Book of the 12

Book of the 12

We are starting a study of what are known as the Minor Prophets by Christian commentators, and the Book of the twelve by Jewish commentators. These twelve prophecies are short. Scholars date the individual oracles from late in the kingdom of Judah to after the second temple was built. Many of the prophecies are brief and vague enough that there is no consensus opinion of their date.

Our Sunday School lesson invited us to consider this as a single work rather than 12 separate works. If we look at this as it’s own work, then we have to consider why these specific prophecies were chosen, and why they were in this order. It would also be useful to know when the editor chose what would be in this anthology, though all we know is that it was assembled after the last oracle was written, and before 190 BC. This is a long enough period that it could include the end of the period depicted by Nehemiah, the period that Judah was under Greek Rule, or the brief period of independence under priestly kings. Basically, we know it was put together in the period of the Second Temple, but before Herod the Great made an alliance with Julius Caesar.

Hosea condemns the Idolatry of Israel and prophecies the destruction of Israel. Israel was destroyed by the Assyrian empire, and the Remanent of Israel would later be called Samaritans.

Joel uses a loss of crops due to locust as an allegory of future judgment. He calls on Judah to repent, and promises a time of prosperity and the judgment of Judah’s enemies.

Amos condemns Israel, as well as other nations for failing to offer justice to the powerless. Amos lets us know that God will judge the nation based on whether there is justice for the marginalized.

Obadiah predicts the destruction of Edom. Edom is the descendants of Esau and was a client-kingdom of Judah. Edom sided with Babylon when Jerusalem fell.

Jonah is different from the others in that it is a narrative. We all know the story of Jonah’s call, and Jonah and the whale from our childhoods; but the conclusion of the story is that Jonah is angry that he prophesied to Assyrians, they repented, and God gave them another chance. The book ends by God telling Jonah that the city is full of innocents – i.e. most people who live in an enemy nation are not enemies, just people.

Micah condemns exploiting the poor, calls for land reform, says God will judge the nation for it’s injustice and then they will be restored and prosperous.

Nahum predicts the destruction of Assyrian empire

Habakkuk complains about injustice, and God promises the captivity in order to bring justice. The prophet rightly complains that the enemy has not interest in justice. God points out that Babylon, and all unjust kingdoms will face judgement.

Zephaniah prophecies the punishment of Israel and other nations

Haggai offers a judgment against Zerububul and possibly Joshua the high priest, who are treated more neutrally in Ezra. It condemns the leaders for living in ‘richly paneled houses’ while the temple still needs built (cedar panels were among the building supplies for the Temple).

Zachariah also calls for the temple to be rebuilt

Malachi is from the same time period as Haggai and Zachariah. Malachi condemns divorce – which was forced by the nation, along with the exile of children with their single mothers. Malachi also condemns the misappropriation/embezzlement of tithes, which was described Nehemiah 13:4-13.

Taken as a whole, the book of 12 tells us that God cares about social justice. God judges nations for offering a different standard of justice based on how wealthy a person is. God is opposed to systems which keep the marginalized on the margins. The first 9 books can be understood to take place before the fall of Judah. They point out sins of social injustice and idolatry as what makes harsh judgment necessary.

The last 3 books are set in the period covered by Ezra and Nehemiah. How one interprets Ezra and Nehemiah change greatly based on whether one also reads Haggai Zachariah and Malachi; Ezra and Nehemiah alone paints a positive view of this period – and it makes sense, this period marked a return home with relative autonomy as a client state to the Persian empire. The prophets Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi painted a picture where the leaders who brought them into the new country were corrupt, that they embezzled, that they didn’t practice justice any more than the leaders before leaving Judah just as deserving of punishment. These prophets told us that even though the leaders spoke for God, God might not have said the things the leaders say. Is the mixing of races so wrong that God wants wives who fully participate in the community and worship God sent away? Does God want innocent children sent away because they are of mixed race? Ezra says yes… Malachi says: “God hates divorce” and rants at length about this mass sin that Judah committed.

When I read this as a whole, what I see is a reminder to those who returned to Judah that they are not yet living up to the promise God gave them, because they are not living according to the Law God gave them. I read an anthology that tells them that they are still living in the same sin as before the captivity, and they practice the same sin that other nations practice and that the same options remain as before: Repent and change or face disastrous judgment.


Personal update

I’ve not been updating my blog as often as before due to not having time to consider what I want to share with this specific audience. Recently, most of my sermons have been for the people inside the room. Like many people, I’ve found the world I live in confusing and I’m seeking answers. My attempts to explore these have not been something I have found a way to put into words.

A big piece of news is that I have been accepted, and have started research for a Ph.D. in religious studies. Specifically I’m studying how public Testimonies have changed in my own denominational group in context of the social changes that are happening in American culture. It is too early to predict what I’ll find, right now I’m only reading. If anybody is interested in what I’ve produced in the first couple months I have a new “blog” titled Book of extracts. This is a collection of position statements and policy decisions made in business meetings — publication date matches date of decision.

If anybody looks at this outside the context of the Society of Friends within the United States, they might find the collection confusing. Some knowledge of Friends history in the US would be helpful to ease that confusion.

During colonial times, Friends who settled in the New World formed Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings. The monthly meeting would conduct the common business of places of worship in a municipal area, the quarterly meeting all the shared business of member monthly meetings, and the yearly meeting the shared business of the Quarters. If we compare it to something familiar, it was an analogue to municipal, county, and state governments. Yearly Meetings handled things like amending the book of discipline and discipline of public ministers.

18th Century Yearly meetings were entirely independent of one another. Philadelphia YM, New England YM, Virginia YM, Baltimore YM, North Carolina YM, and New York YM all had their own ministers and structures and disciplines and a decision made in one Yearly meeting had no direct bearing on the others; though, as all the Yearly meetings except New York had very similar books of Discipline there was obvious cross influence. One thing missing from 18th and early 19th century books of discipline was a clear doctrinal statement; these books were largely about the proper way to handle common situations and informing members of how they are expected to behave.

Elias Hicks, New York YM minister who was active in the late 18th and early 19th century, became popular to the point that wherever he preached, the meetinghouse was full. People who had nothing to do with Friends came to listen to him. This became controversial when he preached outside the bounds of New York Yearly Meeting, and leaders in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting felt there was something off about the way he talked about Jesus.

Philadelphia yearly Meeting responded by publishing a book of doctrine which was extracted from 17th century Quaker writings, and passing minutes condemning Hicks. Other Yearly meetings followed suit. As Hicks was popular, not everybody agreed and suddenly there were nearly twice as many Yearly meetings, split on the lines of whether they thought Elias Hicks was treated poorly or appropriately. Those who supported Philadelphia Yearly Meeting formed a joint statement of faith in 1830, which was the first step in becoming a national organization.

About a decade after these splits, a minister, Joseph J. Gurney, visited from London Yearly Meeting, explicitly supporting the “Orthodox” Yearly Meetings. Just as Elias Hicks rubbed people in Philadelphia the wrong way when he talked about Jesus, some members of New England Yearly meeting were uncomfortable with Gurney’s treatment of the Holy Spirit; though it is likely that discomfort with Gurney’s political activism and ecumenicism had as great a role as the assertion that he devalued the Holy Spirit. American Friends of the time tended to be isolationists, and discouraged political activity. This resulted in another set of splits…. meaning even more Yearly meetings which are independent and overlapping; however not every Yearly meeting split, and there was a strong tendency for those meetings that did not split to have leadership with ‘conservative’ views.

Conservative in the context of the 1840’s means isolationist. An example is Indiana Yearly meeting where about 10% of their membership were disowned for joining activist groups that sought to end slavery and working with other religious bodies to speak against slavery from a faith context. Indiana Yearly meeting opposed owning slaves, and buying goods produced by slavery — but they also opposed joining with outside groups and ecumenical cooperation. Those who were kicked out formed a yearly meeting which did not work with other Friends, but instead worked with the Anti-Slavery factions of other denominations. The two groups were reconciled before the civil war, but not before showing the difference between the viewpoint that ‘there should be a law’, and the viewpoint that something should be a community norm, but not enforced outside the community.

Following the Civil war, something unexpected happened; everywhere Friends Ministers traveled, the meetinghouses were overfilled. There was something in the message of Friends that spoke to the needs of people who just went through the civil war. Historically, American Friends learned how to be part of a Friends community from their parents; while some joined because they were convinced, it generally wasn’t in large groups. Pastoral care and Christian education became urgent, and finding ways to address this new set of needs occupied Friends for the rest of the 19th century.

This national growth led to an interest in forming a national denominational body. Yearly Meetings that shared this interest met 3 times in the last quarter of the 19th century, and in 1902 agreed on a common book of discipline, with a common understanding of a pastoral system (something that led to further splits — as not everybody wanted to become what this defined), and a common understanding of pubic testimonies. They chose their political issues: Opposing War, Lynching, and liquor. They chose their personal public testimonies: Honesty, avoiding gossip and slander, not holding grudges or acting out of spite, treating others equally and fairly irregardless of race, gender, or economic class. And they formed structures for overseeing those active in Missions, Evangelism, and Education, along with special boards for those who worked to address the needs of black and indigenous peoples.

My research is to see how the public testimonies and political issues have changed in light of recent changes in American culture. The 1902 unity no longer exists, and there is no longer a single national body that can claim to represent American Orthodox Quakerism the way Five Years meeting once did, but there are about a dozen Yearly meetings that are from that line, and where one can see enough of a family resemblance to compare their divergent paths.


There is so much talk about the Asbury revival. Some people say it isn’t ‘real’ if there is not general repentance of systemic sin throughout the United States, and it leads to a measurable decrease in violence. Others expect it to reduce abortion. While people look for different outcomes, they look for national outcomes.

I grew up evangelical, and I am old enough to remember dedicated worship services that were intended to spark a revival. Some who planned them were even bold enough to call them revivals before they happened, hoping that one would lead to another. Evangelical faith has its roots in remembering revivals. I might not have gone to this event, but I’ve been to similar events with meaningful results.

Asbury college has chapels 3 times a week. As a Free Methodist school that is proud of it’s history of student revivals; not every cohort has experienced one, but there are five within living memory. At Asbury, these revivals are times of prayer and repentance that go beyond what the school planned for; times when students don’t leave the chapel because they are repenting, and praying for God to direct their life.

This sort of revivalism is about personal repentance and personal devotion to God. While there are a group who will look back on a shared experience, it is about the student’s repentance — not the transformation of the student’s parents. When we look for systemic change, we expect a lot out of one room of 18-22 year olds who are repenting of pettiness, holding grudges, and not minding their tongues when speaking of others. Today, they have little influence over anyone other than themselves. 10 years from now, some of them might have others who listen to them, 20 years from now, some might have broad influence; but, by the time any of them in in a place to bring recognizable change the Asbury revival will be a personal memory.

Evangelical faith is personal. It is about personal repentance, a personal relationship with Jesus, and personal interpretation of scriptures. Evangelicals value personal faith and faithfulness more than than the faithful community. Revival in such a context is also personal. It is about a time and place where a group of individuals repent of their own sins, and renew their own path with Jesus. There was some sort of call to repentance or commitment that rang true with many individuals — but their response is their own.

The right way to judge such a revival isn’t how effective people who cannot legally buy cigarettes or alcohol are at changing the world before the next revival event comes; it is whether the experience is something that shapes the future of these young men and women. The true test is whether they continue to remember their commitments and truly turn away from the sin they repented from.


Reading: Jeremiah 7, Lamentations 1

Last week we talked about Jeremiah in terms of a prophet who was calling out the sin of the entire community; and today’s Sunday School lesson really continued in that theme — it continued to the point where you see Jeremiah’s message against the temple.

One remarkable thing is that when Babylon comes, carries away what they find of value and destroy what they leave behind is that Jeremiah doesn’t say: “Told you so”; no, Jeremiah mourns the loss Jerusalem with those who have to endured the loss and were left behind where they can see the ruins daily.

Though few kings were obedient, the fall of the kingdom was something to mourn. Though the temple did not make the people, nor in some cases even the priests obedient to God, the loss of the temple was something to mourn.

Last week, I told you that God is with us when we lose our footing. Jeremiah told the people of Judah that God would be with them when institutions failed; and of course God was with them — God does not abandon us. This week, I want to remind you that even though God is with us, we still mourn. There is no amount of knowing that God is with us that makes grief go away.

The truth is, no matter how poorly the temple lived up to being the Temple of the Lord, it’s loss was heartbreaking. Though the symbol was imperfect the loss of both the temple and the Ark of the Covenant was a symbolic loss of God’s presence. While Jeremiah told the people the day would come when they wouldn’t even think about the loss anymore — that day doesn’t come quickly.

Scripture does not remember David’s dynasty kindly; it was one bad king after another. Samuel’s prophetic words warning the people of Israel that they would regret asking for a king were descriptive of David’s rule, and did not come close to what the people suffered as kings became more selfish and less concerned with the general population.

Even with a bad king, the loss of the kingdom was something to mourn. I’m sure we understand this emotionally; All of us have lived long enough to have a period when our government did things we thought were wrong, or harmful; but, even in the worst times, none of us would want our nation and government to be destroyed. Even when we are angry about the way our nation is being governed — it is our nation. We would be devastated if Washington were reduced to ruins, and a foreign power claimed ownership of the lane we lived on — and, there has never been a government bad enough to change this fact.

Mourning and feeling loss is part of being human. We mourn all of the wonderful people who shaped our lives when they pass. We mourn parents, grandparents, and sometimes great grandparents. We mourn friends and family of all sorts. We mourn our own phases of life. I believe often nostalgia comes from mourning adolescence.

We even mourn the loss of things we hated. We mourn the end of jobs we never loved. We mourn unreliable and rough automobiles that we only had because we couldn’t afford better back then. We mourn the loss of relationships with people who were cruel. One does not speak ill of the dead, no matter how nasty they were in life, because it is cruel to those who mourn. We basically mourn everything that marks a change so profound things can not be the same as they were before.

Every one of us has faced mourning in our own life. None of us can go back to 2019. We have buried friends and family. The way we work and face daily life has changed. There have been profound cultural shifts which I don’t pretend to understand; but I still sometimes feel a sense of loss.

I appreciate that the same prophet who denounced the behavior of the people, the nation, and even those associated with the temple mourned the loss of Jerusalem, the government, the temple and any other corrupt institutions of the time. It is possible to criticize something you love, and it is possible to mourn something or someone you knew was deeply flawed. We can love those who hurt us while still feeling hurt. We can lose faith in institutions, yet be devastated when they fail because we were right.

The hardest thing about mourning is that often when we are mourning, we can’t hear good news. We search for meaning, and even if we find some it does not help us feel better. Jeremiah knew that God’s people would find something better than the flawed institutions, and they would learn that God’s presence was not dependent upon those who had access to the box the kept God in. He also knew to mourn the loss of that box.

Whether we can hear it or not, the Good News is God remains with us. We read the prophets every year, because the prophets remind us that God’s promise and God’s presence is with us in the darkest of times. We read the prophets, so we can remember Jesus came when things seemed hopeless, and when promises was all anybody really had. Most of all, we read the prophets to remember that faith gives us permission to mourn even when what we mourn is far from perfect.

Faith polity and voting

I grew up in a Christian community that published it’s long-standing personal, polity, and political ideals in it’s Faith and Practice. (P. 17-20) This is a manual which gave a statement of doctrine, a brief historical summery, and a guide to organizational structure for local churches and the broader regional faith community. The group that produced and used this Faith and practice serves the great plains, from the Northern border of Kansas to South Texas.

While Faith and Practice has a process to amend it, and with any document that can be amended, has historically had some allowance for disagreement — this year I learned my old Yearly Meeting sent out a request that people in local leadership sign a form saying they are compliant with the document — there seemed to be specific concern regarding the section on “Christian relationship to government and society” — i.e the political positions; I’ll confess I don’t always think church groups write the best political statements, and there are parts of this section I don’t comply with in the voting booth, and even a section I oppose regarding church polity. In my defense compliance in the voting booth is not possible, because bluntly, nobody on my ballot has ever agreed with this whole list. In further defense, the section I oppose is expected to be amended next year to something I could accept, because it is known to be problematic.

I’m currently pastor at a small church that belongs to a related community and a century ago used the same book. When I entered this position it was without a the benefit of a similar manual. I know Friends here have committees to write position statements on the issue of the year, and minute it at Yearly Meeting sessions, but I cannot find a list of perennial issues like in my old Faith and Practice. There is not a platform of political ideals based on our shared beliefs — it is quite striking that this is missing, as I know it was historically there (My childhood yearly meeting expanded them from when they were part of the Unified Discipline). I would like to learn the history of it’s removal; I would still like to think about this list shapes my decisions at the ballot box. I am aware that my current community’s list would not be identical, there has been a few generations of divergence — but I’m also aware that our communities here also believe faith informs our choices. The core principle I know still remains is we believe God created humanity in God’s image, and we are supposed to talk and act like it.

I will go over the list my childhood community currently uses. There are minor changes from 2010, but it is largely familiar. Mostly I am thinking about it because if I ministered in Kansas, I would have to sign a form saying I was compliant. I’m not sure I could sign such a form in any election year… not considering that ‘vote’ is on the list… but, I also do not fully agree with the list; I’m pretty sure those who demanded people sign a form affirming compliance are not in fully agreement of every point either… if they did, there would not be an amendment in process, expected to take effect in 2023.

  1. The poor — we are advised to support the needs of the poor, as individuals, and as a church community. The advise does not tell how to apply this to the voting booth — but I’ve always interpreted it as I shouldn’t vote to make poor people’s lives worse, nor vote for those who would use their position to harass the poor because they are poor. My current faith community has made real effort to support the needs of the poor, especially during the covid pandemic. There are a number of people who are currently in their homes who might not be if not for the extraordinary generosity of my church community.
  2. Schools — we are advised to support the schools in our community, support and encourage teachers, and vote for school boards that support teachers and schools. I have taken this advice to mean to encourage and support teachers. Unfortunately, Teachers are too often being treated as if education has no value and are facing harassment from multiple sources. Even if this were not on the list I was taught, it would be on my personal list because there are students and teachers in my faith community and their needs are important to me.
  3. We are advised to be active in politics; but respectfully and out of a concern for righteousness, not the ‘delight of controversy’ We are also advised to vote for individuals rather than parties. I take this advice to mean that character matters and methods matter. It is better to have someone I disagree with who acts in good faith, is willing to listen, and has genuinely good intentions than somebody who I agree with who just wants to win, acts in bad faith…. and likely only agrees with me because he told me what he knows I want to hear to gain my support.
  4. Capitol punishment: We’re against it. Not much an issue in Kansas since the death penalty has been on a moratorium for decades; and fully ending it would be symbolic. In Indiana (where I now live), it is would not be symbolic; there are people on death row, and the pause in executions is unofficial, though it has been a long pause. As far as elections go, I’ve not seen anybody say they intend to end the death penalty — There are examples of prosecutors and elected politicians who feel it is important to execute people they know are innocent… sometimes they make national news.
  5. Friends believe war is evil — it is a great evil to the people who suffer it — both soldiers and civilians, and we look for other ways of resolving international disputes. — is there a choice for this one other than the Libertarian party? unfortunately, both major parties have been controlled by war hawks my whole life. We are also reminded that Friends support the rights of conscientious objectors… (which is actually a thing in the U.S. — any time since WW1 that there has been a draft, alternative service has existed.)
  6. “Oaths:” Not really applicable just an acknowledgement that the ‘affirmation’ formula is cool, and exists in the US because of our faith community. (Legally, there is no difference between ‘swear’ or ‘affirm’ — it is was just a way of allowing Quakers and other minor religious groups to listen to Jesus when he said “swear not at all”, while most other Christian groups felt this was hyperbole to make a point. I use the affirm formula. so I’m compliant)
  7. Don’t join secret societies… not applicable at the the voting booth, nor in really in church polity as it doesn’t advise any restrictions to participation for members of groups like the Masons. As nobody has ever offered to sponsor me, not applicable in my personal life. Easy for me to follow because it is so not applicable to my life. I personally wonder if any Masons were asked to sign the form saying they comply, and if so how they responded.
  8. This section is titled “equality of persons” — it is in desperate need of editing and I am told that the needed edit is expected to happen next year. I am not compliant (pre-edit). I do not ‘council our youth considering the social problems involved with interracial marriage.’ I am in an interracial marriage, and find the idea of compliance by telling my church’s youth that my marriage is a social problem offensive. Being asked to sign a form saying I’m compliant would make me angry because this clause exists. (fortunately, I’m not in that situation, because I know the kind of things I would say to people in leadership) This clause is also a non-sequitur -because the rest of the statement is a statement saying we oppose discrimination based on race, gender, socioeconomic class or nationality. We oppose injustice based on these things… and we seek to “bind up the hurts of those who are injured”. Unfortunately — I’ve seen politicians running against this. There will likely be someone on my ballot in 2 years who promised to take away my sister and brother in laws right to vote due to their ethnic background, even though they have been US citizens since birth. This not only part of my faith based voting, but it’s personal, it’s about my family.
  9. “Stewardship of Earth and it’s resources” — straight up 1990’s National Association of Evangelicals position. God appointed humanity stewards, thus we are responsible for the Earth. It also alludes to ‘equality of persons’ — which I interpret as, if a business interests poisons a water supply, or releases pollution that destroys the health of a community — the people who profit from poisoning their neighbors tend to not to drink from the well they poisoned… and it mentions living in extravagance while others live in poverty, which is not easy to comply with because human nature sees someone else living in extravagance instead of looking at ourselves. I think we try in our personal lives and our meeting to be mindful of our ‘footprint’. Political rhetoric here range from pragmatic to “rolling coal.” The Green party isn’t exactly on my ballot.
  10. Abortion: “Friends believe all life is a gift from God therefore when the matter of abortion is considered neither the life of the mother nor of the unborn child is to be lightly treated…. abortion on demand for personal convenience, social adjustment, or economic advantage is morally wrong” — Not as easy a vote as one might think… we’ve got an elected politician where I live openly saying that if a woman has a ectopic pregnancy, her family should just accept it was her time to die, and look to faith in God for comfort. We’ve also elected politicians openly saying abortion is an absolute right, citing personal convenience and economic advantage. Do we trust lawmakers who openly devalue the life of the mother? I don’t want to bury my wife or a church member because an ideology that does not value any life decided the wording of the law. My conscience is not comfortable with the turn this debate has taken in recent days.
  11. Unintelligible. I cannot parse this statement in a way to apply it to a church community, to the voting booth, nor even to my personal life. I mean.. okay, it tells me some accepted translation of a Greek word in several Biblical texts — but, the Biblical texts cited are there to remind me that I’m a sinner too and I need Jesus and forgiveness no less than those people who sin differently than I do. The scriptural context is not difficult to discern unless one stops reading before lines like: “You are no better.” This of course is a newish statement which I guess seemed clear to those who wrote it; hopefully if they want people/leaders to comply, they write a statement that can followed beyond a directive for Biblical translation. As long as it is silent regarding participation and whether there are limits to participation it is not a polity statement. Without suggesting a political position, it is also not a political statement.

Whether our faith communities have these lists or not, our faith shapes our moral views; and our moral views shape the way we vote. Voting however is a compromise. We always have to balance a number of considerations and hope for the best. Sometimes, we have to choose the lesser evil — but, if we don’t remember the lesser evil is evil we might mistakenly call it good one day. For me, this is one of the strengths of these list — I realize when I ‘vote’ I do my best with the choice I’m given and sometimes there are no good choices. I also realize that others face the same struggle every couple years. Having a list reminds me of the compromises I chose so I don’t call what I once called evil good.

What is important to me — and why I value the list is that we can’t afford to allow political strategies to determine our morality. Changing our beliefs so our ‘party’ can win elections is not acceptable. I’ve seen that shift in people I’ve known for years — things they never believed before, and sometimes things they believed against (both politically and theologically) suddenly became things they ‘always believed’ when the party’s political position changed. If we are not grounded in our faith, we become subject to being blown and tossed by the winds of the day.

My evangelical background and my Friends taught me that Christians should be a good influence in society — that we are to participate in government, in teaching, etc. We can’t be a Christian influence if we allow political expediency to tell us what we believe this year; so, if our faith suggests something that translates into politics, it is important to know what we believe

Introduction to Jeremiah

Reading: Jeremiah 1-5

For the past couple months, we’ve been talking about the Prophet Isaiah, we are following up with Jeremiah and Lamentations. It is likely you will notice some similarities between Isaiah and Jeremiah; this is because the first part of Isaiah and Jeremiah speak about the same time period. Jeremiah prophecies while Josiah is king and continued to prophecy until the time of the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah was active when Isaiah was dead, speaking of current events that Isaiah prophesied. Tradition tells us that Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah, Lamentations, and I and II Kings.

Jeremiah and Isaiah are different in that Jeremiah was somewhat more successful than Isaiah while in his life. Isaiah 6 tells us that God told Isaiah that he’s not live to see anyone listen to him, and Isaiah didn’t live until the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah, on the other hand, lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and was one of the people left behind.

When we read I and II Kings, we see that there is a pattern of bad kings. We see that even the Temple built to God was built as much for a king’s pride as it was to honor God, and that God wanted people to follow God’s law and treat one another not just fairly but generously. God wanted the Law and a devotion to God to shape the nature of the nation, and the theme of I and II Kings is instead, they built a temple not only to God, but also to the gods common to Canaan, the Law was neglected, and the social order God called for was never enacted.

We see that there was in this mess of bad kings a good king who when confronted with the Law truly repented, and made a real attempt to have people hear and obey the Torah. This good king was Josiah, and this repentance happened 5 years into Jeremiah’s ministry.

Another difference is while Isaiah was a member of the royal family, and prophesied to his cousins, Jeremiah was the son of a priest, and prophesied to everybody. Isaiah condemned, primarily, the Sin of those with power, and was executed for it. Jeremiah condemned the sinfulness of the nation, including both the powerless, and those with power — and, was imprisoned without food for it.

One thing that is unfair about how we remember the prophets is that while Isaiah is remembered for the promise of restoration, Jeremiah is remembered for condemning sin. This is unfair, because Jeremiah was released before he died, and he encouraged those who were not taken into the Babylonian captivity, reminding them that God still cared for them even after everything was lost. Perhaps I and II Kings is about reminding those who were left in the ruins of Judah and Israel that God doesn’t need the temple, and they are closer to God if they are faithful than they were when the temple stood.

The thing is that we remember Jeremiah for the condemnation of sin to the point where we call the condemnation of sin that pollutes a whole society a Jeremiad. Jeremiads are both quite common in the United States, throughout our history, and they are also quite unpopular. When we hear them, we say: “that’s somebody else’s responsibility,” or “Sin is a matter of personal responsibility, systemic sin does not exist.” We often have the idea that because we vote, we’re going to get good results, missing that the opinion of a couple hundred million sinners is still the opinion of sinners.

In spite of this tendency, we still hear Jeremiads all the time. For example: People say we are doomed because of tribalism. Others says we are doomed because we tolerate diversity instead of making sure our tribe wins. While there is disagreement on which behavior is sinful, both are Jeremiads. When natural disasters come, there are preachers who notice they seem more common than they were a few decades ago and say it is because of sin in the community. This definitely happened when New Orleans was struck by Katrina. There are others who say climate change is an environmental disaster of our own making, and will get worse until it destroys us if we don’t repent and change our ways. While the religious language is mine, it is still basically a Jeremiad calling out a sin and saying there will be consequences.

Ironically, I’ve even read a Jeremiad against Jeremiads written by Keven DeYoung, a Presbyterian pastor. Fortunately, it was titled “The temptation of the Jeremiad”, suggesting the author understood the irony. To be fair, when one contemporary Jeremiah is saying: “we need to repent from this Sin, or we will face destruction, and another is saying… no, that thing you called a sin is a virtue, we need to do more of it, or face destruction”, they can’t both be right. In a world filled with false Jeremiahs, we clearly have a problem and need discernment.

If we remember recent history though, we realize that condemning Jeremiads is pretty common. When the whole nation is called to repent, people get pretty angry — whether is is a non-religious appeal to protect the environment, or the director of the third largest radio network, and largest religious network saying the *whole nation* is being punished for its toleration of sin, we get angry. (Dr. Dobson along with Pat Robertson both lost influence when they named a disaster a punishment for national sin rather than regional sin. As long as they blamed a city, or California and said God was punishing them, it was okay, but nobody wanted to hear that we all sinned and God punished us.) A Jeremiad sermon can force a nationally respected pastor into retirement, especially when quoted out of context. We would also throw our Jeremiahs in prison and forget to feed them if we could because we don’t like being reminded of corporate or systemic sin any more than the people of Judah did.

And that is something I want to point out — when we reject our modern Jeremiahs, not because they are calling evil good and good evil, but because we hate the idea that America can be sinful — we miss what Paul taught us; that we all need saved from sin. Rich Mullins said that the belief that Democracy inherently leads to righteous decisions is bad math — whether the decision is made by 1 sinner or a hundred million sinners, it is made by sinners. People sin, and by extension, whole communities sin.

The good news we find in the book of Jeremiah, even though it is often forgotten, is that repentance is possible. Even though the whole nation was steeped in sin, and king Josiah was raised in sin and trained to sin, Josiah repented and the nation repented with him. Future generations started sliding away, but repentance happened, and this had a positive influence that lasted until the final generations that lived in Judah before the nation was destroyed. Without Josiah’s repentance, there might not have been a strong enough remnant for the captives to return.

Further good news is that God had plans and mercy to those who were left behind, and not just those who prospered in Babylon. Though Jerusalem was destroyed, there was no temple. Though the educated and skilled workers were removed from the community leaving the poor and the unskilled to survive as they could, God was still with them. Jeremiah promised God would preserve them — both those of Israel and Judah who were left behind. God desires faithfulness more than buildings and institutions; and even though the institutions collapsed and the building burned, the people can still be faithful. God is with us, even after it seems our world has ended.

I know this is good news that I need from time to time. While I’ve not seen complete societal collapse, I’ve felt unmoored. I’ve experienced how much family dynamics change when the people most devoted to connecting families together pass away. I’m not the only one to have experienced that loss. I’ve seen minor institutions come and go. The good news is that when institutions fail, and we’re unmoored, God is still with us. Jeremiah isn’t a prophet of doom and gloom, Jeremiah like Isaiah is a prophet of hope. We have hope, not because of human institutions but because God will not abandon us.

God’s Politics

reading: Isaiah 29

There are some parts of the Bible that are all about politics, and there is nothing we can do about it. When God gave the Law to Moses, the law established government and bureaucracy — it was political. When we read the prophets, there is generally a political element. The book of Esther is political intrigue. Even Jesus engaged in politics, debating with the political leaders of his day — and, the crucifixion was highly political. Paul played politics.

Now God’s politics is problematic at best. People argue about which political parties or nations God supports. National leaders talk about which nation God supports. We even see the primary Christian bishop of a nation where a minority identify as Christian using holy war language against a majority Christian nation.

One thing in my national history that stands out is how in the 19th century, there was a debate on who God supported in the civil war. Most of the denominations in the United States split in the 1840’s, over a decade before the Civil war, and lines were drawn in churches before shots were fired. People were sure that God was on their side. Abraham Lincoln when asked if he believed God was on his side responded: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Currently, we are looking at sections of the book of Isaiah. Last week, I mentioned that tradition says the prophet was a member of the Royal family; but more important than why Isaiah could speak so frankly to the king is the fact he was addressing the King as God’s prophet. Isaiah was speaking to the King and telling him that Judah wasn’t on God’s side, and that bad things would happen. Babylon wasn’t on God’s side either; but, outside of divine intervention, Judah would fall to Babylon.

Part of what we see in the Prophets is that God is active in preserving Israel and Judah against long odds. They are surrounded by world empires, and it is only by the grace of God that they are not annexed. This may be hard for us; often things happen in our lives that make us wonder why God’s hand isn’t more active. Things happened in Judah that made their people wonder the same things as well.

Chapter 29 starts with telling Jerusalem that God will fight against them, and it ends promising that the time will come when the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the tyrant and the scoffer will be no more, and those who do evil — such as those who “cause a person to lose a lawsuit… and undermine justice” will be cut off.

I think my ethics classes for my insurance license colors how I interpret this passage — because one line that stands out like it is highlighted that I never thought about before is those who ’cause a person to lose a lawsuit… and undermine justice.’

Remember, this prophecy is directed at kings. One does not call a peasant a tyrant. While I might sue the state, or a company; no company needs sue me. If I owe them, but question the legitimacy of the bill, I am sent to collections, and they get the money one way or another. If they owe me, nothing short of a lawsuit will get my money back. If I owe the state, and refuse to pay, they will simply take the money. Those with the power to delay or prevent justice are the ones with all the power.

When I think about this, along with my insurance classes, I’m reminded that they talked about contracts of adhesion, and how insurance companies have all of the power, and thus are held to a strict standard in honoring the contract. When we learned about the unfair claims legislation, I noticed it was largely about delay tactics, denying claims without investigating them, and underpaying claims. The adjuster is held to a standard that they are not to be the ones who undermine justice, nor cause a person to unjustly lose the case. They are also a fiduciary to the insurance company they work for, which makes for a conflict of interest — especially when someone in management tells the adjusters to pay out less or deny more claims.

Point is, Judah was being judged, among other things, because not everybody received justice because the courts favored some people over others. God sided with those who were wrongly harmed, but not compensated because the justice system ignored them. God values restorative justice for the vulnerable instead of a system that leaves them destitute when they are wronged. An adjuster reads this as if it was written for him.

While the prophets talk to governments, Jesus talks to people who do not enjoy political power. When he gives advice on how to live well in a community, his people are occupied by an empire which has little interest in justice for the occupied people, and definitely no interest in the justice spelled out in Torah. For the most part, we can’t prevent justice — we don’t have the power, yet Jesus had advice for us too:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:24-26 NRSV

Jesus’s advice to us is own up and pay without needing arbitration. He warns us that justice for the person who we wronged may be unpleasant for us — and this is true; but more importantly, making things right builds a personal relationship, while lawsuits destroy them. Coming to an equitable settlement face to face makes things right today, not months from now. Later Jesus says to give even more than what was demanded — we should be more than fair to those we wrong.

I believe that scripture brings us good news — and the good news here is God wants justice for the marginalized. If someone harms them, God wants justice for them. The good news is God is active in the world we live in — and if we are not on God’s side, God is still on God’s side, and in the long game God wins. The good news is that Jesus calls us to practice justice without being forced to. Jesus came to save us from our sin, and this includes the sin of being unjust, especially to those who are marginalized. Jesus taught us new ways to act and live, ways to preserve relationships that could have been broken.