Be Careful What You Preach
The prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, and broke it, saying, “Thus says the Lord: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.” Sometime later, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, “Go, tell Hananiah: You have broken wooden bars only to forge iron bars in place of them! You have made the people trust in a lie.” – Jeremiah 28:10-13 (abridged)
It’s easy to preach good news: Just declare it with confidence, and ignore all complications to the contrary.
“We live in a color-blind world! The Covid pandemic is over! God will bless us with prosperity! God will prevent nuclear war! A lawn sign for justice will change the world! A mani-pedi will revive your weary spirit! The next election will right all wrongs! Politeness will convert evil!” Or my personal favorite, “God believes in us too much for us to fail!”
Hananiah promised good news to a people who were desperate for it: residents of the small kingdom of Judah, who were overwhelmed by the growing threat of the Babylonian Empire. In those anxious days when Judah’s freedom seemed certain to collapse, no sermon was as sweet as Hananiah’s sermon promising the fall of Nebuchadnezzar: “Don’t worry, folks, God’s rescue is just around the corner! See look—I can break this silly wooden yoke that Jeremiah’s been carrying around, so you know I’m telling the truth!”
It’s easy to preach good news.
It’s harder to wait with people until that good news is realized. It’s harder to struggle alongside people when good news is a long time coming, to grieve their losses and pains through the in-between time, to live each day without easy answers.
It’s easier to break a wooden yoke, paint a positive slogan on a wall, promise the good news everyone wants to hear, and be self-satisfied with the impact of grand gestures. It’s harder to labor for good news, to sweat over its advent, to remain ever-ready to leap in faith as soon as good news arrives.
Promising good news is easy.
Practicing good news is the harder work to which we are called.
So often I settle for any good news that will soothe my spirit, if only so I can sleep at night. Disrupt me, O God, and burden me with the good news worth working for.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.