Puppets and Prophets: A Reflection on Jeremiah 37-38

August 9, 2017

I wonder how often the prophet Jeremiah had to force himself to
get out of bed to face the day. The prophet and poet for whom truth is grasped through metaphor and image (as Dorothy Sayers stated, “we have no way to think, except in pictures”) must have demanded, “How long, oh, Lord must I do this?” King Zedekiah, no king at all really but a puppet of the Babylonians, was a shape shifter in his allegiances. When the Babylonians were present, he paid them suitable deference – at least enough to convince himself he’d convinced them. To the Egyptians he called, “Come deliver me!” More than once King Zedekiah
commands Jeremiah, “Tell me the truth.” Jeremiah must have burst out laughing at the irony of a
king of God’s chosen people asking for the truth while calling on the Egyptians of all people for deliverance. But Jeremiah keeps on getting out of bed in the morning, even though he knows the images of truth will keep coming and God will command him to speak and, because his life is bound so intimately to the great I AM, speak he will.

Jeremiah’s call forced him to confront a puppet king and his puppet bureaucrats who cared for
nothing but their own survival. And that call demanded he live among people who were suffering
because of a king who served only himself. The mind’s eye of the prophet stayed in overdrive
painting images of truth as he bore witness to the suffering and demanded the king do his job.
Jeremiah’s insistence on speaking the truth put him in danger from those in power who do not
want their incompetence and indifference exposed.

The prophet’s refusal to keep silent got him thrown in prison. I wonder if Jeremiah hoped that in the dark of the cistern prison the images in his mind would fade away so he wouldn’t have to speak the truth nobody wanted to hear.

But God, who seems to delight in turning everything on its head (or perhaps he’s actually turning things right side up) often brings us friends in unexpected places. Ebed-melech was one of Jeremiah’s friends in unexpected places. In a palace where suspicion and intrigue were swirling in every dark corner, who would’ve blamed Ebed-melech if he’d just kept his head down? Instead, he risks his own life to remove Jeremiah from the cistern and tenderly care for him. I wonder how many conversations he and Jeremiah had about God’s demand for justice and if Ebed-melech’s imagination was fired up and his mind’s eye sharpened to the truth through those conversations?

Jeremiah? Well, it appears that he kept on thinking in pictures and the puppet king kept on asking for a truth he’d no intention of hearing. I wonder how often Jeremiah had to force himself to get out of bed to face the day.

Small Children in a Small Church Catch a Very Big Vision

April 20, 2017

This article was written by Jeff Ritchie for The Outreach Foundation December 16, 2015. It’s a reminder that, in God’s economy, small is not a liability.

Last fall, a Sunday school class consisting of three boys from First Presbyterian Church in Wrangell, Alaska, were inspired to learn more about the work of the Turk family in Madagascar, especially the work with children in need.

After receiving more information, they found in the list of needs a $5,000 item for the work with children involving food, clothing and schooling – all of which were readily available to this class. The three boys decided they wanted to raise the $5,000 for those children in Africa, and church members said ‘Well, we will back you up but don’t know if you can do it.’ Their teacher, Janelle Privett, did not discourage them, and it became a major focus for the year.

The boys, Matthew Covalt, Curtis Wimberley and Tarren Privett, started thinking of ways to raise money to help the children in need. They picked up coins off of the street, had a silent auction of art items they made, held a spaghetti feed after church, handed out mission money jars, gave presentations to the congregation about why they were collecting money and showed pictures of the children, had an insert for the bulletin, presented their project to the Synod, which met in Wrangell this spring, and held a giant rummage sale.

These boys, ages 8-11, have been a part of the church since birth. They understand that they are fortunate, and they share a concern for people, especially children who are less fortunate.

The Outreach Foundation received a check in August (2007) from the boys for the amount of $5,033.98. Not only did they exceed their goal, but they did so as a result of their faithful leadership which has inspired a lot of people. Maybe their example will inspire you to reach out to others in a new way!  

May God bless you as you lean into extending God’s mission from generation to generation.

The Least of These

January 27, 2017

It was one of those family stories. The kind that get told over and over again. The stories in which your identity is both rooted and revealed. No matter how often he heard the story, his father could never tell him quite what it was that woke him in the middle of the night. He could only say that he woke suddenly with a sickening sense danger was close. He KNEW he needed to get his family away, immediately. When they left, his father didn’t know where they would go or what kind of reception they would find when they got there. All he knew was that staying was not an option.  

The boy was too young to remember that terror filled night and the days and weeks that followed. He did remember, vividly, what it was to be a stranger in a strange land. To be different in speech, dress, customs. To be laughed at and ridiculed simply for his presence. To work long exhausting hours with his mother and father to eke out a living. To be told, “You’re not wanted here. Go home!”

Then, one day, word came, “The king is dead.” The boy remembered the joy on the faces of his mother and father. “Home,” they told him excitedly, “we’re going home.” The boy did remember the journey home through the scorching heat of the desert and freezing cold nights, the days when food and water were scarce, when they were dependent upon the hospitality of strangers. He remembered the endless miles of walking.

When they arrived back in Nazareth, he remembered how the joy turned to grief. The sense of impending danger that had driven his father to flee with his family in the middle of the night materialized into horror when the king’s armies exploded from the dark of night bringing death and destruction. There was not a family left untouched by the violence of that night. So.many.children.murdered. All for the madness of a politician.

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2.14-15a). Those verses are a stark reminder that Jesus was a refugee, a small child whose parents were so desperate they would take unimaginable risks in a bid for survival. Little Aylan Kurdi must have been about the age Jesus was when his father was awakened in the middle of the night with an impulse to flee. The image of that little body on the beach in his red shirt and tennis shoes can only be framed by this long ago story of Jesus.

Jesus’ humanity was shaped by his experience as a refugee. When Jesus was traveling the countryside as a young man teaching his followers, wasn’t it his own family’s experience that informed his teaching?

The vulnerability of life in a strange land was still fresh in his mind when he responded to the crowd’s question, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ … ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.’ (Matthew 25.37-40).”

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