March 30, 2009

March 30

31, 35
Jer. 24:1-10
Rom. 9:19-33
John 9:1-17

Jer. 24:1-10
The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. 2One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.” 4Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. 8But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. 9I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth—a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

At first, this reading from Jeremiah seems like the “Old Testament God of vengeance, fire and brimstone” still preached by some ministers. After all, God has allowed King Nebuchadrezzar to drag off the king and people of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon and in vs. 8-10 he says that those left will be “utterly destroyed”. According to the notes in my Bible, this is because they took over the property of the exiles and did not seek God.

However, right in the middle of this chapter is reassurance of God’s love for the faithful (even though they are in exile). Jeremiah says God “will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God.” Throughout the Bible, God loves those who seek the Lord with their whole heart.

As the Annie Moses Band sings in the song Bethlehem, House of Bread, when we seek God, we become bread for one another.

Child of Bethlehem-
house of bread;
Man of Jerusalem-
city of peace
You have loved us
Without limit or condition;
In our greatness and in our misery,
In our folly and in our virtue;
May your hand be always upon us
And may your heart be within us
So that we too may become bread and peace for one another.

The Israelites in exile were faced with a strange culture. Depictions of animals representing strange gods and goddesses like this lion on the Ishtar Gate to ancient Babylon probably appalled the people who knew the first and second Commandment forbidding worship of other gods and graven images of any creature. To maintain faith in the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob required strength of character.

We are faced with our own challenges to faith daily, and often especially in our Lenten discipline. After nearly 5 weeks, is your discipline (whether fasting from something or taking on some new study) as fresh as it was on Ash Wednesday? God doesn’t require perfection, just a faithful heart that knows “that I am the LORD.” If you have slipped a bit with your discipline, take a deep breath and recommit your Lent to having a heart for God.

For your journal: Take time to think about your Lent so far. Have you remained faithful to seeking a deeper intimacy with God? Write a prayer of recommitment to the Lord for the rest of Lent—one day at a time.

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