November 28, 2021

“Waiting”

 

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5

 

Before we can dig in and start to unpack this passage from Jeremiah, we have to talk a bit about the context in which we find ourselves. This passage takes place during the time of the Divided Kingdom as does the bulk of Jeremiah's tenure as a prophet. So, during this time we have the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel both of which are made up of the Hebrew people. The split between northern and southern kingdoms happened when King Solomon died. When Solomon died war broke out between Solomon's sons as they fought for the throne. As a result, the southern Kingdom of Judah was ruled by Rehoboam and the northern Kingdom of Israel was ruled by Jeroboam. This can get a little confusing because we often think of Israel as being the main character of our biblical drama. During the time of the divided kingdom, however, it is actually the southern kingdom of Judah that is often portrayed as a continuation of David's line. The kingdom of Judah is the one that continues to follow the way of Yahweh, has control over the city of Jerusalem and therefore the Temple, and is ruled by the son of Solomon who had his father's blessing to inherit the throne. It is important to note for the context of our passage this morning that Jeremiah is of the southern kingdom of Judah.

 

As we read this passage, we can then understand that the place that Jeremiah was speaking from was not an easy one. Jeremiah almost certainly never knew a time of unity. He was born into this division and so for him, some of it probably seemed normal. Prejudice against the northern kingdom of Israel was something that very well may have been steeped into his bones. When division is all you have known it can seem naïve to believe that justice and unity can ever be reached.

 

The division faced by the Hebrew people is not unlike that which we face today. The racial, social, economic, and particularly political divisions in the US have risen significantly over the recent decades. A 2017 PEW Research Center poll found that the partisan divide over issues including racial discrimination, immigration, international diplomacy, and government aid had more than doubled since 1994. Now more than ever it is easy to see people as other, rather than as a neighbor, to see each other for our differences rather than our similarities. At times we may feel like this division is a permanent rift that can never be healed. It is then that this text can spark some hope in us yet.

 

Even in the midst of deep divide and division, Jeremiah makes a point to note that Yahweh's promise extends to include the house of Israel as well as the house of Judah. This is somewhat radical for the context. The northern kingdom of Israel was not looked on very fondly and is generally portrayed rather negatively in the scripture. The people of the northern kingdom are said to have taken on the worship of other gods among other accusations so for the house of Israel to be particularly named in this passage is important. It speaks to the stubborn style of hope that Jeremiah must have had that he could put aside his own prejudices of the northern kingdom of Israel and see a way forward that might include them.

 

Beyond simple inclusion, there is some deep good news in this passage as it relates to the Branch that will spring up. David was Solomon's father so his line should be dead given that the kingdom divided and his legacy of a united kingdom didn't last beyond his son, Solomon. Jeremiah says that God is not done working through the line of David though. There is hope that God can work through things that were thought beyond saving to bring new life. What I find particularly inspiring is that this new life that is to spring up is not just any branch but a righteous branch that will enable to execution of justice and righteousness.

 

It is in that tie between the coming alive again and justice and righteousness that I find hope for our modern times of division. What would it look like in today's world for the righteous branch to make way for the execution of justice and righteousness? And what would it look like for there to be space in that justice for all? I think that would be a more beautiful sight than I can easily imagine. So, what do we do in the meantime? Well, we wait.

 

During Advent, we talk a lot about waiting and that's a crucial aspect with this passage "The days are surely coming says the Lord" inherently means that the days are not yet here. We experience waiting in all sorts of different ways in our lives from waiting for something we ordered online to arrive in the mail, waiting for a call from a loved one, waiting for plants to grow, waiting for a pandemic to end, it almost seems like we're always waiting for something. With all these different forms of waiting it's interesting to think about what we do while we're waiting. When I'm waiting for something to come in the mail, I tend not to do much about it, I just go about my day almost forgetting that I'm waiting for something until it arrives. When waiting for plants to grow however there is a very different approach taken. If one were to distill gardening down to its simplest form, I imagine it would sound like this, plant seeds and then wait. My, albeit limited, understanding of gardening however is that there is a lot that happens in that waiting. The ground must be regularly watered, you have to keep up on any weeds, keep an eye out for bugs, if you're growing outside in this valley then you have to make sure your plants are continually protected against deer which simply on its own is a full-time job. Growing things is a lot of work! Waiting is an active and involved process.

 

What continually astounds me is that hope acts almost as a prerequisite to the waiting. There is no guarantee that planting seeds will produce healthy plants, but people plant them anyway. They put in all the work that it takes to grow something, and they hope. They hope that they've done enough, hope that there's enough sun and enough rain, hope the deer find other things to snack on. Like waiting this hope is not passive, it is an active and often stubborn hope.

 

It is this type of active stubborn hopeful waiting that I mean when I say that we must wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the righteous branch. Waiting for God doesn't always mean sitting quietly and listening for the clouds to part and a voice to speak. Waiting for the fulfillment of a promise, of the execution of justice and righteousness, can mean working for that which we hope for here and now. There are so many projects that are working toward this vision of justice and righteousness already, that we can give support to. Sometimes we fall into the fallacy that we must always plant something brand new, but often there are many seeds that have already been planted. Maybe instead of tilling up soil for our own seeds and inadvertently pulling up the sprouts of those who have gone before us we can look for gaps in coverage to plant our seeds but also pull some weeds for the seeds that have already sprouted. So, plant the seeds of a righteous branch and then tend some seeds that were planted before you. There is plenty to do in the garden while we are waiting.

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