A reflection on the readings for Proper 21C: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Currently I am reading Anna Quindlen’s memoire titled, “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.” In this book, as a woman in her fifties, Quindlen reminisces over the years of her life. Here is a brief excerpt:
“We were living odd patchwork lives in (the 1960’s and 1970’s) because of an accident of timing. We were the daughters of women who had moved directly from their parents’ homes to those of their husbands, gone right from high school to marriage and motherhood. But my friends and I had gone to college, entered the work world, under the rubric of the New Woman, suddenly able through vast changes in societal mores to use our abilities in the world and combine them with a domestic life at home…But we were completely making it up as we went along, at work, at home, in our own minds, trying to be both our mothers and our fathers simultaneously….
We were all a little happy and a little crazy and a little sad and a little confused…
First we were so young and then we were so busy and then one day we awoke to discover that we were an age we once thought of as old… most of us were concerned with just managing to hold things together, managing to move from school drop-off to work assignments to making dinner to homework supervision to nodding off over the evening news, with the occasional truncated conversation thrown in, or not. We were trying to make it through each day, and then suddenly we looked around and realized the days were months, were years, and, almost magically and unconsciously, we had made it through a couple of decades. Once again we were improvising: our grown kids still living at home or needing support, our aged parents requiring care. The most liberated generation of women in American history, raised on the notion that they could be much more than caregivers, became caregivers cubed. Because of longer life spans and different ways of living and working, once again we were pioneers.…”
And, so with the idea that we often have to make things up as we go along because life does not unfold as we might expect, we find a foot hold into our readings this morning.
The readings today contrast what it means to live in this world and this life with what God desires. These ideas are contrasted through the lens of the material world and the world of relationships, through the rich and the poor, through the idea of who is seen and who is not seen, and with the notion that living the absolute letter of the law causes people to lose sight of the spirit of God breathing in and through all of life. Specifically, in Jeremiah it is the contrast of living the mosaic law (the law as handed down by Moses in the ten commandments and the other 600 laws that came from them) and a new covenant that is being formed. In Paul’s letter to Timothy it is contrasted between ideas of what is true life and what is eternal life. In the parable in Luke it is about who is seen and who is not seen with a call that we use our resources to help others rather than hoard our resources for ourselves.[i]
Jeremiah is living a life different than he would have chosen for himself. He did not want to be God’s prophet. Regardless, that is what he has been called to do. In our reading this morning Jeremiah is purchasing some property in Jerusalem. From all appearances this is a strange transaction. Jeremiah is in prison because he refused to take arms and fight a war between the Israelites and the Babylonians. He is purchasing land in a worn torn region while in jail. That would not seem wise. However, Jeremiah is convinced that this is part of what it means to do God’s work in this time and place. It is an act of hope, it an act of justice, it is an act of faith. It points to the new covenant God is creating with Israel. The old covenant that was formed around the laws of Moses - the ten commandments, and the 600 commandments that come from them - have become too constricted. People are living as if the LAW is God. The quest for certitude has become an excuse for not acting. Rather, the law is intended to point to how one lives in relationship with God. Because the law is NOT God, but rather guidelines for living in relationship with God, and because people have clearly misunderstood this, God is crafting a new covenant. This new covenant is built on relationships not laws. This new covenant, as Jeremiah proclaims it, announces that God lives in and through each person, in and through their actions, and how they treat one another. God goes with the people into exile, God goes with people wherever they are. [ii]
Paul’s Letter to Timothy and the parable in the Gospel of Luke build on the idea of relationship and caring for others as the primary way we live into our relationship with God. In Timothy it is portrayed as true life and eternal life versus the false life. In the Gospel it is conveyed in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is so focused on his own life that he doesn’t even see Lazarus. Day after day he walks past Lazarus, who lies at the rich man’s gate begging for food. The parable calls for us to become aware of the ways we, so caught up in our own lives, fail to see the needs in the world around us. [iii]
We live busy lives. Some days it is all we can do to make it from one commitment to the next before collapsing into bed. Taking time to remember our first and primary relationship to God is easily lost in the commitments. Like taking the law too literally, we run the risk of becoming like the narrowly-focused people in Jeremiah. Recognizing that there are some basic things we can do to tend to our relationship with God and with others in the world need not add to our already over-burdened lives. These can be as simple as participating in the community life of Christ Church. As Christians we grow in our faith through living a life in community. It can be as simple as buying Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate – enabling others to earn a living wage. For some this might mean walking instead of driving. We can recycle plastics and paper. We can support our Blessings in a Backpack ministry or The SCHOOL project in Liberia.
This portion of Anna Quindlen’s reflection concludes with her saying that there is so much stuff in her head from the many years of a busy life that the stuff has taken a place of primacy in her. She recognizes the need to sort through the stuff and come to what is basic. I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know what her conclusion is. But for us, as Christians here this morning, our readings remind us that what is basic is our relationship with God and others. Spending five or six weeks each fall worshipping with the Season of Creation liturgy is intended to remind us of these opportunities to care for the earth as an act of building our relationship with God and others. Oddly enough, like a consistent athletic practice for our physical health, when we take the time to focus on God and practice our faith, we feel better. When we focus our energy on caring for others less fortunate, in what-ever way we are able, our lives take on greater meaning and purpose. Practicing our faith can transform our exhausted and busy lives so that we begin to feel full and rich.
Jeremiah might say that with God as our center we have purchased the land for the journey of our lives.