In our Old Testament scripture today, the prophet Jeremiah has written a letter to the elders of Jerusalem who are trying to figure out what they are supposed to do in Babylon, where they have been exiled. Jeremiah has had a two-decade long letter writing campaign to the people of Jerusalem to give them a bird’s eye view of their plight in the world, to no avail. You might say that the centuries old “Self-Management” plan that they had in place finally failed and they were dragged off to Babylon by the foreign King. The elders and leaders, and of course the people, are seeking how to get back into the driver’s seat of their future. Now that the people have been exiled, living in a foreign land where it is more obvious that they are not in control, they are asking how to get it back. This letter from Jeremiah basically tells them, it’s not your car and it never was. Enjoy the use of the car that is your life. Fill it with gas and air in the tires, and be glad for transportation, but you were under the illusion that you were ever in the driver’s seat of your own car and you were not. In true Jeremiah fashion, he is telling them to see the reality of their lives as receivers and not the owners/givers of life.
There are many ways this story informs our own experience of power and management of our lives. Because Paul, Dave and Josh have all been watching the show, Succession, I started watching it this week. It is about a Self-Made man named Logan Roy, who started out a poor boy from Scotland, but now is the magnate of the fifth largest media corporation in the world. He has four grown children from different wives who, of course, are each neurotic in their own way. The viewer’s job, it seems, is to see which of these four children would be the best candidate to run this multi-billion-dollar corporation. None of them seem up to the task—but all of them believe they are the best candidate. As I watch this show, it makes me feel like maybe this is what Christ feels like as he watches us try everything in our power to escape any whiff of lostness, leastness, littleness or humanness in order to appear that we are in total control of our lives. As Robert Capon reminds us, “We spend our lives trying to convince ourselves that we’re nice people. We think we’re the victims of our failures, not the perpetrators of them.” Of course, it feels easier to watch other people like the Roy Family squirm and twist to please their father by never appearing weak or human and see that their own behavior is their undoing. The self-management program to success has been our basic human operating system since Adam and Eve thought of it in the Garden. But it is excruciating to watch no one be willing to throw in the towel and receive anything outside of themselves.
In one of the People magazines that arrives at my house each week, even though I didn’t order it, I ran across an article by Jeannie Gaffigan entitled, I’d Like to Thank My Brain Tumor. What she describes is a period of time after the removal of a tumor when she developed pneumonia and knew something had gone terribly wrong. “I had no idea I was in the ICU. I was just angry. I wanted to be better. I knew I had my brain back and was ready to go out and use that new tumor free grey matter…but my body had different plans. I was so weak I couldn’t move… At home there were things to do. I had to make sure Marre was off her phone and Michael didn’t put Legos in the Star Wars bin and mess up the system. My mind was spinning. As I lay there practically paralyzed, I had come face-to-face with my demons. I was addicted to control and I was in withdrawal.” So what was Jeannie grateful for? “The brain tumor. If it had not been for this thing that almost killed me, I would not be able to appreciate every breath I take and every drop of water I swallow….And I’m grateful that I understand why God gave me the most generous, loving, fantastic and funniest husband in the world.”. Jeannie’s addiction is our addiction—we want to be in control of our lives and our destinies. Jesus, however, is found in that small, dark place of surrender, where we see our white flag being hoisted.
The word of Jeremiah to the people in exile is a word for us. The people’s plan of self-management without God is over. There has been an intervention on their addiction for control of their own lives. They are basically in treatment in Babylon, forced to receive the gifts of God in a land where they have no power and no control. You can call that land Divorce or Loneliness or Flunking Out or a Health Crisis, whatever wakes you up to the true nature of the world as God’s Kingdom where there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ.
These are called deaths. Little deaths. We have such a fear of losing or being a failure that we spend our lives tap dancing to the approval of others, hoping against hope that we will not be found out for the tap dancers we are. We seek to subvert God’s management of our lives and the world, but the world has always had death at the center of the engine of life. We cannot run from the fact that death is what we are afraid of—either in the center of our success or in the physical sense. But that is the only place that Jesus Christ is found.
Jeremiah prophesies to a truth that is present in the world from the beginning, that the rescue has taken place already. No tap dancing to any tune of success will get us any closer to being accepted and forgiven than we already are. When he writes that the people are to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” he is reiterating the promises of God to be with us no matter where we are or what we are doing. All we need to do is trust Him.
When you are left wondering what God’s will is for you and your life, Jeremiah sends you a letter. God’s will for us is to trust Him alone who rescued us from ourselves by rescuing us from death and the fear it produces in us by giving us life. Our own Succession plan has failed in a death of approval leaving us with nothing, but nothing is where God creates a new life, new faith, new freedom. “By myself I am nothing, the Father does the work.”
Jesus raises the dead where you are under new management.