Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob,
all you clans of Israel.
This is what the Lord says:
“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols.
“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and observe closely;
see if there has ever been anything like this:
Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols.
Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (New International Version)
We are all wounded lovers. Keeping a steadfast commitment to someone who’s fickle, and sometimes spurns our love, is a universal feeling of deep hurt. And that is precisely how God felt about the ancient Israelites.
The feel of today’s Old Testament lesson is like being in a divorce court – God lamenting the distance which evolved between divinity and humanity. It happened because Israel went after other lovers, and practiced infidelity in their relationship with the Lord.
Since a person tends to take on the character of the god they follow, Israel had become a mess of a people. Because the gods they turned to were nothing but worthless idols. The Israelites became empty and vacuous, drained of all the robust spiritual character within their nation.
The object of love determines the quality of love.
To lose God is to lose our way of being in the world.
And the reason we lose God is that we stop telling our stories of grace, love, and forgiveness. New life, over time, becomes old hat. We end up forgetting where we came from, and so, discover that we don’t really know where we’re going.
We suffer from a severe case of spiritual amnesia.
God is who God is; I Am who I Am – and not as we may think God might be. The Lord is tied to justice and righteousness; and so, is concerned for both the individual and the community. Private life and public life each need to be characterized by integrity, service, and meeting one another’s needs.
Public institutions, corporate businesses, and even faith communities all collapse without the guiding compass of civic duty, social justice, and community service. Leaders everywhere have forgotten that power and authority is divinely given, not personally earned.
Whenever a people loses sight of their foundational stories and ethical points of reference, systemic evil arises to keep certain folks in power. And the rest of the people are coerced into serving those in authority. It’s a situation ripe for the judgment of God.
The Lord will take people to task for failing to remember who they are, where they came from, and thus, what they’re supposed to be doing.
Tragically, the Israelites swapped their God for other gods who are utterly unreliable and, frankly, not real. They lost touch with reality itself, not being able to distinguish between truth and error, and unable to discern what the good life actually is.
We must take God on God’s own terms. We are people created in the image of God, not people who create a god in the image they want. We can no more do that than a cake can claim self-existence apart from the baker.
Heaven and earth are witnesses to the folly of human forgetfulness – a lack of memory which forsakes commitment to the Divine. It’s the sort of madness that can result from a lack of sleep or water.
In such a condition, we need living water. We cannot conjure it up. There’s no way to be our own source of life, any more than a child can birth itself without any parents. Life must be given. Life is a gift.
The gift has been given. The real issue is whether we will receive it, open it, and use it.
There are many questions which cry out for us to answer:
- Will the ego get in the way of living well?
- Will a false sense of self delude us into believing we are the architects of our own reality?
- Will we colonize others for what they can do for us, rather than seeking to uphold the common good of all persons?
- What is our relationship to power and authority?
- What are we doing with the influence we have?
- What fault have you found with God?
- When are we going to renew our vows to God?
- Who are you?
- What are you doing?
- Where are you going?
- Why are you here?
- How, then, shall we live?
Sovereign God of all, I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith.
I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right. And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to you, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.