I love Bob Cornwall's lectionary meditations. It dawns on me that other pastors might do the same, to provide other perspectives on the same scriptures. So I decided to give it a shot, and, to be fair, to do so without reading Bob's commentary first. Like so: Jeremiah 29:1,4-7
Jeremiah was considered a traitor in his day. When everyone around him was screaming with nationalism -- my country, right or wrong; God is on our side; We're God's favorite; etc. -- Jeremiah saw reality and spoke the truth. Jerusalem was bound to fall to Babylon, but that didn't negate God's blessing to ordinary citizens. Now that you're exiles and immigrants, he said, you can still thrive in your exile -- and your host nation can be blessed as well. Live your lives, Jeremiah said -- get married, have kids, plant gardens, and seek the welfare of the city where God has sent you for exile.
Like Babylon, our nation also enjoys the blessing of its immigrants. They are doctors and vets, farmers and gardeners. If God has sent them here, it was probably not to suffer, but to live ordinary lives -- to bless and be blessed.
You let enemies ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
I find it odd to hear complaints of how Christians are "persecuted" in America. Clearly, in this nation, we have won the culture war. The civil rights movement might never have succeeded without the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose title forced the white Christian power structure to see that blacks had as much right to the ancient Hebrew stories as did Gentile European immigrants. Can it be that spiritual development requires that we experience the pain of the oppressed? Can it be that God actually lets us live under oppression if that's what it takes for us to understand? God does sometimes "let enemies ride over our heads." Or, as the psalm also says, "For you, O God, have proved us; you have tried us just as silver is tried."
More likely, I think that these things just happen as a part of the human experience, almost at random, but God's grace can redeem them, turning hard times into a refining process.
Paul reminds Timothy that Christ has room to talk about suffering. "If we have died with him, we will also live with him." He might as well be addressing the blogosphere directly:
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
It is interesting that Jesus was neither Samaritan nor Roman. He was here privileged caste, there oppressed minority; his words are valid to people in either position. The trick is to demonstrate Godly behavior wherever one falls today on the social spectrum. No surprise that Christ both brought down the powerful and elevated the downcast. He was no respecter of persons, sharing healing and instruction with the righteous and unrighteous alike.
It's the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers, and only one returned to offer thanks:
And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
Again, the outcast, the immigrant, is proven righteous not by standing, but by gratitude and humility. Initial blush reminds me that all are fed by the beans in the field, but who stoops to harvest them? Who is grateful for the job, and humble enough to do it? But isn't everyone blessed as a result?
I detect a common thread in this week's lectionary scriptures. God lets us go through the fire and water, but God also brings us to places of refreshment. It's a refining process. Suffering refines us. The place of refreshment is our opportunity to demonstrate refinement -- as we deal with those who are going through their own refinement process.
By Joel Tucker
Joel Tucker is senior pastor at Tropical Sands Christian Church. He served as associate pastor five years and became senior pastor in 2006. Currently, he also serves as moderator of the Southern District, Florida Region. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Auburn University. He enters ministry after 20 years in corporate communications and five years of computer programming. In worship, he plays sax, bass, uke, squeezebox and bass fiddle.