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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

For Us Remnant Theologians - 01/05/2020

I want to talk about remnant theology today.

I hope that is not too off putting. I don’t mean for it to be and if it is off putting, I hope I can ease that a little bit because I think we are the body of Christ in a time when it might be helpful to know a little about remnant theology.

Perhaps if we break the term down a little bit, it won’t seem so foreign or technical. Many of us are familiar with using various resources to make things, and so we have dealt with remnants before. The remnants of fabric after a quilt has been completed. The remnants of a pile of lumber that has been sent through the mill. The remnants of a big holiday meal packed neatly and stacked in leftover containers.

Sometimes we can see remnants in the aftermath of something big and destructive. Like the remnants of normal day-to-day life in war torn places, or the remnants of a landscape after a tornado or hurricane.

Or maybe we understand remnant on a more figurative level. Like the remnants of our pride or confidence when we have failed. The remnants of our hearts when love is lost. Remnants of broken trust.

And then, of course, we have the word “theology,” which can seem like something out of our everyday realm … a word reserved for those who spend their lives in academic institutions studying, writing, teaching ministers and using big words, often too many of them, in their publish or perish environment.

But the truth is, we are all theologians. Just think about what that word means. “Theo” means God, and “ology” come from logos, which means word. So “theology” is simply the study of God’s word. And even if you walk into this house of worship today having never read or heard or sung a single verse from the bible, George/Bruce and I have shared God’s Word with you for our collective study here already and guess what? … That makes you a theologian … a student of God’s word.

So there you go, remnant theology demystified … because all it really means is understanding the remnants all around us … fabric and wood chips, destroyed familiars, hearts and minds and self-images … all it really means is understanding remnants like those through the framework of the God’s Word, God’s Logos.

The people our poet from Jeremiah was speaking to were familiar with this aspect of being God’s people because they themselves were remnants of something they thought was invincible, unchangeable, as sure and certain as the sun rising and setting graciously and predictably every day.

This is the time of the Babylonian exile in which the Israelites were thrown forcibly out of their homes and livelihoods in Jerusalem. It was a catastrophe. In about 10 short years, the Babylonian king destroyed the three main things that assured the Israelites that God was with them. He interrupted and destroyed the kingly succession of David, he destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and along with it, the hard-held belief that the walled city of Jerusalem, the city you have to walk up to no matter which we you come in, that city could be and was indeed destroyed.

Jeremiah acknowledges the painful remnants that situation has left in its wake. He is addressing people who are forced to flee to foreign lands, people who have been blinded and suffer with mobility issues, people who are pregnant and in labor, who weep and are thirsty and stumble through their days.  They are the remnants of what used to be … a Jerusalem, a place of worship, a way of faithful living that has been destroyed. It is no more and so the remnant Jerimiah is calling out to has no idea of how to be faithful to God without the temple right there – literally and figuratively – at the center of their lives. They don’t understand how to uphold the Law of Moses, how are they supposed to worship the one true God and take care of God’s people when they have been scattered like debris and scraps throughout a huge Babylonian empire?

They have been crying out in panic, they have had no peace, they have been living in distress and enduring terrors. (K. OConnor, Jeremiah)

And they remind me of us.

I don’t know about you, but it feels to me that we are much like these remnants of God’s people. Engagement in the Christian Church that was the familiar of so many of us has certainly declined in our time. No longer does the rest of the world honor time on the community calendar for religious activity … worship time competes with ice time; Sunday School time is up against winter sports tournaments; Wednesday nights are no longer set aside for religious education and theology – remnant or otherwise.

Those of us who have remained active in our communities of faith struggle and worry over how to be God fearing and faithful people when the Church is no longer at the center of our community life. We don’t always grasp how to uphold the Law of Moses and care for each other when everyone is scattered in so many directions in our world of endless opportunity and distraction.

We panic and feel anything but peaceful over declining worship numbers, fewer offerings, aging congregations, rising costs, including the costs of keeping a pastor and keeping our physical church in good condition.

We are remnants of a version of Christ’s church that is no more and I suspect what panics us and steals our peace, what causes our distress and maybe even terrifies us, is that we know, deep inside somewhere –we cannot go back.

It is actually not possible, in the first place, unless someone among us is holding out and is enjoying time travel without the rest of us.

And it is not possible because that is not where we are… that is not who we are. Everything is different – our population is different – way fewer kids and way more elders – economies, politics, technologies, existential threats … everything has evolved and changed – you have evolved and changed – so why wouldn’t Christ’s Church evolve and change too?

And that’s terrifying and really undefined and very comfortable for us structured, habit-forming, big-brained creatures. It would be a lot easier if church was like the sun – so graciously and predictably rising and setting each day.

That being said – that being true – here’s the other reason I wanted to talk about remnant theology today.

I’ve really only talked about the remnant. The theology is the truly cool part – the part the remnant cannot live without and the part God has promised we can never lose.

Listen again to how God speaks promise to the remnant of the exiled and broken Israelites:

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:10-14)

God’s Logos, God’s Word to this people is that they will be gathered and restored. The remnant theology of Jeremiah’s people, as is ours, was that God’s word went beyond judgment and a call to repent. It also anticipated a wholly new action of God that unilaterally, graciously and without restraint restores them to well-being. (W. Brueggeman OT textbook) They had to relearn how to trust that God promised that gathering and well-being even in situations where they could see no possibility for that at all.

Like the Israelites scattered in Babylonian exile, we have God’s promise today too – for us it is also as gracious and predictable as the rising and setting sun, and beyond that even.

It is grace upon grace in the way God has come among us in the wholly new action of a vulnerable baby born to humble people, an action that has unilaterally, graciously and without restraint restored creation.

It is the promised way that brings this remnant and so many other little pockets of us together around communion tables all over the planet.

It is the way of knowing that God’s not done yet –with you, with me, with this world … that God continues to gather the remnant and is making something new out of us – something unexpected, something of God’s Word, God’s Logos.

Like the Israelites, we are a remnant being reconstituted as a people and God establishes us, in whatever form God imagines next, for the well-being of everyone.

We are the great company of God’s people being gathered from the North and we rise now to hear, the Holy Gospel, God’s Logos, according the Gospel of John, the first chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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