I was furiously hiding undesirable Facebook ads in the wee hours, without consideration or thought, when providence intervened and I did not click “I don’t want to see this” or however Facebook puts it. Instead, I watched it twice with rapt attention and read all the copy. You really should click, even though probably you shouldn’t. But in case you don’t, Jen Hatmaker is launching something called “Me Course.” There’s a little red heart between the word “Me” and the word “Course.” Oh, and “With Jen Hatmaker” is in smaller letters underneath. The description is pretty straightforward:
Me Course is an e-course series that’s for YOU, sister, so you can show up better for yourself, your family, and everyone else in 2022. Our mission here is simple: This is inspirational, educational AND actionable content as I like to say “For The Rest Of Us.” We’ll be covering categories where I’ve seen the most life change in myself and in others.”
After the big red “Register Today” button comes a bold assertion unsubstantiated by any data of any kind. “I believe,” says Jen, that “women living in freedom are the answer to all that ails society. So I made this course.” You can sign up for a +Simplicity Course a +Finance Course and a +Wellness Course. And, in her usual style, she is “bringing in all the experts” in these various fields to “pick their brains.” The Me Course is particularly designed for people who self-identify with the following novel descriptors: Brave, Curious, Courageous, Learners, Newly Independent, Leaders, Moms, Sisters, Girlfriends, Daughters. Each course will cost you a whopping hundred dollars unless you bundle them for a hundred and ninety-eight dollars, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t just go for the gusto. I guess I won’t be doing this important work on myself, because I prefer to buy cheese, honestly, and seeds for my garden.
So anyway, I did also happen to wander over to the lections for today, because I don’t only angry hide ads on Facebook, I also sometimes wonder what’s going to be read out in church on Sunday. And, as I expected, the contrast between what is going on over the Kingdom of God, as opposed to the Kingdom of Me almost couldn’t be more alarming. In the first case, the people have come back from Exile, or at least some of them, and they’ve wept over the destruction of their city, and they’ve been amazed that they even got to come back, and then, when they were just about to sit down on the rubble, head in hands, in that powerless way that I get when I read the internet—so much is so awful, where do I even start?—the call for a sacred assembly came, and so, in all their helplessness, they gathered together “as one man”
into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
This is quite a staggering moment in the Bible rather like that other one where the Law is rediscovered. You remember that poor king who had it handed to him by the unfortunate who found it in a pile of junk in one of the rooms of the Temple. “What’s this?” the poor king cried, tearing his robe when he understood what he was reading. Why didn’t we know anything about this? In other words, the people who are in the Bible mostly didn’t ever want to read the Bible, which should be some kind of comfort to you, although I’m not sure what kind.
Here, all the people gathered together and the book was opened in their sight, and they all stood…seriously, does this remind you of anything? I suppose if you don’t go to an Anglican church where certain kinds of bowings and scrapings and calls and responses are given, you may not have any resonate emotional understanding with what is going on here. Anyway, Ezra reads out of the book, and then, all those people listed “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” That, my dears, is what’s called The Sermon, that long time that you sit there trying to pay attention even though your phone is filling up with texts and you’re worried about whether or not you locked the front door when you dashed out because you were late.
And then look what happens:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Amazingly, hearing the Book read to them, and then having its meaning explained made the people weep. They sat there, looking over all the failures and disappointments, but even more, having heard the book of the Law and what God is like and what he requires of the people he has made, they finally had no more excuses to make, they couldn’t blame anyone else, they saw themselves in relationship to God and knew that they had come up short, and so they wept.
I mean, church on Sunday morning is a great time to come unglued. I do it all the time. If you come, and you sit, and you really listen, you might find that you are weeping because you can see yourself clearly for the first time all week. And that’s good, that’s literally what the hour was made for. But Ezra and Nehemiah and all those guys tell the people to stop weeping, because, well, skip forward to the other readings appointed for today, to see what happens:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Unlike all the regular people of the Bible, Jesus never forgot to read it or go to church or anything like that. He went every week and, being the person he was, he made a great reader. But on this day there is no cohort behind him to “give the sense.” He reads it out and…well, it’s about him. “It’s about me,” he says, which should have made all the people there listening weep, as it had done their ancestors. But they didn’t want it to be about him, and so they got very angry with him.
Really, those are your two responses. When you see that Jesus is the one—not Jen Hatmaker, not yourself but Jesus—who sets the captives free and opens blind eyes and rescues the poor, and, worse, that you are one of those people, the best thing to do is to weep. Not in anguish, but in relief and gratitude. And then, of course, go forward for communion. For the Word is about him, and then he offers himself in the meal that follows. All the people in Ezra’s day were told to cheer up, quick, and go prepare a lavish dinner. Share food with each other, drink nice things. But, with Jesus there on a Sunday morning, you’re invited to hobble forward for a sip of wine and a taste of bread, and then to go down to the church hall and drink coffee and eat a donut. And maybe invite someone over to dinner at your house after, someone you don’t know very well, perhaps, or someone who, like you, looks to be on the edge of tears, cut to the heart by the astonishing news that the meaning of all of it is Jesus himself.
So anyway, two hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend to hear the depressing and unoriginal idea that if you just work a little harder, listen a little harder, organize your life a little better, drink a little more water, forgive yourself a little more—I mean, I feel like you don’t need to pay the money because we already know all this stuff, it’s on the internet for free—you’ll be happy. You don’t need that. You don’t need to spend more time on yourself. You’re a problem beyond your own power to fix. You getting your act together will not heal the world. What you need is to lift your eyes up to some person giving the sense, the meaning, of the Book, and the sense, the meaning is Jesus. He is your soul’s consolation. He is your food. He is your hope. He wipes the tears from your eyes. And his Book is free on the internet. And also it’s free to go to church. And there you will meet a lot of other people who will grab hold of you and offer you a donut. Hope to see you there!