Psalm 96:10-14; Jeremiah 7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28

Psalm 96:10-14: The second theme of this psalm is God’s justice:
Yes, the world stands firm, will not shake.
He metes out justice to peoples righteously. (10)

By concatenating justice with creation, the psalmist forces us to confront the reality that any injustice we commit is a sin against God’s created order. God’s justice is not an occasion of foreboding and terror for those who trust in God, but a time to sing with the joy the new song. As the psalmist puts it so beautifully, Creation itself sings in joy:
Let the field be glad and all that is in it,
then shall all the trees of the forest joyfully sing… (12).

Why does Creation sing? Not because it’s a nice day, but because creation knows its Creator, who is the source of all justice in creation:
He comes to judge the earth.
He judges the world in justice 
and peoples in His faithfulness. (14)

Jeremiah 7: The chapter opens with a new sermon once again spoken in God’s voice. The warning is familiar: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you[a] in this place.” (3) But there’s a new twist: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” (4) I take the meaning to be that the people just assume God is present at the temple when in fact he has abandoned it because of the people’s wanton sinfulness.

Jeremiah gives a succinct summary of God’s expectation of his people if they wish repent and will be able to avoid losing their land to the enemy:  For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.” (5-7) These commands are exactly what God is asking of us today. Given the turmoil at our southern border, the command to not “oppress the alien” rings especially loud.

But that is what God desires. The reality on the ground is the complete opposite. The greatest sin is Judah’s refusal first to even listen: “when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer,” (13) The consequences of failing to listen to God through his prophets are dire: “…therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh.” (14) In short, destruction and exile.

God asks but one thing: “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” (23) We have no reason to believe that even though God is ever graceful that our willful refusal to listen to God’s message will cause our society likely to suffer the same fate as Judah. The means will be different, but the end will be destruction.

And if ever we needed a reminder of where we as a nation seem to be headed it is this: “You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.” (28) For indeed, truth and truth spoken to power seems to have vanished from our cultural DNA. Truth has become whatever some individual declares it to be.

The chapter concludes with a prediction of exactly what ultimately came to pass in Judah as God speaks the doom that awaits: “And I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste.” (34) All empires collapse because the people have refused to listen to God and worship their own small-g gods. Like Judah, unless there is repentance, the signs of the destruction of our present culture are ominous indeed.

1 Thessalonians 5:16–28: Even in his benediction, Paul continues to give advice to the little flock at Thessalonika. And we can be grateful that he does so, for he gives the Thessalonians (and us) one of the most encouraging verses found anywhere in his epistles. First the positive “do this” advice: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (16-18) Joy. Prayer. Thanksgiving. These are truly the key elements of the Christian life well-lived. And a challenge for me: how often do I truly rejoice of give thanks. And I certainly don’t pray without ceasing. We need to reflect on how much these qualities would positively impact our lives—especially in this era of unrelenting bad news delivered to us so efficiently by the media.

Paul wouldn’t be Paul if he didn’t add a couple of negative “avoid this” pieces of advice: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets.” (19, 20) I’m particularly struck by “do not quench the Spirit. I think we do this every time when we focus on the negatives around us, especially in the church or when our negativity, sarcasm, or cynicism will (even inadvertently) quench the Spirit in the people around us. Never mind ourselves.

Paul concludes with the simplest, yet most difficult advice of all: “but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (21, 22) In “testing everything,” Paul means don’t be fooled by words from others—especially church leaders—that seem too good to be true. Especially those who misinterpret Scripture to their own ends such as the “prosperity gospel.” Or as I’ve noted many times what my dad used to say, “Don’t leave your brains at the door.”

Paul’s benediction is for all of us, not just the Thessalonian church: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” (23, 24) The question is, do I really keep my spirit (emotions), soul, and body “sound and blameless?” It’s a high bar, but we are all the better for striving to achieve this noble goal. As Paul notes, Jesus is faithful;. The question is, are we?

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