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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 28:5–9          

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” (NRSV)

The prophet Hananiah certainly qualifies as a lesser known character in the biblical canon, so it is worth setting the scene briefly before diving into what Jeremiah’s response to this prophet means. The bulk of the book of Jeremiah comes from a tumultuous time in which the Kingdom of Judah lived under constant threat of invasion from an increasingly aggressive Babylonian Empire. Nonetheless, Hananiah, a prophet with the ear of the king, prophesies that the Lord will make everything well: within two years, he proclaims, Babylon will trouble Judah no more.

In our reading today, we see Jeremiah’s response: though he wishes it weren’t so, God has instead given him similar words to the prophets who preceded him—words of war, famine, and pestilence. It was a profoundly unhopeful message, but, unfortunately, it was also an accurate one. Over the next decade Babylon continued to raid Judah, eventually culminating in the Exile—perhaps the lowest point in Israel’s history.

This is certainly a bizarre lectionary passage for July 4, as we celebrate Independence Day here in the United States, but perhaps there is a lesson for each of us in not allowing ourselves to be blinded by false hopes or optimism. We cannot assume, like Hananiah did, that everything will just be OK through God’s help. We, as individuals and as a nation, are instead asked to accurately take stock of problems in our midst and work to address them. As we remember our nation’s founders dreaming of a new nation with liberty and justice for all, may we work to establish God’s kingdom in which the last are treated as first and in which God’s mercy and justice are indeed known to all.

Holy God, after this day of celebration I humbly ask that you renew me for your service—working toward your kingdom in all that I do. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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