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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 17:5–10

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. (NRSV)

The prophet Jeremiah was nothing if he wasn’t hard hitting. The year is 594 B.C.E. The forces of Babylon have brutally conquered Jerusalem. Leaders have been captured and taken to Babylon. Jeremiah, the strange eccentric, does crazy things to get the attention of those whom he declared had blown it with God and were in captivity for good reason. His word to the people of Israel was a complete downer. Frederick Buechner reminds us that even Jeremiah’s name takes its signal from the word jeremiad, which means “a doleful and thunderous denunciation.” And there was nothing Jeremiah did not denounce. He even denounced God for “saddling him with the job of trying to reform” the likes of a rebellious pack of degenerates (Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 67).

But the same Jeremiah who leveled blame at the sinfulness, selfishness, and greed of the people also held before them the path to righteousness and steady conviction. “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. That one is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the water and does not fear when the heat comes.” The first step on the way to God’s sustaining life-blood is through trust. Simple? Well, yes and no. If our very trust in everything is God, then that means  the gift of life and plentitude comes from God and is held with confidence that the recipient is ready to receive it and will use it to its fullness. And Jeremiah’s God knew that sometimes it takes a jolt to wake up the complacent or the downright defiant.

It happens most often, I am convinced, that when we find ourselves in captivity, carried off to a foreign land, we are brought face-to-face with the most basic, the simplest, yet most demanding reality of all: that of being awakened to the very face of God. Sometimes the face holds hurt, but more often that face is one of such love as we can hardly imagine.

Help us, O God, when we get too full of ourselves, trusting in human power and strength. Though captive to this, we trust you, O God, to lead us from captivity to bountiful and adventurous life! Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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