Activism · Bible · faith · Political · World Affairs

How To Avert The Crisis

There’s a passage I’ve been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9 that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10 And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterwards they turned about and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.

This story relates to part of the
covenant that God had made with Israel. It concerned members of the community of Israel who for whatever reason had fallen on hard times. Maybe their crops had failed and they had been forced to sell their land to make ends meet. Or even worse, they had been forced to live as slaves to pay off a debt. Every 7th year, according to the law of Israel, their debt should be cancelled, they should no longer be slaves, and land that was forfeited should be returned to them.

The context for this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah is that Israel has strayed from God’s ways. They have gone after other gods to worship, and have neglected the laws concerning the care of the poor,
particularly widows, orphans and foreigners.

God’s judgment on Israel is that they will suffer the consequences – and be invaded by Babylon and many of the population be taken into exile.

For much of
the time, the leaders in Israel – the ruling elite of kings and priests, ignore these warnings.

But the
crisis deepens. Invasion looks likely. It seems that Jeremiah’s dire warnings are true.

What to do in a such a situation. For the leadership in Israel this means
trying a last ditch attempt to avert the crisis by obeying the law that God had given them and setting free the slaves that should have had their freedom in the 7th year of their slavery. It’s a cry to God to say -“OK, we’ll do as you commanded. Now please come to our help and stop this invasion.”

What happens next is that king Zedekiah reverses his decision and makes them all slaves again ! The reason is not given. It’s possible that the threat from Babylon went away, and Zedekiah thought he could get away with going back to business as usual –
oppressing the poor.

Or maybe the economic situation got worse – so bad in fact that landowners needed slave labour to survive and put pressure on the king to reverse the decision.

Whatever it was, Jeremiah’s verdict is that once again the King and the
ruling class have ignored God’s commands and will be judged.

That’s a long, but necessary preamble …

This incident makes me think of the Coronavirus crisis that we have lived through, and still are to some degree. In the early days, our government put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on the population by
introducing the furlough arrangements, whereby the government would pay businesses to keep people on the payroll while they were not able to carry on trading. (Eg – restaurants that had to close completely in the pandemic).

Now the direct threat from Covid has reduced because of the success of the
vaccination programme. It’s back to business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, the pressure was off … but the government needed to recoup as much of the financial outlay as possible. So …

We are seeing increases in National Insurance contributions, and other ways that the
government are seeking to increase revenue.

Then comes another crisis … Ukraine and the consequent increases in oil and gas prices as well as effects from the grain harvests in Ukraine being disrupted.

What do we see from the
government – a £150 rebate on council tax … with another sum – that will need to be paid back. For an average household, that £150 will go in two months in their increases in gas and electric bills.

Meanwhile we still read of massive bonus payments to some, while others are sitting with hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm, and relying on
food banks for essentials.

Can you see the parallels ?

What
happens to nations, businesses, organisations in general when those at the top are sitting pretty while the poorest struggle to survive. In the end those nations, businesses, etc will fall.

A
settled social order relies on justice for the poor. Without economic justice, society eventually collapses.

What do we need ? Justice for the poorest. When do we need it ? Now !

Bible · faith · Grace

The Last Shall Be First

I’ve been reading Jeremiah 31 today. The promise to Israel that they will return from exile.
The story of exile and homecoming is one of THE MAJOR THEMES in the Bible. A couple of things I noticed:

There are various literary devices used in scripture. Among other things, they are designed to make the message memorable, or emphasise certain aspects of the text.

For example – repeating an idea but using different words – sing, shout praise …
Or having a refrain as in Psalm 46 … ‘God is with us’

Another, perhaps less recognised literary device is to do with a mirror image structure called a chiasm

In a chiasm, you have a structure that goes something like this from Milton’s Paradise Lost:
A. Adam,
B first of men
B` to first of women,
A` Eve

There’s a nice chiasm in Jeremiah 31 that you can see here

One of the points about a chiasm is that the whole thrust of the passage is often to be found in the centre of the chiasm.

In the case of Jeremiah 31, the centre of the passage has these words.

8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.


These words show us God’s heart and God’s intention for Israel. That is to restore them and bring them home. But the remarkable thing that struck me was those who are specifically mentioned as coming home. The blind and the lame, the pregnant and those in labour. That is, the most vulnerable.

God promises to become like a father to these most vulnerable of his people. They will be like the firstborn.

What an amazing thing to read and understand. God’s concern is for the weakest. As Jesus would himself demonstrate throughout his life – “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Or, as American priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon often wrote – God’s concern is for ‘the little, the lost, the least and the last.’

Are we able to see ourselves here in this company? Because we all need to find our way home. And maybe part of that journey home involves becoming vulnerable and surrendering our impulses to be strong and in control.

Wherever you are on this journey. Grace and Peace.

Bible · faith

Resurrection Is The Last Word

I love it when things come together. To see God’s hand in even the smallest event.
For me, this has come in the last few days in my readings in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

We have just had two weeks that have been very rich with family time, but also full of travelling and busyness when there hasn’t been much time for quiet.

Now, as I write this, it’s Holy Saturday, that space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when we remember Jesus in the tomb, and I’m hoping to capture some of the meaning of this season – moving from Lent into Easter.
I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah since the beginning of the year, and now I’m up to chapter 30. In the last few days of my readings, there’s been a shift. From dire warnings of judgment for Israel for forsaking their God, a note of hope is creeping in.

That’s not to say that the judgment will not come.
It will.
Israel will still be sent into exile in Babylon.
Jerusalem will still be laid waste.

But God has a long term plan that involves restoration. In fact the time that Israel spends in exile will result in purification and a renewal of their faith. Read what God says to Israel in chapter 30:

Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site …… and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


It feels so right to be reading this on the cusp of Easter Day.
Walter Brueggemann writes about this chapter of Jeremiah:
“This chapter speaks of a hope rooted in God’s own resolve and faithfulness; a hope addressed toward a people who are at the brink of despair. A hope issued in the face of their captivity in Babylon. A hope that would overcome even the utter failures of the past.”
Exile and Homecoming – A Commentary on the book of Jeremiah. page 270 (slightly amended)

The fix that we are in is essentially the same as Israel’s. We need hope in our places of despair, our sicknesses, our addictions, our slavery ….
We are tempted to respond with either blind optimism, or bleak despair. The message of Jeremiah is that there is a third way. The following verses from Jeremiah 24 tell us that hope is to be found because this renewal is a work of God, and not a human endeavour.
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God,”
God promises that there will be a time when he will give them a new heart. God knows that on their own, Israel’s heart will not change. If they are to change, then it must be a work of God.

Jeremiah uses the image of sickness unto death in chapter 30:
For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. (Jeremiah 30:12-13)

God’s people are terminally ill, beyond healing and sure to die.

But even in the face of this, God says:
“I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:17)

In the end, God wills resurrection. Walter Brueggemann again:
“The future … is firmly under the rule of God … On the one hand, Israel must not deny its bleak present. On the other hand, however, it must not take the present with ultimate seriousness. God’s sure governance of the future stands as a powerful, palpable alternative to present despair.” Brueggemann p. 281

I remember nearly 20 years ago hearing Rowan Williams being interviewed. He had just been announced as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He was asked what for him was the central message of the Christian faith. His answer was that change is possible. The resurrection of Jesus is the most powerful statement that it is possible to transform even the most hopeless situation.

It seems to me that the message of the book of Jeremiah is the same. On this Holy Saturday, as we wait for Easter Dawn, we pray for all those who are waiting and praying for change, and for God to work in resurrection power.

Grace and Peace.





A Prayer For This Day · Activism · Bible · Political · Prayer · suffering · Truth · World Affairs

Praying For The Ukrainian People

Today I read these words from the Prophet Jeremiah chapter 11:

God told me what was going on. That’s how I knew. You, God, opened my eyes to their evil scheming.
I had no idea what was going on—naive as a lamb being led to slaughter!
I didn’t know they had it in for me, didn’t know of their behind-the-scenes plots:
“Let’s get rid of the preacher. That will stop the sermons!
Let’s get rid of him for good. He won’t be remembered for long.”

Then I said, “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, you’re a fair judge.
You examine and cross-examine human actions and motives.
I want to see these people shown up and put down!  I’m an open book before you. Clear my name.”

The people of Anathoth, the home town of the prophet Jeremiah, want to silence him.
Jeremiah is unaware of this until God shows him the truth.
Then he realises their plan to get rid of him.
He appeals to God and God’s justice.

We were not unaware of Putin’s plan, but we did not want to think it would happen. Now it has.
This is my prayer, as we also appeal to God for justice.

The name Putin is derived from put – путь, the Russian word for ‘way.’
Pravda
Правда is Russian for truth
ZhiznЖизнь is Russian for life

We pray to the LORD of hosts
The LORD-of-the angel-armies
Not to come against might with more might
But to raise up the people of Russia in resistance.
To reveal the bare pravda
To see false, fake rulers standing naked
Hands tied behind their backs
Their power and glory stripped.

We pray to the LORD of hosts
The LORD-of-the angel-armies
To raise up the people of the earth in solidarity
To reveal the Pravda and the true Put
To see the people of Ukraine delivered from evil
Once more able to live Zhizn openly and spontaneously
Not cautiously and warily.

Pray for the peace of Ukraine
Prosperity to all you Ukraine lovers
Friendly insiders, get along!
Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends,
I say it again: live in peace!

(The last section is From The Message translation of Psalm 122 in the Jewish Scriptures)


Bible · Climate Change · faith · Prayer · World Affairs

A Boundary For The Sea

We’ve been watching ‘The Sinner’ in the last week. Series 4. It’s a crime drama set in Maine, USA, and stars Bill Pullman.
The main character, Percy Muldoon, is a woman in her 20’s and is very troubled by something in her past. Her uncle Colin is trying to help her recover her catholic faith and one scene shows them repeating these words together.

“I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass …”

I didn’t recognise the words, but thought they were probably from the psalms.

Weirdly, I came across the exact same words the following day, as I came to the next section of Jeremiah in my daily prayers. (I’m reading through Jeremiah a few verses a day).

When I experience an extraordinary coincidence like this (serendipity), I try to be alert to what God might be saying. The conclusion I came to was to write a post about it in the hope that it might speak to someone.

In “Praying with the Prophets,” Eugene Peterson comments on this verse – “Oceans and lakes know and respect the boundaries set for them by God. Why will not human beings do the same ? But everywhere there are people who scorn and flout guidelines of justice and gratitude, compassion and generosity.”

The consequences of living outside the boundaries that God has given us are that our lives go out of alignment, and on a macro level, we see injustice spreading and the earth itself groaning.

Eugene Peterson’s prayer following his comment in this verse:
Dear God, I want to live in harmony with what you have created in and around me, not at odds with it. I want to increase in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and humanity. (Luke 2:52)”