Jeremiah 17:5-8 (CEB)
The Lord proclaims: Cursed are those who trust in mere humans, who depend on human strength and turn their hearts from the Lord. They will be like a desert shrub that doesn’t know when relief comes. They will live in the parched places of the wilderness, in a barren land where no one survives. Happy are those who trust in the Lord, who rely on the Lord. They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. They won’t fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green. They won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit.
Jeremiah stands in the ruins of the holy city – Jerusalem, now conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians. He could have said, “I told you so.” Instead, he preaches a different kind of message to the people who are about to go into exile. He says this is how it is now for you and me (again I admire him very much for not saying, “I told you so.”) The question is: how will we respond? Will we trust in mere humans whose hearts turn away from God? Or will we trust not in mere humans but in God? Will we be like a shrub in the desert - too anxious about ourselves to even know when relief comes? Or will we be like trees planted by water, unafraid when heat or drought comes?
We stand in the ruins of our ordered lives – lives where parties, parades, football games, and Sunday morning worship were not only common but expected. The pandemic of 2020 has exiled us from everything we took for granted in our society. We also stand in scenes of violence, rioting, looting, and destruction that tears at the fabric of our lives and our country. And if that weren’t enough, we stand in political rhetoric that has reached new lows. No longer are the issues or solutions important – now it is the character of the person running for office that matters. Is he or she a “good person – one who cares about you?” And we have another two months to live through before all the rhetoric goes away – although I wonder if the damage done will go away. Many of our news commentators and politicians – all of whom seem to see themselves as modern-day prophets – who rail against structures and systems in our country. Capitalism is evil – Socialism is evil. America is inherently racist – America is intrinsically good. Systematic racism exists – systematic racism is a myth. And on it goes. Our quandary is that come November 3, we must choose for whom we will cast our votes. I believe Jeremiah gives us a way to live through the coming days of ramped up political ads and campaign speeches.
Jeremiah calls us to see the problem in more personal terms. Jeremiah says that the path to wholeness and restoration won’t come from a new political leader or a new form of government. It must begin inside each person – deep down in our hearts. My father was a carpenter, a cabinet maker, and a farmer. As a child, I was fascinated by his carpenter’s plumb line. In case you don’t know, a plumb line is a piece of nonmagnetic metal attached to a string. When hung up, walls and doors and windows are straight and true. I also learned that you must hang the plumb line and then leave it alone – not easy for a small child – and yet therein lies the magic. If left alone – if I trusted the power of gravity – that plumb line would never fail to show the true vertical line. My child’s eyes perceived that it was so simple and yet so powerful. As we move forward in this new way of social distancing, of images of violence, of political unrest, and an election looming on the horizon, we could use a plumb line of our own.
I imagine God’s plumb line as being pure love that stretches from God to the human heart. If we trust in it - not trying to pull it this way or that to suit our mere mortal purposes - it will never fail. Jeremiah asks us which path will we follow? Will we live as if life is a dessert and, therefore, a desperate struggle? Or will we trust in God’s plumb line of perfect love? Jeremiah finally had a vision of a time when God would give us a new covenant not written on stone but on our hearts. Jesus recalled Jeremiah’s vision as he held the cup in his hands at the Last supper and said it was a sign of the new covenant. Even when we feel like we are in exile – outside of what feels right and familiar – we can take the bread and drink from a cup and remember God’s love in Christ. So simple and yet so powerful.