Aug. 28, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Jeremiah 2:4-13

4Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the Lord: 
 What wrong did your ancestors find in me
  that they went far from me,
 and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
6They did not say, “Where is the Lord
  who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
 who led us in the wilderness,
  in a land of deserts and pits,
 in a land of drought and deep darkness,
  in a land that no one passes through,
  where no one lives?”
7I brought you into a plentiful land
  to eat its fruits and its good things.
 But when you entered you defiled my land,
  and made my heritage an abomination.
8The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
  Those who handle the law did not know me;
 the rulers transgressed against me;
  the prophets prophesied by Baal,
  and went after things that do not profit.

9Therefore once more I accuse you,
 says the Lord,
  and I accuse your children’s children.
10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
  send to Kedar and examine with care;
  see if there has ever been such a thing.
11Has a nation changed its gods,
  even though they are no gods?
 But my people have changed their glory
  for something that does not profit.
12Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
  be shocked, be utterly desolate,
 says the Lord,
13for my people have committed two evils:
  they have forsaken me,
 the fountain of living water,
  and dug out cisterns for themselves,
 cracked cisterns
  that can hold no water.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

1Sing with joy to | God our strength
  and raise a loud shout to the | God of Jacob.
10“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the | land of Egypt.
  Open your mouth wide, and | I will fill it.
11Yet my people did not | hear my voice,
  and Israel would | not obey me.
12So I gave them over to the stubbornness | of their hearts,
  to follow their | own devices. 
13Oh, that my people would lis- | ten to me,
  that Israel would walk | in my ways!
14I would quickly sub- | due their enemies
  and turn my hand a- | gainst their foes.
15Those who hate the Lord would | cringe in fear,
  and their punishment would | last forever.
16But I would feed you with the | finest wheat
  and satisfy you with honey | from the rock.” 

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, 
 “The Lord is my helper;
  I will not be afraid.
 What can anyone do to me?”
7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

God wants to be in relationship with the chosen people, will all humanity, including us. The first three verses of Jeremiah Chapter Two present the metaphor of a marriage, a marriage from which the people walked away: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” Do you remember the honeymoon? God seems to be asking. Have your ancestors told you the story of your fidelity and mine? It was wonderful. We loved each other and were faithful.

What went wrong? Well, what always goes wrong? God brought the people out of the land of Egypt into the Wilderness, then through the Wilderness into what scripture calls the land of milk and honey, and then gave them kings. But then the Israelites looked around at the other people and decided they might like to try worshiping the gods of their neighbors.

Why did they do that? Why do we turn away from God, worshiping other gods? We go after worthless things because their “worthlessness” is deferred. Their immediate payoff is so satisfying. Yes, God’s acts of deliverance were amazing. But the thrill of walking between the walls of the water in the Red Seas belonged to people long dead. Those are just stories to us now. We want our own vivid experience. 

For the Israelites, the heart of Jeremiah’s speech is idolatry. God comes at the subject in three different ways: the people have chased after worthless things (and become worthless themselves in the process). They have “changed gods’ (forsaking the one who made them what they are today). And they have tried to draw strength from worthless sources (cracked cisterns that cannot hold anything). 

I want to have you wonder with me about what we idolize. What are our cracked cisterns today? I actually think that unlike Jeremiah’s audience, we do remember our past, or multiple pasts, but we distort them. Sometimes we make idols of these pasts.

Although historians have yet to locate such an idyllic chapter in this nation’s history, their conclusions haven’t stopped large segments of the population from glorifying the past. Selective memory holds attractive appeal. Warm sentimentality, however oblivious to real experience, feels good. 

Pastor Peter Marty wrote, “One wonders what past era [people] might have in mind. Was it America’s legacy of enslaving African peoples, only to lynch numbers of them later? Was it the 18th century and its primitive medicine, or the 19th century and its marginal sanitation? Perhaps his cherished past exists somewhere in the past 100 years, when women still lacked the right to vote, laborers had frighteningly few rights, the needs of the disabled went largely ignored, Agent Orange wreaked havoc, and the waterboarding of terror suspects became acceptable to some top brass.

Nostalgia that ignores blemishes of the past makes for shabby history. The ancient Israelites, who longed for the fleshpots of Egypt despite being freshly liberated from the pharaoh, remind us that glorifying the past is not an exclusively modern or American phenomenon. Anyone from any epoch is capable of shelving complexity for the sake of remembering the good and forgetting the bad.”

The people hearing from God through the prophet Jeremiah seem to have forgotten that God was present leading them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. And in that forgetting they defiled the land once they arrived there.

We are present in the text too. The prophet is speaking about the ancestors. He is speaking to their descendants. And their descendants, including us, are reading the prophet’s words. Many generations are wrapped up in God’s question, “What did I do wrong, that you, all of you, were unfaithful?” God is asking the question to all three of these groups.

God first inquires about the ancestors. The passage of time leaves God especially vulnerable to what might have gone wrong in the past. God could have failed during the time of the patriarchs, during the time of deliverance from Egypt or during Israel’s wilderness experience. God could have failed as the newly formed nation entered the land of promise or when leadership was turned over to a succession of judges, prophets, and kings.

Even if the fault lies with the divine, God is willing to examine all of the possibilities. But once the question is asked, the answer seems obvious. One scholar explains, “God’s question seems to be rhetorical, with the answer self-evident: God committed no wrong in the relationship.”

What does this look like today? In what ways have we been unfaithful to God? You know them. We have all confessed our sins earlier in the service, our communal sins but also our individual sins. We know our unfaithfulness. Another way to get at this is by asking, what would we love our community to look like? Instead of getting caught up in nostalgia about the past, instead of idolizing some picture painted of what was, inaccurate as it may be, we might ask, “how do we want to live the lives we have been given now—today?  

God, through Jeremiah, is calling the people to borrow God’s vision, oh my people, and this is what you will see…. “My vision of shalom, of a peaceable kingdom is this. It is my dream for you and for all creation.”

Is the dream over? No, it is not. We know this because at the end of the passage, God still calls the people, “my people.” And God describes Godself as a fountain of living water. Let’s dwell there for a minute. Living water rains, runs, flows, and swirls. It washes away impurity, transports nutrients, constitutes leaf and stem, blood and bone. Where water flows, life abounds. Where water stagnates, disease takes hold. Where there is no water, life cannot even begin. 

As today, the climate of much of Israel was defined by a rainy season (winter) and a dry season (summer). The summer brought sunshine and beautiful blue skies. But if one did not live near a natural, constant source of living water, such as a spring, water could be hard to come by, and was truly precious.

Israel’s Iron Age (1200-539 BCE) was a time of technological innovation. New technologies included terracing and iron plow-points. These facilitated agricultural intensification and geographical expansion. Another technology whose use made it possible for Israelites to settle and thrive in highland regions that had previously been inhospitable was the cistern, referenced in our Jeremiah text.

In Israel’s central highlands, settlers hewed bell-shaped cisterns from bedrock. These collected and stored water from the rainy winter for use during arid summer. They dug channels to direct rainwater into the cistern. 

In places where the bedrock was formed predominantly from chalk, the chalk formed a natural seal when wet, further minimizing water loss. In other places, cisterns could be sealed with a plaster compound. 

What was God’s critique and lament? “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

Today, when water flows from taps, it may be difficult to grasp the force of water as a metaphor. And yet, in this high desert it should be somewhat translatable. What if our canals were broken up one day, unable to transport water to crops? What if our reservoirs dried up for good? Those tools are all made by humans, in our control. But a fountain of living water that never stops flowing? That is the definition of hope and life.

Hope remains. God does not want simply to terminate the relationship but is willing to struggle, perhaps to fix blame but also perhaps to recover the relationship. In spite of their idolatry, despite their unfaithfulness as a people, God calls Israel “my people.” Even now, there is hope for the nation. This hope, rooted and grounded in the nature of the divine, will not fail. “In Jeremiah’s prophecies, Israel’s hope is as sure as its doom,” one scholar wrote. He continues, “Hope such as this is ever present, encouraging humanity, individually and collectively, to embrace God’s best, no matter what.” It may feel like the world is changing too much, too fast even during this one hour of worship. Fear not. We worship a God of living water who will never forsake us.

In the service of Holy Baptism we ask God, “Pour out your Holy Spirit, the power of your living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life” and later, “sustain this person with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.” Not just the day of baptism, not just this week, or month, or year. We ask, and God promises, to stay with us forever. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession

Trusting in God’s extraordinary love, let us come near to the Holy One in prayer.

A brief silence.

For the church and its leaders, we pray. Uphold all deacons, pastors, and bishops who serve and teach your people (national, synodical, and local leaders may be named). Awaken in your church a spirit of invitation that reaches ever outward. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For the well-being of creation and its inhabitants, we pray. Stir in us reverent awe for the beauty of the natural world, for oceans and lakes, rivers and streams, forests and deserts (local places may be named). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For the nations and peoples of the world, we pray. Sustain the efforts of those who pursue justice and equity for all. Defend and accompany all immigrants and refugees and all who are persecuted for their ethnic origin or religious beliefs. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, we pray. Be present with those who live in isolation or fear, especially those who are incarcerated or detained. Comfort all who are sick or grieving (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For this congregation and its ministries, we pray. Prepare children, teachers, and youth ministry directors for a new year of learning. Embolden our witness to invite others to the table. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

For all the saints who confessed God’s name (especially Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and Moses the Black), we give thanks. May we cling to the promise of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Receive the prayers of your children, merciful God, and hold us forever in your steadfast love; through Jesus Christ, our holy Wisdom.

Amen.

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