Jeremiah VIII – Hope

February 1, 2017

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A contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy, the New England poet Emily Dickinson, wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Years later, Mrs. Eddy would write the poem “Mother’s Evening Prayer” which has this stanza:  “O make me glad for every scalding tear, / For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!”  The phrase “hope deferred” matches this quote from Proverbs:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12).

“Hope deferred” certainly seems to be a term we could use to describe our current global unrest, whether it is disappointed refugees or citizens disillusioned by the government or frustrated with the media. A helpful article in praying about hope to heal divisions is “When family ties are tested,” which included two definitions for “deferred hope”:

A dictionary reference pointed out that the verb “to defer” has two distinct meanings. One is “to put off to a future time, to postpone.” The second is “to submit to the opinion, wishes, or decision of another.” Some of the synonyms for this second meaning are “yield, submit, surrender, entrust.”

Ah, the light was beginning to dawn. My hopes for a happier family could sadly be postponed for a future date, relegated to the realm of someday possibilities. Or I could submit all my personal hopes and expectations for good to a loving Father-Mother, God, who created us and governs His creation every moment. I could yield my preconceived story lines and plots. I could surrender my timetable for when and how things should be accomplished. I could entrust myself, my family, my cat, to God, knowing that omnipresent Good governs all of us, always.

Each day, I choose the latter. For me, “hope deferred” no longer implies waiting until cherished hopes are realized or postponing good. “Hope deferred” has become a time of active yielding to the divine (Earleen Bailey, Christian Science Sentinel, June 27, 2005).

A few years ago, I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German Lutheran pastor active in the German resistance (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas). He became engaged to a young woman shortly before being imprisoned, and then a few weeks before the end of World War II, he was executed by the Nazis.  I remember thinking that the romance must have felt like a sign of hope for the future in a war-torn country.  Or at least, that is the connection I made when I read about Jeremiah buying a field while sitting in prison with Jerusalem at war. It was an orderly business transaction in the midst of disorder. It was hope.

In the readings, Israel is referred to as “Ephraim, my firstborn” (Jer. 31:9). Ephraim was blessed by Jacob as Joseph’s first born son, although he was the last born.  Reversing the birth order reminded me of Jesus’ words that the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30). Then I began thinking of all the other symbols that Jesus reversed: the burdensome yoke and the yoke which was easy; the unclean leaven of the Pharisees, and the treasured leaven of the woman baking bread. It is like a hidden blessing to call Israel “Ephraim” because it is acknowledging that God blesses the reverse order of the physical senses.

Here are some notes on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 31:18 – Ephraim, the more powerful of the Joseph tribes, and therefore representative of all Israel (the north).

Jeremiah 32: God’s restoration of Israel. These chapters are thematically linked to the “Book of Consolation” and so are included here, even though they should follow ch 34 chronologically; they are dated to the very end of there reign of Zedekiah and of the Babylonian siege (588-586 BCE), during which Jeremiah was in confinement.

Jer. 32.1-44 centers on the theme that “fields shall be bought. . .and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed” using Jeremiah’s offer of redeeming family property in Anathoth as a sign. . . .During a brief lifting of the siege, Jeremiah tried to leave the city, was accused of desertion, and was arrested. 4: Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. 7: Right of redemption, to keep property within the extended family, members who could do so were expected to “redeem” land that was in jeopardy of being forfeited or sold outside the family. 9: Seventeen shekels, 7 oz. At this time there was no coinage, and “money” was weighed in. 11: sealed deed. . .open copy, contracts were sealed with a signet ring on a clay “bulla,” but a copy or summary of the contents was left available on the outside of the scroll for reference and public scrutiny. Storage of such documents in clay jars was common practice. 12: Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe.

Lamentations 3:29 – Put one’s mouth to the dust, accept God’s discipline submissively.

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Jeremiah VII – Transitions

January 25, 2017

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We have heard much in these past weeks about having a peaceful transition of power.  Mary Baker Eddy wrote about the transitional qualities we should express: “Humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance” (SH 115).  In this Wednesday’s service, we will be looking at the subject of transitions through the words of the prophet Jeremiah whose sentiments have been expressed by many of the citizens of today.  Jeremiah wrote, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jer 29:7 NKJV).

The “peace” in this verse is from the Hebrew “shalom” which Strong’s translates as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” Different Bible translations use different words, all striving to give a sense of shalom.  For example, the New International Version reads: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:7 NIV).

The Bible readings from the Old Testament begin and end with references to life in the womb and childbirth.  According to Bible commentaries, “delicacy, growth, and maternal involvement are God’s work,” and “childbirth is a common metaphor for distress in the midst of crisis” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Ps 139:13 and Jer 30:6). I really like how these two concepts are addressed in the Science and Health paragraph on “scientific obstetrics” discussing “the birth of the new child, or divine idea” (SH 463:6).

Below is additional Bible commentary on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 26:15 Innocent blood, the killing of an innocent person was a horrific crime that had disastrous consequences, especially in the perspective of Deuteronomy. 16-19: The charge is mitigated for two reasons. First, they recognize the prophet’s claim to immunity on the basis of being constrained by God to deliver a message. Second, the precedent of Micah is involved, with a rare quotation of an earlier book (Mic 3.12). Micah’s prediction of disaster did not come to pass because, it is argued, he successfully prompted Hezekiah to plead for divine favor. . . .20-23: The precedent of Uriah, however, indicated the danger facing Jeremiah. For exactly the same charge, Uriah was hunted down by Jehoiakim and executed.

Jeremiah 29:5 Build. . .plant, characteristic language of Jeremiah’s vision of restoration which will first occur in Babylon itself. 7: Welfare, that is “the peace” (Heb. shalom). They are to pray for the peace not of Jerusalem, but of Babylon.

Jeremiah VI – Our cup overflowing beyond threescore and ten

January 18, 2017

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Last week my family saw the movie “Hidden Figures” about three African American women who broke barriers of gender, race, AND space at NASA with their knowledge of math, engineering, and computer programming.  Mary Baker Eddy wrote of “the great exponent of God” which made me think of her remarks about going beyond our “threescore years and ten.” I love the sense of multiplying our spiritual completeness in our earthly experience, and looking beyond the numbers for the blessings, as the women proved in this movie.

In doing these readings on Jeremiah, there is a constant reminder that the Israelites were to be in captivity for 70 years; and elsewhere in the Bible, man’s lifespan was set at threescore years and ten.  Jacob’s descendants numbered 70 when they entered Egypt;  Moses chose 70 elders to expand his ability to rule, and Jesus sent out 70 disciples to multiply his healing work. Yet there were thousands leaving Egypt in the Book of Exodus and thousands being baptized in the Book of Acts. So whenever we feel restricted by age, location, or any other experience, then ponder God’s multiplying power since “we may as well improve our time in solving the mysteries of being. . .” (Science and Health, p. 90).

Did you notice that Jeremiah used the symbolism of the cup, despised by the Israelites who craved another lifestyle, and which became central to Jesus’ teachings?  The name of the place where the Israelites were buried in the wilderness after their demands were satisfied with overflowing quails was called “Kibrothhattaavah” which means “graves of craving” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Numbers 11:34).

Jeremiah V – “What is the chaff to the wheat?”

January 11, 2017

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There is a poem in The Christian Science Journal, entitled “Jeremiah’s question,” which begins:

“What is the chaff to the wheat?”*

What is the husk to the seed?

Is it the thing that is gathered and cherished?

Is it the thing that we need?

Is it the thing that can grow and bear fruit?

Is it the thing that can feed?

What is the chaff to the wheat—

the mortal lies to God’s thought?

Which is the one

to be gathered and cherished?

Which is the one to be taught?

(“Jeremiah’s question” by Diane Allison from the August 2014 issue of The Christian Science Journal)

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah strongly rebuked the swirling chaff of false prophets and lying prophecies. The Jews were being forced to separate themselves from the sin in believing that God (and therefore good) was limited to a particular place (Jerusalem and its Temple). The conquest of Nebuchadnezzar burnt up this sin (like the tares and the wheat), so nothing was left but the Christ-seed, which was present with them in Babylon, and which inspired them to write many of the books of our Old Testament during their captivity.

Then in the New Testament, Jesus expresses his harshest criticism for the scribes and Pharisees and their burdensome rules. “God’s glowing denunciations of man when not found in His image, the likeness of Spirit, convince reason and coincide with revelation in declaring this material creation false.” (Science and Health 522:21)  I think this acronym for SIN, “Separate Individual Nature,” sums up this pride in a false creation.

There is so much in the news today about fair wages and immigration, so here’s a reminder from Jeremiah about the importance of social justice: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jeremiah 22:13).  The warning about callous “pastors” in the King James Version is translated as “shepherds” in other versions, and according to the Bible Notes, “shepherds” is a metaphor for Judah’s kings.

There is an unnamed reference to Megiddo in Jeremiah 22:10, and there is a recent two-minute video by Bible scholar Madelon Maupin on this ancient battleground which you can watch here:  http://bibleroads.com/tel-megiddo/  (Madelon has a free Bible Roads e-newsletter which you can sign up for on the same link.)

Here are some more Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible which are helpful in understanding the swirling history in Jeremiah’s verses.

Jeremiah 22:10-11: Him who is dead, Josiah was killed at Megiddo in 609 BCE in a battle with Pharaoh Neco. Neco was leading the Egyptian army northward to come to the aid of the Assyrian army, which was under critical pressure from the Babylonians. Josiah’s political program was governed by his revolt against Assyria, so he did not want Neco’s campaign to relieve Assyria to succeed. Him who goes away, Josiah’s son Jehoahaz (Shallum) reigned briefly but was taken captive by Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt who placed his brother Jehoiakim (608-598 BCE) on the throne. . . . 13-23: An oracle against Jehoiakim, who is judged to be the antithesis of his father, Josiah. 13: Work for nothing, the royal building projects were carried out by use of conscripted laborers, one of the realities of dynastic kingship as suggested by Samuel’s warning. References to elaborate building projects completed by means of uncompensated labor suggest that Jehoiakim was perceived as imitating Solomon’s grandeur and autocratic power. 14: Windows…cedar…vermillion, signs of royal ostentation and arrogance. 15: Your father, that is Josiah.

Jeremiah IV – “Go down to the potter’s house.”

January 4, 2017

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I’ve read and heard many comments about how awful the year 2016 was due to the bitter presidential elections, celebrity deaths, terrorists attacks, and so on. I find great hope in reading the Book of Jeremiah, as did Christian Science Bible scholar Elaine Follis who wrote the following testimony:

I was particularly struck by the eighteenth chapter of the book, which describes Jeremiah’s vision of a potter. The text indicates the vision is based on an experience he had while struggling with despair over the impending doom of his nation. God told Jeremiah to take a walk to the part of the city where potters’ shops were located. He obeyed, and became absorbed in watching a craftsman at work. Just as a lovely design was emerging from the clay, the potter suddenly stopped the wheel and pressed the clay back into a lump. Initially startled, Jeremiah continued to watch as the potter turned the wheel again and eventually produced a piece even more beautiful than before.

Jeremiah realized the meaning of the vision as a parable for his own day. Even as the potter brought fresh creativity out of what appeared to be destruction, so God was working something new in the hearts of the people Israel. God told Jeremiah, “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (18:6). I began to think: Perhaps that is what is happening to me, as well. Perhaps the foundations of my previous concepts of life are being torn away to make way for new perspectives, based on a better foundation.

I decided to believe that might be possible, and, accordingly, to take hope and heart. Every time I felt tempted to despair, I thought of God as the potter and me as the clay, safe in His hands. I reasoned, “If this can work for Jeremiah—and if Scripture includes basic principles as to the nature of God and humanity—it ought to work for me as well.” (“The Spirit in the Word,” by Elaine Follis, from the September 1, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel)

Jeremiah pleaded with the besieged people to accept a way out — instead of facing death in Jerusalem, they could surrender to the Babylonians and live.  What a shock this message must have felt like to the citizens of Jerusalem! Was God treating them like he threatened to do to the Ninevites in the story of Jonah a century earlier? Yet the Jews’ captivity in Babylon forced them to progress spiritually; and in a short time, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians who allowed the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 17:1-4: Israel’s intransigence is likened to an engraver writing on rock. 1: Diamond point, the term usually refers to sharp thorns, but can be used also of sharp hard stone, probably flint. Tablet of their hearts, combining the images of the Torah being written on the human heart and on tablets of stone. But now it is their sinfulness that is so engraved. The human heart represented the center of resolve and will. Its hardening was a common metaphor for human stubbornness. Horns of their altars, protrusions at each of the four corners of a cut-stone altar, symbolizing divine strength and functioning to hold in place the wood and animal parts. Sanctuary could be gained by seizing the horns.

 

Jeremiah 18:12: Although God may have a “plan,” the people can only follow their own. The people express their fatalistic sense of doom, their inability to be “reworked.”

 

Jeremiah 19: This section continues the theme of pottery as a symbol of divine judgment. . . .No time reference is given, but by 605 BCE Jeremiah had been barred from the Temple, perhaps as a result of his confinement by the priest Pashhur, the chief officer of the Temple personnel.

 

Jeremiah 21: Zedekiah was the last of Judah’s kings who reigned from the first deportation in 597 until the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. . . .In the face of the people’s confidence, the Lord warns that he will fight against Judah, and Jerusalem and Zedekiah will fall to Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah repeatedly sent envoys to Jeremiah for divine guidance and information, always with similar results: Zedekiah should capitulate to the Babylonian armies. The historical setting is apparently 588 BCE, after Zedekiah had committed himself to a rebellion against Babylon. . . . 8: Jeremiah offers the people the opportunity to choose, but their choices do not include the option of avoiding the Babylonian onslaught. The only possibility for life is surrender to the enemy besieging the city; Jerusalem, however, will be destroyed.