Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Wednesday, March 18th: Psalm 81; Jeremiah 2:4-13; and John 7:14-31, 37-39. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
So Tom Brady parted ways with the New England Patriots yesterday after 20 years. This is a timely distraction, but it also so trivial now that the pandemic fills our days. Things that once seemed so important are no longer. When compared to the ravages caused by an unseen, microscopic virus that is so primitive it can only live by hijacking the DNA of a host cell, Tom Brady or the NBA, or the NHL, or MLB are only distractions, multi-million dollar distractions, but distractions nonetheless.
And with time so too will this pandemic pass, as hard as that may be to imagine as we hunker-down in the midst of it. Eventually, a vaccine will be developed to protect against COVID-19 and, hopefully, the Corona virus will become only as dangerous as the other flu viruses. This does not lessen the seriousness and the danger of the pandemic, but it will pass. In 1918, the Spanish flu rampaged throughout the world and its effects were in addition to the death and destruction inflicted by World War I. If we weren’t in this current pandemic, would any of us remember the Spanish flu?
In today’s passage from the prophet Jeremiah, God reveals: “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.” The first evil was to turn away from and ignore God. The second evil was to try and replace God with an ersatz god of their own imagination.
Israel, in the prophet’s poetic language, had rejected God’s “fountain of living water,” and instead had tried to replace it with an inferior and ineffective alternative of their own making. Continuing in the poetic style, God provided water. Israel’s alternative couldn’t even hold water.
I hear in this a message of God’s eternal consequence. We, on the other hand, can become transfixed by the immediate and the temporary. I can’t help but think that I’m on some sort of weird vacation right now. I don’t have to go to meetings. I shouldn’t make visitations. I can’t even worship in church on a Sunday morning. Yankee Candle is even closed (By the way, I give them a lot of credit. They will continue to pay even their part-time workers during this closure.). My days are defined by the pandemic, but hopefully this will pass. But God is an ever-present constant in the world and in our lives. Any attempt to replace God will inevitably lead to Jeremiah’s “cracked cisterns.”
We have time for a little extra reading. Maybe look up Pascal’s Wager. I choose to not emphasize the hereafter in my preaching because I know nothing of it, and I believe also that we need to see religion as a blessing here-and-now. But Pascal looked at faith from the very practical perspective of a scientist. I don’t agree with his wager, but there is something of merit in considering the eternal consequence of God as opposed to anything we may create as an alternative.
Maybe spend some time thinking about the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage: “‘Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. … Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.’”
Lent is a time to ponder our faith and social distancing has given us even more time. Let’s try to come out of this time of solitude with a deeper appreciation for the eternal consequence of God.
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