-Pastor Melissa Fain-
15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah: “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord hasn’t sent you. All you are doing is persuading these people to believe a lie. 16 Therefore, the Lord proclaims: I’m going to send you somewhere—right off the face of the earth! Before the year ends, you will die since you have incited rebellion against the Lord.” 17 The prophet Hananiah died in the seventh month of that year.
Jeremiah 28 CEB
This past weekend, I went to Cades Cove up in the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Most of my trip was to take my kids to meet up with my sister in a relatively central location. Some of the trip was to take pictures and videos to update this website. I've been talking an awful lot about being in the wilderness, but the wilderness is not always desert. Sometimes it's forests and mountains. It's still a difficult place to live, but a beautiful and Godly place too.
While I was there, I came across some history I didn't previously know about the Cove.
A Tale of Three Churches
I've been to Cades Cove about half a dozen times in my lifetime. It's probably the national park I've visited the most. (That's saying something considering Kennesaw Mountain is a quick 45 minutes drive from my house.) There are three churches in the Cove, and I'd always treated them with passive ignorance. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Only this time I heard their stories. This past weekend, this Cove, ourselves, and Jeremiah came together and I found God.
Methodist Church: I've never liked the churches that separate the men from the women and children. The Bible is a family story, that requires the unity of the family for it to thrive. For years, I assumed this church sat men on one side and women on the other. If you look inside, the seating is split into thirds. This has always been confusing with my assumption. Who sat in the middle? This past weekend, I learned this church never sat by gender, or used the doors for that purpose. There were fewer Methodists in the Cove. It meant they built this church on a budget. Actually, they built it in 115 days for $115 dollars. One of there cost cutting measures was to use the plans for another church, that happened to follow the practice of separating the men from the women and children. Context is important. Yet this church never stopped meeting. These next two churches did, and there's a reason why they are important to this story.
The Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church: This church (the Primitive Baptist Church) and it's sister church split below (the Missionary Baptist Church) did not meet during the Civil War.
The Primitive Baptist Church would write about the closure following the war: "We the Primitive Baptist Church in Blount County in Cades Cove, do show the public why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the Rebellion and we was Union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove. Our preacher was obliged to leave sometimes, and thank God we once more can meet."
You should let that sink in for a minute. These churches believed the Union was correct while they lived in the South. They were willing to forgo Church during the Civil War because of the power of that belief. That's years, not months. That's without Zoom or Facebook Live. How their heart must have ached at the years of absence. How they must have celebrated when the war was finally over. How they must have known the danger their pastors were in and how they loved their clergy enough to let them leave for a time.
While these two churches stopped meeting, the Methodist church suffered a split, creating a new church with Pro-Union members. That specific church no longer stands today.
The Allure of False Prophets
If you're a Lectionary pastor you're probably wondering why I've posted the end of Jeremiah 28 rather than vv 5-9 listed as the Hebrew Bible scripture for this Sunday. It's because I've got this feeling there are going to be some bad sermons done out of context based on Jeremiah 28:5-9. Even Jeremiah wants to believe it! Why wouldn't you? All things stolen are going to be returned? That is a seductive scripture in this current climate. Forget the seduction of sitting next to your spouse in church- give us back our 11am worship with singing and hugging! Seduce us with that!
Only, we can't take vv 5-9 without including its sister verses around it. Hananiah is a false prophet. There are no costs to his promised returns. That's not how God works. Loss is either given meaning, or loss has a context for the greater good. Meaningless loss is tragic. God gives purpose to meaninglessness or God takes away for a purpose.
Let's remember who eventually gave the Priests back their temple. It wasn't God- but Herod. It would be Herod's temple that would ultimately be rebuked by Jesus. It was Herod's temple that took the widow's last coin, and refused to help the least of these. It's right for Hananiah to be rebuked! His prophecy, as alluring as it sounded, was dangerous and dark. Hananiah would die for it.
Real Prophets don't need to exist when everything is going well and good.
Real Prophets always want to avert the disaster they are sharing.
A Tale of Three Timelines
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Wait. I feel like I need to write that again, only make it big and bold for emphasis:
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Therefore, you cannot go back to do things the way they were previously done. Yes, some of you want to sit in your big amphitheaters, listen to your professional band sing from their expensive sound equipment with their slick lighting. But packing them in means you have to breath your neighbor's breath for longer than 10 minutes, putting you at higher risk of catching Covid-19. Yes, some of you want your intimate church experience where you can hug your neighbor, but personal contact is dangerous right now, especially when most small churches hold most older congregants.
90% of us will eventually get it, but we don't need to all get it at once. It will overwhelm the hospitals and more people will unnecessarily die if that happens. It is selfish to want your previous experience. Maybe I need to write that again, only make it bigger and bold for emphasis:
It is selfish to want your previous experience.
Many are getting upset because they have missed 3 months of physical church. Well, the Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove missed 5 years of physical church. God didn't give the Cove church for 5 years. What makes you think you're entitled to your church in three months?
Many are getting upset because they're not getting everything back once they return to church. The Israelites were not getting everything back when they returned to Judah DECADES after being exiled. What makes you think it's healthy to go back to everything you lost after Covid-19? Maybe some things need to remain lost. Maybe we shouldn't be asking Herod to give our things back. We shouldn't force the good prophecy, because in doing so, we are forcing a lie and making things worse in the process.
God is still present in this digital landscape. I will write that again and make it bolder and bigger than the others, because it's the most important point.
God is still present in this digital landscape.
We are not called to restore what can no longer be, but to walk with God in the now. God is here. God is present. God never left. God is bigger than a building. God is more important than our stuff. Until we realize that those wanting to give it all back are false prophets, we won't be able to lament our stuff is actually gone. Until we finally lament, we can't move forward.
Keep this in your heart: What Jesus preached was heard the best outside the Temple. His words were lost inside the Sanctuary.
Are you listening to the tough truth of God spoken through Jeremiah or sweet seductive poison of Hananiah? God's path is tougher. God's path will hurt. Ultimately, God's path is right. Follow God.