Friday, 20 September 2019


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Name The Shame

September 1, 2019


September 1, 2019 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas


Jeremiah 2:4-13

4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
   that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 
6 They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
   who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
   in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
   in a land that no one passes through,
   where no one lives?’ 
7 I brought you into a plentiful land
   to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
   and made my heritage an abomination. 
8 The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’
   Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
   the prophets prophesied by Baal,
   and went after things that do not profit. 

9 Therefore once more I accuse you,

says the Lord,
   and I accuse your children’s children. 
10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
   send to Kedar and examine with care;
   see if there has ever been such a thing. 
11 Has a nation changed its gods,
   even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
   for something that does not profit. 
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
   be shocked, be utterly desolate,

says the Lord, 
13 for my people have committed two evils:
   they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
   and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
   that can hold no water. 


Almighty God,
in your goodness, you provide for the needy.
Remove from your people the pride of place
and the pursuit of power that mocks humility.
Open our hearts in generosity and justice
to the neglected and lonely,
that in showing esteem for others,

we may honor and please you
through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Amen.


We do not often hear sermons from Jeremiah.  I suppose that is because Jeremiah’s words are not the “everything is beautiful and will be OK” stuff people want to hear preachers say.  Preachers know this.  So we are tempted to avoid Jeremiah and turn to passages that aren’t likely to unsettle listeners.  


But no matter how people feel about it, Jeremiah’s powerful description of God’s reaction to the moral and ethical situation in Judah during the seventh century B.C. call out to people in every other place and time. According to the prophet, it was incredible to God that people delivered by God from oppression centuries ago in Egypt would turn away from God.  


How could people forsake God, described as “the fountain of living water,” and manufacture false gods, described as digging out “cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water?”  How could prophets, rulers, priests, and people reject faithfulness to God’s love, God’s truth, God’s justice, and God’s peace and choose to become a culture defined by greed and fear, injustice, and belief in salvation through violence?


The people of Jeremiah’s time had religion, priests, and prophets.  Yet, their idolatry was national pride and security.  They were proud of their heritage, proud of their ancestral heroes, and proud of their national wealth.  Judah was not faithful to God because Judah was not humble and thankful to God.  Judah was proud.  Jeremiah’s painful mission was to speak the truth about God’s shame and disappointment to a proud, ungrateful, unjust, unloving, unhealthy, and unthankful people.


In doing so, Jeremiah declared God’s innocence.  Speaking for God, the prophet asked, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?”  .


We get the image of God and the society in a lawsuit.  God professed to be innocent of wrongdoing.  God professed to have been faithful to the relationship with the people.  God declared God’s love and provision for the people.  It is as if God, speaking thru Jeremiah, was asking, “Why have you left me?  What did I do wrong?  How could you turn from me to this mess?


What does a society look like that fits how Jeremiah described Judah?  What does a people look like whose ancestors “went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves” (Jer. 4:5)?  What does a society look like that has “changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jer. 4:11)?  What does it look like when people “have forsaken … the fountain of living water, and dug out … for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 4:13)? 


It is not comforting to realize that people might actually turn away from God while claiming to love God.  


It is not comforting to realize that people, rulers, and those who guide their thinking – priests, prophets, and those who handle the law – would love money, military power and war-making, pride, greed, and violence rather than God.  


It is not comforting to realize that people, rulers, and their priests, preachers, pundits, and prophets would turn away from God’s call to oneness, grace, justice, hope, truth, and peace.  


It is not comforting to realize that Jeremiah’s words, spoken for God, apply to our place – the United States – and our time – the 21st Century – the same way they applied to Judah in Jeremiah’s time.  


It is not comforting to realize that the words “one Nation, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all,” do not truly describe our society regardless what Fox News pundits, so-called evangelical preachers, and Wall Street Journal and Wal-Mart-minded judges and politicians claim.   


It is not comforting to realize that although the money we spend is inscribed with the words “In God We Trust,” the problems of gun violence, lack of access to affordable healthcare, mass incarceration, global warming, and gaping disparities between the wealthy few and the suffering many in this society show that our rulers, priests, prophets, and people trust greed, guns, pride, and fear, not God.  


None of this is comforting to realize, nor should it be.  Jeremiah’s words – then and now – speak truth about uncomfortable realities that are shameful.  


It is shameful that we speak of being God-fearing people while refusing to welcome and care for immigrants and other people seeking asylum.  


It is shameful that a handful of people hold most of the world’s wealth and control most of the world’s resources while the vast majority of people are struggling to survive.  


It is shameful that so-called “evangelical” preachers and churches have convinced people to believe so much in the idea of “personal salvation” that the God of universal love, hospitality, justice, and peace has been tossed aside – tossed aside like a no longer desired toy or tool – in favor of a manufactured god called the National Rifle Association so much that people fear being shot to death in their homes, in their automobiles, in schools, and where they worship.  


It is shameful that public schools are being dismantled by rulers with the help of religious people who favor re-segregation and privatization in the name of “family values” rather than de-segregated educational equity and excellence for children from every background and neighborhood.  


Re-segregated charter schools white-flight “Christian academies” are “cracked cisterns” and false gods.  The NRA, Make America Great Again propaganda, and taking money from providing disaster relief in order to spend it on keeping vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers out of the country are “cracked cisterns” and false gods.  Gentrification schemes are “cracked cisterns” and false gods.  

These are the indicators of our idolatry.  They show how the rulers, priests, prophets, and people of our country have embraced the false gods of capitalist materialism, fear of others, violence, and greed.  They expose something worse, apostasy, meaning a turning away from God.


Our duty, like that of Jeremiah, is to name the shameful situation of our time and place.  Like Jeremiah, we have been called to the uncomfortable duty of confronting the rulers, priests, prophets and people of our time and place about the evils of idolatry and apostasy.  I repeat, we are called to an uncomfortable duty.  


But this is what it means to follow Jesus.  This is what it means to take up the cross with Jesus.  This is what it means to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”  


Yet, following and taking up the cross with Jesus involves more than “naming and shaming” idolatry and apostasy.  The Spirit of God calls us to be agents of light, not merely those who curse darkness.  


The Spirit of God calls us to show what it looks like to be people of unconditional love and universal hospitality.  So let us welcome, protect, and defend our immigrant and asylum seeker neighbors from raids by Customs and Border Patrol and ICE agents.


The Spirit of God calls us to show what it looks like to be people who put our faith in God’s call for generosity and kindness to all persons.  So let us defend public education and insist that public schools must be excellent for every child.  Let us defend public health and insist that every person has the right to universal free health care.  Let us defend public safety and insist that every person has the right to be free from abusive and homicidal behavior from law enforcement officers.  Let us demand fair wages for all workers, fair housing for all people needing shelter, and clean air, water, and a healthy earth for all God’s creatures.  In doing these things, we show what it looks like to be God’s people, not people who have tossed the “fountain of  living water” aside and dug worthless “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”    


The Spirit not only calls us, the Spirit strengthens us and equips us to follow Jesus in showing the “more excellent way” of God’s love, truth, justice, hope, and peace.  


God calls us to stand with Jeremiah, Jesus, and other prophetic people across time.  God calls us!  God’s Spirit leads us!  Jesus, God’s Son, has shown us how to trust God, follow God, and glorify God.   God has entrusted the work Jesus did to us!  Let us glorify God by faithful living in obedience to the God of grace, truth, justice, and peace.




©Wendell Griffen, 2019