After many, many, many months of procrastination, I have finally started the research phase of my DMin Thesis, “William Reed Huntington Meets Brian McLaren and The Episcopal Moment.” One of the reasons I was so slow to begin was that the first book staring me in the face wasn’t one I wanted to read. The American Jeremiad was recommended by a member of the Sewanee Thesis Committee who suggested that perhaps the narrative of a changing world was nothing more than an old wive’s tale, based on the founding narrative of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the theory posited by Sacvan Bercovitch, author of The American Jeremiad. I’m 25% through the book now, and I just don’t buy it.
What I have found interesting is the word in the title that I had never heard before, Jeremiad. According to Google, a jeremiad is a long, mournful complain or lamentation. Bercovitch expands that definition to include not only lamentation, but the promise of restoration of God’s chosen people. His argument is that America, or at least the Massachusetts Bay Colony portion of it, was founded on a belief that America was God’s new Promised Land, that the early settlers were chosen by God to bring about the End Times, and that any suffering they encountered was simply God preparing them for their future glory, and he bases it on a series of sermons, preached over the course of three generations on the Old Testament lesson appointed for Lent 5B, Jeremiah 31:31-34 (hence the name Jeremiad).
Like I said, despite what I said yesterday about Rabbi Friedman’s theory of foundation story, the American colonies were too diverse for me to believe that to this day, all of American society is built on some sermons by early preachers/civic leaders on Massachusetts Bay. (And I don’t think this opinion is merely the result of my overwhelming dislike of all things New England). The fact that Jeremiah 31 is scheduled to be read this Sunday does have me thinking about what a 21st Century Jeremiad might look like.
Most American preachers have long since given up the idea that American prosperity will bring about the return of Jesus, but we are very accustomed to the idea of the New Covenant, written upon our hearts. When we look at the world around us, we realize, very quickly, that it is not the way God intended it to be, and yet we know that in Christ, we find the fullness of the Kingdom of God living and active not only in 1st century Palestine, but through his Church, empowered by the Spirit, to this very day. Not only in America, but around the globe. The 21st century Jeremiad, the promise of restoration even in the midst of pain and hardship, thanks to the power of the internet is an international promise as well as an international call to repentance.
The world is once again flat. Overindulgence in America creates climate woe in Africa. Political hardship in the Middle East creates an immigration crisis in Eastern Europe. The ubiquitousness of Social Media creates violent reactions in non- or anti-globalization cultures. The Jeremiad of the 21st Century is a call to read the law written upon our own hearts and to live it, to set an example of justice and peace for the people around us, and to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world at large. It is not less idealistic that it was when Jeremiah spoke his now famous words, but it is likewise no less the call of God to his faithful people.