Love is a strategy (Luke 6.27-38)

Many of us remember the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love.” Originally released in 1967, it had all the optimism of the mid-1960s, before the calamities that occurred, at least in our country, in 1968. Here are some of the words (I won’t sing them!):
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
From our point of view, many years later, after several unwinnable wars and economic collapse and declining standards of living and terrorist attacks and failed attempts at reform, it may not look so easy, or so simple. Is love really all you need? We might be inclined to say you need a little more than that. You need power. You need some rough justice. You need to be willing to stick it out through a hard slog with uncertain results. In other words, our world today seems to call for much more than love, love, love.
We all know this, no matter what our politics or our religion, no matter what part of the country we come from or our class background. We have rejected the sentimentalism (or at least we think we have) of previous eras. Now, we may still like the Beatles’ old song, and we may think of love as an ideal that is impossible fully to realize but that should at least be tried. We may still believe that love, or a least some facsimile of it, is an essential ingredient in livable human relationships. We know that, without something like love, human life can descend into a series of cold transactions or else a brutal competition that creates misery everywhere. But, most likely, we recognize love as an ideal rather than a practical possibility—we no longer think of it as easy or simple—and we may even excuse ourselves knowingly for our failure fully to embody that ideal in our words and actions. I know I really should love so-and-so, but, at the end of the day, everybody has to protect their own, don’t they? Who’s going to look after my own interests if I don’t?
I mentioned the calamities of 1968. One of them, of course, was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. We are at the end of Black History Month, and I always try to read something from Black history in America during the month of February. This year I read parts of Dr. King’s collection of sermons, The Strength to Love, published in 1963. There’s a lot of soaring rhetoric in those sermons, but one thing there is not much of is lofty idealism that thinks anything is easy or simple. Dr. King was influenced by the Christian realism of protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and Niebuhr taught American Christians to become aware of the stubborn fact of what he called “collective egotism,” which made any attempt to establish more just and humane society very difficult. Simply put, there would be people with vested interests in things like racial segregation and white supremacy, and making the reforms necessary to enable equality for African-Americans was going to be anything but “easy” or simple, because they would be fought with every weapon available to segregationists, including the media and popular culture as well as law enforcement. “All you need is love” wasn’t going to cut it. And no one knew this more intimately than Dr. King.
But Dr. King also knew the verses we read this morning from Luke six. He knew that Jesus said to “love your enemies,” to “pray for those who abuse you.” Now, there is long Christian tradition that has gone to great lengths to finesse these words. St. Augustine, in the fifth century, suggested that we love our enemies by killing them sorrowfully, by not taking delight or pleasure in perpetrating the violence against our enemies that is necessary. But King took Jesus’ words a little more seriously than that. And what Augustine missed, it seems to me, is that, for Jesus, love was not an ideal or an interior state of soul that could coexist with violent acts—love wasn’t something in the heart that had nothing to do with what we do with our hands. Instead, love was a way of life that was to be directly embodied in our actions. Love was not just some kind of vague end goal that we hope we can somehow get to someday. No, love was a means. It was a practice. It was a strategy.
One of the things about our text from Luke that we may miss amid all the striking language about loving our enemy is Jesus’ concern over “reward” and “credit.” Traditionally, we have taken this as relating to some kind of afterlife. Love your enemies, because even though that will get you nowhere on earth, God is going to make heaven a little sweeter for you if you do. But the word “heaven” doesn’t appear here, nor is there any reference to an afterlife. I suggest, in fact, that “credit” and “reward” should be taken as something that occurs here and now. In the cultural context of Jesus, honor and shame were tremendously important. How much power or influence you have had a lot to do with how much honor you accumulated with others around you and how much shame you avoided. Throughout the gospels, Jesus calls this honor and shame system into question and often turns it on its head—when he calls us to honor those whom society throws away. But, here, it seems to me that “credit” and “reward” have everything to do with honor and prestige. There’s nothing noteworthy, Jesus says, about loving the people you are expected to love. There’s nothing special about acts of kindness to people who are already your friends. That’s what you would be expected to do because your friends are those who have already shown kindness to you. It doesn’t move the ball down the field, if you will, it doesn’t change anything to keep up these normal transactional relationships in which you do something nice for me, and then I do something nice for you.
What really changes the game is when we offer respect, and even love, toward those who haven’t shown any inclination to love us in return. But here’s an interesting piece of that. When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, we tend to hear that as “don’t resist someone’s meanness toward you. Be a doormat.” We may occasionally give lip service to “turning the other cheek,” but of course very few of us find that an attractive way to live, so it remains an empty ideal. But here’s the thing: think about what turning the other cheek must mean. It means insisting on being struck another way—by a different hand. In Jesus’ context, it mattered which cheek you were struck on. If someone struck you on the right cheek (assuming that they were right-handed), it meant that they struck you with the back of their hand. That’s the way a master would strike a slave. Now, let’s assume the person who would do such a thing at least “outranks” the other person in terms of prestige or honor. If the person who is struck turns the other cheek, what they are saying is, “No, it’s not ok to strike me that way. I refuse to be your inferior. That’s not the relationship that I want to have with you. Strike me with an open hand, as an equal.” What would that do? It puts the relationship back on equal footing. It is way, without violence, to insist on your dignity and respect.
Martin Luther King was a pioneer in the strategy of what he called “nonviolent resistance,” and it was very much like the love strategy we find in Luke six. Of course, there’s nothing “easy” about that. We can not only get slapped but stolen from, abused, persecuted, threatened. It’s not a question of not resisting—there’s no call and no value in being a doormat. The question is how we resist. And the question is not just, what’s the most moral way to resist or the “nicest” way to resist. Instead, it’s, what’s the most powerful way to resist? How do we resist in such a way that we might actually move the ball down the field, change the game? And the most powerful way to resist—the way that will actually increase our power to change human relationships for the better—is to resist with the force of love: love of self and love of the other. The most powerful way to resist evil is with the ironclad affirmation of one’s own dignity and the dignity of the other because in that way, we can show those who are watching what is possible and what is the most compelling way to live human life.
Well, what can you and I learn from Dr. King’s strategy? In what way can love be a practical strategy for us? You and I probably don’t have to resist evils that affect us as systematically as King and many of his followers did. We do have to deal with people who are being jerks, though. We have to find ways to get along in a world in which there are people who are abusive, who manipulate or control, or who simply make us mad. And, if we are followers of the one who tells us to love our enemies, we have to find ways to stand up for ourselves that honor the humanity of those we must oppose. Can love be a strategy for us? I think we’ll find that it can.
And, can love be a strategy for the church? I’m going to say something that I’ve said before though maybe not in this way: the churches descending from Europe, the white churches, have been flirting with a heresy, a basic betray of Christian faith for a long time. We have become used to being the ones in power or at least with access to power, and that experience has taken us a long way from the original experience of Christianity because it has taken us a long way from the experience of Jesus. We have gotten ourselves caught up in defending structures of inequality from which we benefit, including those that not only marginalize but materially harm those who do not look like us or who do not share our culture. And this has hurt us, too, because we have acquiesced in a system that isolates everyone and locks us into a cycle of brutal and alienating competition. No wonder, living in and accepting a world like this, we are forced to think of Jesus as a lofty idealist who has lost touch with reality?

But here’s the gospel: love your enemies. It’s really possible. Not only is it possible, in fact, but it is the only way to be fully attuned to reality. Here’s the good word: pray for those who threaten and do harm. Turn the other cheek. In other words, there is a way out of the brutalities and the artificialities of a coldly transactional world. There’s a way to get beyond the tit-for-tat, mutually accusing, permanently litigious, forever suspicious way of life that we have created for ourselves. The church can repent of its heresy of accepting race privilege as its birthright. We can break through the alienation and suspicion that imprisons and we can create community and friendship through the power of the Spirit who makes all things new. In the name of God our creator and redeemer. Amen.

This Sunday, February 17th

There is a popular TV show (actually, a Netflix original that’s only available on the streaming service) that talks about a place called “the upside down” (the show is called “Stranger Things,” in case you are wondering). Well, the upside down isn’t actually a place so much as a hidden dimension that is always present though invisible. They call it the “upside down” not because everything is reversed or because people and houses and everything else are literally upside down—they call it that because of a metaphor that one of the characters uses to explain it to his friend. But the gospel of Luke has another kind of “upside down,” and Jesus calls it “the kingdom of God.” This week, we’re going to talk about the ways that Jesus’ ministry turns things on their head: the way he seems to reverse everyone’s expectations and even their values. In our passage from Luke 6, the rich and the well-fed and the happy are declared miserable, while the hungry and the poor and the persecuted are called “blessed.” Why did Jesus say this, and what does it mean for us? How does our faith continue to reverse our expectations and even our values? How can we live in this “upside down” world? Do we even want to?

Hearing the word (or not), Isaiah 6.1-13

Hearing the word (or not), Isaiah 6.1-13
Eastminster United Presbyterian Church, 5th Sunday after Epiphany C (February 10, 2019)
Tom James
Maybe you’ve heard the story about a conversation between a lawyer and her client. She told him, “I have some good news and some bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?”  Her client replied, “Give me the bad news first.”  “The bad news is that the DNA tests showed that the police found your blood all over the crime scene.”  “Oh, no,” her client mourned, “What could possibly be good about that?”  “The good news is that your cholesterol is down to 130!”[1]
The Bible is a sort of a bad news-good news book. There are times when the biblical story can seem like an emotional roller coaster. The people of Israel are freed from slavery in Egypt! But now they’re in the desert with nothing good to eat. Jesus is the Messiah we been waiting for! But the Messiah has to die. But then he’s raised again! But then he goes away and leaves us to do the work. But he sends the Holy Spirit to empower us! But then that means that we speak boldly and make enemies, and then get persecuted for it. But, we win in the end! But, in the meantime, we are called to bear the cross…  You get the idea. There’s almost no good news that doesn’t bring with it something challenging and perhaps difficult to bear. On the other hand, there’s almost no bad news that doesn’t point to some remarkable way that God is renewing and transforming us. Good news and bad news, in fact, are sometimes hard to pull apart.
Our text from Isaiah is remarkable in many ways. It’s another “call” story, somewhat like the one we read from Jeremiah last week. There’s good and bad very closely intertwined here, too. There’s the incredible vision that Isaiah has—the amazing display of God’s glory. What a privilege to have such a vision! And, yet, the very sight of it brings Isaiah face to face with his deep personal flaws and the flaws of his people. One of the great theological works in our Presbyterian tradition starts off by saying that knowledge about God and knowledge about ourselves are deeply related to each other: when we gain a glimpse of God’s perfection, God’s holiness, we find ourselves exposed. We see ourselves more clearly, and all that is imperfect and unholy comes to light. Our love for neighbor, we might say, looks a little paler, maybe even filled with opportunism and more than a hint of selfishness, when compared with God’s. So there’s good news (God is great!) that brings with it some bad news (we are not God, we are not all that great).
And yet, of course, that’s not the end of it. The good news is that the goodness of God is good enough to overcome our not-so-goodness. God reaches out to Isaiah, through the angel, and touches him, cleansing him from his sin, making him worthy of the sight that he beholds, and making him a fit messenger for the word. In other words, there’s forgiveness. We are exposed by God’s greatness as being not-so-great, but we then quickly find that God’s greatness is great enough to meet us in even in our not-so-greatness, that our sin is no barrier to God, and that God and can heal us of our moral diseases and our cleanse us of our unrighteousness.
By the way, our pattern for worship is drawn directly from this passage. What do we do when we gather in this sanctuary? We sing a hymn that celebrates God’s greatness and God’s goodness. We concentrate on who God is and what God has done. You might say that, in our call to worship and our hymn of praise, we are lifted a little bit out of ourselves and invited to catch a glimpse of the glory of God. But that does something to us. It makes us realize how we, in our actual lives, fall short of what we glimpse in our heavenly vision. As one of my seminary professors once put it, “God is great. Oh, and I guess I’m kind of a jerk, now that I think about it.” And, so, we confess our shortcomings. The high that lifted us up has also now brought us down. We are humbled enough to be honest with ourselves before God and each other. But, of course, that’s not the end of it. As soon as we confess our shortcomings, we find that God’s greatness and God’s goodness are not limited by our failures, but that God reaches out to us to free us from our bondage to the past, to liberate us from guilt and forgive our sin.
So, all’s well that ends well, right? I sometimes think that the high point of the service is the declaration of forgiveness and that we should just close up shop for the day and all go home after that. Someone once said that the three phrases that everyone wants to hear are “I love you,” “You’re forgiven,” and “Let’s eat.” Well, it seems like once the declaration of forgiveness has been made, the first two are taken care of, and we might as well go have lunch.
But, of course, that’s not the end of the service, is it? And why not? It’s because there’s more for us to hear; there’s more for us to say. There are things about our lives that we have to understand and there are challenges to face. I’ve said before, I believe, that the book of Isaiah was written in three parts, possibly by three different authors. In this first part, Isaiah preaches to the people during the last years of the kingdom of Judah, much like Jeremiah did. Throughout the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, the prophet preaches hard words, words of judgment and warning, exposing the people’s complicity in a reign of injustice that exploits the most vulnerable and condones idolatries.
I’ll repeat what I said last week and say that a good way to characterize Judah’s spiritual downfall is to call it a succumbing to what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls “royal consciousness.” As I said last week, “royal consciousness” is a mentality that undergirds monarchy and the centralization of power and wealth that it embodied in the ancient world. Royal consciousness was akin to what we might call “imperialism” today. It was a mentality that valued domination and control of one people by another. The insidious thing about royal consciousness, of course, is that it can take over the hearts and minds of people that it doesn’t actually benefit. We can fall into a sort of “Stockholm syndrome,” giving support and even love to a regime or a way of life that actually violates us. For Judah, royal consciousness supported a monarchy that imposed unjust policies that further concentrated wealth and power but offered a psychological compensation in the form of a wealthy king and impressive standing army that the people could symbolically identify with. In other words, their lives may have been getting worse, but look at the splendor of the nation: look at the temple; look at the palace; look at the king! Isn’t that great? Aren’t we great? Never mind the fact that all that splendor was funded by taking from our own pockets.
Royal consciousness is not done menacing God’s people, it seems to me. We Christians, for some reason, seem to be especially susceptible to impressive displays of power, even if those powers threaten our values and our very lives. During the centuries in which the church was being persecuted by the Roman empire, many leaders in the church came to the point where they no longer rejected imperial power, like Jesus and his early disciples did, but began to claim it for themselves. And, ever since, we have had this tendency to sell out our faith for the sake of identifying ourselves with those in power.
Isaiah’s message was and is, watch out. For those who have power will not always have it, and the kingdoms and the standing armies we devote ourselves to will not dominate the earth forever. Judah’s kingdom was about to fall, and its corruptions and its exploitation of the poor and its violence against the most vulnerable were going to be exposed for what they were. History was going to do just what Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory did for Isaiah—it was going to show the kingdom what it was made of, what it stood for, whom it benefitted and whom it destroyed; it was going bring its failures to judgment.
Once again, though, there’s a mixture of good news and bad news. The good news is that God was sending Isaiah to speak the truth about Judah. And speaking the truth is an act of love. For, whenever the truth is spoken, people are invited to come back to reality, to see their situation for what it is, and to take steps to make things better. There was going to be, you might say, an intervention. The word would go out! A prophet had been sent. And, therefore, the future was still open. The judgment might be suspended, and Judah might survive.
But, of course, even in the initial words of the prophecy we see that the word will not be heard. People are too caught up in their own heads. People are too enslaved to royal consciousness and to its psychological compensations. They are too in love with the symbols of power to even see that they have become powerless.
You see, this is why preachers don’t always like to preach the Old Testament. Because here is where it ends. There are upbeats and downbeats, and our passage ends frustratingly on a downbeat. And we have to wait a long time for the next change of tone. But maybe that’s just as well. Maybe it’s good to sit with some discomfort for a while. We Christians should never lose sight of the good news and should never forget that the kingdom of God prevails, even when the kingdoms of the world falter and fail. But maybe it’s not a bad thing to take stock of our complicity in the kingdoms of the world, to recognize our tendency to sell out our faith and our values, to betray God’s calling, for a nation or for an ethnic identity or for a feeling of cultural superiority or for an economic system—all of which, as great as they may seem to us, are as dry grass in a wildfire, as far as God is concerned. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to be called once again, by this voice from an ancient past, to open our ears, straining if need be, to hear words about ourselves that we have a hard time hearing, that we are conditioned not to hear, so that we might be opened once more to the work of God, who speaks from beyond the disasters of our life together and calls us again and again to be the people of God that God longs for us to be. In the name of God, our creator and redeemer. Amen.


What the word does (Jeremiah 1.4-10)

What the word does (Jeremiah 1.4-10)
Eastminster United Presbyterian Church, 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 3, 2019)

Tom James
Jeremiah has been called “the weeping prophet.” The description is apt—not only is the book of Jeremiah filled with lamentations for a broken and scattered people: its follow-up in the Bible is actually called “Lamentations.”
But what was Jeremiah lamenting? And, maybe much more important for us, does his grief in any way connect with our own experience? Maybe we should ask, first, do we have anything to grieve, like Jeremiah? Can we relate to “the weeping prophet?” Is there any cause for lamentation among us today?
A little background. Jeremiah was a prophet during the reigns of the last kings of Judah, just as their kingdom was falling apart and about to be overrun by the growing empire of Babylon. It was actually a long decline that Jeremiah tracked over many years. Our passage for this morning recalls his call to be a prophet, somewhere around 625 B.C., and the fall of Jerusalem, which he witnessed, does not actually occur until 586 or so. In between, there were some thirty-nine years of painful drama and degeneration, as the vision of Judah as a faithful and independent people deteriorated.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that what was happening during those years was the full flowering of what he calls “royal consciousness.” Now, let me explain what that phrase means. Royal consciousness was a combination of three things. It was, first of all, an economics of affluence in which a few people grew very wealthy while most of the population remained poor—this happened mainly by gobbling up land (the main source of wealth in ancient times) either by conquest or by means of exacting interest on debts and then seizing the land when the debts couldn’t be repaid. And, secondly, royal consciousness involved a politics of oppression that seeks to keep poor people from having any kind of redress by centralizing authority in a monarchy and enlisting the help of a standing army to reinforce differences in power. Finally, royal consciousness involved a religion that was focused on the regularities of the created order. It was the role of the king and his priests to maintain that regularity. The God of such a religion was predictable, controllable, and accessible—not to the people, but to the ruling hierarchy. The nation of Israel had originally been a project inspired by Moses the liberator, and it involved the most passionate rejection of royal consciousness in favor of a whole new kind of faith. Israel was to have an economy of shared abundance rather than hoarded affluence, a politics of emancipation, governed by decentralized tribal councils rather than a centralized monarchy, rather than a politics of oppression, and a religion that believed in a God that was not controllable and not predictable and not accessible in the same way. This last item was especially important because a God who is always predictable can be depended upon to reinforce inequities of power and wealth—such inequities are seen as if they reflect God’s own intentions, as what is natural and inevitable. But a God whose ways are, as Isaiah was to say, “not our ways,” and whose thoughts are “not our thoughts,” could not be relied upon to support a stable order, but instead challenged it and called it to be different.
And so, when the prophets of Israel and Judah cry out against “foreign gods,” it’s not just a matter of religious preference that they are getting so heated up about. What is happening during the time of the kings is that the liberating project of Moses is being slowly but surely replaced by the same kind of oppressive, centralized monarchy to which others in the region had long since succumbed. The land of Canaan had been ruled by urban monarchies, city-states who grew rich by siphoning off the wealth of the land, where rural peasants worked hard just to survive. Israel was supposed to be different, but, as time went on, it wasn’t. And that made people like Jeremiah sad.
So, what was Jeremiah lamenting? It was, first of all, a failure of his people to live up to their calling. It was a failure to grasp the freedom that God had offered them. It was that they had become just like the other nations, characterized increasingly by vast inequalities, by a lack of compassion and justice, by a religion that did not respect the freedom of God but expected God to be at the beck and call of Israel’s most powerful.
We read in our passage that, when God calls Jeremiah to his role as prophet, he tells him that he will be appointed “over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow.” Now, how could these words be anything but scary? How was young Jeremiah (he called himself just a “boy” at this point), how was this young Jeremiah going to be somehow “over nations and kingdoms,” and how would those actually sitting on those thrones take to him “plucking up, pulling down, destroying and overthrowing?”
We know from the story that Jeremiah didn’t actually get appointed king in the kings’ places—that’s not what God meant. What God meant was that, somehow, Jeremiah’s words would have this powerfully destructive role. More than that, God’s own words would be given to Jeremiah so that Moses’ project of freedom would have a voice in the midst of Israel’s corruption and decay. And it wasn’t that God’s voice in itself was a voice of destruction, but that the kings and their nobles and their priests—indeed, all those who were purveyors and beneficiaries of royal consciousness—would hear those words as words of destruction. Because God didn’t want to destroy the people, but to create the people again, to renew the project of Moses, to once again liberate the people from their bondage to a way of life that would consume them and destroy them so that they might finally live into the promise of Israel. It was a rescue operation; it was a mission of redemption.
But Jeremiah wept. Why did he weep? First of all, he wept because the nation would not listen. The word rang out with its dreadful overtones of impending judgment and doom as Jeremiah preached and preached, but the power brokers held on and the people did not challenge them and things went on as they had before for so long. Meanwhile, the empire of Babylon sharpened its swords and gathered its troops.
But there’s a second reason why Jeremiah wept. He also wept because he grieved for himself. The message that he had to deliver did not make him happy, because he, too, was in some ways taken in by royal consciousness. After all, it had grown so familiar, like an old house that you don’t want to leave, or like an old pair of shoes you don’t want to give up. The strange fact about human nature is that we all tend to love what is familiar even when it is killing us. Drug and alcohol addictions aren’t the only examples. We can cling to a relationship that is destroying us, or to a job or even a whole way of life that is actually making us miserable. In this case, Jeremiah, too, must have felt the attractions of centralized power and a static religion and a predictable god. Indeed, losing such a god, coming to believe in a God who isn’t constrained by human expectations, a God who may intervene in our lives at any time and ask us to do things differently, who shakes our complacency and calls us to step forward into new territory rather than around and around in comfortable circles of familiarity, can’t help but be felt in some ways as a loss.
How can you and I relate to Jeremiah? I believe that, just like Judah, we are all too easily beguiled today by what Brueggemann calls “royal consciousness.” Of course, we don’t have kings in this country. But we do have a tendency to accept and adopt structures of power that reproduce human pain and suffering, even when they hurt us, too, just because we believe that that is the way things must be. We do have a tendency to fail in our imaginations and in our awareness of our moral resources to change things for the better. And we do, don’t we, have a tendency to shape our religious beliefs and practices, our rituals and habits, in such a way that they guarantee stability and reliability, shielding ourselves from the way the God of Moses may be calling us to leave Egypt behind.
But the words of Jeremiah pluck up that royal consciousness—they tear down that stale religion that tries desperately to keep things always the same—because they point to a way of life, a way of faith, that is always with us and always open to us when we say “yes” to it. The way is the way of Moses, which is also the way of Jesus. It is a way of openness to the Spirit, of speaking words of truth that challenge the power of kings and support and uphold those who are most vulnerable in their struggles for freedom and dignity.
We may or may not be ready for it, but I believe God puts those kinds of words in our mouths today. We are invested with the spirit and call of Jeremiah for our time. When we hear the voice of the spirit, we are empowered to proclaim the reality of a God who calls us to change our hearts, and our lives, and our systems of power as communities and nations.
We are also empowered to grieve. That may sound like a strange kind of power; but it is what prophets must do, in every time and place. Because we see it, too. In word and deed, we Christians preach and preach the love of Jesus that reaches everyone and that heals and forgives and tears down walls of division, and yet the power brokers hold on, and the people don’t challenge them, and everything goes on as it has for so long. Grieving is what those who hear the voice of God, and witness the stubbornness of the nations, must do.
But that’s not the end of the story. Even Jeremiah could look beyond his sorrow and see glimpses of hope for a new beginning from time to time. For him, he imagined a time when the word he was working so hard to preach would be implanted in the hearts of the people so that no one would have to preach. For us, perhaps we can imagine such a world only on a small scale. We get to see, and hopefully be a part of, new beginnings here and there. Maybe there’s a new group or a new community or a new family or a new ministry or a new plan. We Christians started out a small sect, facing down a huge empire. We are accustomed to starting small, against long odds, but not giving up, not calling it quits, not allowing our imagination to fall back into the trap of royal consciousness, but trusting that the work of the spirit goes on. We need to draw on the spirit of Jeremiah for our own time. Because it is time, once more, to tear down, and to build; to destroy, and to plant. In the name of God, our creator and redeemer. Amen.