Just and loving God, you restore all of your creation perfectly and beautifully in your own time; we pray you to move our hearts and our actions towards your way of justice so that we may humbly share your love and mercy with all the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretence, says the Lord.
–Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NRSV)
Lent is a time of year when the church and the lectionary tend to challenge us. On Ash Wednesday, we are invited to observe a holy Lent, by fasting and self denial, immersing ourselves in Scripture and prayer. It’s a time of the year when we challenge ourselves and perhaps deny ourselves a few things we might not otherwise deny, as we walk toward the cross and Calvary.
The Daily Office Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer tends to include readings that some might consider a bit more challenging. I know I find the Old Testament reading for today from Jeremiah to be quite challenging.
This excerpt from Jeremiah exemplifies one of many areas in the Bible where women are likened to the status of property, of a pawn used in determining political deals and familial arrangements. And blaming the misjudgements or immoral behavior of the woman for potential undesirable outcomes of political or military ventures. This is obviously not something modern, enlightened people believe. But why did our ancestors?
Too often, modern people will “throw the baby out with the bathwater” to use a tired but easily understood expression. That is, many modern people will turn their back on God and on the church because of how many difficult things are in the Bible…misogyny being just one of many.
However, reading these difficult stories, and learning from them, and perhaps asking why things were once that way, and what came of such perceptions, and how can we be better…these are all valid questions to ask. There is so much beauty and positive energy throughout the Bible; but also so much hate and violence and destruction.
And yet, we read these stories. We read them again and again. We struggle with them, we question them, we get angry at them. And yet we are inspired by them, enlightened by them, and revived by them.
Thankfully, we have come a long way in how women are treated in society. Though we still have such a long way to go. Perhaps reading stories like this remind us of how offensive and disgusting such language and ideas are. Does any good ever come out of treating an entire group of people with such contempt?
I don’t have answers, but I bet that I am not the only one struggling with this. Reading these stories and struggling with them together are one of the many things that I find rewarding about being a Christian. So, let’s struggle together as we walk toward the cross this Lent, and watch and pray with Jesus as he walks with us.
O God, you so loved the world that you gave your only- begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, *
while all day long they say to me,
Where now is your God?”
I pour out my soul when I think on these things; *
how I went with the multitude and led them into the
house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving, *
among those who keep holy-day.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
—Jonah 4:1-11 (NRSV)
Jonah is not a book of the Bible that people talk about too much, save for the familiar story of Jonah and the whale, perhaps. But this last chapter of the tiny yet beautiful book of Jonah from the Hebrew Bible is one filled with an interesting conversation between Jonah and God. In reading it, I find it similar in some ways to the book of Job, and Job’s struggles and anger at God. This feeling of helplessness is one that I have personally dealt with many times…where I’ve just wanted to give up and to throw in the towel. Jonah, in his situation, wants to die. He wants to give up. But God asks him to question that decision, to look at things from another perspective. God doesn’t give him the answer, but God asks him to think about things.
In fact, the chapter ends with a question, not an answer. I always have found that odd. But upon reading this again today as part of my morning prayer, I think it’s just perfect. Ending on a question.
God is there for us in our prayers. God is with us in our struggles. God grieves when we grieve, and celebrates when we celebrate. But God does not swoop in and make everything happy and joyful when we are sad. Far too often, that is how people view God, as a celestial entity who is there only when we need God to be, and to save us over and over whenever we get ourselves into trouble.
Yes, God does save us. We are saved by grace. But God is not there to swoop in and fix everything when it goes bad. This fact is something that turns many people away from God. Questioning why God would make people suffer, or why God would let bad things happen to good people.
I don’t have answers or a perfect explanation to justify God’s actions. But what I do know, through my own experience, is that God is faithful to the end. God is WITH US, in my experience in Jesus Christ, to help us bear our burdens and to comfort us when we are hurting. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”, Jesus says in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
This Lent, as we remember our mortality, and shift our practices in different ways to unsettle us and help us to focus more on God, remember that God is faithful. Remember that God is with us, in our struggles and in our joys. And rejoice in that.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Daraus, dass Einer dich einmal gewollt hat,
weiß ich, dass wir dich wollen dürfen.
Wenn wir auch alle Tiefen verwürfen:
wenn ein Gebirge Gold hat
und keiner mehr es ergaben mag,
trägt es einmal der Fluß zutage,
der in die Stille der Steine greift,
Auch wenn wir nicht wollen:
–Rainier Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours: The Book of Monastic Life”, published 1905.
Because once someone dared
to want you,
I know that we, too, may want you.
When gold is in the mountain
and we’ve ravaged the depths
till we’ve given up digging,
it will be brought forth into day
by the river that mines
the silence of stone.
Even when we don’t desire it,
God is ripening.
–Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your
to the living walls.
Who are you?
are you? Whose
silence are you?
Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.
O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you
speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.
“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”
–Thomas Merton (from “The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton)