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.

 

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Jeremiah III – “If you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?”

November 16, 2016

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The Bible readings this week begin and end with these metaphors for the Christ — the “lamb to the slaughter” and the “fisher of men.”  But in the middle of the readings is a favorite Bible verse of mine: “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?” (Jer. 12:5, The Message)  Running with horses is being moved by the energy of the Spirit, so Jeremiah had the Christ AND the Comforter by his side!  It is also a great reminder for everyone “worn out” by this presidential race; like Paul, our real race is for that “incorruptible crown” (I Cor. 9:25).

The Book of Jeremiah requires careful reading because sometimes the prophet Jeremiah is speaking and sometimes God is speaking, but there is no “Jeremiah said” to tell you when the conversation has switched. It reminds me of the Book of Job with its extensive conversation in human consciousness about the nature of God.

Are you noticing more similarities between Jeremiah and Jesus? Here are some that I spotted this week:

First, Jeremiah compared himself to a “lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19), which is the same prophecy for Jesus in Isaiah: “he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). And that is also the difference — Jesus used his healings and his resurrection to speak for him.

Second, Jeremiah was instructed not to have a family (Jer. 16:2), and Jesus “acknowledged no ties of the flesh” (Science and Health 31:4).

Third, both Jeremiah and Jesus foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.

Fourth, both use the symbolism of calling followers to be “fishers of men” (Jer. 16:16 and Luke 5:10). This week I was pondering that familiar story of Peter’s deep sea fishing which resulted in a broken net; and then after the resurrection, fishing on the right side with a sturdy net. Jeremiah also asked his people to cast their faith on the spiritual side so they could see that the physical destruction of Jerusalem was not the destruction of them. The Israelites didn’t listen to Jeremiah, but that’s the same lesson we learned in Hurricane Katrina – that all the material stuff isn’t us!

Mary Baker Eddy gives this explanation of these fishing stories:

Faithfully, as meekly, you have toiled all night; and at break of day caught much. At times, your net has been so full that it broke: human pride, creeping into its meshes, extended it beyond safe expansion; then, losing hold of divine Love, you lost your fishes, and possibly blamed others more than yourself. But those whom God makes “fishers of men” will not pull for the shore; like Peter, they launch into the depths, cast their nets on the right side, compensate loss, and gain a higher sense of the true idea. Nothing is lost that God gives: had He filled the net, it would not have broken. (Mis. 111:4)

Since National Bible Week is approaching, I also like this quote:

Christian Scientists are fishers of men. The Bible is our sea-beaten rock. It guides the fishermen. It stands the storm. It engages the attention and enriches the being of all men. (My. 295:17)

The term “pastor” is used frequently in Jeremiah in the King James Version, but pastor doesn’t always translate as the Bible or clergy. For example, in Jeremiah 12:10: “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.”  Other Bible translations use the words “shepherds” or “rulers” instead of pastors, broadening that rebuke.

 

Jeremiah II – “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”

November 9, 2016

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Jeremiah warned the citizens of ancient Jerusalem that their authority figures “had healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). He urged the people to build up their own faith in God to protect and inspire them, instead of relying on physical organizations, such as the monarchy or the Temple.  If you are striving for true peace, especially after this unsettling election, you may find comfort in the inspired Word of the Bible, and especially in the story of Jeremiah who would not permit a spiritual death in his people although he saw destruction all around him.

We all know the story about how Jesus overthrew the moneychangers in Herod’s Temple because it had become “a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Did you know that Jeremiah spoke those same words about Solomon’s temple (Jer. 7:11)? In his book about Jeremiah, the translator Eugene Peterson wrote,

This sermon by Jeremiah is so important to us. It is especially important in times of success, when everything is going well, when the church is admired and church attendance swells. We think everything is fine because the appearances are fine and the statistics are impressive. The church is never in so much danger as when it is popular and millions of people are saying, “I’m born again, born again, born again.” (Run with the Horses, p. 67)

But what if your church has the opposite situation and appears empty? Jeremiah asks that question as well:

Who is wise enough to take all this in? Who has heard the Eternal speak and can explain His ways to others? Can anyone say why this land has been ruined and left a wasteland, a desert where no one dares to travel? (Jer. 9:12, The Voice)

My tent is destroyed,

and all my cords are broken;

my children have gone from me,

and they are no more;

there is no one to spread my tent again,

and to set up my curtains. ((Jer.10:20, New Revised Standard Version)

I have been studying Jeremiah for his insights into the direction of our church, locally and globally, and one term Jeremiah uses that I find helpful is “defenced city.” (From King James; other translations use “fortified city” or “fortress.”)  For example, “Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there:” (Jer. 8:14).  In our Church Manual, there is a provision which states: “The prayers in Christian Science churches shall be offered for the congregations collectively and exclusively” (Manual, 42:1-3).

Jeremiah always had his defense system because God told him,”I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land.  . .” (Jer. 1:18).  In Miscellaneous Writings, Mary Baker Eddy wrote about her method of prayer:

   Three times a day, I retire to seek the divine blessing on the sick and sorrowing, with my face toward the Jerusalem of Love and Truth, in silent prayer to the Father which “seeth in secret,” and with childlike confidence that He will reward “openly.” In the midst of depressing care and labor I turn constantly to divine Love for guidance, and find rest. It affords me great joy to be able to attest to the truth of Jesus’ words. Love makes all burdens light, it giveth a peace that passeth understanding, and with “signs following.” (Mis. 133:22-31)

So, there’s our reminder about the peace-giving power of prayer — in our churches collectively and exclusively, and as individuals in our own prayer-closets!

Here are some Bible notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fourth Edition:

Jeremiah 7:4 – The Temple was regarded as a place of sanctuary where one might seek refuge from reprisal. . . .The people believe that their mere presence in the Temple renders them safe. . . .Although liturgical tradition expressed God’s protection of Jerusalem and the Temple, it is deceptive to think that this necessarily assures God’s protection. The threefold repetition implies that the phrase had become a cliche. (p. 1072)

Jeremiah 7:12 – Shiloh was destroyed during the early Philistine wars. . . .The memory of Shiloh was important for Jeremiah’s own family, descended from the priests of Shiloh through Abiathar, David’s priest who was exiled to Anathoth by Solomon. (p. 1072)

Jeremiah 7:31 – The valley skirting Jerusalem to the south and west was likely the site of many fire-pits for garbage, but also the site for sacrificing children in fire for divine favor. The custom was practiced even by Israel’s kings, but was proscribed in the reform of King Josiah. (p. 1073)

Jeremiah 9:10 – Lamentation is the technical term for the funeral dirge. (p. 1076)

Jeremiah 9:15 – Wormwood, an extremely bitter and poisonous herbal extract (p. 1076)

Jeremiah I – “to root out and to pull down”

November 2, 2016

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In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?”, and they replied, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13, 14) What was special about Jeremiah (Jeremias) that men remembered him when they spoke of Jesus? How can Jeremiah’s story help us with our lives today and with our viewpoints about the health of today’s government or today’s church? In Jeremiah 1:10, this major Old Testament prophet was given the mission “to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant,” but what do we learn when we’ve been thrown down?

My interest in Jeremiah began a few years ago when I read a book by Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, entitled Run with the Horses: the Quest for Life at its Best. This title is from Jeremiah 12:5 in which Peterson translated God’s words as:

“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,

what makes you think you can race against horses?

And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm,

what’s going to happen when troubles break loose

like the Jordan in flood? (The Message, Jeremiah 12:5)

It is inspiring to think of Jeremiah as a religious maverick, as was Mrs. Eddy.  Both saw a spiritual and universal dimension to worship that was rejected by their contemporaries.

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

Jeremiah lived during the critical years spanning the “golden age” of the Judean king Josiah (640-609 BCE) and the subsequent fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the deportations of the Judean population into captivity (597-586 BCE), all at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. . . .The traditional assumption. . .is that Jeremiah began his ministry in 627 BCE (Jer. 25:3) and prophesied until well after the deportation of 586 BCE. . . .Jeremiah, along with his friend and scribal colleague Baruch, was forcibly taken as a hostage to Egypt, where he is last heard speaking judgment oracles against the community in the years following 586 BCE. (p. 1057)

Jeremiah 1:11 – Almond tree, a very early blooming tree

Jeremiah 1:13, 14 – The pot was boiling over as first Assyria and then Babylon exercise expansionist imperial policies against Judah and its neighbors. (p. 1059)

Jeremiah 3:16 – Ark of the covenant, Judah’s central religious symbol had likely been removed in military attack and was no longer present in the Temple by Jeremiah’s time. Later tradition ascribed to Jeremiah the securing of the final secret resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, where he hid it following the destruction of the Temple (2 Macc 2:4-5) on Mount Nebo, the same mountain near which Moses’ secret burial site was located. (p. 1064)

The above Bible Note on Jeremiah 3:16 references 2 Maccabees 2 which reads:

It was also in the same document that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: “The place shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things. . . . (2 Maccabees 2:4-8 New Revised Standard Version)

I love this traditional view of Jeremiah burying these religious symbols in a sepulchre so that their immortality could be brought to light (Science and Health, p. 582:23); or as we sing in our hymn, “And as we rise, the symbols disappear” (Hymn #108).

Orlando – the brotherhood of man

June 15, 2016

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My planned readings were on the stumbling blocks facing one of the churches in Revelation. However, due to the tragedy in Orlando, I felt that I should do some readings on man’s friendship and brotherhood which extend beyond the physical appearances of sexuality, nationality, or religious beliefs.  I usually post my readings on Wednesday mornings, but I thought I would send them out ahead of time in case they should provide some comfort.

The Bible readings have three stories about friendships with those we would certainly describe as diverse in today’s language. The first, Ebed–melech, bravely saved the life of the prophet Jeremiah when the weak King of Judah was too afraid of disagreeing with his advisors to follow Jeremiah’s God-given instructions. The second, Ashpenaz, disobeyed the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon so that the Jewish captives (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) could keep their faith’s dietary laws. The third, the eunuch of an Ethiopian queen, was baptized by the Apostle Philip for proclaiming his belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  In Miscellaneous Writings, Mrs. Eddy answers a question about the salvation of this eunuch, and I am quoting part of it below as it is a wonderful essay on the transition from firm believing to understanding to the miracle of grace. (The entire essay is available at the end of the readings.)

“This is the Father’s great Love that He hath bestowed upon us, and it holds man in endless Life and one eternal round of harmonious being. It guides him by Truth that knows no error, and with supersensual, impartial, and unquenchable Love. . . . To believe thus was to enter the spiritual sanctuary of Truth, and there learn, in divine Science, somewhat of the All-Father-Mother God. It was to understand God and man: it was sternly to rebuke the mortal belief that man has fallen away from his first estate; that man, made in God’s own likeness, and reflecting Truth, could fall into mortal error; or, that man is the father of man. It was to enter unshod the Holy of Holies, where the miracle of grace appears, and where the miracles of Jesus had their birth, — healing the sick, casting out evils, and resurrecting the human sense to the belief that Life, God, is not buried in matter. (Miscellaneous Writings p. 77-78)

Here are some interesting comments found in the notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 38:7 “The eunuchs” is often used of court officials indicating how highly in Judean court life such persons of ambiguous gender could ascend. Some scholars, however, suggest that the term has two distinct meanings (“official” and “eunuch”). There is no indication, however, that the “eunuch” was a social pariah. (4th edition, page 1116)

Daniel 1:5 Three years are cited by Persian texts as the time required for gaining knowledge of religious concerns. (page 1234-35)

Hmm…I wonder if Mrs. Eddy considered this with her Bylaw regarding Readers’ terms of three years, or perhaps it had to do with the length of Jesus’ ministry?