March 17: Preachers of False Peace

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 
Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house,
   and proclaim there this word,
   and say, Hear the word of the Lord,
   all you people of Judah, 
   you that enter these gates to worship the Lord.
Thus says the Lord of hosts,
   the God of Israel:
Amend your ways and your doings,
   and let me dwell with you in this place.
Do not trust in these deceptive words:
“This is the temple of the Lord,
   the temple of the Lord,
   the temple of the Lord.’
Jeremiah 7:1-4

This is a difficult devotional entry to write, because it deals with the unfaithfulness of the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day. Even though Jeremiah saw a nation riven by injustice and unrighteousness, a land where the rich got richer at the expense of the poor, a place where an honest person couldn’t get a fair shake, the priesthood failed to condemn what was happening around them.

In fact, the priests and prophets of Jerusalem were optimistic about the nation’s future. Apparently, they thought things were going just fine. 

In the scripture quoted above, the religious leaders soothed the people by assuring them of the security of “the temple of the Lord,” a phrase repeated three times. Scholars believe this may have been a popular mantra at the time; if you found yourself in danger, you simply repeated the phrase three times as a kind of solution to your problems. 

In Jeremiah 8:11, the prophet condemns the priests for saying, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” In Jeremiah 23:9-22, he takes on the other prophets in the land, accusing them of giving false hope to the people: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you … They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you’” (23:16-17).

The question for our time is whether our own religious leaders are speaking truth in the midst of our nation’s rampant injustice. Are our preachers and pastors, rabbis and imams, speaking up for the poor, condemning unrighteousness, and working for peace? Or are they speaking words of easy comfort and reassuring platitudes?

I can only speak for my own faith tradition, but it appears to me that not all Christian leaders are standing up for justice. Instead, they have buried their heads in the sand and opted for preaching a gospel of individual, privatized salvation. Or they have simply decided not to say anything for fear of preaching "politics."

Remember, however, that the prophets continually challenged the people to understand that God’s priority is justice. When there is no justice, there can be no peace, no shalom, no individual prosperity. 

Yes, this passage challenges me directly. As a pastor and preacher, I must stand in the pulpit and speak the hard truth. I cannot allow myself to dally with irrelevant, meaningless sentiments. I can’t waste my time and yours with cute stories or old-fashioned jokes about heaven and hell. 

It’s a tough job but I’ll do my best to keep you on your toes without stepping on them …

Prayer: God, may I never accept easy solutions when the problems are so critical. Help me hold our religious leaders accountable to the prophetic voice. May your kingdom come on earth. Amen.

Justice Challenge: You may know a public religious figure who has refused to take a stand for justice, or perhaps has taken the wrong stand. Rather than calling out or criticizing him/her, why not write an email or postcard of encouragement which lets this person know that you are praying for him/her?