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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 09/15/2013

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.  And God saw that it was good;” God saw that it was good.

Quite different from Jeremiah, “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens and they had no light;” quite different.  Those first verses of Genesis are among the most beautiful in the entire Bible with the image of the Spirit of God moving over the waters bringing order to the chaos of the formless void, bringing light into the darkness.  But Jeremiah sees it all being undone.  The land returned to waste and void, no light in the heavens, no people, no birds, desert where fruitful land had been, cities in ruins, the heavens turning black, everything gone bad. 

Summer moves toward fall and still the prophets aren’t very pleasant company.  Jeremiah reverses Genesis 1 and gives us something else to think about.  He goes where we’d rather not, he considers things we’d rather not think about.  He also draws conclusions that bother us because he attributes this undoing of creation to the anger of the Lord which isn’t usually a direction we want to go especially when the finger of anger points too close.  “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding.  They are skillful in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 

Prophets like Jeremiah were not at all hesitant about giving a moral dimension to creation and what happens within the created world.  When bad things happened they were quick to see the Lord’s hand in it and quick to assign blame in order to make the Lord’s anger and judgment justified; someone must have done something.  We tend to cringe when religious leaders assign blame and see God’s judgment in natural disasters and other events, but in ancient times, they didn’t.

There is a difference though.  The religion of ancient Israel used natural disasters and human disasters as times of reflection.  So whether it was floods or storms or military defeats, while they saw God’s involvement, their first inclination wasn’t to blame God, but to ask, “What could we have done to cause this?”  It wasn’t so much an effort to self righteously blame someone else, which is what some of our modern day religious leaders did, especially after events like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina.  For the ancients it was more of an effort to honestly look at themselves, the usual conclusion being, we’ve strayed from the ways of the Lord.  “My people do not know me” is the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah today.  More than likely there were other socio-political factors involved in what was happening to the people of Israel, it wasn’t just straying from the way of the Lord, but to reflectively use those events as an impetus to return to the Lord wasn’t a bad thing for them to do. 

As we marked another anniversary of 9/11 this past week I still think that twelve years ago we missed an opportunity for that Old Testament kind of self-reflection, reflection that would have been helpful.  There was a moment, a brief moment right after it happened when the question of how they could hate us so much was raised; what could we have done to help cause this.  But the moment quickly passed and we pretty much settled on “because we’re good and they’re bad.”  I fear that it never was and still isn’t quite that simple.

Jeremiah does go in directions that we’d rather not; he creates images that we’d rather not think about.  On the other hand, we’re not unfamiliar with images of waste and void and the heavens turned black and cities in ruin.  Again, revisiting 9/11, I don’t know what kind of day it was here that day, but in Western Massachusetts, as it was in New York City, it was a picture perfect mid-September day, pleasant temperatures, low humidity, clear blue skies, creation as the gift God intended it to be.  But watching TV that day we all saw the heavens turn black with the smoke and the dust, we saw the city in ruin, or at least it seemed that way.  We’re familiar with Jeremiah’s image. 

I also remember a few years before that how eerie it was the first time Kathy and I drove through Sudbury, Canada.  Some of you I’m sure have been there so you know what I’m talking about.  For us though, it was 1996; I was serving in L’Anse and we were driving back to New England that fall taking the Canadian route.  After you go through the Soo there’s some nice country along the way although some of it is pretty non-descript, but then you come to the Sudbury area and miles of barren, scarred, rocky surfaces with little or no vegetation.  It was so bleak that I read that back in the sixties NASA astronauts went there to practice lunar landings; that was as close as they could get to something like the surface of the moon. 

But it wasn’t always like that.  It was a combination of factors related to mining and logging that made it so desolate; air pollution, acid rain, sulfur dioxide emissions, clear cut logging, things like that.  “Because of this the land shall mourn,” Jeremiah says and driving through Sudbury it didn’t require much imagination to relate to the land in mourning.   The good news is that through restoration efforts and efforts to correct the things that caused the land to get that way, it is coming back; it’s not quite so bleak anymore when you go through there.

The images of Jeremiah though, are not foreign to us.  We know waste and void, we know cities in ruin, we know the land in mourning.  Knowledge of such things does give us the opportunity for reflection, an opportunity to ask, “What have we done to help cause this?”  If we do that, to conclude as the prophets and others concluded, that we have strayed from the way of the Lord is perhaps surprisingly valid. 

They had a different understanding of the law than we do.  We have trouble thinking about any kind of law as anything but restrictions that are placed on us.  We understand the reason for many laws, religious and otherwise, but still we tend to see them as something imposed on us from the outside telling us what we can’t do; trying to keep us in line in other words.  At their best, the people of Israel saw the law as part of God’s created order, a gift of God like the rest of creation, intended to help them live and live well in relationship with God and with each other and with the rest of creation.  To stray from those laws would create problems within those relationships, problems that could include threats from enemies as well as threats to the balance of creation so for us to reflect on how we may have strayed from the way of the Lord is still useful.

Jeremiah makes us think about possibilities we’d rather not think about.  We’d rather move on to something more hopeful, and we will… but not before we dwell for a bit in the silence of Jeremiah’s image, the silence where no people live and no birds sing, not before we contemplate the possibility of complete destruction.  It’s not pleasant, but on the other hand, we’ve experienced it as more than a possibility; in cases like the ones I mentioned, it’s a reality just as it was in the time of Jeremiah. 

We don’t deny the reality or the need for repentance of which it reminds us.  We know that we do stray from the way of the Lord.  But then, parables like the two that Jesus tells today remind us of the nature of the God we have faith in; Jesus reminds us of the God of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one doesn’t leave the ninety-nine and go after the one?”  Which one of us?  Probably none of us.  “What woman having ten silver coins if she loses one, doesn’t light a lamp and sweep the house until she finds it?”  Maybe you take a look under the couch cushions and a few other obvious places, but stay up all night and sweep the house?  I don’t think so. 

And that’s Jesus’ point; we wouldn’t do it, but he would, because to him each of us is the one.  We’d cut our losses and move on, but for Jesus no loss is acceptable.  One of the verses in the psalm today says, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all to see if there is anyone who is wise, anyone who seeks after God?”  Who seeks after God; we all know that we don’t always do that.  We seek lots of other things but God isn’t always real high on the list.  But still, God seeks us.  Each of us is the one.

Each of us is the one Jeremiah addresses; each of us is the lost sheep of the parable.  Each of us is the one Jesus died for, the one Jesus searches for.  Together we are the one, and we are the many.  Because of that, you can call your friends and neighbors and together, you can celebrate.

Rev. Warren Geier


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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