I was committed to staying away from inauguration stuff, and basically succeeded, except that I did wander around online looking at what everyone was wearing, and also lots and lots of Bernie Memes. Unfortunately, I am married to a person who likes to know what’s going on, and what people are saying, and who then searches me out wherever I am in the house to tell me. So when the whole world was enthralled not only by the beautiful yellow coat (what is “poignant jewelry” by the way?) but also the poem, he made sure that I knew about it too. From there to watching this video was but a click.
It is the same young lady, dressed in the same elegant, flawless way, with fluid, entrancing hand gestures, and an even, measured way of speaking. That she is so beautiful makes what she says about women and their bodies and their right to abortion so much more a tragic handful of dust.
I watched it on my way to searching out the lections for this morning, and I was again astonished by the almost intrusive intimacy of the way God addresses Israel in the text. I always think that people who wonder where they can hear God’s voice must have to work very hard not to crack open this book, because it is so plain–but so needy–right there on the page:
I thought how I would set you among my children, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all the nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord.
The address, “My Father,” almost shocked me. Is one allowed to say that? No one wants to. No father, of any kind, is invited to say anything to his daughters and sons. God most of all.
Jeremiah goes on and responds as an Israel that has given up hope:
But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our ancestors had labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth even to this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.
Even if we did want to admit our shame, there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do about it. We would only be able to lie down and die in our disobedience.
I said last week that I felt like there was a great malaise, expressed as cynicism, that has fallen over young people in particular. Someone disagreed with me. No, there is so much hope now! Lovely prayers were prayed in the capitol, and the clothes were exquisite, and the Bernie Meme was so funny, and we finally get to have the banal presidential calm we have all so longed for over the last four years. The bright yellow coat, the bright sun, everything is going to be fine. But I think that must not be true. To go wandering around social media and find this other poem, this young person finding a trenchant but ruinous hope in something that will ultimately destroy not just her, but all women everywhere, and the culture that gives her life–indeed is destroying her and her generation–is the deepest kind of cynicism. To talk about hope and peace when our hands are full of blood is the kind of thing that Israel did so long ago, and every nation likewise. Though God doesn’t talk to every nation, no matter what Paula White may say about it.
No, we are not Israel, thank goodness, for we have slaughtered many many more babies than that ancient nation. And we are not ashamed, though we are tired and angry.
God always does go on speaking, though, no matter how exhausted you are to have to hear him:
If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, if you return to me, if you remove your abominations from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, “As the Lord lives!” in truth, in justice, and in uprightness, then nations shall be blessed by him, and by him they shall boast.
Mark picks up the thread so many centuries later. John the Baptist has been arrested, and one might expect the next line to include some detail of his arrest, some response of the people to the perverse and terrible injustice of the best man (according to Jesus) ever to have lived being arrested and imprisoned by one of the worst out of fear of his wife, but instead, Mark says that Jesus came to Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of God.” What is that? It must be something lovely, the sure and certain dream of every generation being established in peace and prosperity. But no, it is to “repent and believe in the good news,” the good news that the kingdom of God is near.
But can this be good news for us? The king of this kingdom demands that each person look at the heart–the one that Paul and Jeremiah admonish should be circumcised, cut into, so that it bleeds–and see that the core of it is completely unacceptable to God. The subject of this kingdom–the son or daughter–must then say sorry, must ask for help to be a new and different kind of person. This is not the good news we were looking for.
Anyway, all three readings, and the psalm together, are an ancient call and response. God calls to Israel (Jeremiah), Israel cries out to God (the Psalm), Paul admonishes the Called (Corinthians), and Jesus wanders up to the edge of the lake and calls to Peter and Andrew and James and John. Those four immediately leave what they were doing and go with him, all the way to the cross, to the astonishing good news of their own salvation.
It’s never too late to stop and listen carefully to the various kinds of good news offered by all, and wonder if they can live up to their own promises.
The “good news” of abortion, for instance, what is that? The young lady paints it in striking tones. If a woman has to have a baby when she isn’t ready or doesn’t want to, her life–her education, her prospects, her economic stability, her sense of herself and her own body, everything–threatens to be destroyed. To make her go on with the person growing inside her is not only cruel but wicked. She will not be able to succeed if she can’t get rid of the baby.
Does she know what she is saying? That if you cut another person out, and chose your own way at the cost of another life you have desolated and dishonored the thing that God has made–both you and the child. That you have abominated the temple where God was made to dwell. That your truth and justice have been trampled down in the dust. Whereas, if you grab on to the good news of the kingdom of God, you get your own life given back to you. Death itself is cut away along with sin and shame and ruin. Your body is ultimately restored to you in glory. God does this is by calling to you and speaking in words that bind you to him forever.
“O Israel,” cries the Psalmist, “hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”