Jeremiah had been telling the people: “Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, or famine, or by disease. But whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live; yes, their lives will be spared. But the officials said to the king: “This man must be put to death! By saying such things, he’s discouraging the few remaining troops left in the city, as well as all the people. This man doesn’t seek their welfare but their ruin!” So they seized Jeremiah and threw him into a muddy cistern within the prison quarters. -From Jeremiah 38
When I read about Jeremiah’s troubles, I couldn’t help but think about the state of our community and our nation during this ever-worsening pandemic. And for a couple of weeks now I’ve been mulling over what “a prophetic witness” might look like during such troubling times.
The first thing I came to realized is that none of us can predict the future, nor should we try. Like all of the prophets we encounter in the Bible, we’re not fortunetellers. Biblical prophecy is never about predicting the future, it’s always about improving the present.
So, bearing this in mind, how are we called to be living examples in this moment? How are we being challenged to love our neighbor in the midst of Covid-19? Well, we can do this by wearing a mask in public, by limiting our contact with large groups, and by continuing to worship and meet online. We can BE the Church by putting public safety before our own desire for things to “get back to the way they were.”
Now, I understand that holding the line on these issues isn’t easy nor is it popular. It seems like everyone else is going back to normal. Other people don’t wear masks, other people are gathering in large groups, eating out, enjoying life. Other farmer’s markets have resumed and other garage sales are going on. Other churches have resumed their in-person services. Why can’t we?
Well, this is where Jeremiah can help us out a bit. In the passage I shared above, Jeremiah was actually thrown into a cistern, into the mud at the bottom of a pit, because he stood up for public safety. Jeremiah stood up for what was right even though it wasn’t mainstream or popular. You see, he knew that his community was about to be overrun by the Babylonians. And he knew that to stay in the city and fight would mean certain death. So, he advocated for surrender, for exile. He encouraged his people to choose life over death even at the expense of their personal freedom.
Now, we’re in a similar situation. We’re being asked to give up a little bit of our freedom as this pandemic threatens to overrun us. We’re being challenged to keep our church building and our Farmers Market and our Second Chance Sale closed even though it’s not mainstream, even though it’s not popular. But like Jeremiah, we must hold the line by putting the welfare of the general public before our individual desires. Like Jeremiah, we are being asked to choose life over death.
So, how do we do this? How can we continue to be the church even as the building remains closed, with the farmer’s market cancelled, and as the garage continues to be shuttered. How can we endure this loss of freedom?
Well, I think it’s important to remember that freedom doesn’t mean we have the right to do whatever we want. Freedom is instead a responsibility. It’s a responsibility, in this case, to love our neighbor by demonstrating and advocating for the health and safety of the majority over the desires of individuals. Freedom means accepting our time in the mud for the greater good of all of God’s beloved people.
My friends. Be safe. Be well. Be a prophetic witness!
Many Blessings, Pastor Phil