Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
One of the times this text from Jeremiah appeared in the lectionary cycle, it did so follow close on the heels of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The next time it appeared was when our eyes were turned towards Iraq. Many read this passage and immediately turned their thoughts to the people of those cities, with Jeremiah’s injunction to pray for the welfare of the city. Even people who disliked New York found themselves praying for the people of the city and trying to find ways to help them. For many months, we all felt like New Yorkers. The context of Jeremiah, however, along with our changed world context over the last three years, might lead us more logically to be thinking of Baghdad or other cities in the world where there are people we name, or who name themselves, as the enemies of North America. And how about all the destroyed cities and town in Syria?
After all, the people to whom Jeremiah addressed his letter had been taken captive, exiled from their homeland, placed in the midst of their enemies in the city of Babylon, symbol of what, for the exiles, seemed the “evil empire.” He was not inviting them to seek the welfare of a downtrodden people, but rather the welfare of their enemies. He urged them to contribute to the economic life of the city, to flourish as families in the city, to pray to God on behalf of the city and its inhabitants.
Talk about counter-intuitive instructions! One might have expected him to encourage them to form an underground and engage in resistance activities to bring down the conquerors of the Babylonian empire. One might have expected him to encourage them to set up an underground railroad system to get people out of Babylon and back to Jerusalem. What he recommends seems like capitulation, a denial of who they are as a people.
Yet, what Jeremiah calls them to do actually holds up the best of who they are as a people. God had commissioned the chosen people to be a light to the nations. By their words and the way, they lived their lives, they were to show forth God’s will for how all people in the world should live. Their most profound form of resistance would be to live lives of love, healing and productivity, not giving into despair or hopelessness, for they knew God to be God, no matter where the people were.
Jeremiah throughout his life and ministry refused to get caught up in parochialism and insisted on seeing the bigger picture of God’s work in all of the world. Many people did not like what he had to say, because it called them to see the world differently, to understand their choosiness as bigger than Israel or Judah. He was before his time in understanding how small the earth is and how interconnected its peoples.
In the world in which we live today, that smallness is even more pronounced. Our economic life is intimately connected to the lives of people in places like Mexico City, New Delhi, Beijing, Riyadh, and Johannesburg. Our political life is intimately connected to the lives of people and their leaders in those cities and London, Moscow, Paris, Seoul, Tehran, and Baghdad. Our environmental life is intimately connected to the lives of people and their leaders in those cities and Brasilia, Bogota, Toronto, Ulan Bator, and places whose names we would not even recognize. Sometimes we see these people as allies and friends. Sometimes we feel we are being held hostage to decisions made far from our shores.
Climate change and pollution from China to India effects each of us. The economic lives of those in far off places in Europe and the Middle East has a direct effect upon each of us. The idea of a worldwide recession should concern us all because we are so interconnected. Ultimately, the welfare of all the earth is the concern of each person on the earth. As North American Christians, there are ways we can live to enhance not only our own welfare, but the welfare of the world, and there are ways we can live which hurt the welfare of city and country people around the world. There are those in other lands who have something to contribute to our welfare as well. The fact that Luke notes that it was only the foreigner, the Samaritan leper, returned to give thanks to Jesus for being healed brings home these points in yet another way. Acts which build up the whole body do not always come in places or from people one might expect. Jeremiah, and Jesus, make clear these acts which build up should definitely come from us.
What is a rather unusual piece of prophecy—a letter carried by royal emissaries from Judah to Babylon—Jeremiah now addresses not his usual audience of local Judeans and Jerusalemites but those who have already experienced divine judgment and have been deported to Babylon. It is, however, essentially the same message that he has delivered to the Judeans at home (chap. 27): “Do not resist; carry on your lives; learn to come to terms with your situation.” If the words of this letter are a counterpart to the oracles addressing the Judeans in the land, they are also a counterpart to the “peace” prophecy of Hananiah in chap. 28 (see 28:9), for now we hear Jeremiah speaking of “peace” for the people. Three times the divine oracle speaks of peace in v. 7 and then once again in v. 11. But the peace and well-being the Lord promises to the exiles through Jeremiah are radically different from that promised by Hananiah and prophets like him. Such peace is not to be found in resistance and rebellion—and this letter may have been sent when there were signs of such in the Babylonian Empire—but in submission. It is not to be found in returning to home, land, and family but in settling into exile and building homes and farms and families there. The exiles are not to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” as the psalmist commends (Ps 122:6 NRSV), but for the peace of Babylon! Psalm 122 gives us some idea of what sort of praying is envisioned:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.” (NRSV)
But such prayers of intercession would have included prayers for Babylon’s deliverance from threats and dangers as well.
Within these commands to the exiles is an assurance that the divine blessing of fertility, well-being, productivity, and the regular provision of the possibilities of life continues even in exile. The punishment characteristic of what has happened is clear, and it is not quickly over. So for that very reason, the exiles are enjoined to find their life now in this new and difficult place, assured by the command of God that life is possible, that home and family, food and shelter, the things that support and keep human beings human, are possible—and over the long haul. The creation blessing of Gen 1:28–30 continues, even in exile.
Jeremiah’s letter is a rather astonishing manifestation of his commission “to build and to plant” (v. 5; cf. 1:10). It is worth noting that the divine commission in Jeremiah’s call to “build and plant” comes after the other commands “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.” Jeremiah’s earlier words have been in fulfillment of the first part of that commission; now he is carrying out the second part, albeit quite strangely or unpredictably. The positive possibilities for life—home, productivity, and family—are to be found in exile. Strangest of all is the prayer for the enemy capital that brought about Judah’s downfall.
There is a pragmatic dimension to the direction the Lord gives to the people through Jeremiah. Those who live in Babylon can find their possibilities for life only as Babylon is a viable place to live, secure and at peace. So seeking the peace and welfare of Babylon is not simply altruistic; it is a safeguard on the possibility of the deportees’ finding their own well-being in a difficult situation. If Babylon is besieged and attacked, if it is subject to plague or famine, then the exiles will suffer also.
(Miller, P. D. The Book of Jeremiah. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] V 6 p792)
1. We need to become accustomed to the way the Bible skews or modifies our common understandings of the way things are or should be. That is surely nowhere more evident than in some of the things we learn about its notions and visions of peace. There are many ways in which they correspond to what we would expect and to our human instincts for peace and well-being. That is certainly the case in this chapter, in which home and family, place to live and productive lands, are the šālôm the Lord offers to the exiles. But to find one’s peace in enemy territory is not expected. The šālôm for this very nationalistic community is to be found in submission and acceptance of foreign domination. If the components sound right, the place sounds wrong. But that is the point about the Lord’s peace. There are often ways in which it will not fit what we expect or want. And there are lines of connection to the peace Christ gives that is not as the world gives (John 14:27). It is real, but it may come by way of a cross. William Alexander Percy captured this often paradoxical and surprising šālôm in his hymn about Jesus’ disciples, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee”:
The peace of God it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod.
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing—
The marvelous peace of God.
Yet the vision is still one of peace; the blessing the Lord offers is the possibility of good and well-being in the midst of judgment and punishment. That seems a strange combination. We expect either/or. But the biblical story is often more complex and realistic than our own imaginations. The punishment is real; seventy years is a full lifetime, and those who went into exile will not return home. But in many ways that punishment is ameliorated. That should not be surprising to those who read of clothes the Lord made for a disobedient Adam and Eve or of a mark to protect a murderous Cain or a planter of vineyards to give relief from the cursed ground (Gen 5:28). Exile is no easy matter. The Bible does not view it positively and, even in this text, anticipates an end and the return home. But in the midst of exile, there is the possibility of life, even as Jeremiah claimed that in the midst of foreign domination there was the possibility of survival. Nor should we miss the way in which the words of Jeremiah called for the people to “multiply and not decrease” in exile (29:6), a reiteration of the blessing of creation in Gen 1:22. The blessing of God is—as it was once before—away from the place where we expect it. It may be down in Egypt and lead to slavery; it may come in Babylon in the midst of foreign exile. Blessing and peace and life are possible outside the customary parameters. Here, they are offered as gifts in the midst of judgment and punishment.
Patriotism and nationalism are so much the order of the day in contemporary society, and particularly on American soil, that it is hard to contemplate the call to accept domination, to make one’s peace with being deported, to settle in and live normal lives on enemy territory. We are not Judean exiles, but there may be an underlying challenge to some of our absolutes in hearing about their story, if in no other way than making us think about the possible modes of judgment and survival for either church or nation in our own time. Exile might turn out to be our lot. If it does, at least we know there was a time when God’s people were sent into exile and called to live there, to find their well-being by carrying on their lives in a hostile, foreign territory. (Miller, P. D. The Book of Jeremiah. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] V6 p795)
This passage needs a historical context for its significance to be appreciated, it is this one. So, the opening verse states clearly the situation; namely, that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has deported elders (v. 2 adds other important figures) from Jerusalem to Babylon. It is to them that the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter, the chief contents of which are given in verses 4–7. Amplification of the context and a further exchange of correspondence take up the rest of chapter 29.
The first deportation under Nebuchadnezzar occurred in 597 B.C. It was followed by a second, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586, and a third in 581. As is apparent from chapter 24, which has the same historical backdrop as chapter 29, the obvious conclusion for those seeking any kind of theological explanation for the shock of deportation was that the refugees were the ones who were being punished for their unfaithfulness to God. Conversely, those so far remaining in Judah were being rewarded for their faithfulness. In the vision narrated in chapter 24, this interpretation is turned on its head. It is with those in exile that the future lies. God’s punishment always has a purpose, and this purpose lies in his reforming his people so that they will live faithfully (24:5–7). That land was given to their ancestors is indeed significant, but there are still those who have to be exiled from it (24:8–10).
The interpretation Jeremiah offers them is that they must accept their predicament and try to see it in positive terms. The key to this lies in believing that God, in spite of appearances, is still in control. He is still “the God of Israel,” who deserves the title “LORD of hosts.” This is sometimes taken as referring to “heavenly hosts” in the sense of the moon and the stars—the cosmos—and sometimes to “military hosts” in the sense of great armies. Either derivation gives it the connotation of power. In chapter 27 Jeremiah speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as the servant of this Lord (v. 6), and what lies behind his contention, as he opens his communication to the exiles, is that it is God who has sent them from Jerusalem to Babylon (29:4; cf. 29:7).
If they can make some sort of sense of their new situation, then perhaps they can throw themselves into it rather than counting the days until it is over. “Live in the present” is the crux of his advice. This means living normally, with long-term projects of building houses and planting gardens (v. 5). “To build” and “to plant” represent the creative activity of God himself in the account of Jeremiah’s call (1:10). Now the people have to recognize this activity in “a foreign land” (cf. Ps. 137:4) and cooperate with it in their small way. “Lay foundations” in every possible sense is the gist of it. Grow your own food. Marry and have not only children there but also grandchildren (v. 6). In other words, their generation will live out their lives in exile. They should, therefore, do this not reluctantly but enthusiastically, recognizing Babylonian welfare as their own (v. 7). In this final verse of our passage, they are enjoined to pray on Babylon’s behalf. In the cold light of biblical exegesis, this might sound a rather obvious thing to do, but against the white heat of bitter disappointment and ethnic animosity which marks any deportation, it is surely remarkable.
Many scholars, even those most skeptical of how far we can posit a real figure of Jeremiah behind the prose and even the poetry of the book, rate the contents of this passage highly. So, Robert Carroll, in his commentary, says: “This is civil religion at its very best.” He judges it to be a rare combination in the Bible of “domesticity and devotion, hard work and prayer,” all contributing to the welfare (shalom) of everyone who is bound up together in normal existence. He goes on: “Unique though the prescriptions may be in the Bible, they are a remarkably acute assessment of the situation and a blueprint for millennia to come” (Jeremiah: A Commentary [London: SCM Press, 1986], p. 556). Carroll’s words take on a peculiar force as I write in the year of his own sudden and premature death and the turn of a millennium. “Life goes on” is not only a cliché, but also patently untrue. For some, life does not go on, and for many a drastic change—especially when it involves major loss—makes life as it has been known a thing of the past. The loss of their land, their people, and their precious temple which had spelled security, even if of a somewhat misguided sort (cf. Jer. 7:4), must have made the exiles inherently skeptical of, if not downright hostile to, receiving advice about continuity and stability.
The single most astonishing aspect of this advice lies in the command to pray for Babylon. In the book of Jeremiah, not only are there oracles against the nations, but also specific appeals to God to zap one’s personal opponents. We see in 17:18 and 18:21, for example, the natural expression of Jeremiah’s hostility. Yet in 18:20 he reminds God that he has interceded for his “adversaries.” In the perpetual contrast popularly made between Old and New Testaments, Jesus is held up as the first to enjoin prayer for one’s enemies (Matt. 5:44) and to pray for his own (Luke 23:34). This is clearly not so. Not only Jeremiah but also the servant of Isaiah 53:12 did so. Jeremiah’s outpourings reflect something of the struggle in offering such prayer with any degree of sincerity.
Of all the remarkable words of this letter to the exiles, it is this injunction to pray which is the most instructive. It is central to his notion that religious faith, if it is at all genuine, must be transferable—from land to land, from circumstance to circumstance. Houses would normally be dedicated (Deut. 20:5), as they still are in Judaism. Firstfruits would be offered to God (Deut. 26:2). The clear implication of Jeremiah 29:5 is that such devotion must continue. The prophet Ezekiel, himself deported in 597, gives us the impression that the exiles were left free and unmolested to lead the lives they chose (Ezek. 3:15; 8:1; 14:1; 20:1). Lead them then, says Jeremiah. Ignore the spurious promises of the prophets whose religion is root-bound in Jerusalem and its temple. Fanatics are always in a hurry. Entertain the prospect of a stay of seventy years (29:10) rather than two (28:3). Whether specific or a generally round figure, seventy years means a long haul.
It is interesting that Jeremiah did not mention trade and commerce, an area in which the Jews through the centuries of later world-wide dispersion have excelled. Numerous factors such as the prohibition that hindered them from owning land, kept them from cultivating the soil. However, in the first century A.D., Josephus could write “As for ourselves, we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor delight in commerce, nor in such intercourse with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and as we have a fruitful country to dwell in, we take pains in cultivating it” (Contra Apion I, 60 ). (Feinberg, C. L. Jeremiah. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel [1986, Grand Rapids, MI] V 6 p552–4)
Somehow politics has made the word globalization very unpopular. However, we all need to realize how interconnected each of us is with one another. That is the underlying theme for this morning. To state things simply we are a small interconnected world, but our connection to Jesus makes our global connection much stronger as we travel not only through time but also our small world.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
The real world is a staggeringly complex place, comprised of level upon level of dynamic, interacting systems. Population growth is a good example of this. Populations size changes over time due to births and deaths and migration to and from a given population. To study population growth researchers must calculate how many births, deaths, and migrations occur in a given year. Many factors go into calculating the number of births. First, we need to know how many women of childbearing age are in the population, how many of those women will actually have children, and how many children each will have. Childbearing rates are driven by a number of factors, including female education levels, contraception use, and income. Each of these, in turn, is driven by other factors including governance (education spending, health spending, reproductive and family planning policies), health (high infant mortality tends to drive more births), and access to infrastructure (access to clean water and sanitation reduces infant mortality)—and all this just for the number of births!
Clearly, no model can capture the real world’s every detail, but models are still powerful tools for understanding how the world works, and IFs includes more variables and connections from a wider range of key development systems than any other forecasting model available today (and it does so for 186 countries). Given its complexity, we have tried to keep IFs as transparent as possible. Below is an interactive diagram of the IFs model structure, designed to help you understand how IFs builds its forecasts.
The network diagram begins with a bird’s-eye-view of the main submodules within IFs: agriculture, economy, education, energy, environment, socio-political, health, infrastructure, international politics, population, and human development, and the basic connections between each. You can use the interface controls to drill down through categories and subcategories within each module to individual variables and parameters, follow connections from one variable or category to another, or even search for specific variables and connections. Click the image below to explore our network diagram beta version.
Each main module can be expanded into its constituent segments by either double clicking the node or by using the tree on the right side of the screen. The nodes can be collapsed by either right-clicking the node or by using the tree. A single click on any node will display information about the module, segment, or variable/parameter in the information tab at the bottom of the screen. Links to the help system of IFs will also appear in the information tab. We encourage you to load saved states using the "action" option in the top left corner of the screen or make your own diagrams using the "save" option.
IFs can help you better recognize possible unintended long-term consequences of action or inaction today. In the same vein, IFs can help you identify more effective avenues for achieving your goals. At the Pardee Center, we try to reduce some of the uncertainty inherent in long-term planning and policy formation. With IFs, we hope to strengthen the mental models that underlie pivotal decisions affecting sustainable human and social development around the world. (https://pardee.du.edu/understand-interconnected-world)
Globalization: It’s a Small World After All. Chinese companies are going global. Western companies, seeing revenues shift to emerging markets, are scrambling to find board directors from those regions. Businesses used to outsource processes to low-income countries, but today those countries are moving up the value chain.
Flexibility is enhanced by technology to access the best talent anywhere in the world, and some companies have sourced their entire staff from freelancers. The trend is for companies to be global, even at the small and startup size.
Globalization affects corporate policy and practice with a profound impact on our day-to-day work from dual-career couples chasing work opportunities across continents to those infamous late-night conference calls. Will we be signed on as an expat and get six-weeks’ paid holiday and nine-months’ maternity leave or signed on as a local with less generous policies?
I remember the shock my colleagues from the editorial department had at Financial Times when they found out I had an eight-week statutory maternity leave instead of the nine months our colleagues received in the UK. Now, just a decade later, Financial Times has standardized global maternity leave at twenty weeks, making them a leader in the global trend toward better policies for families across a global workforce.
This is a world that most leaders couldn’t even imagine in the recent past. Some people would rather not deal with all of the complexity and just want to open a bookstore or a cupcake shop on the corner. Yet, the harsh reality is that even at the local level, commodity prices can have a huge effect on the purchase of wheat, fuel, paper, and any number of other business needs. It’s important not to take it for granted and realize we have a great advantage if we can navigate these waters.
Speaking of bakeries, I spoke to a board member of a 300-strong South African bakery chain, which learned dramatically how interconnectedness impacts business regulation on a larger scale. All the bread in one of their neighborhood bakeries was priced the same as nearby shops, and what began as a bunch of local managers chatting about the price of bread turned into a price-fixing scandal.
The entire chain—all 300 stores—was handed a 10 percent fine on their profits. That’s a hard lesson learned and an ideal example illustrating that we’re not just a carefree owner of a neighborhood business; everything is interconnected, and we need to be aware of that to run our work and personal lives in ways that take advantage of globalization, rather than become a victim of it.
What Does It Mean for Us?
Globalization means we’re always on. Technology means we’re always on. The disruption of those industries means we’re always slightly paranoid. Former Intel CEO Andrew Grove set the stage for this era in his highly acclaimed book, Only the Paranoid Survive. Two decades on, it is truer than ever.
Technology has changed expectations in the workplace because employers always have access to their employees, and employees have fewer viable excuses for not being available for work. Globalization breaks the boundaries of time in good ways and bad. It’s great to be able to have a productive conference call any time of the day, but we need to reconsider the value we bring to those calls.
Now, being a team player isn’t simply a next-door neighbor kind of trait, it means developing global, virtual traits that will help us succeed in this environment. (https://dianawudavid.com/globalization-its-a-small-world-after-all/)
My five-year-old son asked me the other day what color the other countries are. At first, I thought he was talking about race or maybe topography. Then I realized he was referring to a globe in our house in which each country has a different color to denote its boundaries. We talked about how the earth looks from outer space, where there are no colors to set nations apart, but only the blue and green and white that God sees.
The state of Pennsylvania, along with several other states, is actually not legally a state at all. It is a “commonwealth.” That term implies that the resources of the state and its people are jointly owned by all who live there and are to be used for the good of all people in common, not some more than others. It is perhaps a term that needs to be revived, but on a global level.
Everyone can do an interesting exercise to see how linked we are with people all over the world. Go into your closet and look at the labels on your clothing and shoes. Count how many countries were involved in the manufacture of the contents of your closet. In many of those places, people as young as 8 work long hours in poor conditions for low pay to enhance the welfare of people in North America. What is our responsibility, in turn, to work for their welfare?
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia and other republics had old nuclear weapons stored in many sites. The international community began to be involved in helping these republics disarm and destroy these weapons, despite the objections of some that we shouldn’t be helping out an enemy (or former enemy) like this. The obvious retort was that if even one of these weapons should end up in the wrong hands or accidentally detonate, the repercussions would travel far from their source.
The treaties that ended World War I included many punitive requirements for the defeated nations. Most historians now agree that those punitive measures had a great deal to do with the degradation of the Eastern European economies which led into what became the Second World War. Having learned from these mistakes of the past, programs like the Marshall Plan were initiated following World War II with the aim of building up the lands of the enemies to try to avoid the creation of a situation that would lead to World War III in another generation.
Over the last century, the concept of some nations or leaders being enemies and others friends has flip-flopped so many times as to show the absurdity of the labeling to begin with. In 1941, Japan was a great enemy, yet today one of our strongest allies. Early in their careers both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were allies, now enemies. Hundreds of other examples come to mind. Politics will change; loving one another should not.
The task of the church should not be to teach us how to get along in the world. The task of the church is to form a community which will work with God to transform the world.
This remark by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The judgment of God is upon us. And unless we learn to live together as brothers, we will perish together as fools,” is repeated throughout the world as an accurate description of our condition. The quote appears in songs, books, on posters and, if you use it this Sunday, your sermon will join the over 135,000 examples of people who find it inspiring. .
P. J. O’Rourke notes, “The Tenth Commandment sends a message to socialists, to egalitarians, to people obsessed with fairness, to American presidential candidates in the year 2000 — to everyone who believes that wealth should be redistributed. And that message is clear and concise: Go to Hell.” With a little bit of re-wording of the last couple of sentences, this is still the message of the Tenth Commandment. .
Although Jeremiah calls upon us to feel a responsibility toward those in the community around us, many Americans today are not so civic-minded. According to Newsweek (9/8/03), one man in Minnesota wanted to get out of jury duty so badly that he went so far as to run a fake obituary in the local newspaper so that authorities would conclude that he certainly was not able to fulfill his obligation. Police, though, discovered his ruse and he was arrested for contempt of court.
One of the ways that churches might seek the welfare of the cities around them is by attempting to address the fact that more and more children are having sex at younger and younger ages. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (9/14/03), the problem is getting more out of hand than many people realize. In May of last year two 13-year-olds were caught having sex on a school bus near Pittsburgh. Children in Ligonier Valley, east of the city, were caught doing the same thing the previous month. In one school district just south of Pittsburgh, a group of middle school girls called themselves the “Pop-Tarts,” and they advertised themselves as being willing to offer oral sex at parties. A movie that was released last year, Thirteen, was a rather graphic depiction of this trend in our society. The film showed two teenagers spiraling downwards into drug abuse and risky sexual activity. The script was based on the life of one of the movie’s co-stars and co-writers when she was 13. A recent national survey estimated that about 20 percent of all children ages 14 and under have had sex. A director of an adolescent pregnancy program in Pittsburgh commented that she is dealing with an increasing number of 12-year-olds. One expert said that when younger children have sex, such as those who are ages 10 to 13, they usually do so without any ability to understand the consequences. In contrast, children who are a little older tend to have sex as a way to challenge their family’s authority. Studies also find that 12- and 13-year-old girls generally are not having sex with 12- and 13-year-old boys. Rather they frequently find themselves approached by boys who are 3 or 4 years older than they are. According to a report prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year, 33% of teen boys say they feel pressure to have sex, while 23% of teen girls say the same thing. Confronted with such a dilemma in our society, churches can either shake their heads in discouragement or they can consider what they can do to improve and change the society around them.
In He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace, Richard Mouw asks us whether it is necessary for the church to always engage the surrounding culture with “thick” discourse or whether there are times when “thin” discourse might be more appropriate. “Thick” discourse, as he uses the term, refers to the way that Christians explain their positions on various issues by employing explicitly Christian terminology. Mouw encourages us to consider that there are occasions when the broader society might be more receptive to what we are saying if we re-phrased our statements by use of “thin” discourse, conveying our beliefs in such a way that they are understandable and accessible even by those who do not share our faith.
The church certainly could seek the welfare of the surrounding culture by striving to promote the concept of peace that is so prevalent in the Bible. Unfortunately violence is all too frequently the norm these days. According to Newsweek (4/12/04), Woodlawn High School in Maryland sponsored a school assembly on the topic of anger management. Sadly, police had to rush to the school in the midst of the assembly because a fight broke out in the auditorium, with people climbing over the seats and throwing punches. Officers ended up arresting 11 students and 2 adults.
Before we can heal the violent tendencies in the world around us, we first need to address the violence that is so widespread within the Christian church itself. According to the BBC (4/12/04), every Easter there is a tradition on the Greek island of Chios where two rival parishes barrage each other with rockets. The two Orthodox churches in the town of Vrodandos fire flaming projectiles at each other’s church while mass is being held. The objective is to hit the other’s church bell. However, many of the rockets go astray, causing local citizens to have to run for cover. Many say they are sick and tired of having to repair the damage caused by the rockets. Members from the parishes of Saint Mark and Panagia Erithiani spend months preparing more than 25,000 rockets to fire at each other. Although making the rockets is technically illegal, the police in the town tend to look the other way. As the priests attempt to say mass on Easter evening each year, the rockets begin to fly, with the words of the cleric often being drowned out by the fireworks explosions and the cheers of the crowds outside. Locals are not entirely sure where their tradition came from, but they think it might have something to do with the way that the island’s sailors used to have to battle pirates, and they developed a custom of firing their cannons each Easter. The residents of the town admit that the tradition is not very safe. Each year numerous fires occur when the rockets miss their intended target. In addition, several deaths also are recorded each year as a result of the tradition being carried on. “We live as hostages to this tradition,” one citizen lamented.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped to improve the welfare of all the citizens of South Africa by laying the foundation for a new, sustainable society. In Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, Ellis Cose mentions a banner that hung in a hearing room in the Cape Town headquarters of the TRC. The banner declared: “Don’t Let Our Nightmares Become Our Children’s.” In smaller characters, written beneath, it said: “Let’s speak out to each other by telling the truth, by telling stories of the past, so that we can walk the road to reconciliation together.”
The Gospel reading speaks of Jesus’ ability to heal the lepers. In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey observes that there was a rather bizarre belief in the Middle Ages that led Christians of that era to make a specific effort to care for lepers. Because of a mistranslation on the part of Jerome, Medieval church leaders believed that Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant as “afflicted,” or “familiar with suffering,” meant he was actually stricken with leprosy himself. Therefore, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Christians concluded that Jesus must also have had leprosy, since Jesus was viewed as the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecy. Instead of being regarded as a curse from God, leprosy became known as a “Holy Disease.” Crusaders who returned home with leprosy were treated with great reverence. Furthermore, “lazar houses” (named for Lazarus the beggar), were built throughout Europe, with nearly two thousand in France alone.
Scientists believe that have identified a gene that makes some people more vulnerable to contracting leprosy. According to Science Daily (2/10/03), researchers at McGill University in Montreal have found a gene on human chromosome 6 that causes people to be more susceptible to suffering from that painful disease. One of the lead researchers pointed out that the finding will open the way to develop methods to prevent and treat leprosy. Leprosy, which is caused by infection with the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, affects about one million people worldwide. While the affliction is extremely rare in North America, the World Health Organization reports that leprosy is widespread in at least 91 countries. Symptoms of leprosy include pigmented skin lesions, permanent nerve damage leading to numbness in the hands and feet, and, if not properly treated, the disease often results in gross disfigurement including the loss of fingers, toes, feet, and hands. Leprosy is spread by direct personal contact or by contaminated respiratory droplets.
Although we may not personally witness lepers being healed on a regular basis, miracles may be more prevalent in our lives than we may realize. The New York Review (3/25/04) makes mention of Littlewood’s Law of Miracles. Littlewood, who was a noted mathematician, estimated that, on average, people have a miracle happen in their lives about once a month. According to his calculations, a miracle occurs in about one out of every million events. And he surmises that on a typical day, a person has approximately 30,000 distinct events take place, adding up to about one million each month.
“Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ things in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], p. 183)
Instead of merely accepting and tolerating the troubles in our communities, Jeremiah summons us to hope for something better. Along that line, William Sloane Coffin makes that point when he writes: “Hope criticizes what is, hopelessness rationalizes it. Hope resists, hopelessness adapts” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], p. 19)
“Actively promoting the welfare, the shalom, of the larger human community will require us also to speak in the public square about policies and practices that can restrain sin and even contribute to positive patterns of civic righteousness” (Richard J. Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001], p. 84)
In Dances With Wolves Lt. John Dunbar, a highly decorated U.S. Army officer, leaves the frontlines of the Civil War to take up a solitary post in Dakota Territory because he wants to see the frontier before it is gone. Over a period of time he meets some warriors who have been observing him, gains their friendship, and eventually invited to live in their village. Because they had seen him frolicking with a wolf he had befriended, the tribe honors him with the name “Dances With Wolves.” In effect he becomes an exile from his own people. He falls in love with a white woman who had been living with the tribe since she was a girl. Although probably unaware of Jeremiah’s letter, Dances With Wolves does indeed settle down among a far off people, joining in with the defense of his new people when the Army catches up with them.
“All that is best in the civilization of today is the fruit of Christ’s appearance among men.” (Daniel Webster)
“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.” (Francis Bacon)
“To earn the right to speak words of love, we must first willingly demonstrate deeds of love with the hurting people of our cities.” (Steve Sjogren)
“The Christians’ task is to make the Lord Jesus visible, intelligible, and desirable.” (Len Jones)
“The world is far more ready to receive the Gospel than Christians are to hand it out.” (George W. Peters)
“Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel.” (Ayn Rand) .
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” (Samuel)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
People: Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Leader: Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!”
People: “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you.”
All: Come and see what God has done!
Holy God, we confess that we don’t always sing a joyful noise to you. Too often, we’re busy trumpeting our own horns and glorifying each other. We praise our own works, convinced that everything we have done comes from us and not you. We forget your awesome deeds. In your mercy, forgive us. Help us amend our ways so that we may truly be your faithful disciples. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
To advance the work of your Kingdom, O God, we bring these gifts before you today. Help us continue to strive to give all that we have to you and to praise your name and only your name. Use us to your glory. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Giver of Life, we thank you for this day and the blessings you have already given us. You created us as your good children, and though we are mired by sin you still seek to transform us. We thank you for your persistent and unchanging love for all humanity.
We pray for our broken world. When you called us to peace, we instead went to war. When you called us to justice, we instead exploited our neighbors. When you called us to faithfulness, we instead sought to go our own ways. We thank you for not giving up on us. We pray for peace and justice in our world, and that everyone turns to you above all other gods.
We pray for our nation. As our election day approaches, we pray for your discernment in choosing our new leaders. We pray that they will look to you for guidance and will seek not to put their own agendas into place but will do what is best for our country. We pray for those in our nation whose voices are often silenced--those who are poor, weak, hungry, or have lost hope. Open our eyes that we may seek to provide justice for those who are silent.
We pray for our community and our church. We pray for congregations gathered today worshiping you, that the Holy Spirit will be present with them as they seek as we do to be your faithful disciples. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.