Friday, November 10, 2006

TWO EVILS of Yesterday here Today – let Episcopalians take note: Jeremiah still speaks the word of the LORD.

No verse in The Old Testament is more applicable to the Episcopal Church (and its offshoots) in North America in 2006 than this:

“My people have committed two evils,” declares the LORD; “they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

This message to ancient Israel and to the modern Episcopal Church makes perfect sense as a stand alone statement. However, within the context of the message of the prophet given in Jeremiah 2 it takes on greater depth and power.

In moving terms, the prophet, speaking for the LORD, uses the powerful metaphor of marriage to speak of Israel’s relation to her God. The period from the Passover in Egypt to the receiving of the Covenant at Mt Sinai was like betrothal, espousals. There was constant love for the LORD from the people he was delivering. Yet after he had given his Covenant to them and they had received it—that is, after the formal marriage—Israel soon became an unfaithful wife committing adultery with the local gods, the Baalim of Canaan. That is the people of Israel either adopted the religion of Baal (a fertility god) or adapted the worship and service of YHWH to the ways and standards of Baal (syncretism). And all were involved—the prophets prophesied for Baal, the priests sacrificed to Baal, the people worshipped Baal. So Jeremiah cries out:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?

And he exclaims,

But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; Be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD.

With sorrow and in tears, what Jeremiah describes is total apostasy, unfaithfulness, adultery and abomination. For the Israelites have committed two evils—they have forsaken the LORD in the land he promised to them; and they have embraced the existing local deities of the land (which the LORD willed to be remove!).

This double evil is presented in dramatic imagery based on water, an absolute necessity for life. It is as if Israel, facing the choice of either taking water in abundance from a fountain of gushing sweet water or taking it from leaking cisterns in the ground, actually chose the latter.

The LORD God, who had embraced the tribes of Israel as his elect people by his holy Covenant given at Mt Sinai, is presented as “The Fountain of living waters.” This proclaims as a minimum, we may say, that God is the super-abundant source of life, that he is more than sufficient for all the needs of life and that he satisfies complete in life. And it proclaims this in terms of the God who is all-powerful in action and always present to provide what his people need.

In contrast, the idols of Canaan, which the people embraced are presented by the prophet in God’s Name as broken cisterns that can hold no water. We are invited to picture these holes in the ground wherein water (contaminated by soil, rock and refuse) lies dormant and is constantly leaking. The life of the people cannot be sustained by polluted water that is in short supply!

Thus we are not surprised when we read on into Jeremiah 3 and following that the prophet has a very clear message of the necessity of repentance for the people of Israel. They are to cease their apostasy; they are to reject their idolatry; they are to return to the LORD their God and to the covenant which he gracious gave to them. There is no alternative, no negotiated settlement, and no other way but that of a major U-turn according to God’s map. This means restoration of the covenant terms for their corporate life and for their future health and prosperity.

Jeremiah 2:13 today

If the people Israel rejected the LORD and his Revelation to them and his will for them; then how much more have the people, Episcopalians, rejected the LORD, the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity, and his greater Revelation given to them and his more perfect will made known to them. They too have committed two evils—apostasy and idolatry—and to this moment they are proud of their achievements and need to hear from Jeremiah.

Instead of the worship and service of the Father through the Incarnate Son and with the Holy Spirit, based on biblical foundations and the wisdom of classic Anglican Tradition, this people has turned to Deity in other manifestations. Some have turned to God the heavenly Clockmaker, who made the world, wound it up (as it were) and set it to run, whilst he “slept” eternally and allowed human beings to do what they thought best (Deism). Others have turned to the God in process and in evolution, who is not yet that which he will be, for he is developing in interaction with the cosmos and especially with our planet. Yet others have turned to the God of panentheism to look to a Deity who is eternally birthing the cosmos and our world and so is best addressed as Mother.

In any of these systems, or others like pantheism and Unitarianism, revelation from Deity is seen as occurring all the time and so while that recorded in the Bible may be or actually is important, because in some ways it is primary, it is also in many different ways superseded by what Deity reveals through modern experience and scientific achievement—which those with eyes to see can see.

So Episcopalians have turned away from the LIVING God, the FOUNTAIN of eternal and abundant life, and away from the “invisible” and “unseen” creation declared in the Creed, in order to embrace Deities who can deliver to them the multi-faceted message which they want as modern creatures to hear and believe: e.g., that this world not some other is what matters; that people just as they are of whatever orientation and type are precious to Deity; that all love in the world of whatever kind is an expression of the presence of Deity (for Love is God even as God is Love); that salvation is truly in this world and that talk of another world is a religious way of encouraging action in this; that what makes the Church unique is that it is a community of inclusion, where all without exception, and just as they are, are welcome; that Baptism is the means of entry into everything that God has and gives; and that Eucharist is the way of affirming one another in the community of inclusion through “the peace” and symbolic sharing of food.

The cisterns that Episcopalians have built are made from materials in abundant supply in western society and from its “progress” in anthropological insight, social science investigation, behavioral science conclusions, human rights ideology and achievements, cosmology and so on. Yet these materials are fashioned into icons and idols which are given religious and god-like names and titles. A major one of these—perhaps strange to relate for some—is “The Baptismal Covenant.” This is a major example of idolatry through syncretism where apparently traditional statements about the duty of the baptized are fused with duties based on progressive liberalism (“peace and justice” and “dignity” issues). And of course it is the latter which are then made prominent and worshipped (as the two sermons delivered by the Presiding at her “Installation” in Washington DC on November 4-5 and the sprinkling of the attendees with “baptismal water” most clearly reveal).

All Episcopalians, from the lady Presiding Bishop to the members of the Anglican Communion Network (whose Bishops are also apparently also deeply committed to the Baptismal Covenant as their submission to the Archbishop of Canterbury reveals) are into this apostasy and idolatry, but not all to the same degree. Some are totally into syncretism while others are into it partially (as was the case in ancient Israel, where even the righteous remnant was tainted with the religion of their fellow Israelites). Indeed to be inside or connected to the Episcopal Church is to be where you cannot avoid some measure of syncretism, and thus apostasy and idolatry! Pick up its Prayer Books and Hymnal and you hold it; attend its meetings and you feel it; consult its gurus and you are given it.

And, as was the case in ancient Canaan, the people of the land applaud you if you behave and act like the majority do, and if you make your religion to be but adding the word “God” to a current philosophy or ideology that is based on “enlightened Western values”!

So the word of the LORD comes to us all who are involved in syncretism and idolatry:

“My people have committed two evils,” declares the LORD; “they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

And with it also comes the follow-up message of the prophet in chapter 3 and following. “‘Return, faithless Israel’, declares the Lord.” Return to the Holy Trinity, to the Covenant of Grace (where the only conditions are God’s!), to the written word of the LORD, and to the hope of life eternal with the Lord Jesus Christ. November 10, 2006

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