The passage this morning from the prophet Jeremiah opens with these momentous words: “It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew.” I hear Jeremiah saying, “God has been trying to explain this to me. I see it now; I finally get it.” Yet, the rest of the passage doesn’t explain what it is that he gets. What is the great insight? We need to go back to the beginning of this chapter from Jeremiah to know what it is that he now understands. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may perform the oath that I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey.” The Lord is saying, “Listen to my voice – I am giving you all that you need to live in a land flowing with milk and honey.” The passage goes on to talk about how the people are not inclining their ear to God; they are refusing to heed God’s words; they are pursuing other gods to serve them. They are living lives of anxiety, fear, disorder, injustice. What is happening to the people who are not heeding God’s words? They are missing out; they are missing-out-on the deep peace that heals and nurtures and inspires. Jeremiah says, “It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew.” He finally gets it; God leads us into all-sustaining peace.
God says, “Listen.” What are we hearing this morning? We hear Jesus telling us, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” In antiquity, children held no value; they carried no status. Jesus is telling us that all people, including the marginalized, belong to God, and, so, all are valued. Underlying this message of inclusion is an insight: what we deem as status is distracting and interferes with the point of life. What is the point? Relationship.
We seem to have a natural thirst for status. What type of status we seek, or how we go about seeking it varies. Yet, the thirst for status seems ingrained in our cultural context. Let’s take two examples. One type of status we seek is power and prestige. Just this week we have a good example of how the thirst for power distracts us from relationship and can cross a line into harm to others. This week we learned that one of our social media giants did internal research into the impact of their app on teenagers. Through their research, they learned that their app is toxic for teenage girls. Influencers who post on the app captivate teenage girls with their seemingly perfect lives: their homes, their travels, how they dress, how they look. The company’s internal research concludes, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” However, rather than addressing this troubling issue, the company has chosen to downplay the negative effect of the app on teens. The thirst for power and prestige crosses a line…the leadership chooses profit over well-being for others. In our own lives, the issues around our thirst for status may not be as dramatic. Yet, it is worth our time to reflect on who loses out as we push ahead.
Another example of status is control over our lives; the sense of self-worth that comes from getting to do what I want to do. Opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine based on autonomy and freedom of choice is a good example of the harm that comes from the thirst for this status. In the state of Ohio, and around the country, children are required to get the following vaccines before starting Kindergarten: four doses of DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis), three doses of Polio, two doses of MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella), three doses of Hepatitis B, and two doses of Chickenpox. Why? Because these diseases are infectious. Thank goodness, God has given us the ability to think and reason and do research and develop vaccines. We stop the spread by getting the vaccine. Sure, we get vaccinations for our own health and well-being. More importantly, we vaccinate to protect the health of others. Vaccinations are all about how we live together in a society, how we care for others in community.
When God says, “Listen to my voice,” God is not scolding, or making a power play. God is desiring for us to live with the deep sustaining peace that comes from understanding that life is all about relationship. Life is not about status. Life is not about accumulation of wealth. Certainly, we should celebrate worthwhile accomplishments. Yet, ultimately, life is not about accomplishments. Life is all about relationship. I want to go back to John’s sermon from two weeks ago because he said it so well. In the conclusion to his sermon, John said, “Jesus leads us on a journey of ever-expanding concern and compassion until – finally – we exclude no one – in thought, word, or deed. We cast no one out of our heart because no one is outside of the limits of God’s love, and this love is in us, and flows through us and out from us like light through a lamp connected to its source. This is the way of love. It is the best adventure we can take; it leads to a fullness of being that is available nowhere else.”
The way of love leads us to a fullness of being that is available nowhere else. We order our lives around accomplishments and acquisitions and yet, these fundamentals of our societal context are not the point of life. The point is relationship and Jesus shows us the way. We care for the hurting and the marginalized, we celebrate the joys, we listen to one another with a true desire to hear various concerns and perspectives, we speak to each other with respect and kindness; we enrich each other’s lives. In opening our hearts to relationship, we experience God’s peace; the peace comforting and sustaining us through all of life’s challenges; the peace inspiring our priorities, our words, and actions; the peace illuminating life’s joys. God’s peace is the land of milk and honey. Jeremiah got it. We can, too. Amen.