A New Way of
Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Sue in Cuba, KS
To really appreciate trees it helps to have lived in Kansas or
New Mexico where trees are precious, planted and watered by people who want
them. I grew up in a desert community. From my parent's house I would take my
collie, Bonnie on walks to Bear Canyon in the Sandia Mountains. There was
buffalo grass, cholla cactus, tumble weeds, but mostly rocks and sand on our way
to Bear Canyon. Bonnie would run and bark at rabbits, lizards and birds, running
in great circles around me. Sometimes she would get stickers in her feet, so
she'd stop and wait for me to pull them out. Years ago ranchers walled off the
opening to Bear Canyon to capture the water that come down the canyon. A pipe
sticks out from the concrete to direct the water into a trough for cattle or
horses. I would pull myself up on the ledge and continue up the steep, rocky
floor of the canyon. At one point I would come around a huge granite
out-cropping to find a willow tree in the midst of the canyon. This is the only
willow tree in all the small canyons on the west face of the Sandias.
There are willows along the Rio Grande Valley but only this
one willow in the mountains. This tree thrives because of the underground stream
of water that comes down the canyon. Jeremiah lived in a desert land, Jeremiah
knew how precious water was, Jeremiah understood that living water is necessary
to sustain life itself. Living water, running free, moving, clean and clear, the
dream of desert dwellers. Few people remember that Albuquerque is really a
desert town, fewer care as long as the underground water can be pumped up to
supply swimming pools and to water lawns. I am old enough to remember the
drought of the mid 50's in Albuquerque. I remember water rationing, lawns
allowed to die because people needed water to drink, to cook with and to grow
Drought, the word brings pictures of Kansas in the 30's to
mind. Kansans will tell you stories about so much dirt in the air that the sun
was blacked out. Older people in Rice County, Kansas were furious with a young
fella in his thirties who cut down a shelter belt of trees on his land next to
the highway to Lyons, "Who does he think he is?" they asked one another,
"Doesn't he know how important those trees are to hold the soil?" No, he doesn't
know or care, don't brother him with old timey stories about the dust bowl days.
The land is his and he will do what he damn well pleases.
Jeremiah lived in a tough time, he born during the last days
of Judah. Assyria was the dominate power when Jeremiah was a child, he lived to
see Babylon rise, conquer his home land and take most of the ruling class, the
artisans and craftsmen off to Babylon, leaving the poor of the land behind.
Jeremiah's anger and anguish grow from his experiences as a victim. We see
Jeremiah's anger at those who trust in mere humans in his curse directed at the
Kings who trust in alliance with other nations when all who care to see, know
that Babylon is too great a power to stop or overcome. Jeremiah cannot bring
himself to believe that God would allow God's people to suffer destruction at
the hands of infidels. So he is stuck like victims in abusive families or rape
victims believing they are responsible for what happened to them. Jeremiah
places blame on his people for the tragic events of their day.
Jeremiah would like to believe in a simple proposition that
God's people won't face hardship and trouble, blessed are those who trust in the
Lord, they shall be like a tree planted by the water. Jeremiah paints this
wonderful picture of a tree that remains green, growing and bearing fruit even
in times of drought. I would tell him, Jerry, faith doesn't protect us from
problems. Faith allows us to reframe the problems as opportunities. Those who
trust in the Lord, men and women who are rooted and grounded in faith do have
greater rates of survival in tough times. They still go through tough times.
Problems worthy of attack prove their worth by hitting back.
Corrie Ten Boom and her circle of family and friends were
truly Christian who cared for and hid the Jews in their midst from the Nazi
blood lust. Corrie's 80 year father died in the first weeks of imprisonment,
Bettie died in Ravensbruk Concentration Camp, Corrie lived. Corrie lived to
carry the message of God's forgiveness and the need for people to forgive each
other and the German people for the terror of war and the slaughter of millions.
Jerry, we aren't going to live on a well watered plain above human concerns. We
live in the midst of human concerns. God will provide us with the resources to
Six hundred years after Jeremiah, another man came to teach,
preach, heal, share life with ordinary people, Jesus of Nazareth. Tradition says
that Luke, a Greek physician went to Israel to find eyewitnesses to Jesusí life
and teaching. Luke stresses the social justice aspect of Jesusí ethical teaching
more strongly than did Matthew. Here these words of Blessing and Woe from our
brother Luke. Luke 6:17-26 Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceitful above
all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to
what his deeds deserve."
We all have screens through which we filter the information
that comes into us. This makes sense, consider the vast amount of information
that comes to each of us. How do we make sense of the chaos that surrounds us
unless we cut the information down to a manageable size. We learn from our
families, friends and social institutions what to see, to hear and to believe.
In the late 1960ís my friend Jotindra came to the United
States from his native India to study Engineering. Jo came from a wealthy, high
caste family. In conversation someone asked Jo about poverty and famine in
India. Jo scoffed at the suggestion that people might starve to death in India.
On the contrary, India was doing fine, the press exaggerated the problems or
worse the foreign press purposely blackened India's good name. After Jo finished
his Bachelors Degree, he went home for a visit. Jo had changed, Jo had lived in
a different culture, Jo absorbed a new way of seeing the world around him. When
he arrived home he was shocked by what he saw. Jo realized that he had been
taught from earliest childhood not to see the reality of poverty and hunger in
his country. The major religious traditions of India support this not seeing
because the religions consciously teach people that this world is not reality
and to seek a higher reality free from human passion and desires.
This is a human way of dealing with the tragedy of poverty. On
his return to Albuquerque and his host family, Jo apologized for his arrogance
and his ignorance. Jo explained how he now saw India differently than he had
before. What he saw overwhelmed him. What he saw and the changes in his way of
thinking brought him back to the United States permanently.
Both the Jewish and Christian faith have a strong tradition of
calling people to see the world as it is and then to act to make it better. When
we read the prophets we can hear the echo of their anger down the centuries at
the common practice of their people to cheat their brothers and sisters of a
living, to deny the widows and the orphans proper care, to put empty pleasure
before attending to the needs of others. The current American way of dealing
with people caught in poverty is to blame them. While folks with resources
withdraw into sheltered, protected enclaves from which to judge others. "Why
can't they be like we are, perfect in every way, what's the matter with the