Psalm 99; Jeremiah 12:1–13:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18

Psalm 99: This psalm opens with the scene of God upon his throne and all the world–not just the Jews–doing fearful obeisance: “The Lord reigns–peoples tremble.” (1) The throne is flanked by cherubim, which are fearsome winged lions with human faces, not the sweet angels we see in painting. Our psalmist makes sure that we understand once again that while “the Lord is great in Zion,” he is also “exalted over all the peoples,” (2).

The song of worship names four qualities of God: “Great and fearful,/ He is holy./ And with a King’s strength He loves justice.” (3, 4a) God is great and incites fear. God is holy, i.e., holy in the sense of set apart. God is is not an extension of our imagination, but is outside our entire experience. OK, these are the normal qualities of God that we talk about. But the fourth–“He loves justice”–reminds us once again that the underlying theme of God in the OT is that God demands justice–not only to himself, but that we provide justice to our fellow human beings.

God is the source of justice: “You firmly founded righteousness,/ judgement and justice in Jacob You made.” Too often we think of the OT God as just being arbitrarily angry, but in reality, God wants only justice on the earth. As we see in the prophets, God’s anger is mixed with frustration and ultimately compassion. God is a “forbearing God…yet an avenger of their misdeeds.” (8) We should be just as angry as God at the rampant injustice that corrupts the world.

The last half of the psalm names the famous leaders of Israel: Moses, Aaron, Samuel (6) who obeyed God and “called to the Lord and He answered them.” Not only does God speak to them but they are the exemplars who followed the laws that are intended to bring justice to all: “They kept His precepts and the statute He gave them.” (7) Which is why we are to do the same and when we worship, we are to “Exalt the Lord our God.” (9)

Jeremiah 12:1–13:19: Jeremiah poses the eternal question to God. Exactly the same question we ask today: “Why does the way of the guilty prosper?/ Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (12:2) God answers Jeremiah, warning him that “even your kinsfolk and your own family,/even they have dealt treacherously with you;…do not believe them,/ though they speak friendly words to you.” (12:6) Then, in a remarkably wistful voice, God describes how the people he loves have abandoned him and in one of the saddest verses in the Bible, says, “I have given the beloved of my heart/ into the hands of her enemies.” (12:7)

Then, he describes the sins of the people he loves, telling how “Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard,/ they have trampled down my portion,” (12:10) and “They have made it a desolation;” (12:11). This speech about the actual and symbolic destruction ends on a note of the futility describing what happens when we abandon God: “They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns,/ they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.” (12:13) 

We then encounter a strange metaphor. God then tells Jeremiah to go buy a new loincloth, which I assume is underwear, and hide it in a cleft of a rock along the Euphrates river. He leaves it there a long tome, eventually going back and retrieving it, but it is ruined. God tells him, “Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own will and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.” (13:8) God is near despair as he explains the metaphor: “For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen.” (13:9) 

That last sentence–“they would not listen”–says it all. And that is exactly our state today. Not just the larger culture which sees no point in listening to a God they do not believe exists. But to us as well. Am I listening?

 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18: Clearly, there are already divisions and factions in the early church. One faction that Paul warns against are lazy believers: “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” (6) The church, Paul is saying, consists of two groups: those who labor and those who do not. And he has no truck with the lazy “busybodies” (11), reminding them, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” (10) 

This passage well describes the “consumer church” of today, where many believe that the church should provide programs and activities that benefit them–all while they do not have to work in the community. All they need to do is show up on Sunday mornings, or drop their kids off at youth programs, and write occasional checks. Then, when the community no longer “meets my needs,” they move on, having contributed nothing.

Being part of a community means working in that community. To be sure, our focus is on worship and equipping ourselves, which requires work. But it is also exerting efforts that become a witness to the love and joy that the church of Jesus Christ brings into the world at large.

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