February 17, 2019
Our readings today swing on concepts of contrast that feel heavy and pretty black and white.
Our Jeremiah reading opens with strong language: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength...”
Merriam-Webster helps us with the gravity of this word that sounds approachable after our years of being enamored with Harry Potter. A curse is an invocation of harm or injury on someone…so, to be cursed is to be deserving of a curse – deserving of harm or injury.
“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength.”
Jeremiah is saying that to trust in mere flesh and others is deserving of curse.
In contrast our Psalm for the day begins with “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked”
Happy has to do with well-being and contentment – it’s describing a current experience – rooted from the inside out. This is in contrast to our contemporary society where happiness is based on happenings…circumstantially driven – rooted on the outside. Blessed found both in our gospel reading and the Jeremiah passage is a related concept and more of a pronouncement – blessed is an outcome. This is what will happen to the poor, hungry, and those who mourn or are hated and mistreated. It is what will happen to those who trust in the Lord. Contentment, well-being. Blessed. Happy.
We’ve got these big words conceptually contrasted in our readings…it’s almost like watching a tennis match - this then that, this is that, that is this.
And they’re connected with our hearts…and here hearts is not referring to this important organ in our chest, it’s referring to the seat of our lives – our command center so to speak. It’s the place of action that demonstrates or shows values, commitments, and
And, it’s complicated. Jeremiah asserts: “The heart is devious above all else, it is perverse – who can understand it?”
We are complicated and this shows in how we live our lives.
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals.
Happy are those who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked – again reference to trusting in others.
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.
These refer to the life in motion – where is our trust – in mere mortals? In the Lord? Something else?
Trust is a sturdy word. It’s what we have confidence in or where we find sense of security* – security being that sense of safety, refuge. This is challenging to engage and think about…security. But as we consider it, we can begin to understand that where our trust is – our security – there is where we find our motion of life springing from – it’s foundational to our lifestyle.
In this tennis match of words, Jeremiah speaks of curse related to trust in mortals and the flesh, but we swing to the other side of the court as he speaks of the blessedness that happens when trust is in the Lord and trust is the Lord. That outcome of happiness – well-being and contentment.
There’s an interesting semantic to pay attention to as we consider where are trust is – where our security or confidence come from.
Jeremiah claims: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” This semantic shows us location and description of what it is like: Trust in the Lord – location. With God. Trust is the Lord – the verb to be. Present. With God. A doubled-up description seeking to describe this union with God that we have.
Trust in the Lord – with God. Present. Certainly, this shows God as our confidence and source of security.
Or it could be something or someone else that is our trust. That we are ‘with’ or present to in our lives…what do we build our confidence in…where do we locate that? Plug that into? Money, time, possessions, could be just about anything…people, food, social media, news. As we trust someone, something, we may find our trust in whatever it is becomes our state of being. Is. Be.
It seems that what we trust becomes pretty important and may even begin to define us. Identify us.
It begs the question – how do we live our lives?
This is all kind of overwhelming to look at head on…what’s helpful is in both our Old Testament and Psalm for the day we have the same word picture to help us.
Jeremiah asserts that those who trust in the Lord are like a tree planted by water and our Psalm declares that those who do not follow the advice of the wicked but delight in the law of the Lord are like trees planted by streams of water.
Both readings also have something to say about the wicked or trusting in mere mortals – those who do so are like a shrub in the desert or like chaff that the wind drives.
A tree by water. Deeply rooted.
Chaff or a shrub – constant movement.
The contrast of being rooted or constantly moving. Perhaps peace or agitation.
Happiness or being blessed in the language of the Psalm quite simply has to do with being in the presence of God: “their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on God’s law they meditate day and night.” The perfect law of the Lord is love.
Delight and meditation. This implies focus of attention and the taking of time. And what happens? Not only happiness but contribution – a bearing of “fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither.”
What’s beautiful about this is there is no crazy illustration of being busy for God – but in season…timing but not all times. We all have different fruit we bear and different seasons we bear it in.
Life offers opposing choices.
Indulging in the world – trusting mere mortals, walking according to values set by those around us or digging deep to quench our thirst by basking in God’s presence.
Do we want to be a rootless shrub tossed here and there or a tree rooted by water?
A mentor of mine in college once said to me – and it still sticks in me – she exhorted me that it is important to actively consider three things as we live our lives:
What do you want?
How much do you want it?
What are you willing to do to get it?
Trusting in mere mortals, walking according to others’ scripts for life – that can come to us a little more easily than digging deep into spending time with God.
Our Christian life demands intentionality and effort – we heard it in our opening collect – need and response: “and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace” we are so limited…and God is so generous.
We give effort and love God – not because we have to perform or check off a list of to do’s – but because God loves us so much, don’t we simply want to love God back? It’s a response of love and crazily God gives us solid, rooted, happiness as we love God – well-being and authentic contentment.
God is always, always, always giving to us extravagantly – and we see this in this Epiphany season as we focus on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Let us be trees planted by streams of water.
*New Testament Greek Lexicon: Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
*Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon: Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gensenius Lexicon, Theological Book of the Old Testament
*Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1 edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor