Psalm 94:12–23; Jeremiah 3:14–4:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–12

Psalm 94:12–23: At verse 12 the psalm turns to the individual who is suffering and can take hopeful succor in the fact that the wicked will ultimately be punished: “Happy the man whom Yah chastises/…to make him quiet in evil days/ until a pit is dug for the wicked.” (12, 13). For despite the pain there is always hope because “the Lord will not abandon His people,/ and HIs estate He will not forsake.” (14)

Given the fact that God is always with us, the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Who will rise for me against evildoers?/ who will take a stand against the wrongdoers?” (16) and answers his question with a reflection on how God rescues him–and us: “Were not the Lord a help to me,/ I would have almost dwelled in the silent realm.” Not just rescue, but God’s love comes as well: “When I thought my foot had stumbled,/ Your kindness, Lord, sustained me.”

These many centuries later we have the assurance that God will do the same in our hearts as he did for the psalmist: “With my many cares within me,/ Your consolations delighted me.” (19) Every one of us carries a heavy burden of worries and cares. Jesus addresses this reality when he says that each day has sufficient worries of its own and not to fret about tomorrow.

But laying our worries aside is more than just an act of will. It is a reliance on the love and consolation that God brings–especially when, like the psalmist, we look out into the world and see so much hatred, strife, and trouble. God is indeed our ultimate hope when it appears that the wicked will triumph.

While we wait for the defeat of the wicked, we have something wonderful: “The Lord became my fortress,/ and my God, my sheltering Rock.” (22)

Jeremiah 3:14–4:22: We tend to think of Jeremiah as being only dire warnings. But there are wonderful promises from God as well: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (3:15) And the promise of the new Jerusalem: “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, … and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.” (3:17)

We see God’s plaintiveness, almost wistfulness, as Jeremiah speaks for him when it’s clear that Israel is rejecting the promise: “I thought how I would set you among my children,/and give you a pleasant land,/ the most beautiful heritage of all the nations..” (3:19) And then more tragically: “And I thought you would call me, My Father,/ and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband,/ so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel,” (3:20) This is us, too, isn’t it? We are faithless and untrusting, trusting only our own wrong instincts.

Nevertheless, God’s love is relentless and we read, “Return, O faithless children,/ I will heal your faithlessness.” Until I read these lines I had not really though about faithlessness as something that God could heal. But it makes sense. If we are willing to fall into the loving embrace of God, our faithlessness is supplanted by a love far, far greater; a love that heals.

But to experience this love requires our whole-hearted acceptance; a willingness to abandon our self-centeredness and our small-g Gods, replacing them with a permanent commitment in the famous lines: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,/ remove the foreskin of your hearts.” (4:4)

This being Jeremiah, our “prophet of doom” lays out the consequences if Israel does not return to God: “I am bringing evil from the north,/ and a great destruction.” (4:6b) Absent its repentance, “Your ways and your doings/ have brought this upon you./ This is your doom; how bitter it is!/ It has reached your very heart.” (4:18) Perhaps the greatest surprise in this prophecy is the pain that Israel’s rejection brings to God himself: “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!/ Oh, the walls of my heart!” (4:19) This is something we really don;t think about. The sorrow that we bring to God when we reject him. 

The final verse in today’s reading pretty much sums up our human reality:
   “For my people are foolish,
       they do not know me;
   they are stupid children,
       they have no understanding.
   They are skilled in doing evil,
       but do not know how to do good.” (4:22)

1 Thessalonians 4:1–12: Being a Christian is not only a state, it is a process of living well. Paul reminds us of that here: “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.” (4:1)

What follows is one of those passages that is at once wise and controversial now that we are fully in the throes of the sexual revolution–a phrase that is flung back at Christians as being narrow and puritanical: “abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passion,” (4, 5a). The reason Paul gives for abstention is exactly the problem that the sexual revolution of casual “hook-ups” has created: “that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter,” (6) In the end, as we read stories of date rape, this is exactly what it’s about: one person exploiting another. 

In the end, self-control is what matters, as Paul pleads with the Thessalonians and with us, in describing the aspects of the Christian life well lived: “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (11, 12) There is great wisdom here. Just about every aspect of our current culture exists in open defiance of this advice. If, as Christians, we adopt the values of the larger culture we are just as guilty as those “outsiders.” Especially the part about minding our own affairs.

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