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Durable, undomesticated holiness

by davesandel on January 8th, 2021

Friday, January 8, 2021                      (today’s lectionary)

Friday after Epiphany

Durable, undomesticated holiness

Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, testified to by the Spirit, and the Spirit is truth.

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming. Ity turns out that Jeremiah has plenty to say about our contemporary social network as well as Israel’s in the days before exile. And today, after the strange and frightening lapse in sanity at the US Capitol on Wednesday, I find myself reading more closely.

Jeremiah speaks to, from and about deep public disruption. His book dares to reflect on the ground of disruption, on the practice of survival in the midst of disruption, and on life possibilities beyond disruption.

As is usual for my privileged white male self, I sit outside the actual circles of disruption, watching. Like most of us, my participation is limited to thoughts and feelings when I read news stories or, occasionally, watch them. Outside the sun is shining and traffic is flowing right along, while inside savory smells come from the kitchen and our furnace comes on when it needs to. But the confused concert between our quiet daily lives and chaos in the news stories calls for the presence of Christ, and I pray.

Jeremiah sounds the utterance of holiness in the midst of disruption, sounds about and from the Holy One that summon us to honesty and to hope. Jeremiah dares to ponder the odd connection between public disruption and durable, undomesticated holiness. It is a daring notion that holiness is at work in our own barbaric setting, just as it was in that ancient situation.

Mostly I’m grateful to be alive in a time of great change. Countless men, women and children of many races and from many other countries come to America to find freedom, freedom from heavy-handed oppression and freedom to go mostly where they want to go and say mostly what they want to say. Grinding gears of government notwithstanding, that freedom has not stopped growing. God is not dead, and he’s not sleeping.

In spite of Israel’s (America’s) obduracy and recalcitrance, Yahweh nonetheless wills a continuing relationship. This will is rooted in nothing other than God’s inexplicable yearning for his people.

Power is often lodged in politicians and kings, who have been given the privilege of giving and taking away. I suppose it’s true that power corrupts us. So prophets like Jeremiah, made so famous by ancient texts, are just as necessary today. Like Jeremiah, Martin Luther King spoke from outside the power circles, but Lyndon Johnson listened to him. As a result a southern president reared in racism inspired Congress to pass monumental civil rights legislation that moved American equality ahead a hundred years.

You have strengthened the bars of your gates and blessed your children within. Grant peace in your borders and send forth your command to all the earth … Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and cured every disease among the people. Great crowds assembled to hear and be cured, but often Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray … Whoever possesses the Son has life, and whoever DOES NOT possess the Son of God does not have life.

Jeremiah, then David, and later Matthew, Luke and John write to make this perfectly clear. There is no middle ground. Our lives consist of constant choosing, and in our moments of time we choose life or we do not.

Centers of domination imagine they are immune from the risks and responsibilities of the historical process. But they still lead to exile and death, while God’s sovereign graciousness continues to be a fragile offer of life.

Nothing seems easier than giving in to the stories of the day. And although we might be bombarded by noisy 24-hour news, really there is nothing new about this. We have always succumbed both to rumors of disasters just beyond our view and recipes for quick solution that have no merit. About this Jeremiah has much to say, and Brueggemann wants us to listen. A final thought from the good professor:

We can succumb to a fraudulent discernment, that the present is decided by the policies of empire and not be the pathos of the holy, faithful God. We might imagine that our situation is occupied only by despair and alienation, and that God’s arm is shortened. Then we would miss the summons home and faint beginnings of new laughter in Jerusalem. But everything depends on the Word we hear, which in its odd offer of both rending and healing dismisses ideology, exposes propaganda, overrides anxiety and offers forgiveness in the place of brutality … This powerful mediating Word shocks our intellectual self-confidence and invites us to re-engage life with courage, awe, and submission.

What we casually call the Old Testament is worth looking into. It speaks and speaks to us today.

(1 John 5, Psalm 147, Matthew 4, Luke 5)

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