Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jeremiah 40:1-4

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.
There was the group of prisoners, bound in chains, ravaged by the long terrors of war, guarded by their captors, the Babylonian soldiers. Then one of the leaders of the army recognizes Jeremiah - we're not sure how - singles him out and releases him from his chains. Imagine how conspicuous he must have been, how all eyes must have turned to watch as the military leader unchained Jeremiah, talked with him, and set him free to go where he would. How bitter the people must have felt; "there goes the man who sided with the Babylonians, who betrayed our people, who urged others to defect - traitor! quisling!" And how uncomfortable Jeremiah must have felt - how awkward it must have seemed to be getting favorable attention from the captain of the enemy forces, the man responsible for burning Jerusalem and ravaging its people. Yet it was Jeremiah who was in the right and his message of judgment was God's message, one that had to be said however unpopular it was, and the chains the prisoners wore were their own fault for not listening to the message Jeremiah brought.

Sometimes we're also in a position a little like Jeremiah's. We have an uncomfortable message to bring - against abortion, sexual promiscuity, homosexual behavior, theological error, popular fad, or whatever - and it makes enemies for us even in our own community. And "strangers" come alongside to commend what we say, making us look even less like we belong to our community. Indeed, we don't really belong there any more, at least not the way we'd like to, for we belong to God first, and must speak his message even to our own people, and even if they don't want to hear it. In such a position I too often keep silent for fear of offending my community. God help me to speak - lovingly yes, humbly absolutely, recognizing that I too am a sinner of course - but frankly and clearly nevertheless, because if I keep silent, I may find myself watching my community taken away in chains by the sins they did not reject. There's no assurance they will respond well to my words (they didn't to Jeremiah), but if they fall, let it not be because I could have warned them and didn't.

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