Waiting – no one waits for the fun of it. We wait when we have to do something (get your phone fixed, your paperwork processed, to buy your groceries. some people, when it’s something good we are waiting for say “we can’t wait”: for the weekend, for vacation, for retirement. But what makes waiting really hard?
It is the unknown, how long? How long till a real human is on the other end of the line, how long till your name or number is called, how long till something happens, how long till it get’s better.
That’s one of the issues we glimpse in the first reading for today. How long till it get’s better, see it’s about 600 years before Jesus and the Roman empire. Things are bad in Jerusalem and Judah. A different empire, the Babylonians with their King Nebuchadnezzer II (or Nebuchadrezzer) are threatening. They have already invaded at least once; they have taken holy things from the temple; they have taken people back to their part of the world which would be modern day Iraq. Ruins of ancient Babylon are about 50 miles south of Baghdad. This is what is called the Exile in the Bible or the Babylonian Captivity.
So the issue isn’t whether or not it’s a bad situtation, the question is how long. Hananiah, a prophet of the Lord declares to Jeremiah and the remaining priests and leaders a message that the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel is acting to save, to redeem, return, and reestablish the temple, Jerusalem, the king—that this would only take two years.
Actually the Babylonian Exile or Captivity actually lasted closer to 50 years. That’s quite a difference. Of course we’re celebrating 50 years as a congregation, but can you imagine living 50 years under a tyrant, living in a world, surrounded by people whose values are so different, so contrary to what we hold dear, who not only see the world differently than we do, but also have the power to shape it, twist reality, twist truth. There’s a big difference between 2 or 4 and 50 years of a Koch brothers, Walton, Graham, Trump family dynasty.
Two or 50. I’d take the 2 please. Two years to wait to experience God’s graciousness, for God’s will to win out—that’s doable, we can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, no big deal, time will fly, not that long of a wait.
That’s the other issue in this small passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, a book of 52 chapters, where the prophet Jeremiah is pretty consistently calling out the leaders and the people. You see in this prophetic book Jeremiah, the state of affairs, the defeat and removal of the people to exile in Babylon was the direct consequences turning away from the covenant the promise with God, and sure sign of that apostasy, from Jeremiah 5.28. The prophet says, “ They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause the orphan to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. … and then in vs 30 “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
Is two years really enough time to change? I think that might be an undercurrent of this conflict between the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah. The temptation, inclination is to just kind of wait it out, to maybe post some comments on Facebook and bemoan, complain about the easy things —stupid tweets, ignorant, and immature comments but hey 2 years, there will be another election. “This too shall pass”.
A prophet like Jeremiah reminds us that we don’t know how long the wait will really be and that maybe, just maybe there’s something bigger going on, something much more destructive than one election. Divisions don’t happen over night. Sexism, heterosexism, isolationism weren’t born on Jan. 20th, or in 2016 for that matter. Racism isn’t just guys in the KKK or skinheads. Racism is systemic, corrupting what should be a justice system into a violent attempt to keep law and order, and the marketplace (a place for the distribution of goods, services, ideas, and even community) is replaced by profits.
The prophet Jeremiah’s words are as powerful, as pertinent, today July 2nd (July 4th weekend) as they were almost three-thousand years ago. If ever there were a clearer example of a true biblical prophet. We have it today. God’s prophets do not promise profit nor do they predict the future. The Word of the Lord for us today is resistance; it is assistance; it is persistence. or assistance, resistance, and persistence.
Assistance, we need to be as caring as ever. We need to simply assist, offer a hand, a listening ear, an open heart—not just to those who are struggling (food pantry, police officers, refugees, the sick). But with one another and with ourselves. This is not easy, we are not just mildly disappointed or miffed, slightly slighted. Our souls’ are heartsick, relationships and trusts are broken. We are depressed, anxious, and that tends to come out in all the wrong places—tempers taut and flaring. Feelings of powerlessness make us want to be able to control, make sense of one thing in this out of control world. The temptation is for comfort instead of hope. So, we need to practice care, to assist one another because we need to be in this for the really long haul. We need to resist negativity, resist violence of word, resist the distractions, resist strategically and it will take persistence. Real life changing, people transforming, church reforming, system revamping work and living doesn’t happen in two years. Putting a Democrat in the Oval Office will not fix it. It’s not about making America great again or even making America America again — persistance, resistance, assistance.
There’s a lot of things I just love about us at Village. I have rejoiced that we do not make certain words idols. The words we use today, and for the next few weeks, you won’t have to wait long for these to change. We change even the words the translations of the Lord’s prayer. I appreciate this, I really do. However, I have to say there is something to using the same words, week after week, and it’s not that the prayer goes faster because we don’t have to read new words. Actually, that’s a really good example. See at a lot of churches that just use the same old words, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… the prayer becomes a mere mindless repetition, eyes barely reading or perhaps scanning for a typo a mistake. It’s almost like we can’t wait to get done with it. That is not prayer.
You might have noticed that the times we have used one of the “traditional” Lord’s prayers that I have been looking around the room. I am not checking to see who’s doing it right—who else might have it memorized. No, I am looking at you, the people I am praying with, I am praying for. Each prayer petition means more when I can put a face to the words, words like forgive us as we forgive others, words like give us our daily bread, deliver us from evil. The church didn’t give us that prayer so we could just say some words and wait for it.
So today, when we get to the place in the liturgy after the Words of Institution as we are about to receive God’s gift of grace, and we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t use the words in the bulletin. They’re great. I liked them when I put them there early this week. But let’s use the traditional ones that hopefully many of us know by heart, and since they are not printed in your bulletin, look up, look around, assist, resist, and persist with one another so that we pray for and with one another. In that small way we begin to live God’s kingdom come on earth. We don’t have to wait. Amen.