Weekly Seeds: A Blistering Wind

Sunday, September 11, 2022
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
A Blistering Wind

Focus Prayer:
Spirit of the Living God, come with a fresh wind…like a cool, gentle breeze on a hot summer day. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28
11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— 12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.
22 “For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;
they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”
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.
27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
28 Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

All readings for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28 and Psalm 14
Exodus 32:7–14 and Psalm 51:1–10
1 Timothy 1:12–17
Luke 15:1–10

Focus Questions:
1. What do you enjoy about a windy day?
2. How do you understand the wind to be refreshing?
3. How do you understand the wind to be destructive?
4. Where do you see the Spirit moving? Is that movement cleansing or clearing?
5. How can we move with the wind for renewal?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Have you ever encountered wind that was too strong for you? There are the extremes of a tornado or hurricane that come to mind, when the wind overpowers anything and everything that comes in its path and leaves devastation in its wake. But, wind does not have to reach 100 miles per hour in order to make an impact. I’ve been in downtown Chicago when the wind moved so strongly that the Sears Tower (at the time the tallest building in the world) and John Hancock building (another skyscraper) could be observed swaying. During another trip to the “Windy City,” the wind moved so robustly that it moved me across a courtyard. My companions had to lock arms to have any control over our movements.

Sometimes, the wind is too much for us to handle on our own. I live outside a city that’s pretty windy on its own. It makes for pleasant summers, but brutal winters. As a result, my first thought of a blistering wind is that wind that cuts through every layer of clothing and penetrates the surface of your skin. That wind makes you feel like you’re in a combination of a wind turbine and a deep freezer. But, of course, that’s not the type of wind that Jeremiah is describing…it’s the opposite. The wind the prophet promises reminds me of a trip to Nevada in August when the cool temperature of the day was still over 100 degrees. I didn’t experience any wind that day, but I commented that I felt like I was on the surface of the sun. Well, add a strong wind to that equation, and we have an inferno. That’s the wind the prophet promised.

Jeremiah was known as the “crying prophet” for a reason. He lamented over the precarious condition of the people and the judgment their actions incurred.

The book itself is initially set in the period of Josiah, an era marked by a series of both religious and political reforms in ancient Israel that might have held a promise of hope for the tiny nation of Judah, surrounded by the dominant empires of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon, as they struggled to survive amidst the political turmoil that rocked the ancient Near East during and following Josiah’s reign. Yet from the outset of the book, readers know Judah’s fate: Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and the people will be exiled from the land. In short, the book is placed in one of the most troubling, and theologically and politically important, periods for the composition of the Hebrew Bible: the events leading up to the Babylonian exile, the beginning of the exile itself, and its aftermath.

Kelly J. Murphy

The reign of Josiah was brief but remarkable. From 2 Chronicles 34, we learn that during his tenure, the Book of the Law was rediscovered after a significant time of deviation from its precepts. When his secretary brings the book to him and Josiah reads the words, he tears his clothes, a sign of contrition and repentance, and directs the priest to consult the prophet Huldah.

22 So Hilkiah and those whom the king had sent went to the prophet Huldah, the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe (who lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter) and spoke to her to that effect. 23 She declared to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me: 24 ‘Thus says the Lord: I will indeed bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah. 25 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the works of their hands, my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 26 But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Regarding the words that you have heard, 27 because your heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 28 I will gather you to your ancestors and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.’” They took the message back to the king. (2 Chronicles 34:22-28)

Josiah enacts reforms according to the law, but he is killed in a seemingly random incident and the people return to their previous behavior. Thus, Huldah’s prophecy is fulfilled, and much of Jeremiah’s ministry is speaking truth to power in the aftermath. Readers of this text could speculate–what difference would it have made if Josiah had lived and reigned for generations? How would a new awareness and dedication to the scriptures have formed and re-formed the people called to covenant with the Holy One?

There are times in the history of a nation, when the response to those times can move the trajectory of the people. What would the United States look like had the Reconstruction era not been cut short, if indigenous people had not been driven from their land, if we had not entered the Vietnam War, or if we had committed to a unified response at the start of a global pandemic?

This Sunday marks the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. Like December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, people who lived through that day, the uncertainty and terror, remember it vividly. It made an imprint on society as a whole…for a time. But just as the recommitment to the Book of the Law under Josiah’s reign would dissipate, the shift experienced after 9/11 did not last long, even as there are some remnants of that era still in place (i.e. Department of Homeland Security, air travel regulations)

Jeremiah is an ideal text in uncertain times. War, terrorism, insurgency, weapons of mass destruction, occupation, and globalization are topics that currently dominate the news. When American planes, commandeered by Middle East terrorists, crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, Americans were dumbfounded. Everyone wanted to know, “How could this happen to us?” and “Where was God?” Pundits and prophets were invited before television audiences to answer. It was shock and horror reminiscent of the sort the inhabitants of Judah felt when a foe from the north succeeded in breaking through the walls and terraces of Jerusalem and laying waste the city’s precious national symbols. “Is the Lord not in Zion?” the traumatized fanatics of the day wanted to know. For a few months after September 11, 2001, the shock and grief shook American citizens out of their self-complacency. For a while there we were less interested in television celebrities and were more likely to engage strangers in conversation, show compassion toward the homeless and poor, and talk openly about God, faith, and our shared humanity.

Renita J. Weems

Two decades later, we find ourselves in the aftermath of another collective, pivotal event that substantially altered our way of life. While the pandemic has not ended, vaccines and new treatments have diminished the acuteness of our experience of it. We still have to take our shoes off to go through TSA, but we do not have to wear a mask to fly, at least not domestically in the United States. In the early days of the pandemic, there was a racial justice awakening with the killings of Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd stirring widespread protest and demands for accountability. Anti-racism resources surged in popularity, monuments and tributes to known racists were denounced and replaced, and, for a time, the simple statement “Black lives matter” entered the mainstream.

At the same time, however, the backlash against the way of liberation also surged. Mass shootings and gun violence generally, which briefly subsided in the early days of “lockdown”, rose again to pre-pandemic levels. Demonstrations for racial justice were met with counter protests supporting white supremacy implicitly and even explicitly. Legislators enacted laws to suppress knowledge and history, reduce restrictions on gun safety, and dismantle protections on bodily autonomy.

In Jeremiah’s time, the nation squandered their opportunity to be the people they were meant to be. The resulting judgment and ramifications of the blistering wind arose as consequence of their consistent and definitive choice to turn from God rather than toward God. Some view the horrible events of 9/11 and the devastation of COVID-19 as judgment. I view them as circumstances arising from a world preoccupied and yoked to violence and a planet that is groaning from misuse and lack of care. Still, we have a choice in how we respond to circumstances.

This passage does not end in hope. There is not a promise of redemption to resolve the tension inspired by the Holy One’s judgment. Yet, there is something redemptive and renewing about wind. Sure, it’s scorching hot and strong. It will make even the mountains and hills move under its force.

A blistering wind re-forms the landscape, like clay on a potter’s wheel, into something new.
A wind that strong can surely move God’s people. A wind that powerful will shake them from their complacency and awaken them to God’s displeasure and God’s will. A wind that fierce will steer them in a new direction. There’s hope in the wind.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“Judgment Belongs to God”
It is a very subtle temptation to decide that the negative deeds which flow from one’s life to others are not expressive of one’s real intent. There seems ever available some extra or extenuating circumstance that gives a ready alibi for such deeds. How easily the excuses come: “I have had a very bad day,” or “For some reason I got up on the wrong side of the bed,” or “I have met with so many personal reverses recently that . . .” or “I have always had a quick temper; it is just one of those things . . .” Always there is a ready supply of excuses for the negative deed. Very rarely is one willing to face the fact, even when it is true, that the negative deed was what was really intended. But when the picture shifts! The negative deed that comes from others to me is apt to be regarded by me as deliberate. It is very difficult for us to entertain any notion other than that it was intended. How often are we tempted to say or to think, “He pretends to be so courteous and gracious but this kind of thing shows his true colors,” or “I cannot understand how a self-respecting human being could do such a thing; but one never knows . . .” What we allow ourselves we only grudgingly admit for others. There are two suggestions, simple but far-reaching. One is, that it is well to be mindful that so much which is negative has moved from one’s self toward others that it is sound to practice charity toward others for the negative things that move from others toward one’s self. This means the relaxing of the will to ascribe to others motives that one denies when the same motives are ascribed to one’s self. The other suggestion is, that in the final analysis, judgment belongs to God. Every judgment that I pass upon my fellows is a self-judgment. Judgment can only be whole and creative when it takes place in a context of full and absolute knowledge. Full and absolute knowledge even of one’s self is never possible; how can it be with reference to others? Again, it becomes us to say with true humility, “Judgment belongs to God”; and one can only pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”
– Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

For further reflection:
“No one ever says it’ll be easy. All you can do is close your eyes and feel the wind sweep through your hair and savor the salty, sweet treats life tosses in your direction. Don’t become bitter, and never ever hold on too tight, because you’ll not only blister your hands, you’ll choke the precious love you hold within them.” — Alexia Purdy
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” — Edward Abbey
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” — William Arthur Ward

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.