Posted by: eliseanne | June 15, 2009

Was Jeremiah (W)right?

Y’all remember last year when Barack Obama’s pastor, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, got lots of bad media attention for sermon snippets of his on youtube. As a follower of Christ and an Obama supporter, I remember that time well, as they caused a lot of conversations and controversy.

*EDIT- This post has nothing to do with recent comments by Wright about Obama and Jewish people…more on that later. I had already written this before that came out, and thus am only addressing this topic not that one.*

I’ve been reading in the Biblical book of Jeremiah for the last few weeks. The prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s Truth to the Israelites warning them of the coming judgment of the Lord, the captivity to the Babylonians. He also spoke to Israel about hope in the captivity, prophesying that if they turned to the Lord and kept his commands,  a portion of their people would be saved (the remnant) and then be blessed to be free.

Jeremiah is known as the wailing or weeping prophet, as he spoke doom and gloom on the people of Israel for their continued disobedience and denial of idolatry. Not his words or his opinions, but the word of the Lord. Most despised him and opposed him for the message he brought. There were numerous false prophets at the time, proclaiming peace for the northern kingdom of Judah, despite their rebellion against the Lord. His title of the weeping prophet also alludes to the anguish he must have felt, loving his people yet knowing and prophesying their destruction. He pressed on, though, as the Lord reminded him of his faithfulness and purpose.

In Jeremiah chapter 26, the Lord asks Jeremiah to go and speak to his people who are worshipping him. He says, “Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth.'” (Vs. 6) (The Lord destroyed the city of Shiloh).

How did the worshippers and religious leaders respond? “But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?’ …Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, ‘This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”” (Vs. 7…11).

The worshippers and religious leaders don’t respond in anger over their sin. They don’t even tell Jeremiah that he is lying, that they really didn’t ignore the prophets and keep breaking the Lord’s commands. It seems they are only angry that Jeremiah is prophesying their destruction, instead of their peace and prosperity.

What were the Israelites doing wrong that so angered the Lord? While there are many things, the first several verses of Jeremiah chapter 7 gives us a wide angle view – “‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!’ declares the LORD.” (Vs 3 – 11).

I am reminded of Jeremiah Wright saying, “Not God bless America; God damn America!” and the uproar that ensued. People may not have said, “You must die!” but they very nearly did. They questioned if he followed the Lord.

But what is the context? Wright lists how governments all lie, all change, and all fail, but God Almighty does none of the above. He is calling America out of believing its government is god, or that it can act like god, always justified in what it does because it was founded by Pilgrims. Reading the above passages from the Biblical book of Jeremiah, it sounds to me as if the prophet is sharing the Lord’s words of “Damn Judah! For all the ways they have sinned against me, not listened to my reproach, and worshipped their own institutions above me.”

Wright lists some of America’s sin and idolatry in the speech:

* intentional genocide and stealing of land of Native Americans, and putting them on reservations
* intentionally placing people of Japanese descent in interment camps
* intentional genocide, enslavement, and selling of African slaves
* intentional inequality in educational systems that favor white people
* intentional inequality in drug laws that favor white people 
* intentional inequality in prison systems that favor white people
* intentionally initiating and perpetuating war in the Middle East, while condemning extremists from initiating it in the US

“Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is Supreme.”

What is wrong with speaking God’s Truth about the US’s sins and sin’s consequence? Does it not reveal Israel’s same idolatry when followers of Jesus flip out when anything is negative about the U.S.?

And….was Jeremiah right?

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Responses

  1. That was really well written.

    So at the Grill-a-Christian event at Hamline, someone asked if we pay taxes, and said that how can we justify supporting a government that wars, and a nation that does injustice* while still claiming to follow God. That question comes to mind in light of Jeremiah and Jeremiah (btw, I love all the wordplays in this post), and in turn raises a bunch of other questions.

    As individuals what’s our response to the corporate sin of our people (however that is defined)? Are we as individuals accountable for the sin that we as a people do? Are we guilty until our people change? Is the act of opposition (even if the opposition does not bring repentance) righteousness? Or is it that we are guilty, and this is why we need to depend on grace?

    I tend to lean towards the latter, but I’m not sure I can justify it.

  2. This reminds me of the saying that there is no middle ground, we are either for or against something, and those to claim to be in the middle, by their silence, support it.

    And paying taxes is a great example, if we are not actively opposing the parts of this country that are against the LORD, then we are going along with it because we all fund this country.


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