Psalm 101; Jeremiah 15:1–16:13; 1 Timothy 1:12–2:7

Psalm 101: This psalm turns inward as the poet describes the blameless life he wishes to lead before God. As usual, it opens on a note of worship of God’s two overarching qualities: “Kindness and justice I would sing./ To You, O Lord, I would hymn.” (1) The remainder of the psalm deals with the personal behavior he wishes to follow and to instill in his household.

Achieving righteous behavior requires study and perseverance: “I would study the way of the blameless:/ when will it come to me?” (2) The first place to work on being righteous ourselves is at home: “I shall go about in my heart’s innocence/ within my house/” (2b) Going about achieving this objective requires avoiding temptation: “I shall not set before my eyes/ any base thing./ I hate committing transgressions./ I will not cling to me.” (3) and substantial self-discipline: “May a twisted heart turn far from me./ May I not know evil.” (4) The lesson here is clear: in terms of our personal behavior we must discipline ourselves. The underlying theme here is that as fallen people we turn fairly naturally to corruption absent a conscious desire–and practice–to avoid (as our Catholic friends put it), “occasions of sin.”

The psalmist then turns to relationships between the righteous person and others, suggesting first that conspiracies are to be exposed: “Who defames in secret his fellow/ him shall I destroy.” (5) Same goes for those who are condescending and prideful: “The haughty of eyes and the proud of heart,/ him shall I not suffer.” (6) Rather, we look to other faithful people as our example: “My eyes are on the land’s faithful,/ that they dwell with me.”(6), and which I see as a call for us Christians that we be in community with each other–a theme Paul certainly hammers home repeatedly. Finally, we are responsible for those in our family: “Within my house there shall not dwell/ one who practices deceit./ A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes.” (7) If ever we needed a “secret formula” for leading a just and upright life it is right here: well-practiced personal behavior, following upright examples, and being in a community of others with similar values.

Jeremiah 15:1–16:13: Now we get down to serious jeremiads as the prophet, speaking in the voice of God, describes the punishment–and ultimate destruction of most–of the people he loves but whose behavior and intransigence he can no longer abide. There are four forms of punishment:
   “Those destined for pestilence, to pestilence,
        and those destined for the sword, to the sword;
    those destined for famine, to famine,
        and those destined for captivity, to captivity. (15:2)

And there are “four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, and the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth to devour and destroy.” (15:3). What’s fascinating here is that Jeremiah is naming names: “ I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what King Manasseh son of Hezekiah of Judah did in Jerusalem.” (15:4). The failure of leadership has led to the corruption of society–and the consequences of that failure will be suffered by everyone.

There is a lesson here for us. We are a society that has abandoned true leadership and replaced it with rhetoricians. Absent any example of servant leadership, like Judah we become increasingly corrupt. And the leaders we are contemplating to replace our current leaders are buffoons or skating on the edge of corruption. We deserve the leadership we get because of our failure of collective discipline.  I think the reason God punishes the people of Jerusalem together with its king is that they have allowed corruption to fester and turned a blind eye to immorality.  They–we– have failed to follow the example of the psalmist above and have welcomed haughtiness, pride and ultimately corruption into our public and private lives. We are certainly no better than the people before which Jeremiah stood.

But as always, God offers a way out. All we need to do is turn around–the literal meaning of redemption:
   “Therefore thus says the Lord:
    If you turn back, I will take you back,
        and you shall stand before me.
    If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
        you shall serve as my mouth.” (15:19)

“God has never once abandoned his promise:
    for I am with you
        to save you and deliver you,
    says the Lord.
       I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
        and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” (15:20b, 21)

Or will our overweening pride cause us to reject this generous offer? And today, unlike Judah, we have Jesus Christ to turn to. Why do we resist? Does our self-centered pride know no limits?

1 Timothy 1:12–2:7: Paul uses his own experience as an example of grace: “ I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1: 13,14) Exactly the offer that is before each person and that is so enthusiastically rejected by so many.

Like today’s psalmist, the point of this epistle is instruction: “I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, …so that by following them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience.” (18, 19a). And like Jeremiah, Paul does not hesitate to name names of those who have ignored this instruction: “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1:19, 20) [This is one of those places that makes me suspect Paul’s authorship because this seems even harsher than the angry, but ultimately graceful, Paul we see elsewhere.]

I would like to know the backstory of relationship between the church and the authorities that led to: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (2:1,2) In other words, he seems to be staying, stay quiet and therefore unnoticed. He may also be saying, ‘don’t interfere with the political process.’ A lesson for certain present-day Evangelicals here?

But the centerpiece of the reading is this wonderful, simple creed that so clearly illustrates not only the relationship between God and Jesus, but reminds us of why Jesus came in the first place:

    “For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all.” (5,6)

Those words were certainly on the minds of the Council of Nicea.  And in the end, it’s all we really have to know theologically…

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