I never thought I’d have grandkids and so I am very excited that my first grand-daughter is due in February. Now, I am knitting up a storm - all kinds of cute baby patterns. But with these new patterns I am also learning new stitches. Every time I have to learn a new pattern and a new stitch I get frustrated. I make mistakes and have to pull out my knitting and start over at least three times. Eventually, if I stick with it, I began to understand the pattern and my hands develop the coordination to knit the stitch. I internalize the pattern and it becomes much more natural to knit. It takes effort but in the end, if I can manage my frustration through the clumsy phase, I end up with a sense of satisfaction and something new has been learned.
Jeremiah is calling people to a similar process in their faith lives, of being open to learning something new even though it means tearing down something old first. The people are stuck in a view of the world that is focused on greed and fear and anxiety instead of focusing on God. Jeremiah calls them to look at their lives, review their lives, change their lives and refocus on God - but not in the ways they use to focus on God, not by following the rules and going through the motions. No, this new way is about changing them selves at a deep core level so that God resides inside and God works from the inside out.
This is less about mechanically following rules and more about seeking to internalize the love of God so that that love is what informs who one is and what one does and how one thinks and feels. This love is not that warm and fuzzy love of romance. But it is a love that is freely given, God loves us just exactly as we are right now, no questions asked. God’s love is a love of justice, compassion, and its focus is on making sure that all people are treated with dignity and respect - its focus is on each one of us to become more self aware of the true depth of God’s love - and other aware, of the potency of God’s love for everyone, and of the challenge for us to love likewise.
Take for example the recent Commander in Chief forum that was held this week on NBC. Matt Lauer was the moderator who interviewed first Hillary Clinton and then Donald Trump. During the forum and in the days following a huge furor erupted on Facebook and Twitter over the way Lauer conducted the interviews, particularly how different he was with each candidate. The accusations claim that he was rude to Clinton and passive with Trump and over all exhibited poor journalistic integrity. Regardless of what any one of us might think about that forum, the point is that we live in a society that is increasing aware of the subtle forms of racism and sexism that manifest in public and political arenas and social media won’t let anyone off the hook. Social media may be a little like the Jeremiah of today - calling people to be more aware of the unconscious ways that each of us promote the ills of our society, the institutional and systemic forms of oppression that work to lift up one segment of society at the demise of another: men over women; whites over people of color; straights over gays…to name just a few.
Some suggest that when history looks back at this year what will be remembered is that journalism was forced to grow, to become more aware and acquire a greater sense of integrity. Only time will tell if this actually happens.
As harsh as the words of our reading from Jeremiah seem, they speak right into the world we are living in, calling each person to examine their thoughts and actions in the context of what God desires for all people: loving God, self, and others as acts of integrity, respect, and dignity. In Jeremiah’s day, and perhaps our own, this means tearing down what was and building a new paradigm that reveals these core values at our deepest sense of self.
Jesus is saying this, too, in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In these parables we are the lost ones and, God as shepherd and, God as woman, searches for us. In these parables, “to be lost” is a metaphor, a commentary on the core nature of one’s life - lost spiritually, lost because one’s values and perspectives have drifted from God, lost, for example, in the “breaking-news fear-mongering" pulls and tugs of the world as television portrays it.
The parables are a reminder that when I am lost, God seeks me out. What might I do to prepare myself, to convey a desire, a hope, a willingness to be found? Well, that can happen in any number of ways: coming to church, taking time to pray, examining my thoughts and actions with the intention of learning, growing, changing, and becoming more self aware and other aware, listening to others as they tell their stories of abuse, oppression, hope - and allowing those stories to shape me into a wiser person.
It means ripping out the pattern of unconscious racism and sexism that reside in me. Patterns of how I view myself and others, and ripping them out time and time again, until I understand that the patterns are broken. Then, having the courage to replace them with creative, solid patterns of justice and love, patterns that hold together with integrity. Doing this, ripping and starting over and learning a new pattern, until this pattern becomes natural and authentic, until I truly get that God is doing something new, knitting together a better world for all of us.
a reflection on the readings for Proper 19C: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Luke 15:1-10