The Promise is Still There

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Jeremiah is a prophet… and so far, that hasn’t gone well for him.

His prophecy isn’t complicated. The people have heard it before. God has sent prophet after prophet after prophet with… well, not the same message, but messages on the same theme.

Hear, O Israel! Hear, O Judah! You have forsaken the Lord and run after other gods. Your houses are full of treachery. You have grown great and rich and fat and sleek, while the orphan suffers and the needy are left with nothing. The very word of the Lord is an object of scorn for you!

Surely the Lord will bring retribution for this shredding of the covenant that the Lord so graciously made with you. So repent! Return to the Lord! Act justly. Care for the alien and the orphan and the widow. Cease the shedding of innocent blood; cease chasing after other gods! Then the Lord will dwell here with us forever and ever.

And if we don’t do these things… if we keep walking away from the covenant that the Lord made with us… if we keep going down the road we’re on. Well… there are other kingdoms. And they have swords and spears.

And the people in charge do not like Jeremiah. He keeps calling them to walk in the light of the Lord. He keeps talking about orphans and widows. He keeps calling them back to this covenant. And they want… something else.

So they tell him to be quiet. They beat him. They arrest him and imprison him. They call for his head and plot to kill him. Because power does not like prophecy.

And now we’re here.

Prophets, as a rule, are not popular. People who echo the prophetic voice, as a rule, are not popular.

It’s easy to imagine that the long arc of the moral universe bends towards justice and mercy and love in a smooth and sweeping curve. It’s easy to imagine that change happens through calm conversations and peaceful protests and demure demonstrations. It’s easy to imagine that if we’re all just patient enough, we’ll all get to the Kingdom of God by-and-by.

But the long arc of the moral universe is only smooth and sweeping from a distance… the same distance from which we see harmony echoing through the land… the same distance from which we cannot see disease, or hungry mouths, or anyone in need. 

But when we zoom in, we can see that the arc of the moral universe is not smooth. It is rough and jagged and cracked. It is stained with the blood of martyrs and dotted with the sepulchers of the prophets. And some of the people who we love now, we hated then.

And I know that there is a temptation… to keep it cool, to keep it light, to let it go. To see a jagged edge on the long arc of the moral universe, to hear God calling us to the light of the Lord, to see a post talking about orphans and widows… and hit refresh and forget.

But…

Now we’re here.

Jeremiah has been banned from the temple. He’s not allowed to go and speak to the people, and he is absolutely not allowed to go and speak to the people in power. And so the Lord says, “Write it down. Write down all of the prophecies that I have given you. And have someone read them aloud so that the people can hear them and turn from their evil ways.”

So Jeremiah does that. He recites his prophecy to his friend Baruch. And Baruch writes everything down on a scroll. And Baruch goes out and reads the prophecy to the people, “Hear, O Israel… Hear, O Judah…”

And, after a while, some fo the king’s officials hear the prophecies that Baruch is reading. And they take the scroll from him. And they take it to the king. And they read it to him.

And as they read it… literally as they read it… as they have it open in front of the king and as they recite the words of prophecy, “Hear O Israel! Hear, O Judah!”… the king takes a penknife… and cuts bits off of the scroll… and throws the bits into the fire… until he burns the whole scroll… because it is not to his liking… because power does not like prophecy.

And then the king sits down calmly. And the king says, “No one else will ever hear these words.” And the king sends people to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch.

And the Lord hides Jeremiah. And the Lord hides Baruch. And the Lord says, “Write it down again. And I have some things to add about this king.”

I understand the temptation. I understand the temptation to run toward the things that are comfortable and away from the things that are hard. 

I understand the temptation to run toward the things that affirm our worldview, that tell us that we’re okay, that tell us that we’re right. 

I understand the temptation to run away from the things that challenge us, that ask us to look at things a different way, that tell us that we’re caught in webs of sin, that tell us that we’re wrong.

I understand cutting out the bits that we don’t like.

But here’s the thing:

There were a lot of words on the scroll that the king heard… that the king cut up… that the king threw into the fire… that the king demanded no one else hear. And some of them were these:

The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with Israel and a new covenant with Judah. It won’t be like the old covenant that they broke. It won’t be like the old covenant that they carelessly cast aside. No. I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God. And they will be my people.

That is the prophecy. It is the prophecy that we who are Christians see fulfilled in the person of Jesus… the Christ. It is the prophecy that we who are Christians remember when we come to Christ’s table… and share in his humble feast… and remember…

…that on the night he was betrayed, the God who loved the world by coming into it as one of us took the bread, blessed it and broke it and shared it with his friends, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.” And, likewise, after dinner he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it with his friends, saying, “This is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for you.”

And that is the covenant that we who are Christians believe God has made not just with Israel and Judah, but with the whole world… with all of us. It is a covenant of reconciliation, of salvation, of liberation, of redemption, of new and abundant life.

And it is the prophecy of that covenant, the promise of that covenant, that the king—in his rush to keep his comfort, in his rush to preserve his power—cut up and threw into the fire.

I understand the temptation to run toward the comfortable… especially in these strange and difficult times. But the truth is that we have grown far too comfortable with things that aren’t actually comfortable…with things that aren’t comfortable for others… with things that rely on the discomfort of others… with things that aren’t really even comfortable for us.

Far too often, we simply accept the comforts and power of a world awash in sin. And, far too often, we resist the call to step into the world that God has created for us. Because that step is hard. It is wild and dangerous and full of grace.

But there is good news.

After the king cut up the scroll and threw the bits into the fire, the Lord simply had Jeremiah and Baruch write another one. It contained all of the words of the first scroll, and many similar words as well. And it wasn’t great for the king.

But that prophecy—that promise—was still there: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant. It won’t be like the old one. It will be written on the hearts of the people. I will be their God and they will be my people. They will know me. I will forgive their iniquity and forget their sin.

No matter how many times we run… no matter how many times we turn aside… no matter how often we try to keep our comforts and preserve our power… that promise of something better is still there.

God still loves us. God still calls us. God still invites us into abundant life.

And yes, the journey is long. And yes, some of the steps are hard. And yes, in involves questioning every bit of power we have. But compared the kingdom of God, the comforts of this world are nothing. And following Christ into that kingdom is worth it.

God is loving us. God is calling us. God is inviting us. Thanks be to God!

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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