Theme: Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
(Other readings: Psalm 62:1-9; Luke 22- Jesus predicts Simon’s denial or Luke 24:36-49, Acts 1:1-5 – waiting for the baptism with the Holy Spirit)
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,[a] 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
In the Old Testament lesson from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, which forms the text, there is portrayed a situation in which people find themselves in exile as a consequence of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE. With this devastation, two major diaspora groups were formed: the elites who were exiled to Babylon, and those lower down the social pyramid who, being of little interest to the invading forces, became refugees in places like Egypt or remained in the devastation of their homeland. This passage is ostensibly addressed to the first group, those who suffered violent forced migration, and who had become cheap labor and slaves for their overlords. This group would have consisted of what we would speak of today as the professional, business and middle class folks of their time. You can imagine how offended and resentful they felt about the fate which had befallen them, as this was not commensurate with their perceived status in life. But, notwithstanding such perceptions of themselves, much of what was being said by the prophet applied to both diaspora groups.
They had been taken from their homeland, Judah, with its national and religious symbols of the city Jerusalem and the Temple, which constituted the centre of their faith, life, and identity as a people. This action had the most devastating effects on them. They were somewhat in a state of denial and not prepared to put down roots in the land of exile, preferring instead to live in a state of nostalgia and to reject their current situation and station.
Human society has been characterized by migratory movements from its earliest recorded history. The initiative and impetus to migrate did not always reside with the individuals and communities. Conquest, wars, occupation, and exile have led to the uprooting and displacement of peoples through the ages. This is a reality which has taken on major proportions in our contemporary world, as there are more than 30 million persons who fall in this category today, and are known primarily as refugees, even as the figures keep growing daily.
The experience of uprooting and displacement is not unknown to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Indeed, the spread of the faith of Israel and of the Church occurred precisely in the midst of such experiences. Biblical texts such as Jeremiah 1:1-10 and 12:14-17 present a perspective in which God is depicted as the agent of uprooting and displacement of Judah and for other nations.
For those facing such displacement and uprooting, it is never a pleasant experience. As in other situations in which people are not prepared to deal with the reality of their situation, one can always get self-appointed or misguided spokespersons to say what the audience wants to hear. So there were false prophets saying soothing words based on false promises/a false sense of hope. Certainly, we do not have to stretch our imaginations to figure this out as Jamaicans because, whenever there are elections in the air we have candidates of all political persuasions aplenty who will soothe and tingle the ear with whatever promise or hope for the transformation of Jamaica and an idyllic future we want to hear.
But, in the case of Israel, notwithstanding the abundance of false prophets, there comes along a messenger of God, who has the task of addressing some hard words for the ears of the people. Jeremiah is his name. From another context we know that Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, have been subjected to very harsh treatment, as the remnant leadership in Jerusalem tried to kill him, believing thereby that the message would be made null and void.
So, in this context there are conflicting voices. Some are urging the people to get up and revolt, some are counting on help from friendly nations, but Jeremiah’s counsel is that both strategies are futile. They must learn to get on with life in this exilic situation and not try to recreate the past and its securities, as this is part of God’s plan for the moment. Jeremiah also breaks through the narrow limits of their religious perspective, as he showed them that God was not confined to the limits of Jerusalem and the temple. God can never be confined within the boundaries we construct whether of our theological formulations, of nation, or even the designation of sacred space. God could be experienced and worshipped in whatever location or situation his people found themselves. Indeed, it is in the adventure into the new and changing circumstances of life that God’s faithfulness and providential care can be experienced in growth enhancing ways.
This situation is certainly reminiscent of another era in their history with the Exodus and deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt on the journey to liberation and their own land, in which some yearned for a return to the cucumbers and the leeks which were goodies of an enslaved existence, even as God was using the time of their wandering in the wilderness for the making of a nation from a mere gathering of clans, now being bound together by a covenant relationship with God.
It should not surprise us that there are several strands in the Old Testament in which there is strong condemnation of religious leaders/shepherds/prophets who mislead the people of God by claiming to speak the word of God to them, but which is in fact of their own imagining, or what they think will tingle the ears of their audience. Our Lord himself was not sparing in his criticism of the religious leaders of the day who were clearly out of step with what God was doing in the life of his people, and in the guidance which they should be offering. Matthew 23 contains the seven woes directed against the scribes and Pharisees. St. Paul himself also used strong language in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians in speaking about opponents in the leadership of the church in that community whom he called “peddlers of the gospel”.
It is clear then that, we in our time who are called to the office and ministry of pastoral leaders of the people of God, have an imperative placed upon us to seek to seriously and prayerfully discern what the Lord may be saying to us in our contemporary situation, a word which may not tingle the ears of many or offer any immediate solution to our crisis, or even offer what we consider to be comfort and consolation.
So, dismissing the authenticity of the false spokespersons, the words of the letter which form the text are what the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. In opposition to the false prophets’ suggestions, who told the captives that their captivity would soon cease, Jeremiah tells them that it will be of long duration, and that, therefore, they should engage the current moment in creative ways by getting on with their family life and building houses, as Babylon is to be for a long time their home.
The familiar Psalm, Psalm 137, which is informing our theme for this Synod, captures the depth of despair of the exiles in these famous words: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
One commentator (Barnes Notes on the Bible) gives this insightful perspective on this verse:
How shall we sing the Lord’s song – The song designed to celebrate his praise; that which is appropriate to the worship of Yahweh in a strange land? – Far from our home; far from the temple; exiles; captives: how can we find spirit in such circumstances to sing? How can we do that which would be indicative of what we do not feel, and cannot feel – joy and happiness!
The idea is not that those psalms or songs would be profaned by being sung there, or that there would be anything improper in itself in singing them, but that it would be misplaced and incongruous to sing them in their circumstances. It would be doing violence to their own feelings; their feelings would not allow them to do it. There are states of mind when the language of joy is appropriate and natural; there are states where the heart is so sad that it cannot sing.
If I may be allowed the liberty of making the extrapolation, I would say that against the background of our text, “Jerusalem” and the “Temple”, may be seen as paradigms which speak to the people of God in every generation, including our own, of the securities and groundings which have given to life a sense of stability, and a faith which authenticates the status quo as we have known it. Today, the security and grounding of our “Jerusalem” and “Temple” are being undermined, and it is true of our experience of the global, national, and ecclesiastical realities.
The world of globalization and the accompanying constantly advancing technological developments, is one in which the securities and groundings which we have known seem to be constantly shifting, and we now live at a place that feels like an exile. There is no denying the fact that there are benefits to human society which these developments have brought, but the global agenda and focus is changing before we even catch up with one development. In just a few years we have moved from a preoccupation with the global financial crisis, to a situation in which religion in a strange twist has taken centre stage with the rise of Muslim extremist groups across the world, and which now has all nations focused on the possibility of terrorism. In an age which takes pride in claiming the greatest advances in human civilization, human life has become a disposable commodity. Mass killings of civilians in military action led by western nations are now regarded as mere collateral damage and, consequently, statistics not worthy of the count. Radical Muslim elements now eliminate entire villages and communities, kidnap children, trading them as slaves, even as they delight in displaying the beheading of citizens from Western societies. And so, across the world bombs destroy entire communities, national infrastructure and the invaluable treasures of human civilization, creating tremendous human suffering and migratory movements, even as there is little or no thought being given to how these lives and their communities will be healed and restored.
We have experienced unintended consequences of globalization such as the global threat of Ebola, even as it has exposed the inequalities and injustices of life in our civilized world. As long as Ebola remained in Africa, it was not deserving of major scientific research geared toward the production of treatment options. It was only the threat of its spread across the western world that spurred the rapid movement toward clinical research and the development of treatment options.
Globally, while there remain the scourge of poverty, disease, and major social inequities, there is a preoccupation with human sexuality. One challenge which this poses for the Christian community is that to the historic and religious understanding of human beings as created in two genders, male and female, and the further challenge posed by the transgendered position which sees gender as a matter of self-definition. Likewise, as a further development, there are attempts at various levels to re-define “marriage” to include same sex unions, and which is being defined as a ‘human right’. While there may be friendships and unions of varying nature, the church has understood marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman, and like parenthood a vocation, but never as a right.
The church must be unequivocal in its rejection of violence which is directed against persons whose definition and understanding of matters of human sexuality differ from ours. At the same time, we take note of the fact that, while tolerance is being sought by those who hold views which are at odds with traditional religious and cultural values, there is a parallel intolerance which seeks to use financial leverage and boycott to enforce conformity, while among the flippant retorts offered by some others is that “we are in modern times”, as if that negates the values which have informed life in our society through the ages.
All around this nation today, there are signs not only of moral decline, but of moral depravity. When individuals can take a decision to go to the Riverton City dump to retrieve meat that has been discarded due to spoilage, or to the Dawkins Pond canal in Portmore, to collect fish that are the result of a fish kill, and for which warnings against human consumption of the same were issued, and these things can be taken to be sold to fellow citizens, we are really over the edge with our sense of morality. And let us not fall for that argument that people do this because of poverty, as if the poor in this country have no morality. Indeed, the poor perhaps have a better sense of morality than what is being manifested at some other levels of the society.
At one point while I was preparing this sermon, we had just moved into the third month of the year and we already had fifteen of our children murdered in the most vicious ways, and not by maniacs who have no control of their mental faculties, but adults who believed that these children are appropriate targets for their sexual advances and exploitation, and also for vengeful attacks for non-cooperation or conflict with the victims or their families. Just as distressing is the number of children who have been murdered by other children.
Let me invite you to share a sampling from material carried in the Sunday Gleaner of March 15, 2015. There were the following lead articles all within weeks of the barbaric murder of 14 year old Kayalicia Simpson, of St. Thomas.
– My baby’s baby! – Eleven-year-old pregnant after sexually assaulted by two adult men
– Blaming the victim …Protecting the predators – St Thomas residents finger underage girls and parents for high rate of carnal abuse in the parish
– Baby father unknown – Underage girls refusing to say who got them pregnant
– Policing problems – St Thomas culture shielding child molesters
Let us visit another section of the same day’s paper and see if there aren’t echoes of the same phenomenon and the issue of human trafficking, the latter concerned primarily with the exploitation of girls and women for sexual purposes. The following classified advertisements appeared in sequence:
– Attractive intelligent open-minded model type girls needed for Massage and escort services
– Attractive ladies needed to do massage, earn up to $50,000 per week
– Attractive open-minded girls needed for massage and private parties, 18 and up with ID.
Hopefully the authorities within the system of law enforcement and justice are taking note and following every such advertisement in our news media as well as the informal and underground channels.
In a society riddled with a high level of crime, we need to focus also on what is happening with the nurturing of the young in preparation for adult life. Professor Brian Meeks, in an article published in the Jamaica Observer in 2010 had this to say on the matter:
There is an entire cohort of young people, now approaching maturity, which has grown up without the values, ethical standards and guidance of parents, family, mentors and community.
Adam John McIntyre, a Jamaican who now lives in Cayman, in his 2010 publication, Understanding the Criminal, was able to write these words:
It is from the factory of the family as the first social institution that the ingredient of the criminal product is refined and manufactured.
But to identify these expressions of moral depravity is not to let the rest of us off the hook. It has always been fashionable to blame politicians for all that is wrong in our society, and certainly they cannot be let off the hook as they are those who have a constitutional responsibility for governance and leadership of this nation. At the same time, we the citizens of this country must stop blaming politicians for all ills and begin to assume responsibility for our lack of a sense of morality and responsibility in our personal actions. One daily newspaper of March 21, 2015, carried a report of the negative assessment of our nation’s handling of certain criminal activities by United States authorities, and spoke to the problems with the judicial system, and yet, what it does not reveal is the number of us Jamaicans who, having witnessed or having knowledge of criminal activity, or who, when called upon to serve as jurors, are not prepared to take a stand and, consequently, allow criminals to go free and to continue to perpetuate the crime, killing and mayhem which we have been witnessing.
Many of our public and private sector workers need to stop seeing their job as the enforcers and slaves of bureaucracy and the power which goes with it, and begin to offer effective customer service in the execution of their portfolio responsibility, however limited that may be. Because, make no bones about it, herein lies the breeding ground for corruption.
Likewise, it is apparent that many of our professionals are losing a sense of professionalism in the execution of their task, while many in the helping professions seem to be losing the sense of professionalism and the humanity which have characterized their profession through the ages. Professionals in our medical service have received international recognition not only for their knowledge and competence but for their sense of professionalism and quality of care which they offer. However, something seems to be changing as, never before have I received so many reports of a lack of compassion by many who serve in the health sector as I have in recent time. It is true that one correlate of our moral decline is the epidemic of indiscipline which now pervades our society and which, as a consequence, makes all social interactions a challenging experience, whether in the clinic, hospital, or in any public space. Working conditions, whether of salary or otherwise, have never been adequate for the workers of this nation but, our health service has always produced outstanding workers whose sense of compassion and professionalism have been exemplary. There is no wage that can equate to the rendering of such quality service. We urge our professionals in all fields of endeavor to pursue the highest ideals of their profession and not compromise themselves in keeping with the declining standards and values in our society.
Among the most disconcerting, though not surprising information of recent months in the global arena, is OXFAM’S release of data indicating that half of global wealth is owned by 1% of the people, and that on current trends – by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%. Jamaica has now been listed as having the second highest level of economic and social inequity in the western world. What is even more disconcerting are the disingenuous arguments articulated by some persons in seeking to disprove the validity of the data, and in order to undergird the economic philosophy which makes this injustice possible and which sustains it. And we deceive ourselves if we keep the argument at the theoretical level. The question we must ask ourselves is, where is this leading us, a people with a history of social unrest and uprising in face of injustices?
While we are often quick to take issue with the electronic and print media for stories which they carry, here, I pause to affirm the role which they have been playing in bringing to our attention and desensitized consciences, the fact that there are Jamaicans who have had to make their home abandoned fowl coops. Such situations must be kept on the front burner as a challenge and manifestation of gross inequality to those responsible for governance and for all of us, members of churches and citizens of this nation.
Our citizens increasingly speak of the Nation as a place they do not recognize, with the prevailing high level of Crime and Violence, the increasing trend of violence leading to death being directed against our children, the climate of indiscipline which has taken hold of every level of society and every age group, and with no sign that there is a concerted national effort to stem this tide, and the struggle to survive in a harsh economic climate made necessary by the Fiscal Discipline demanded by the IMF and its impact on the life of people. Perhaps more telling than all of this is the recent research conducted among our young people which indicated that approximately half of our young people would willingly give up their citizenship for life in another country. Our youth are usually the most optimistic, hopeful, and idealistic in our society, and when they are expressing this position, which I suggest is about far more than economic opportunities, we adults and those responsible for governance had better take notice.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How shall we sing the Lord’s song in the face of such experiences of our world and our nation?
Not surprisingly, the people caught in exile away from Jerusalem and their Temple yearned for home and a return to things as they were in the past. The elites who were exiled to Babylon, as the ones of privilege back home, were devastated by the loss of power and status which had befallen them.
Sensitivity regarding the issue of status in this land of exile has not escaped some Anglicans. Like the elites in exile, what is most disturbing for some is the fact that we seem to have lost status and power as Anglicans and as a mainline tradition. However, like the children of Israel after the Exodus and during the wandering in the wilderness, and like the people in exile being addressed by Jeremiah in our text, rather than being something to regret and to look back at with nostalgia, the challenge is to seize the opportunities of the present historical moment for mission and ministry.
Corrine Carvalho in reflecting on the impact of this exilic experience of the people in the context portrayed by the text and the nostalgic feelings which this generated, draws on the image of home and the loss of home as a powerful symbol for understanding its impact on people, especially the church. Home, she argues, is a word that evokes strong emotions, an idealized place even in the face of harsh reality. We yearn to feel “home,” a place full of love, security, comfort. Sometimes “home” is found in a domicile, sometimes in a familiar landscape, sometimes even in another person. Church can feel like home. This chapter in Jeremiah focuses on the yearning for a home that is far off, a loss of home that has shaken the very identity of the ancient Israelites. The passage offers cool comfort in its prediction that this loss will last a very long time.
How does the church deal with this sense of the loss of home?
In her book, The Practicing Church: Imagining a New Old Church, Diana Butler Bass highlights how churches are prone to handle situations of this nature:
Occasionally, a congregation asks me to consult with them during a time of conflict. Whatever the situation, however different this church is from others, one thing almost always remains the same—people want someone to blame for their troubles. “It is his fault,” congregants will say of the new minister. “Everything was fine before he arrived.” Perhaps it is the fault of “all those newcomers” or “the choir director.” Whoever—or whatever—churchgoers blame for congregational turmoil, typically the troublemaker can be found within the building. The same goes for denominational conflict—people blame internal factors for their struggles with change. Fault for denominational stress is placed on women’s ordination, liberals or conservatives (depending upon the church) … the new hymnal or liturgies, the rise of contemporary worship, or the election of a controversial leader…
In the midst of conflict, however, people often fail to recognize the obvious: What if no one can be blamed? What if no one is at fault? Many changes, conflicts, and tensions do not arise from factors within religious communities themselves. Rather, these things are the result of institutions reacting and responding to larger cultural changes—trends, ideas, and practices outside the church building. People bring their fears about large-scale social change with them to church.
So, what option is there for us who feel we cannot sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? Perhaps there are some sign posts in the message of the prophet Jeremiah for us.
The prophet does not in any way make light of the present situation, as he is aware of the sense of vulnerability with which the people are dealing, even as I believe he speaks to us who have had our sense of identity shaken and who must now, as a nation and church, seize the opportunities of the moment. Jeremiah is also fully aware that it is not just some cruel fate that has brought them to this place. It is their collective moral, religious, and social choices and failures that have brought them to this moment. In other words it is not the occasion to search for scapegoats but look deep within. It is the same Jeremiah who pleaded with his people to repent in delivering the word of the Lord near the beginning of his prophetic ministry in chapter 2:13:
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
In other words it is no accident that these people have found themselves in this predicament, and now they must accept responsibility for where they find themselves, while at the same time recognizing that, within the providence of God, no one is written off, individual or nation, and therefore, there is the future with its prospect of redemption. This I want to refer to as living in the “in-between time”.
The message which the prophet is delivering is one which in consistent with a theme which runs throughout Scripture, namely the call to wait. According to the Hebrew definition, waiting must have the elements of patience and hope.
Patience is the willingness to suppress restlessness when confronted with delay.
Hope is looking forward to a favorable end result with expectation and confidence.
The Holy Scriptures are filled with exhortations to wait, one of the most familiar is Isaiah 40:31 –
“those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…..”
The risen Christ informs his disciples that there must be a period of waiting in Luke 24:49 – “Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”.
The Epistle to the Hebrews in chapter 10:23-25 points us to what people of faith should be doing while in this state of waiting, namely building community – love and the practice of good works, that which has been decimated by the experience of exile needs to be re-constituted, encouraging one another.
All of these texts point to the way in which the experience of the “in-between time”, whether in the wilderness or exile in Babylon, or the sheer experience of being in a strange land, can be turned to constructive ends within the providential care of God.
Using as paradigms the Exodus experience, the exilic experience in Babylon, and the concept of waiting found in the New Testament, there seem to be some inherent pointers to the way forward through our experience of being in a strange land, that is, living “in the between time”.
The reality is that the life of a society is dynamic and, as such, cannot be left to run on automatic pilot. That is a sure formula for decay and disintegration of even the greatest of civilizations. In the dynamic process of life in society, leadership must from time to time step back and look critically at the current state of the society, nurture a vision which can be shared, and then engage the imagination and input of the rest of the society, preferably through a dialogical process. Then, like Moses through the wilderness experience, or Jeremiah in his prophet role, assume leadership of the people toward re-organization and re-ordering of the life of the society and their movement toward becoming a nation of character and maturity. Any serious exploration of the biblical text will reveal that they were of a rebellious and contentious nature, surpassed only by who we have become as a Jamaican society. Leadership in such a context requires strength of character and divine guidance.
On the other hand, we take note of the fact that the leadership with which the journey began, and the population under their direction, in both cases had to give way to another before the realization of the fulfillment of the vision.
Corporate responsibility and accountability must go hand in hand with responsible leadership. The journey for Israel through the wilderness and in the exile in Babylon required the people to face up to their responsibility if they were to achieve cohesion and maturity. It was a process which demanded a lot of the people by way of the shedding of the past with its familiar markers and the adoption of covenant values which became the source for galvanizing the society under God. To speak of this nation today as one characterized by indiscipline, moral decline, and corruption, is an understatement. Without a serious engagement of a process of national introspection, repentance, sacrifice, and engagement of the opportunities of the moment, it may be that the current generation may not be the ones to make it to the renewed Jerusalem and Temple.
Israel in exile had forfeited their many gains through a process of decay and decline as we have seen. The exile was not then just a matter of cold fate, but of human failure and offering the prospect of divine redemption. But, it would take decades for restoration, and this was the message being delivered by the prophet Jeremiah, and perhaps this is the message to us as a church and nation as we face up to the challenges of the moment.
The message to us as a nation and church must be clear. We must ask ourselves, how have we come to this place? Given the dynamic nature of life in human society and the church as an institution, how have we utilized opportunities for pausing to reflect critically, under the guidance of leadership, to look at where we are and what is our vision for the future? In so doing, we affirm that we are not just guided by cruel fate, but must take responsibility for the moral, social, spiritual, and economic tone of our church and society. Much of our prevailing ills have been staring us in the face for decades but, we often opt for denial and self-deception and only act when external circumstances and forces dictate the course of action we must take. Failure to act responsibly and with maturity has its consequences.
At this point in history when the world grieves the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, we cannot but call to mind the failure of leadership and governance in so many areas of our national life since 1962, having entered that era ahead of Singapore in its level of development, but where are we today? And we cannot but take note of the way in which Party political issues have often superseded national interest in this process, and continue to be played out in the national arena when they concern issues of national wellbeing and the maintenance of our democratic process. There still continues to be a kind of disregard and disdain for public opinion and the national good, opting instead for what serves the interest of our political parties.
A further message from the Exodus experience and the message of Jeremiah is that the present generation who have courted behavior leading to the exile and life in the “in-between time”, may have to recognize that it is the next generation that will be the ones to lead the entry to the promised land, and therefore, are the ones that must be allowed to step up to the plate, given the opportunity, and not be the victims of our failure to release power and control, and of our negativity and sense of hopelessness. A new and bright prospect under God will emerge out of the seeming tragedy of the moment.
Jeremiah in chapter 30:3 points to the promise of a restoration of the people to their land:
For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.
While in chapter 31 there is the promise of the return of joy to the life of the people rejoicing with tambourines, dancing, merry making and singing aloud with gladness, what we cannot miss, however, is perhaps the central theme of that chapter and one of the most well-known sections of this book 31:31-34:
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,[a] says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
It is a profound expression of transformation and the opportunity for a new relationship with God which is not just based on external enforcement but, an internally driven process which, for Christians, is grounded in the very heart and soul of people. This is the call to which we are being summoned as a nation and as a church – an acknowledgement of where we have gone astray, seeking forgiveness and renewal, thereby allowing ourselves to enter into new and qualitatively different relations with God and with each other in Jesus Christ.
The visioning process in which are engaged as a Diocese is a call to be realistic about our situation, to acknowledge our need, and to seek to cultivate a vision which comes out of a discernment of God’s will for us and his action in our world and our church, so that we may embrace his purpose for us in his work of mission and ministry in the church and the world.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How can we find the spirit in such circumstances to sing? How can we do that which would be indicative of what we do not feel, and cannot feel – joy and happiness!
Yes, there are states of mind when the language of joy is appropriate and natural; there are states where the heart is so sad that it cannot sing. But, we can sing the Lord’ song in this strange land, as we hear his word of promise resound to his people:
11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.