What makes you weep?
For some of us, the beauty of a moment, a needed embrace, or the love of a child can make us weep. For some of us, hard experience can make us weep. We know what it is like to fall flat on our face and have to pull ourselves up, aching by aching step. We are not sentimental creatures but hardened by life’s edges. When we weep, our tears fight their way down our resisting cheeks. We weep reluctantly, defiantly, and in protest.
Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.” And for good reason. He wept for what he saw unfolding before his eyes: the blazing indifference of his people… The persecutions he endured for proclaiming moral truth… The battles and warfare of his time… The hardship and exile of his city, his people, as well as himself.
Today we have a seemingly obscure passage from Jeremiah. In the liturgical season of Creation, on a Sunday when we bless our pets, our animal friends, foes, and our larger environment, the earth—we find that, more and more, we human beings struggle with our responsibilities and our human choices. We struggle with our place in creation and the Divine order. We struggle with how we are to relate to earth, to outer space, to the animal and plant kin-dom, and to the interdependent web of which we are a part. We struggle with each other. We struggle with ourselves.
In this, there is a connection to Jeremiah’s time and to this Old Testament “gloom and doom” prophet. The book of Jeremiah chronicles a period when Judah and Jerusalem had been overly optimistic about their future, having shaken free of the Assyrians. Set free from one invader, they refused to anticipate another. Yet this made them vulnerable to their military enemy: Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied through at least 5 different leaders. Later editors of his prophecies would try to bring hope and meaning to a scattered people who had, thru disastrous political choices and circumstance, been conquered by the Babylonians.
In the prophecy that we hear today, Jeremiah argues that his people are sliding backwards. He asks why they do not learn from their mistakes, why “if they go astray, do they not turn back?” In the New Revised Standard Version of our passage, Jeremiah declares that the people have “held fast to deceit” and refused to return. Peterson’s Message softens this, paraphrasing that the people “stubbornly hold on to their illusions” and “refuse to change direction.”
Maybe like me, you don’t think of yourself as dishonest, or holding onto lies and deceit. Yet, maybe you, like me, do stubbornly hold on to illusions. But what illusions? We human beings have a couple of illusions that are annoyingly persistent. For example, we think that time is always on our side and we, or our loved ones, won’t actually die—at least anytime soon, or before we (or they) are ready. We tend to operate under the illusion that the material things that we have and enjoy will always be there at our bidding. Americans tend to feel entitled to a particular kind of lifestyle and a particular way of being in the world. Another illusion is our belief that our consumption can save us from discomfort (food, shopping, new gadgets, etc) and that the free market will voluntarily self-correct. Another illusion is that all people desire the common good deep in their hearts. I have my favorite pet illusions and you, most likely, have yours.
We keep these illusions like personal pets, feeding them, sheltering them, caressing them in our worst moments and putting them on a short leash when get too far away from us. Only reluctantly do we pick up their waste and even when they bark at our heels or cry for attention we will let them crawl into bed with us, until–
Until that ONE illusion bursts or weakens or is pierced by a betrayal, a muddling, a medical appointment, failed leadership, or a colossal mess. Until we try to pick ourselves up and we…just…can’t…anymore. Until the litter box of our illusions is overflowing and the smell pungent. Until the scales fall from our eyes and we see reality in all of its depth and complexity. Until we are corrected or self-correct. Until we learn anew what it is to be fully human, fully vulnerable, or fully responsible. Until we change direction, repent, and consider others in the process.
Jeremiah weeps that no one says,“I am sorry.” He says that “all of them turn to their own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.” Even the stork, even the turtledove, swallow, and crane know their times—they know how to return home and the way to go—but humans struggle with knowing God’s law in their hearts; humans struggle with when it is time to return to God’s ways and moral truth.
Do we believe it is a moral truth to care for Creation? What happens when human beings increasingly view Nature or the Earth or Space or the Animal Kingdom as something to control, deplete, conquer, or dominate? What happens when Creation is objectified throughout our laws, our societal norms, and our personal interactions? What happens if reverence for life becomes a consuming greed for what we can extract from that life? Who will the prophets, like Jeremiah, be when the EPA or other regulating bodies become a ghost of their former self, and human arrogance is codified into law? What will happen when we have a Space Force at the expense of an Earth Force?
August 1, 2018 was Earth Overshoot Day. I discovered this quite by accident last week and about 30 years too late. It was not on my calendar, nor was it on my mind or agenda. Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year. It marks when we collectively use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate– through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb. For the rest of the year, we are operating in the red. Currently, we are using 1.7 earths.
Here, at the church, we are quite familiar with budgets. Our Trustees diligently labor over the church’s budget each year. In addition to the Trustees, we have both a Treasurer, an assistant Treasurer, a Council and all of you who review our financials regularly and who inform us –all of us—as to how we are doing. We try our very best to figure out when and why and how we exceed the budget and to make thoughtful plans to address any deficit that we anticipate. Why should we pay attention to our household financial budget and our church budget, but not our personal and global ecological budget? Why should our personal financial budgets be more transparent than our national ecological one? As a religious and moral community, these questions might give us pause while we consider Jeremiah’s words about the birds knowing better than humans when to return to their source and their life.
So, last week, I visited the Global Footprint website. I encourage you to do the same. I found a personal footprint calculator and figured out that my overshoot day was only slightly better than the Earth’s. August 25th was my personal overshoot date. To my dismay, I learned that I am using way more of this earth than I thought. I also learned that we are operating under a number of ecological illusions. One of the biggest illusions is that we operate as if we have spare earths like spare tires…that we believe that the earth is inexhaustible and sufficient for our consumption. We treat Mother Earth like we’ve tended to treat the minimum wage domestic worker: overworked, underpaid, expecting her to “rise up” and produce under the strain without benefits or holidays or even a passing care for her health, her longevity, and well-being. We can be relentless with our demands and our illusion that she will rebound or recoup any losses from her labor for our own benefit.
The writer, Saul Bellow, once wrote, “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” There are some in our country who have a deep need for illusion. Do we?
Let those who depend upon us be strengthened by our refusal to invest in ignorance. The great faith of Jeremiah was that the people could return to God in a way that would support and give hope to future generations. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jer. 29:11). And so Jeremiah proclaims, “Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”
Let us examine our illusions, challenge them, and let them go.
For the sake of our planet.
For the sake of these representative animals.
For the sake of God.
For the sake of us.
 To Jerusalem and Back.