No Wine; No Slaves; Building Practice
Today is straight out of the movies...Jeremiah is imprisoned. He writes a missive that is to be read to the people, a scroll containing the visions that God has bestowed on him. The hope is that if the people hear the words of the scroll, if they are shown that their ways have departed from God's will for them and that if they see the retribution that will soon be upon them, then they will repent. If they repent, then perhaps God will relent and spare them. It's happened before, and God seems to be open to the concept. Will it work?
Of course not.
The scroll is read, and the chief scribes upon hearing it then ask that it be read before the king. As the king hears the scroll read, he takes a knife and slices off the bits that are read and casts them into the brazier that warms his room. Thus, God's judgment on the king and the nation is not only confirmed, their fate it sealed.
End of scene.
It's tempting to focus on the cinematic quality of this episode, to allow the drama of that moment to draw out attention. I think that is something we should resist. As accustomed as we all are to letting our attention rivet to the visually engrossing moments this biblical narrative presents, today let's allow a little of that focus to settle on what is happening apart from that....
For instance, one of the last societal sins that God condemns is human trafficking. Although slavery is permitted under the Law, there are strict rules concerning when a slave is to be released. Every seven years, in the jubilee year, debts are forgiven and all indentured properties are restored to their designated owners. People in Jeremiah's day had concocted a work-around that had them freeing slaves during the jubilee, but then re-enslaving them after it concluded. Hypocrisy, disobedience and sin prevail yet again.
As well, though some families still hew to the old ways of obeying not only God's Law but also the vows their ancestors make, it seems the people have for the most part simply forgotten themselves. They have forgotten God...and like the king they not only turn from bad news...they are willing to discard it and their relationship to God in one burst of a brazier's flame.
Where do we go from here? It seems all is lost in this moment, that humanity is pretty much irredeemable. What a gift, then, to turn to the letter of James. Although I give thanks to my God and for my savior Christ who brings new life and restoration to a right relationship with God through the resurrection, I still wonder how we go about living into that new life. If we don't have a practice to go with this faith, then who are we? Frankly, we are like those folk in Jeremiah who, though they believe in God still tend to forget that with belief comes a call to practice.
That is what James offers...a guide to practice our faith. He adjures us to be doers of the word, and not just people who hear it and forget. He calls us to act on the Good News, to set aside distractions and embrace a moderate life focused on simple devotion that seeks both to embrace God's call to new life while making that life real to others...particularly to those in need.
The task before us, as evidenced by Jeremiah and James (and a host of supporting players), is that we are called not only to have faith but also to build up a practice that makes that faith known.