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Focus Text: Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus 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?
They 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?”
I 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.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers[a] transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Assyria assimilated Israel in 722BC and it effectively ceased to exist as a nation. There were many bad Kings until King Josiah came along and appointed Jeremiah as his Prophetic Minister from 627-587BC in Judea in the city of Jerusalem. This Book of the Old Testament was written in the time of Idolatry and serves as an indictment by the Lord of his people. They “defiled the land” with worship of Baal. Yahweh speaks of four specific groups of people: the Priests, those who handle the Law (Scribes and Levites), the Rulers, and the Prophets who are providing false teachings. These “defendants” are accused of a failure to comply with the provisions of the covenant they made with the Lord and instead they serve false Gods. They exchanged God’s glory and majesty (Kebod), for that which does not profit.
In the final verse 13 the two evils committed are spelled out:
- “You have forsaken Me (Yahweh-the Lord): the Spring of Living Waters,” which can be interpreted as forsaking a spiritual life which would be a source of sustenance and hope.
- “You have exchanged living waters for broken cisterns” meaning you have given up God for Idols without power, who cannot help you.
Scriptural Commentary on Jeremiah 2: 4-13
By Penny Hopper, NCIPL Leadership Council Chair, and Rev. Steve Halstead, NCIPL Clergy Outreach Chair (both members of the Executive Committee of NCIPL)
Practically speaking, we ask ourselves after reading this: “Why would anyone trade an artesian well of flowing water for a broken cistern?” The “broken cistern” is analogous to the pursuit of wealth and power and fame and pleasure: in other words, all the false Gods we raise up in the world today.
In this “tough love” passage from Jeremiah 2: v4-13, I find it valuable to look at what the Prophet says through the lenses of the three P’s: the Prophetic Voice, the Pastoral Call, and the Practical Application.
Prophesy: The Prophet Jeremiah speaks for God and tells us what we are doing wrong and that we need to repent and turn away from “false Gods”.
Pastoral: Our pastoral response is to help one another in our faith communities with the positive hope-filled action of Caring for Creation that are available to each of us as:
- and as our leaders in our churches indicted as “Priests” in this passage
- and the lawyers indicted as “Scribes” in this passage
- and as our government leaders indicted as “Rulers” in this passage
- and we must turn away from the “false idols” of greed and material wealth
Practical: We must ask ourselves what practical measures can we apply to live in harmony with God’s wishes? My volunteer work and my lifestyle fulfills that for me and each of us can find within our own faith the answer to that question. Does God want you to continue living as if the World is your “Commodity” to use freely with no consideration for the next generation? Or does God want you to look at this World as a living “Community” of people and ecosystems which require our tender loving care to continue to exist? What practical solutions can you take to help your community of believers move away from the greed and over-consumptive lifestyle, to a more meaningful life of caring for one another and for God’s Creation?
For me, the “Practical” began with small changes at home and with forming a “Green Team” at my church and starting a local Sierra Club Group in my region of the state. There are many things individuals can do, but I found that joining existing organizations focused on these problems was the best for me. I currently serve as Leadership Council Chair for NC Interfaith Power and Light (NCIPL), which is under the umbrella of the NC Council of Churches. NCIPL connects the faith voices of North Carolina around Climate Change, and encourages mitigation of the effects of that climate change on communities. Through the programs of NCIPL, we foster resilient communities and engage in the public policy process by advocating with compassion. We speak for what we love and take action for the future of our children and the children of all species. NCIPL emphasizes the belief that we all have a moral responsibility to “Care for Creation” as mandated by our various faiths. Perhaps you could check out our website at www.ncipl.org and find a path forward for yourself and your church community?
We know that we cannot do this work alone. I found that trying to work as an individual against something as big and pervasive as climate change can lead to frustration and depression and a feeling of hopelessness at the task before me. Before I retired in 2010, I was a community college biology instructor and felt as though teaching my young adult students about the environmental issues facing us was the way to effect change and I’m sure it made a difference in some of their lives. But, working through their heads and minds was not all that needed to happen. I recognized that the hard, cold, scientific facts were not enough. What also needed to happen was to reach people through their hearts, and let their God remind them of the Golden Rule and of our need to be good stewards of all the gifts we have been given. What I discovered in the community of believers was that all things are possible when you work together from a place of love. I overcame the hopelessness and saw a brighter future where we do follow the teachings of a loving God to care for his creation. Pope Francis made the connection for us in his encyclical and delivered that message to our United States Congress and across the world. He said, “It seems clear to me that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment in history.”
How will you respond to the challenge placed before us in this Biblical text from Jeremiah? What will be your Pastoral and Practical responses to Jeremiah’s Prophecy? Will you turn away from the false Gods of money and an over- consumptive lifestyle and recognize your moral responsibility to care for our Earth? The time to act is now!