Often when we discuss the Bible or look at particular “memory texts” we know them so well we miss part of the story. This week we are going to explore a couple of pericope’s in the Bible, one that in virtually unknown and one that is known by most Christians by heart.
The lesser-known passage is from Jeremiah 29. The section that I am using in the service is from a larger letter to the exiles/slaves in Babylon. The genre of this letter is known to many and is like the letter a mother would send to her homesick child "stick in there, you'll; be home soon!" While this letter is unique to the situation, with the simple changing of certain names and references this letter could be written today or any time in history. Like the homesick child, the “exiles” are restless and wanting their prior lives to be restored.
The theme of exile and enslavement is is a common theme throughout the Hebrew history. Each time there is the promise of restoration, but at the same time there is a loss of individual and corporate faithfulness.
Interestingly, Jeremiah also takes a path that shows a slightly different take on the individual's relationship with God. Much of the Old Testament shows a linear faithfulness. One is faithful within the community and communal practices, but when there is a discrepancy or a moral dilemma within the community, there is some type of mediator: A Prophet, Leader, Chosen Person, etc. who then speaks to God. Sometimes we even see that there is yet another level of an angel that becomes an intercessor between the prophet and God. Here, in an interesting twist, Jeremiah is suggesting an individual relationship with God insofar as the individual is required to seek God and be faithful in order to be made right once more.
In another seemingly divergent twist, Jeremiah states that God is not removed from his people; he knows who and where they are, but is at a distance, suggesting that he is not intimately involved in every aspect of life. This can be a bit problematic for us since some Christian theologies point to an understanding that God is always with us, and subsequently present in every aspect of our lives. This ever-present God is something that results from a repeated promise of Christ and teachings of Paul that God is always with us. But throughout the Hebrew text we continually see a God who goes from intimate involvement to being aloof and seemingly disconnected.
Here is the nuance: God being with us, and God being intimately involved in every action of our lives are two different things. Think back to the example of the homesick child, the parent, as exemplified in the letter has neither forgot, nor abandoned the child; moreover, though disconnected, the parent is with the child if not physically, emotionally and "cosmically." Like the parent who is with their child and always has their back, a good parent cannot be intimately involved in every aspect of their child's life, but they can remain connected and devoted.
There is an important core of this letter that God is still with his people in their “time of trial” though they cannot actively pursue him because of their limitations due to the exile. Hence the promise, well the dual promise, that the Exile will end and that God will restore. Interestingly, the action of restoration is not determinate on God, rather it is that the people will seek God once they emerge from that time.
Granted there is also the underlying assumption that the times of exile are a direct result of the blanket unfaithfulness of the people. But that is yet another week!
The second scripture is one we know very well, often referred to as the “Great Commission.” The primary aspect of the Great Commission is to wrap up the story of Christ and give his followers a direction to follow in their ministry from that point forward. However, when it ends it states “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We could spend a whole series of services on the Great Commission and maybe someday we will, but I wanted to highlight one thing this week that is often overlooked as we discuss, God’s promise of involvement. Obviously the bulk of the discussion of the Great commission is rightly focused on out call to action, but there is also the promise, really covenant with God that out of our faithfulness, God will always be with us. Again, like in Jeremiah, God promises an active and individual relationship with us, but also requires our active participation in that relationship.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 28:20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen