Jeremiah 23:23-39 (NRSV)
Verse 23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Verse 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. Verse 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" Verse 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back-those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? Verse 27They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Verse 28Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Verse 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Verse 30See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Verse 31See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, "Says the Lord." Verse 32See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord. Verse 33When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, "What is the burden of the Lord?" you shall say to them, "You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord." Verse 34And as for the prophet, priest, or the people who say, "The burden of the Lord," I will punish them and their households. Verse 35Thus shall you say to one another, among yourselves, "What has the Lord answered?" or "What has the Lord spoken?" Verse 36But "the burden of the Lord" you shall mention no more, for the burden is everyone's own word, and so you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. Verse 37Thus you shall ask the prophet, "What has the Lord answered you?" or "What has the Lord spoken?" Verse 38But if you say, "the burden of the Lord," thus says the Lord: Because you have said these words, "the burden of the Lord," when I sent to you, saying, You shall not say, "the burden of the Lord," Verse 39therefore, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your ancestors.
In 1962, Peter Paul and Mary had a hit with “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Seeger and Hays. As I read the last verse of the Jeremiah passage, I thought of that folk song. Jeremiah declares that God’s word is “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” The theme of this week’s readings is that of God’s judgment, not a favorite topic of mine. But maybe the song “If I Had a Hammer” can help us get a different perspective on that theme. A hammer is a tool that can be destructive, e.g. knocking holes in walls, but can also be used for good, e.g. driving nails in boards. According to Seeger and Hays, a hammer can bring about freedom, justice, and love between brothers and sisters. So it is with the hammer of God’s word. It can be destructive, e.g. destroying injustice, but it can also bring about love between my brothers and sisters, including me.
Judging God, help us hammer out justice throughout the world so that love between all our brothers and sisters might become common in our community, nation, and world. Amen.