SCRIPTURE LESSON: Jeremiah 8: 18-9:1

In today’s passage, Jeremiah speaks not only to his own feelings but to God’s deep grief.

This is a side of God that you and I don’t often enough see or consider. God’s beloved people have done what God has asked them not to do. They have been dancing a little too closely and a little too often with other nations’ gods and other nations’ leaders.

“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick,” our lesson begins. Jeremiah may be the one doing the talking, but he is not speaking for himself alone. God’s tears are welling up inside Jeremiah and spilling out. God’s genuine sadness overwhelms the prophet.

For those of us who grew up believing that God’s principal emotion is anger and that God’s primary orientation is judgment, it is a shock and maybe even a scandal to contemplate a God whose love for us is so profound that God is genuinely laid low by our unwise choices.

And here, I am not referring to our unloving, unfaithful choices as individuals but the choices we make together.

We grieve God, we break God’s heart by what we do or don’t do as a people, by what we tolerate as a nation, by what we turn a blind eye to as a society, by what we insist is beyond our capacity to correct or change as a country.

Before school started up again, I caught a mother on social media showing off the bulletproof backpack she had just purchased for her first grader.

The mother was filled with relief. But what about God? Was God also relieved? Is this what God most wants for American children? Is this what God truly wants for American families and educators?

With Jeremiah, we too might wonder where we who claim to love God have put our God. Certainly not here, not in the bulletproof backpack sections of our stores. Not in schools that now must hold routine active shooter drills for the youngest among us. Where is our God when we ask our most vulnerable to pay the price for our nation’s collective lack of resolve?

“Why has the health of my poor people not been restored,” we hear God weep in our lesson today. Great is the heartbreak of God, who cannot make us want what is in our best interest.

American Christianity has long had a preoccupation with sin and the subsequent need for repentance.

But what American Christians often miss, because our culture is so highly individualistic, is that it is the sins we share that most grieve God.

It is the sins we participate in together, the sins we collectively overlook or excuse away, the sins that cause the greatest harm to the human family that inflict upon God the deepest kind of sorrow.

Years ago, when the adult class in the church I was serving studied the UCC’s Statement of Faith, one of the members could barely contain himself when we got to the line that insists that God calls nations to account for their actions.

“I’m not responsible for what my nation does. Politicians are.” My parishioner huffed.

“Well, not directly,” I offered, “but certainly we as a nation are complicit if we are not raising our voices in protest and working together to usher in change when the realities before us are unacceptable.”

As the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “If [we] are neutral in situations of injustice, [we have] chosen the side of the oppressor.” Or, as our gay brothers boldly insisted during the AIDS epidemic: Silence equals death.

If it is true that we are punished by our sins rather than for them, then surely it follows that God grieves the suffering caused by our inaction and unwise choices.

The people that Jeremiah was addressing were poised to go into exile in Babylon. They were headed for trouble, not because God was angry with them, not because God was fed up with them, not because God had abandoned them for abandoning God.

No, the people were on the verge of exile because together, they had lost their way. They had taken their covenant with God for granted and made themselves vulnerable to forces that were not of God, forces that had their own best interests in mind, not the best interests of God’s own people, God’s beloved nation.

God is not punishing us with global warming because we have been poor stewards of creation.

That we have elected to be poor stewards of creation has led us to this critical moment, a time like none other in humanity’s history.

That we have failed to honor and protect life on this planet and are dangerously close to securing our own destruction no doubt causes God tremendous grief.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the apostle writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God who is called according to God’s purpose.” And then, quickly falling upon that verse comes this moving question “If God is for us, who is against us?”

If all things work together for good, if God is for us and not against us, then it falls to us to earnestly ask if we are behaving similarly. Are we ourselves working together for the good?

If God is for us and not against us, then we must ask ourselves if, by what we do and by what we prioritize, we can say the same: that we are working together for God and not against God and God’s desires for us as a people.

How God’s heart must break when we work against God’s vision for humanity. How God’s tears must flow when we choose ways other than love and justice.

A week and a half ago, I was in Grand Junction attending a training for those serving on the new conference-wide Committee on Ministry. As part of our time together, we discussed what requirements we would have for clergy who wish to have standing in the Rocky Mountain Conference.

One of those discussions centered on requiring that our clergy be thoroughly trained to respect and abide by professional boundaries. This exchange was straightforward, and as a group, we quickly settled upon our recommendations.

The next discussion was intended to be similarly straightforward. Associate Conference Minister Anthony Scott had come up with a simple presentation laying out the scriptural and social reasoning behind requiring active clergy to receive anti-racism training.

As a way to begin, Anthony offered a brief but powerful story that highlighted the need for training around antiracism.

But before any of us knew what was happening, the conversation went sideways, and soon we were hip-deep in all sorts of complicated feelings about whiteness and blackness and the misunderstood intentions of well-meaning people.

What unfolded was everything that I suspect a person like Anthony would fear might happen and everything he wished that we, as God’s beloved children, could avoid.

But we couldn’t avoid it. Why? Because whether we are black, white, purple, green, or brown, we are all swimming in water that has been polluted.

We are all swimming in water polluted by slavery, colonialism, and the elevation of whiteness. This is not God’s doing, not God’s will. Like the people Jeremiah was addressing, this is what we ourselves have created and perpetuated.

Much like the splinter that went deep into the sole of a little friend’s foot years ago, just approaching this social truth, this generational wound, even leaning in its direction, even talking about needing to bring healing to this sad reality, was the source of incredible distress and reactivity the other day.

This, in spite of the truth that everyone presented that morning in Grand Junction, agreed that as a conference, as a denomination, as a country, we need to take up the shared work of disrupting, discrediting, and dismantling racism. Still, we could not see clearly for the life-choked waters we were swimming in.

Sitting in a space that went from peace to discord, from love to fear, from tranquility to defensiveness, from clarity to confusion—all in just a matter of minutes—I found myself mindful of God’s presence in our midst. I did not sense any presence of wrath. Or divine judgment. Not even holy disgust.

What I sensed was God’s brokenheartedness. It was as if Jeremiah himself was there with us, utterly perplexed and overwhelmed, asking the question that God asks: “Why has the health of my poor people not been restored?”

Why? Not for lack of effort on God’s part. No, not that.

Maybe you weren’t yet part of Community Spirit in 2014. If you were, perhaps you have forgotten. But we almost didn’t go to the Pride Parade in Grand Junction that first time.

We almost didn’t go because we genuinely didn’t know what to expect, and that was unnerving. We didn’t know if the floats would be like the ones in San Francisco or New York City with scantily-clan men gyrating wildly. We didn’t know if there would be vocal, hostile opposition to us as Christians.

We teetered on the edge, feeling fearful on the one hand, knowing we were needed on the other. Nervous about so many things on the one hand, clear about our solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community on the other.

We could have said to ourselves about our involvement then, what many faith communities are saying now about anti-racism work, that it doesn’t much matter because it doesn’t really affect us. Not directly. The hard work of liberation belongs to those who aren’t yet free, not to those who are already free.

But until all of us are free, no one is truly free.

And perhaps this is what grieves God the most. Seeing this, knowing this, feeling this moment by moment, day by day. And doing everything within love’s power except force us, except coerce us, to call us back from the brink and into life-giving, life-affirming community again.

We know that God is ever on our side. The question life continually puts to us is this: can we say the same? Are we on God’s side?

It’s a sobering question and not for the faint of heart. Are we, together, on God’s side?

God, grant us the desire to ever answer in the affirmative. With words, of course, and through our combined, passionate actions as well.