Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Christmas 1/4

          The more things change the more they stay the same.  It’s a cliché, but clichés don’t become clichés unless there is truth in them and there is certainly truth in this one and you don’t necessarily have to be a student of history to recognize that truth; you just have to have lived for awhile.  Specifics do change, but the kinds of situations and problems human beings find themselves in, even the kinds of situations and problems that effect history on a larger scale are pretty much the same, regardless of the time period, regardless of the culture.

          Part of the reason the Bible is understood to be inspired writing is because of the ability of the biblical writers, in many and various ways, to speak truth to times and cultures far removed from the events that originally caused these people to preach and to write.  Their focus is on the relationship between God and humanity and the ability of those writers to articulate that relationship in a way that speaks to different times and places is evidence of the hand of God at work in the process.  It is also the reason that we understand the Bible to be the living word of God, a word that calls for, even demands interpretation, interpretation that connects older traditions and understanding with the specifics of the present.

          Of all the Old Testament writings, it may be Jeremiah who, in our time, hits closest to home.  The central event around which the whole book of Jeremiah revolves is the destruction of Jerusalem 500 or so years before the birth of Christ.  Because of the presence of the temple and the king, the people thought that Jerusalem was immune from such destruction.  It couldn’t happen, but it did, so the illusion of invincibility and exception was no longer viable.  It created challenges for the people who had been conquered and deported to Babylon and much of what Jeremiah does is to pose those challenges, calling for reflection on what got them there, what they should do now and how God fit into all of it.  A change in their view of the world was called for.

          In post 9/11 America it’s not hard to see the similarities.  Prior to 9/11 we knew about terrorism, but we knew about it happening in other far off places and I think most of us felt like it couldn’t happen here, not on any large scale anyway.  Like the people of ancient Israel, American people had a sense of being chosen by God and reading American history, that sense of being chosen has been a part of the American mindset pretty much from the beginning; therefore…we must be immune from terrorist attacks; it can’t happen, but it did, making our illusion of invincibility just that, an illusion.  I would question though, how much we have paid attention to the words and challenges of prophets like Jeremiah in these post 9/11 years.  I’m not sure we’ve learned much.

          Immediately following 9/11 President Bush’s advice to the American people was to go shopping; that would show that we would not be intimidated by the attacks, life would go on.  Now, as 2009 begins, we’re in what is being called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Barack Obama, the candidate of change, a new president representing a different party is preparing to take office and he has a group of economic advisors suggesting the best way to approach what becomes his problem in a couple of weeks.  The goal of the approaches according to those making the suggestions and those commenting on them is to create jobs and get people back to work but then there is always the final conclusion; this will get people back into the stores to shop.  So what have we learned?  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

          I’m not an economist.  I don’t understand the economy. I have no idea what the best way is to get at the problems.  What troubles me is the religion of consumption, the religion of shopping, the religion of buy and consume.  We all worship at the altar of that religion, at least to some extent, every one of us.  It’s part of the air we breathe, we can’t avoid it and it’s not all bad; there are things that it’s nice to have that help make life enjoyable; we are called to care for others and giving gifts is a way to do that and to give gifts you usually have to buy them. 

But I think a prophet like Jeremiah would take us to task for how central this need to shop and buy and have more stuff is to our life and identity as a nation, to our perceived well being as a nation.  He would take us to task for defining a good Christmas as one where retail sales exceeded last year’s.  He would take us to task for trying to prop up an economic system that has failed, a system that isn’t always just, where the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer.  That’s not the ethic of the Bible.  Jeremiah would take us to task for not paying attention to the signs and for not being open to the possibility of something new. 

          What prophets like Jeremiah did was to provide theological reflection, encouragement to think about God’s part and God’s will in what was going on, then using that reflection to think about a proper response.  In that capacity, Jeremiah was an agent of hard, but hopeful truth.  He told it like it was, speaking truth to falsehood and deception; but it wasn’t truth without hope. His hope was always in the power of God to effect change.  His hope was in the very nature of that God because ultimately, the nature of that God was and is about loving care for all people.

          What the people of Jerusalem had trouble hearing, and what we have trouble hearing is that there is something wrong, something that calls for real course correction, not just manipulating a broken system.  What needs to be acknowledged and reflected on is that the something wrong implicates all of us.  In regard to the economy we can’t just point at Wall Street executives and corrupt CEO’s and politicians we disagree with.  In the case of terrorism, it’s more than we’re good and they’re bad; it’s not that simple.  With the help of prophets like Jeremiah, we can acknowledge our part in the problems without being afraid, because like Jeremiah we can trust in God’s loving care for all people; we can be confident that something new will emerge.

          In today’s lesson from Jeremiah, the key verse is verse 10, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock;” scatter and gather are the verbs.  In this verse God is recognized as the one who scatters; there are consequences for failure to repent, failure to follow the ways of the Lord; that is not denied.  But the nature of this God is such that the scattering is never the last word.  The God who scattered will gather the people again.  The writer of Ephesians picks up on this gathering theme in light of Christ saying that all things would be gathered up in him, things on heaven and things on earth.  The last word of this God is always a word of gathering, of hope for change and new life, a word of hope against fear that says nothing new is possible.

          In a time of economic difficulty, when there is something of a culture of fear out there, it’s important for the church to proclaim hope in and trust in this God who gathers.  In today’s gospel we again heard the opening verses of John’s gospel, the same verses which were read on Christmas Day, verses which are a retelling of the creation story in light of Jesus.  We’re in the final couple of days of the Christmas season as we continue to celebrate God become flesh among us, which is the beginning of what we know to be the ultimate story of hope and new possibility, the ultimate story of God bringing new life out of brokenness.

          Our faith is always about God’s ability to act on our behalf.  But we also know that God works through human agents.  As individuals, as communities as a country, we can’t act as God’s agents without the kind of course correction called for by Jeremiah, course correction that demands honesty and repentance.  God’s activity on our behalf will happen; it’s part of God’s nature.  Our call is to hear Jeremiah’s words of judgment which are God’s words of judgment, but to hear those words in hope, not in fear, because one of the things that stays the same the more things change is God’s loving care.  God will gather what has been scattered.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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