How do we make sense of what’s going on in our lives, in the world? And where God is in the midst of it?  And what on earth is God’s desire in the face of it?  None of these questions are easily answered, and how they are answered has so much to do with our theology, how we think about God. And the trick is, our theology can mislead us … AND it can lead us further into what is true.  So this too is true about our theology:  it can be a big factor in shaping how we live out our lives-- our attitudes, our practices, our hopes, our fears.  I suspect some of our experiences of greatest growth come from those times when we’ve bumped up against a contradiction between our thinking and our living …and one or other and sometimes both undergo a shift, even a revolution of sorts. This is the fun --and sometimes the pain-- of being awake to ourselves in our life … allowing questions to arise, and new dawnings to land, and the unthinkable to hit us between the eyes.

Discerning what is true … what God is about … this is critical work while at the same time, fraught with the possibility of getting it wrong, for God is mystery, and yet not entirely unknowable … and so we wade in with courage in one hand and deep humility in the other.  I’m reminded of Sister Patricia Shreenan’s assertion:  a Christian is one who stands in constant readiness for a change of mind.

It’s the difficult role of a prophet to name where things are going off the rails where a society is going headlong into disaster, having lost its moral compass.  It’s the unenviable role of prophets to raise their voice about what they see that’s gone so wrong, and to speak a word from God, a word of life.   Unenviable because it’s a word that’s met with disdain … even violence.

Jeremiah was one of Israel’s prophets called by God to speak the truth at such a time in Israel’s life.  It was also at this time that the Babylonian empire was on the rise invading and expanding its borders.  And it was during this time the armies of Babylon invaded Jerusalem, raided and destroyed the temple, taking many of Israel’s elite prisoner  where they were in exile a long time. How did he make sense of what was happening and where was God?  Jeremiah was a lone voice as he imagined that God was at work in and through Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and that it would be a long time before they would see an end to this time of exile. No wonder people were out to kill him.  

But Jerimiah wasn’t the only prophet in Israel at that time.  Among the prophets there was also Hananiah, who had another take on what was happening.  According to his theology, where God will always protect and provide, it was unthinkable that God would allow prolonged exile, let alone any further destruction …  which takes us to our scripture passage for today.  (Jeremiah 28: 1-9)

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfil the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.’

“Would to God Hananiah was right”, we hear Jeremiah say …would to God that this would be short lived, that the treasures would be brought back, the exiles returned home --that things would be restored – back to normal, to how they were, and soon.  But time would and did reveal that actually Jeremiah was right – he with his unthinkable perspective.  The time of exile was prolonged … and there was something about the total collapse, the breaking of Israel’s establishment that would occur before a new way would emerge.

It’s not just that pitch of “back to normal” and “soon” that caught me this week, but the notion that God could be at work in and through something so devastating … like the Covid pandemic.  I’m not suggesting God is the cause, but is present  even purposefully in it with us, in a way as to be provoking a turn, an awakening, so that this could be an opportunity for the re-making of our lives, and the life of our world.  Not urging us back to where we were before the virus took hold, but through this dark time to a way and a place beyond it  that we have yet to taste and see.

In an article in the Financial Times back in April, Arundhati Roy recalled,

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us.  Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.[1]

It was this image of the portal that one of the speakers picked up on this past week in a nationwide on-line rally for a Just Recovery.  It’s in these very weeks that our federal and provincial governments are shaping a plan for how we move forward post pandemic.  This is such a critical time. Well over a thousand people showed up for this rally and listened to these bold bids for a new way forward, a just way forward.  It was Syed Hussan, an activist with the migrant workers network, who urged us to notice what we are seeing while we are in this portal of the pandemic, this gateway between one world and the next, for so much has been revealed in this time … and these are the things that we mustn’t forget, that must be addressed in the shaping of the future. 

“Remember,” he said to us, “the grief, the longing you feel to be in touch with loved ones, to be with those you love and who love you back, but you couldn’t. Can you feel for a moment what decades feels like, for migrant mothers, domestic workers, women separated from their children. What refugees feel, separated from their homelands.

Remember the feeling of panic, of weariness, uncertainty, boredom perhaps when you were unable to leave home.  Can you remember each time you think about the lockdown, can you remember that over half the people in prison are still awaiting trials, are technically innocent.

Remember the clarity this moment has provided about what sustains you – us – the farmworker, the health workers, the drivers, the cleaners, the grocery store workers.  Can you hold onto this clarity as we step through the portal he asks, that that which sustains life is not those who choose profit but those who ensure care.

Can you see from this portal the farm workers dying in fields, greenhouses and factories, who knew their working and living conditions would kill them but they couldn’t speak up for fear of deportation because they didn’t have status.  …

Can you see that what broke us free from this potential terror of death in a pandemic, in the 100,000’s, what brought us to the streets was anti-black racism.  …

As we step through this portal into this new world, let it not be a return to normal, for normal for many was the slow death already happening before this fast death.

Normal is deportation 10,000 a year.

Normal is endless imprisonments …

Normal is ½ of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16

Normal is over a 1000 missing and murdered indigenous women

Normal is displacement, refugees, isolation, death.”[2]

Normal is deforestation

Normal is a dangerously warming planet

Normal is mine tailings poisoning the groundwater

Normal is broken treaties, colonized land.

How did we ever come to think of this as normal … as a given, as just how it is? In so many ways, ”nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”

But along with the underbelly, and the carnage of white supremacy that has been revealed to us through this pandemic, we have also been given to see our relatedness, our connectedness with all life, our fundamental inseparability … that how we are in the world with each other - with all life it - truly matters in ways of life and death.

And we have been given to see that the money can be found and directed and the will can be mustered, and policies can be enacted in ways that sustain life.  And we have been given to see our capacity to very swiftly set these changes in motion.  The cat is out of the bag!  We’ve seen what’s possible.

As Audre Lorde reminds us, “we have to tell ourselves and each other the truth if we are going to survive.  This allows us to participate in an un-training and a redirection.”

Tomorrow morning’s book launch is part of that. Writing letters to our MP’s, our MLA, our local governments is part of that. Raising our voices in support of the positive moves that are being made is part of that … as much as decrying the harmful, the blatant injustices.

There is such momentum at this very time for change. But we would be naïve to think it’s a done deal. And we would be naïve to imagine this won’t be a costly endeavor. And so as we move through this portal remembering what we have been given to see, may we find ourselves looking to Jesus who shows us, accompanies us, strengthens us in the way of self-giving love.

The last verse of the hymn we’re about to sing … what if we were to keep it close at hand … on our lips, in our hearts …

Dear Jesus, (writes John Bell),

Dear Jesus  make us willing to unmask convenient lies,
to protest wherever power closes conscience, ears and eyes;
release our expectations for your kingdom yet to be
born in courage, joy and justice
and the truth that sets us free.[3]

[1] Arundhati Roy, “The pandemic is a portal,” Financial Times, April 3, 2020 
[2] Syed Hussan, featured in the E-Rally for a Just Recovery, produced by, with leadnow, Siera Club BC, Climate Action Network Canada, June 23, 2020 
[3] John Bell, The Truth That Sets Us Free, Wild Goose Publication