On the TV show “Friends,” there’s a scene where Chandler, Monica and Phoebe are talking in the coffee shop, the place where these friends always seem to hang out. Phoebe, the ditz, has just come in and starts a conversation with Monica, who is married to Chandler, about how she met a man who is Monica’s soul mate. She’s a chef, he cooks, etc., etc.
Chandler is pretty much flabbergasted that a conversation about his wife’s soul mate doesn’t include him and is going on right in front of him. “Hey,” he says. “I’m right here.”
That scene comes to my mind when I read this passage from Jeremiah. “Aren’t I right here?” God essentially asks. “Don’t I hear what these other prophets are saying and see what the people are doing?” Of course, the answer is that God is indeed a God nearby. The Judeans cause the problems by acting like he’s a God far off.
They haven’t neglected doing their worship and sacrifices by the book. They haven’t even neglected the use of prophets to supposedly guide them in following God. But they’ve added worship of just about every other god in the region to their religion, and they have prophets who only tell them what they want to hear. And they’ve done all these things even though the very presence of the Lord dwells in the Holy of Holies in the very center of the temple in their own capital city.
We could say Jeremiah tells us we need to watch what we do because God always watches what we do. Unlike parents, who are sometimes elsewhere and thus completely unable to sense our mischief, God always sees us and knows what we’re doing. We have to behave all the time, as we would if our parents were there all the time. Christians might modify it slightly, but we have the same idea: Jesus is coming. Look busy.
But I think God’s complaint, voiced through Jeremiah, goes much deeper and requires a deeper response.
We remember God didn’t make a covenant with the Israelites after he gave them the Law through Moses. God didn’t tell them he would be their God if they obeyed his rules. He made the covenant with Abraham, long before Moses was born. He promised to be their God, and said they were his people.
He gave them the Law so they could act differently than people around them. In short, God’s chosen people ought to act like it. They shouldn’t act like everyone else does. That’s why the Law contains so many provisions about helping people in need, forgiveness of debts and other cautions against injustice. The Law helped God’s people stand out from the crowd.
If they didn’t follow the Law – and the prophets always pointed out that failure – then they offered no evidence they were anything different than all the people around them. And they offered no evidence their God was any different than any other gods people might choose to worship.
Paul later suggests Christians should follow part of this idea, and be in the world while not being of the world. Christians of all people should understand that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world and we should live our lives accordingly.
Jesus tells us if we live that way, we may find ourselves set against our family and our friends who don’t.
Our lifestyles will conflict, because we believe we live in a world being saturated by Christ and by the Holy Spirit, and they believe something different. We may “look out for number one,” just as they do, but we don’t refer to ourselves when we say it. We’ve made God number one, and we order our lives to him.
If I live as though the Kingdom of God is a present reality – and believe me, way too often I don’t – I understand that what I do depends on that, rather than on whatever happens to guide the world around me. I will help other people, I will work to spread the gospel, and I will do many other things as Jesus taught, and I will do them because I believe the Kingdom he proclaimed and embodied is coming and is in some ways already a part of the world I live in today.
Sometimes people who don’t believe in God suggest there’s no evidence to support what they call “the God hypothesis.” Now, part of that’s on them, a failure to open themselves to what they can know about God by looking at the world.
But some of it’s on us – making us aware we need to realize our role in providing that evidence that God is indeed at work in our world, and that the kingdom is at hand.