiety about the future, Jesus guides us to embodying a non-anxious presence as we move from day to day.

Do Not Worry About Your Life

Worry is that sinking feeling you get whenever you face surgery; or your friend is depressed and suicidal; or someone close to you is diagnosed with major mental illness; or you lose a job, a spouse, a reputation, or a million other things that happen to us in this world. 

Jesus is not saying that we should never be concerned about the significant situations we face; what he is saying is that when we worry, we are displaying an inability to see beyond my own little world. We are exhibiting feelings about the future of which we know nothing about. And we are letting those feelings hinder us in our ability to serve God, express faith, love others, and function in well-being on a daily basis. 

We are to acknowledge those sinking feelings and face them, rather than ignoring them, wishing they would go away, or stuffing them down. Why acknowledge them?

Because Life Is More Than Food and Clothes

Whenever we experience worry about how the necessities of life are going to be met, let’s back up the truck and take a big picture view of what’s going on. 

We must remind ourselves that God cares for life itself, all of it. The Lord knows what it takes to live in this world and make it on this earth. If God cares about life, which is so valuable, he will sustain us with what we need to live that life.

Because God Cares for the Birds In Creation 

People are the apex of God’s creation. Since God cares for every other creature on this earth, and sustains their lives, the Lord will certainly care for us, as well. 

Worry begins to melt away, and replaced by faith, not when we try and work up feelings of trust, but when we take the time to observe creation – watching the birds and seeing how God takes care of them. 

Birds don’t worry; they just enjoy God’s providence. 

They work hard, but they aren’t farmers who do the work of planting and harvesting crops. Yet, God sustains them for what they need. So then, if God provides for small creatures that don’t even make plans to avoid starvation, how much more will the Lord sustain you!?

Because Worry Accomplishes Nothing 

Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do; but doesn’t get you anywhere – it’s not helpful.

Because God Cares for the Flowers and Grass In Creation 

God can dress the flowers better than we ever could dress ourselves (which is what your wife has been telling you for years). 

Jesus chooses flowers and grass because they clearly illustrate something that is not here for very long, as well as something that is fragile. 

The logic is from the lesser to the greater: If God cares for something as fragile and temporary as flowers and grass, how much more will he care for you, Jesus says, “you of little faith.”

Jesus links our worry with a small faith. 

Here’s how it happens: We have expectations in life about how things ought to go. If we have expectations based on God’s promises, then, when adverse circumstances come, we will tend toward responding in peace and with trust.

However, if we expect the future to turn out a certain way in order to be happy, then the worry sets in. As the worry seeps into the soul, we begin to take matters into our own hands. 

If the situation ends up not turning out how we want, then we start questioning if God is good, or not. We wonder if God really has our best interests at mind – or is even there, at all.

Tethering ourselves to specific outcomes, instead of specific promises, will come around to bite us in the backside every time. We must bank on God taking care of us, no matter the situation, with outcomes of divine design, and not our shortsighted half-baked human plans.

Do Not Worry About It 

Why?

Because Your Heavenly Father Knows What You Need 

Unlike other deities, who are aloof and do not pay attention to people, God always watches us and knows our every need. Fickle deities may or may not come through for people – which keeps their worshipers forever worrying about whether they’ll get their needs met, or not. 

To know God is to be a stranger to worry. Just as my girls used to jump from our stairway steps in a leap of faith – because they knew for sure that Dad was going to catch them – so also your heavenly Father is a trustworthy God.

Because the Necessities of Life Will Be Given To You

God’s business is to provide for our necessities; our business is to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.  The verb form of “seek” communicates a continuous action, that is, we are to keep on seeking. 

We are to continually seek God’s kingdom by:

  • Submitting to Christ’s lordship
  • Being obedient to kingdom values 
  • Praying, “your kingdom come”
  • Bringing all of life under the gracious authority of Christ
  • Dethroning wealth and possessions as our first pursuits, and instead, seeking heavenly treasure as defined by Jesus
  • Pursuing social reform, political reform, church reform, private and public institutional reform

We are to continually seek God’s righteousness by: 

  • Being peacemakers
  • Forgiving others
  • Showing mercy, instead of judgment 
  • Pursuing right relations with family members, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow parishioners 
  • Providing for the needs of others
  • Agitating for justice in every sphere of society
  • Proclaiming the gospel to all nations

For the believer, there is to be no room for worry because we are busy with kingdom business. Whenever we are diverted from seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, worry is sure to set in.

May God’s richest blessings rest upon you, as you seek to value what God values, and as you seek the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

John 6:41-51 – The Bread of Life

“I Am the Bread of Life” by Lebanese painter Joseph Matar

The Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (New International Version)

Christians everywhere hold to Jesus as the Son of God, Lord of the universe, and Savior of all.

However, for most people who were following Jesus around in the first century, this was not their understanding of Christ. In his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke in ways that introduced people to who he really was and sought to bring them to a point of following him based on his identity. 

Jesus wanted the crowds to see him for who he really is – themselves for what they really needed – and follow him based on the deepest needs of their lives.

I believe Jesus is the hope of all nations and all people, and in him humanity’s most basic and profound needs are met for forgiveness, love, and purpose in life. To address this, I ask three basic philosophical and theological questions of life:

What should human beings seek in life?

The responses in history are legion. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle thought a proper appreciation for an ethical and virtuous life found in practical wisdom was where people’s most concerted efforts should be. 

Karl Marx, the father of communism and socialism believed the proletariat should use their heads and their hands to rise above their economic conditions and oppression.

In the late 1960’s, Bobby Kennedy said we ought to be working the hardest to achieve justice and not advance ourselves on the misfortunes of others.

In more recent times, the Harvard Business Review is continually on the lookout for the best ways of being efficient, productive, and making the most of time because work itself is paramount.

Jesus insisted that people are not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life. Christ positioned himself as the bread of life – the one who is able to sustain humanity and enable to thrive and flourish in life.

By literally feeding thousands of people, Jesus wanted the people to understand the source of life itself comes from him. Jesus aspired beyond providing a supper for folks – he desired the people to feast on himself – to ingest him, to take him into their lives in a deep and profound way as the fulfillment of all the hope and promises of the Old Testament. 

“The Lord’s Supper” by Cameroon artist Jesus Mafa, 1973

Jesus is the bread, the basic staple of life, that meets the cravings and needs of all people everywhere. Starving people, in both body and soul, find in Jesus a meal which keeps on giving, a feast of grace that is both delectable and unending.

The answer to my own question is that, for me, one’s highest pursuit and greatest quest is Jesus. Apart from Christ, I will starve. Furthermore, Jesus is not some cheap fast food off a value menu; he is real soul food to be ingested and enjoyed with others.

I believe people need Jesus. A passionate seeking of Jesus, to follow him, live for him, center life around him, is my most ardent desire. I do not simply desire Jesus for what he can do for me; I vigorously chase after him because if I do not have Jesus, I will die, I will starve to death. 

For me, Jesus is so much more than a nice addition to my life, like a new puppy; Jesus is Lord and Savior. I must consume him, or I will be completely undone, and I will not survive! Jesus is my bread, my food, my life!  I cannot survive on a daily crumb, but I feast on every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus because in Christ there is the life that is truly life.

What should human beings do in life?

Believe. To have and keep faith in the One God has sent, Jesus, is the primary “work” that pleases God.

Jesus communicated to the crowd that they can do so much more than follow him for another earthly meal – they can place their faith and hope in him for food that will last, food that will transcend the three-dimensional world.

Faith is more than an intellectual recognition to some facts about Christianity.

Belief is not about always having clarity and certainty to every facet and loci of Christian doctrine. Rather, Christian faith is a complete trust in Jesus as our hope and our life.

Education, economic uplift, political stability, and institutional peace and justice are important activities for this world. For the Christian, the accomplishment of these and so much more comes from the grace of God in Christ. As people come to the end of themselves with their homebrewed and half-baked attempts at being satisfied, Jesus stands at the door and knocks, the Living Bread who offers himself for humanity’s deepest needs.

“The Last Supper” by Godefroy, 1482, C.E.

Giving kudos to Jesus might be nice, yet Christ himself cares about folks placing their trust in him for grace, forgiveness, and hope in their world. Jesus longs to reconnect people with God through giving himself as the means of making that happen.

All the works we do in this life, every good deed we accomplish, and each positive action we do are all helpful and necessary… and they all pale in comparison to the greatest work of all, to believe in Jesus Christ as the hope of this world, the hope of your family, the hope of the church, and the hope of your life. It’s all accessed by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

Church buildings and furniture, stained-glass windows, pews, and even the Bible are not Jesus – they are simply and hopefully signs which point to him. They are all designed to lead us to Christ so that we may come to him. And coming to Christ is what the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and any other description you want to give about ingesting Jesus is about. The elements of bread and cup bring us to Christ so that we can experience Jesus and be joined to him by faith in a mystical union of human and divine in the unseen heaven.

Conclusion

Where will you find true satisfaction and hope? Probably not in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart. Likely not in conforming to cultural Christianity or embracing generic forms of Jesus as merely a good teacher and moral example.

Furthermore, life’s ultimate satisfaction and hope are not to be found in a spotless house and perfect kids; in working more hours and making more money. Nor will we find contentment and peace in the radical independence of doing things my way.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. Through ingesting him, passionately pursuing him, believing in him, and coming to him in everything, we find the life that is truly life. Do not settle for any substitutes to Jesus. Come to the real person.

Lord God, you said that when we seek you with all our hearts, you will be found.  As the deer pants for streams of water, so we, your people, long for you in a dry and weary land.  We hunger and thirst for your righteousness.  We deeply desire your presence in all things. So, we die to ourselves and surrender to your will and way for us, by faith trusting you will come into our lives and completely take over. May your blessing rest upon us as we seek Jesus. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – The Sixth Sense of Spirituality

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (New International Version)

Although a lot of people are not religious, I believe every person on planet earth is spiritual. By that I mean we all intuitively know deep in our gut that there are bigger things going on in this world beyond our own existence – that there is a transcendent Someone who is higher than us whom we can connect to and helps us connect with one another as humans.

If our epistemology (the study of how we as humans know things) doesn’t allow for transcendent reality, then it is a deficient and truncated philosophy (the study of truth, knowledge, and conduct); it will not be able to accommodate spiritual realities.

There are times you have no explanation for what is happening – no words to describe the experience you went through. That’s because your five senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound), although alert and reliable with taking-in all kinds of sensory data, are simply inadequate to explain the transcendent situation.

I was once talking with an agnostic (a person who denies that ultimate knowledge can be found, or that knowledge can be located ultimately with a god). This particular guy became a father for the first time. He was fresh off the incredible experience of being in the room with his wife when she gave birth to their son. 

Bill (not his real name) was flush with enthusiasm. He took in the sight of his newborn baby boy, held him and touched him for the first time, and joyfully listened to his very first screams of new life in this great big world.  Bill described it all to me with such awe and reverence. 

Then, Bill said something to me that I haven’t forgotten: “I don’t know how to explain it, Tim. Something spiritual happened when my son was born, something I can’t put into words. All I can say is that I experienced something that was not of this world.”

Something not of this world. That was Bill’s way of saying that he had no mental categories from which to draw from to give him any kind of sensory explanation to the awesome reality of being there at childbirth. 

Our five senses are vital, critical, and significant; yet they do not tell the whole story. As important as our ability to taste, see, touch, smell, and hear is, there are other ways of knowing and experiencing life.

Faith and spirituality are the sixth sense which enable us to discern and know things about ourselves, this world, and God – things that we would not know with only our five senses. 

There is a spiritual reality which transcends the physical. The soul, whether we acknowledge we have one or not, is the place of communion with this unseen reality. The inner person is where we meet-up with God and find a vast world of spiritual resources which boggle the five senses. Somehow, we know this is true, even if we have no language to explain it.

Jesus once said that it is the Spirit who gives life; human strength isn’t even a factor (John 6:63). In other words, God is Spirit, and the One who gives meaning, connection, relationship, and even physical life. Human abilities cannot ultimately do this. Yes, we do have biological explanations for human attraction, marriage, and where babies come from; yet this is not the whole story. 

There is a transcendent reality behind it all that gives life meaning and purpose. There are times, once-in-awhile, when the unique, the astonishing, and the beautiful grab us.

Our souls spring to life. We “see” the transcendent and get an awesome glimpse of this place where the physical and the spiritual “touch.”

We “taste” that the Lord is good, and “hear” the call to a deeper experience of recognizing the care and compassion of Christ. 

We take in a deep breath and “smell” the aroma of him who created us in his image and likeness.

Let your senses draw in all the wonderful information it can. And don’t stop there. Allow your soul to drink in the spiritual dimension of wisdom, and feed your inner person with Jesus Christ, who saves us from the sinful and the mundane, and lifts us to the world of the Spirit where there is life, hope, and infinite love.

Holy God, your knowledge of me exceeds what I grasp or see in any moment; you know me better than I know myself. Now, help me to trust in your mercy, to see myself in the light of your holiness, and grant me the grace that I may have true contrition, make an honest confession, and find in you forgiveness and perfect remission. Amen. – A prayer of St. Augustine