• Steven Marsh

Participating in God’s Story-Jesus is God: a Reflection on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, 1

In 1989, I was in South Africa on a mission trip. Apartheid was the rule of the land. The Dutch Reformed Church taught that it was God’s intent to separate people. And many Christians affirmed this notion in their disobedience of acquiescence and silence. I will never forget meeting with Desmond Tutu, who spoke out that apartheid was both a social and spiritual wrong. Desmond Tutu was God’s voice.

“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick,” was Jeremiah’s cry.[1] The people’s heart was far from God. It was the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. Jeremiah was God’s voice calling the people back home. The people continued in disobedience, pursuing other gods and loyalties.[2] Jeremiah is broken over the people’s disobedience and wander lust. The people’s worshipping of God had gone afoul.

As Jeremiah identified with and hurt for the “poor people” it is clear that he was broken in the same ways that God was over the people’s decision to forsake God. The consequence of their disobedience would be the destruction of the nation, temple, and deportation at the hands of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah and God share the same pathos that results from the people’s failings and plight. Idolatry demonstrates that the relationship between the people and God is in disrepair.[3]

When Jeremiah was a young man, he witnessed King Josiah reform the people’s worship life.King Josiah closed shrines and places of local worship that had become dominant during the Assyrian occupation of Israel. He re-centered the religious practice of the people in the temple in Jerusalem. But at King Josiah’s death and his son Jehoiakim’s ascent to the throne, Israel quickly reverted back to its worship of other gods in addition to Yahweh. Because of the priests’ abrogation of their duty, there was no balm in in Gilead that could save the sin-sick soul of Israel.[4] The “balm of Gilead” is used as a rhetorical device “to explore and emphasize the depth of the spiritual and moral crisis that afflicts the people of Israel.”[5] Clement of Alexandria (150-215), a theologian and early Church Father, writes,

“Let no one, then, run down the law, as if, on account of the penalty, it were not beautiful and good. Shouldn’t he who drives away bodily disease appear as a benefactor? Shouldn’t he who attempts to deliver the soul from iniquity even more appear as a friend since the soul is a more precious thing than the body? Besides, for the sake of bodily health we submit to incisions, cauterization and medicinal draughts. He who administers them is called savior and healer…No one accuses the physician’s art of wickedness. In the same way, shouldn’t we submit, for the soul’s sake, to either banishment, or punishment or bonds, as long as from unrighteousness we shall obtain righteousness?”[6]

Note these biblical truths regarding the necessity of obedience for fully participating in God’s story. Psalm 79 states that until all foundations to this life as we know them seem to be destroyed are we able to fully trust God’s compassion, forgiveness, and salvation.[7] 1 Timothy asserts that the Christian faith has universal implications; inclusive and exclusive.[8] And Luke 16 delineates that only as we relinquish “things” that possess us are we able to be effective followers of Jesus. All three texts ask us to “…abandon all attempts at self-help and cast ourselves totally on the God who saves us.”[9]

As Geneva continues to transform into a missional congregation, some will feel left behind and wonder what has happened to their church, as the familiar crutches for faith are taken away. We will continue to organize and mobilize ourselves around the five expectations for members and regular attenders of our faith community: Worshipping – are you worshipping regularly? Learning – How are you maturing your faith? Connecting – Are you in community with others? Serving – What’s the ONE THING you can do to expand God’s Reign? And, Giving – Are you participating financially on a regular basis? These five expectations are key to obedient and faithful stewardship of one’s life.

Michael Horton in his book Core Christianity continues this thought with the following story:

“Watching from a park bench as the morning sun gradually swallowed the horizon, I was joined by a young woman. After a bit of small talk, she began to relate challenges that had brought her to question the meaning of life. “Would it make a difference,” I asked, “if God had become one of us—not only experiencing our pain but dying and rising again as the start of a new creation?” “You mean Jesus? She replied. “I think he was a great man. Probably if everyone lived like he did, the world would be a better place.””[10]

Jesus said he was God, he died, after three days the tomb was empty, and the tomb was empty because Jesus had been raised from the dead just as he had promised.[11] Jesus asks you, “Who do you say I am?” If you answer “My Messiah,” you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Worshipping God is one of the five expectations Geneva has of its members and regular attenders. It is integral for our church identity of “Loving God. Loving Others.” What? – The Bible teaches us to gather in community praising and thanking the One who knows us the best and loves us the most. And the One is God who we know personally in and through Jesus Christ. Where? – We are to be obedient to God and participate regularly in either God Talks, Contemporary, or Traditional worship services. Why? – Followers of Jesus Christ are grateful to be loved by God unconditionally and confident that God’s promises are true.

Participating in God’s story is about salvation; personal and societal. That is good news.

[1]Jeremiah 8:18

[2]Peter C. Craigie, Page H. Kelley and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Word Biblical Commentary, volume 26, Jeremiah 1-25 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1991), 245-246.

[3]Idea gleaned from Stephen Breck Reid in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 76.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid., 75.

[6]Clement of Alexandria, Stromatheis 1.27 as found in Dean O. Wenthe, editor, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament XII Jeremiah, Lamentations (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 78.

[7]Gleaned from Donald K. McKim in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, 84.

[8]Ibid., 90.

[9]Donald K. McKim in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, 84.

[10]Michael Horton, Core Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 23.

[11]These basic Christian beliefs are adapted from Core Christianity, 1-34.

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