are we non-essential?

speak, Jeremiah

“The Chaldeans are coming in to fight and to fill [the houses of this city] with the dead bodies of those whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness.”  What a charming thought.  We can picture this on one of those inspirational posters, although this one would be devoid of happy unicorns.  This is the message of the Lord given to Jeremiah (33:5).

Jeremiah is in jail just because he keeps saying… “stuff” like that.  Beware the Babylonians; they’re on their way, like it or not.  To be fair, he hates doing it.  By any objective standards, his life has been a disaster.  He would love to live a normal life, but as he says elsewhere, “within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (20:9).

Parole doesn’t seem to be a likely prospect for the prophet.

[photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash]

And yet, with the very next breath, we get this promise of consolation: “I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security” (v. 6).  Hold on!  Maybe an early release for good behavior is still on the table.

We go from tragedy to triumph.

Chapters 30 to 33 in Jeremiah are often referred to as the Book of Consolation.  Amid the deep darkness, the doom and gloom, we have a respite.  Maybe a less charitable description would call it the eye of the storm!  The Babylonians can do their worst—all the world can do their worst—yet the flame of life is never snuffed out.

Every time that darn critter, hope, is out for the count, it finds a way to keep rising from the dead.

I don’t know if we can, or should, compare ourselves to the plight of Jeremiah.  We haven’t had our whole world turned upside down, only to long for that word of healing.  We haven’t endured the torture and pain unleashed on him.

Or have we?

It’s hard not to notice what being labeled “non-essential” has done to the church.  It’s hard not to notice what an imposition of fear has done to the church.  To be sure, I do give thanks for the gift of the internet.  It has enabled us to maintain connection during a difficult time, and it has opened in wonderful ways the power of new paths of relationship.

We began with the wickedness of Jerusalem.  Perhaps I should confess my own (small?) participation in wickedness.  A year ago, I had no great reluctance in going along with the church—with my church—being regarded as “non-essential,” though I never welcomed that expression!  Please understand, I do not want to in any way diminish the scourge Covid has been.

Still, thanks to lockdowns and semi-lockdowns, I would wager it’s a rare congregation that has seen an increase in worship participation.  Am I willing to say this has been by design?  Probably not, at least not at the human level.  Sometimes, the worst happens when we’re not even aware of it.

However, maybe we could use a reminder of the therapeutic and liberating word given to the prophet.  “I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.”

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