Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 21st : Psalm 39; Jeremiah 11:1-17; and Romans 2:1-11. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
This past weekend I attended the Conference’s Super Saturday event. The keynote speaker was Dr. Sarah Drummond who is the Founding Dean at Andover Newton Seminary at Yale. Dr. Drummond referred to the prophet Jeremiah in her remarks. Jeremiah had the unenviable task of telling his own people that their destruction was imminent. As the people prepared their defenses and hoped that God would save them for the sake of the Jerusalem Temple, Jeremiah was commanded by God to tell them otherwise.
God had grown tired of their faithlessness and hypocrisy. In today’s passage, Jeremiah must share with his own people that God will not listen to their prayers and pleas any longer: “As for you [Jeremiah], do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. What right has my beloved in my house when she has done vile deeds? Can vows and sacrificial flesh avert your doom?”
What this means is that the Temple was still functioning. The priests were still offering the burnt sacrifices to God. People were going through the motions, but they were meaningless, and God was left unimpressed. Actually, God was offended. And God had had enough. The people believed that God would never allow anything to happen to His building because the “sacrificial flesh” was too important to Yahweh. God calls Israel His unfaithful wife for this religious pretense, and Jeremiah must tell them that their covenant with God had been broken.
This must have been emotionally disastrous for the prophet, and Jeremiah shares with us some of the most personal inner-suffering of any biblical author. For as trying as it must have been, God insisted that Jeremiah must convey to the people that faith must be sincere. When it becomes nothing but well-practiced ritual for the sake of ritual, God grows offended by the pretense.
Lent is our sacred opportunity to look more deeply into our faith. In the shadow of the cross, our faith is laid as bare as Jesus’ public humiliation. If God loves us as much as the cross of Christ, then our response, however it takes form, must be deeply sincere. The form didn’t impress God in Jerusalem and I doubt that has changed in our world. What matters is the depth of our feeling. God spoke to Jeremiah of the covenant in the most intimate terms available in that day – the covenant between a husband and a wife. When Jesus goes to the altar of the cross, it is with a deep abiding love for us, all of us, each of us. And Lent asks if we love in return.
Jeremiah’s language is of his day, and it speaks of judgment. In today’s Romans selection, however, we hear the language of the earliest church. It is the antithesis of judgment. Christians are called upon to refrain from judgment because God does; and if they persist in passing judgment on others, then Paul asks, “Or do you despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience?” We need not be afraid of the God who loves us as much as the crucified Saviour, but such a God must draw out our deepest emotions, and this is the wont of Lent.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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