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Monday, September 12, 2016

Jeremiah's View of 9-11

Jeremiah’s View of 9-11 (Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28)
Rob Tennant, HillSong Church, Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, September 11, 2011

23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger. – Jeremiah 4:23-26

            I remember where I was when the earth became a wasteland, the heavens darkened, and the fruitful land became a desolate desert.
            I was sitting in my office at the church on South 7th Road in Arlington, Virginia with a man who wanted to look at our church insurance policy to see if he could make us a better offer.  I did not want to spend my morning talking to an insurance salesman, but, at my time, my father sold insurance to churches and I hoped pastors would be nice to him when he came calling.  So, I listened to this man, treating him the way I hoped pastors would treat my dad.
            We heard a muffled thump.  I thought it came from somewhere in the building.  We had a crotchety old custodian.  Bob was a thick, stump of man who was grumpy all of the time, his incoherent muttering echo through the old building throughout the week.  Bob was always slamming trash cans and dropping tables. 
            Though the sound was not one I had heard Bob make before, I assumed he found a new way to clatter around.   Then the phone rang.  Now, I don’t remember who it was, but the caller asked, “Are you watching TV?  But the sound we heard was not Bob in some far reach of the church building. 
            The caller told me about the planes that hit the World Trade Center in New York.  The insurance salesmen left, and I went upstairs to afterschool learning center that met on the second floor of our building.  The only there was the director. He and I turned on the TV and stared in horror.  The sound I heard, came from 2.5 miles to the east of us, the Pentagon.  I heard the plane hit.  I just didn’t know what I was hearing.
            After an hour of watching the news coverage, I was in a fog and I couldn’t shake it. I had to do something.  There was nothing to do.  I walked to the home of a friend a couple of blocks from our church.  He let me borrow his bike and I just pedaled around Arlington.  I didn’t really know where I was going.  I was just riding to keep some part of my body moving, doing something.  I didn’t know what else to do. I pedaled and prayed.
            If you are old enough to remember 9-11-2001, you, like me, probably remember in detail what you were doing when you heard of the terrorist attacks.  The Biblical prophet Jeremiah, who lived in the 6th century BC, spoke on September 11, 2001.  “My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!  Oh, the walls of my heart!  My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.  Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste” (Jer. 4:19-20a). 
            We, you and I, belong to Jesus.  We are His possession.  He determine our outlook.  Do we mean it when we claim to be Biblical Christians?  I believe we do.  With the Bible is our authority, we consider history from God’s point of view.  If our allegiance is exclusively to the Kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then when we remember the terrible events of 9-11 and this age of terror that has followed, we do not consider it all from the viewpoint of citizens of the U.S.A. 
We see the drama of history of our nation and of all nations, and we prayerfully look at it from God’s point of view because we are God’s.  The entire earth, all nations, the United State government, our cherished history – it all belongs to God. 
In 2nd Corinthians 5:16, the Apostle Paul describes our new perspective:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[a] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[b]we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Everything old has passed away.  This includes every government system in the world.  The eternal Kingdom of God will not be anything like the United States.  What we see now will all pass away when the world is made new, joined with Heaven made new, and we reside in the Holy City as sons and daughters of God.  Passionate patriotism is at odds with passionate discipleship because following Jesus demands exclusive loyalty, and the way of Jesus leads to eternal life.  Passionate patriotism demands reverence for country above all other things including faith in Christ.  The two things cannot go together. 
It doesn’t mean we hate our country.  I think Christians live for the good of the country.  In a few weeks, I will make that case that disciples of Jesus are the best citizens.  I won’t make that case today.  Today is about looking at history as God sees it.   In Christ, our destiny is assured.  We are bound for an eternity of abundant life.  As we live into that eternity, we are witnesses to the world as it is; dying in decay of sin, bound for destruction.
For that reason, as Christians in America, remembering the horrors 9-11 and trying to testify to the salvation we have in Jesus on September 11, 2016, we take our seat beside Jeremiah.  Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann points out the first thing we, which is a picture that is complicated.[i] 
Jeremiah hears the Lord say, “The whole land shall be a desolation” (4:27).  “The earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black” (v.28).  But wait, Jeremiah was talking about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC, not the destructions of the Twin Towers in September of 2001.  Of course that’s true.  Jeremiah could not see that there would be airplanes or a United States of America or skyscrapers.  He saw much more than that.
Jeremiah was endowed by the Spirit of God, enabled to see clearly things no one else saw.  He saw the hand of God in the events of history.  No, God did not work the Babylonian tyrant Nedbuchadrezzar as if he were a puppet on strings.  Nebuchadrezzar conquered Judah and destroyed Solomon’s temple because he was a murderous megalomaniac who wanted Babylon to be a feared world power.  His sins are all his own.  Neither did God guides the steps of Mohammed Atta and the other 9-11 highjackers.  They are responsible for their own hostility in taking over planes, crashing them into buildings, killing 1000’s, and setting off wars that have now lingered on for 15 years.  God did not perpetuate evil in 586 BC or in 2001 AD.  But Jeremiah saw God over the entire picture, around the entire scene, and all-powerful throughout the drama.
Think of it this way.  God allowed what happened to happen and allowed it to happen when it did.  Nebuchadrezzer’s Babylon defeated a Judah that had become corrupt, soaked in greed, and a Judah that had relegated God to a corner society’s consciousness as opposed to being at the center of national life.  Life in Judah was to revolve around the worship of God, but when the nation finally fell to Babylon in 586, they had been moving away from God for generations. 
The American pledge of allegiance claims we are “One nation under God,” but our constitution stipulates against favor for any one religion.  Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Voodoo – all are supposedly equal in America.  Our national religions is actually wealth.  The chief currency of our system is power: social power, financial power, or military power.   The highjackers attacked the temples where we worship: the World Trade Center and the military center, which we call the Pentagon.
We want to shout, “We’re not like them!  We’re not like the terrorists.”  I agree.  America is not the same as Al Qaeda or ISIS. But from Jeremiah sits, I don’t know if we are any better.  In America, absolute unyielding faith in Christ is fine just as just as any other faith is just fine.  Our system tempts and even coerces all Americans to pay homage to our worship of money and to submit to our love of power.
From where we are, we followers of Jesus, along with Jeremiah, have to listen and hear when God declares “A hot wind comes from out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse – a wind too strong for that.  Now I speak judgment against them” (4:11-12).  With judgment nations and individuals who worship money and power instead of the one true God will suffer. 
But, the picture is complicated.  Jerusalem fell, the temple burns, but that’s not all there is.  In the middle of telling us he sees complete destruction that God has allowed and is tied to sinful systems, Jeremiah also hears this.  “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I shall not make a whole end” (4:27).  What does that mean – not a whole end?  If God’s leaving the door open just a crack and if we look through that crack maybe we, sinful as we are, can see hope?  Bruggemann thinks so.  He holds Jeremiah 31 up as an antithesis of chapter 4.
There the Lord says if the heavens above can measured then I will reject Israel.  The heavens can’t be measured.  God will never reject Israel.  Two hundred years before Jeremiah, the Lord of the universe, cried His divine heart over the northern kingdom.  A prophet like Jeremiah who can see and hear things the rest of us can’t, Hosea, heard God plaintively cry, “How can I give you up, Ephraim?”  God was angry and sorry all once.  “How can I hand you over, O Israel?” 
As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, zealous disciples wave palm branches and sing Hosannas, but his tears fall as he says, “Oh Jerusalem, if you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” Luke 19:41-44. 
He died on the cross on behalf of those who did not recognize the visitation.  He died on the cross on behalf of the evil Nebuchadrezzar and on behalf of the corrupt temple leaders in Jerusalem.  His love is everywhere – for the killer and the victim.  He died for Mohammed Atta and the other terrorists.  He was crucified for the billionaires in the corner offices who made their fortune in corrupt business practices and lost their lives when plane smashed into the buildings.  Jesus died on the cross for the sins of nations and for the people who died on 9-11 and for the sins of the suvivors.  He died for my sins and yours.
The picture of God Jeremiah paints for us as he looks at 9-11 is complicated.  When we see God from Jeremiah’s point view, we immediately realize there is more than we can see, more than we can take in.  But, one image stands out.  God is not angry – not in the sense that 9-11 is God’s punishment.  God did not knock any buildings down.  Whether it is September 10th, 11th, or 12th, God is angry at our collective sin, our near universal disregard of Him.  But in America on 9-11, God is full of sorrow. 
We have grieved that day and that is the right thing to do.  God is a God of life.  When thousands die and evil shouts triumphantly, grief is a right reaction.  God joins us in our grief.  God offers us a shoulder to cry on.  God comforts in a way that only God can; in a way that transforms everything.   
Today’s evil, terror, and horror is an extension of what happened on 9-11.  Terrorism is not the only narrative of 2016, but it is one of the most powerful and awful pictures of the present.  The Syrian war that’s created a refugee crisis as bad any history has seen; Afganistan, Pakistan, and Iraq more bogged down in war and chaos now than 15 years ago; Al Qaeda and ISIS; mass shootings across the United States; sitting with Jeremiah, we that it is bad
He also sees something else, something behind it, something over it, something beyond it.  Jeremiah sees the face God – the God we know in the risen Lord Jesus.  However bad it becomes cannot overcome the life and the hope we have in Christ.  God is with us.  That’s the end – the final promise of Jeremiah.  Believing through the cross and the resurrection, we know that our against-all-odd insistence that God is with us and God is good means we are a voice of hope for today, and in the end, His Kingdom will reign supreme.  We are sure of this.  No matter how bad the world gets, Jesus Christ is Lord and his kingdom will reign. 

[i] Brueggemann, Walter (2006).  Like Fire in the Bones, Fortress Press (Minneapolis), p.44-45.

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