Psalm 94:1–11; Jeremiah 2:20–3:13; 1 Thessalonians 3

Psalm 94:1–11: This psalm of supplication opens with an aggressively bold verse: “God of vengeance, O Lord,/ God of vengeance, shine forth!” This is hardly the gentle opening line of a prayer, nor is it highlighting a quality of God that we particularly care for. But it certainly gets our attention as the psalmist moves quickly to the topic of the first half of this prayer: the apparent triumph of injustice and the wicked.

Our psalmist is passionately angry as he urges, “Rise up, O judge of the earth/ bring down on the proud requital.” (2) The apparent success of the wicked causes him to ask with tears of frustration, “How long the wicked, O Lord,/ how long will the wicked exult?” (3)

What galls our poet–and us–is not only the apparent victory of wickedness over justice but that they boast of their triumph in smug superiority: “They utter arrogance, speak it,/ all the wrongdoers bandy boasts.” (4)  His frustration echoes my own feelings as I read my Facebook newsfeed where mockery of Christians who voice objections  to “progressive” social agendas such as gay marriage is daily fodder. Whatever position I may believe about a particular issue is not the point; it is the uncaring mockery that the anonymity that the Internet provides as every post seems to “bandy boasts” in this electronic echo chamber.

The poet turns to the actual injustice made rampant in the world by these evil ones: “Widow and sojourner they kill/ and orphans they murder” (6) [“Orphans they murder” certainly seems a fair description of abortion.] But worst of all is that that in their arrogance, “they say, ‘Yah will not see,/ and the God of Jacob will not heed.'” (7) Of course today the cry is simply that God does not exist, so there’s no greater power to even see what they are doing.

But the psalmist holds out hope because the God he knows and trusts suely will not ignore this woeful situation forever. God has designed our eyes and ears and it’s safe to say, “Who plants the ear, will He not hear?/ Who fashions the eye, will He not see?” (9) And having punished entire nations, God will surely punish these wicked individuals. (10) Above all God understand us, our desire to place ourselves as small-g gods: “The Lord knows human designs,/ that they are mere breath.” Not only are we ephemeral in God’s framework, but our plans and actions are even more so.

Jeremiah 2:20–3:13: We encounter the famous line, “you sprawled and played the whore.” (2:20) many times. But it is the remarkable metaphor that introduces Jeremiah’s main theme of hypocrisy: “Though you wash yourself with lye/ and use much soap,/ the stain of your guilt is still before me,” (2:22) We are exactly the same as those who “say, “I am not defiled,/ I have not gone after the Baals” (2:23) Like Israel we are perfectly happy to place our trust in material objects and “say to a tree, “You are my father,”/ and to a stone, “You gave me birth.” (2:27) Today, the tree and stone tend to be faith technology, but our selfish motivations are exactly the same. 

Jeremiah’s accusations bite to the core: “on your skirts is found/ the lifeblood of the innocent poor,” (2:34) In spite of this evidence we still have the temerity to come to God and say, ““I am innocent;/ surely his anger has turned from me.” (2:35) The reality is that Israel–and we–“have played the whore with many lovers”  (3:1) all while claiming to love and serve God.

Our hypocrisy is a greater sin than outright rejection of God as  Jeremiah reminds us, “Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah.” (3:11) We Christians are quick to excoriate atheists and those who mock our faith. The tragedy is that there are so many examples of Christian falsity–especially when we self-righteously render judgement on those who reject us. No wonder Jesus talked about logs in our eyes.

Only our confession will set things right:
Only acknowledge your guilt,
       that you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
   and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree,
       and have not obeyed my voice,” (3:13)

1 Thessalonians 3: In that pre-electronic communications era, Paul remains in the dark about the status of the church in Thessalonica as they apparently are under the influence of someone preaching a false gospel: “when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain.” (5) as he sends his most trusted aide, Timothy, to find out what happened.

Happily, the news is good: “Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. ” (6) This really makes Paul’s day: “during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord.” (7,8) In fact, Paul’s joy at this news is overflowing: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” (9)

We can feel Paul’s joy because many of us have felt the same joy when someone we are praying for turns back to faith or comes through a dark valley. And for myself, as I pray for members of my family to return to faith, I look forward someday to experiencing that same joy.

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