These past few weeks have been a sad time for me. I have spent too much time with Jeremiah, and I am beaten down to the depths of sorrow and despair.
Earlier Jeremiah said a hot wind was coming. This wind would not reap nor winnow, but to destroy. This hot wind would come out of the east and roll over the hills and turn the world his people knew into a desolate desert.
Jeremiah condemns the people of Jerusalem, the oligarchs that have taken their beautiful city and beautiful country down to its worst conditions. Out there in the East, a terrible wind is coming and all lost—their lives, their city, their nation is on the brink of destruction.
In Jeremiah’s words, I see warnings for us today. Regardless of your viewpoint, for example, the outcome of the presidential election looks dire. But, that’s not the problem. The problem is massive ignorance, indifference, and abuse of resources. Whoever becomes our next president has little to do with our responsibility to be informed—to pay attention. Whoever becomes our next president has nothing to do with our responsibilities to care for the earth.
As individuals, we have a responsibility to seek and work for peace among ourselves—wherever that may be. We have a duty to serve our communities, the poor, and the neglected and everyone’s needs met.
Failure to be intelligently informed, failure to be present in the day and not attached to IPhones, IPads, or whatever the new technologies are, and inability to be aware of what is happening in our environment is what makes me sad and feeling hopeless at times.
Just a few days ago, I had a conversation with the man who supervises my meager investments. I told him that I am very nervous about the future. I wondered if it weren’t time to only take what little I had and just put in the bank in an insured account and just leave it there. I worry that my wife will not have what she will need after my death. I told him I’m too old to be in a speculative situation. He laughed and said, “The market is secure, it always goes up, and you have nothing to worry about;” probably, that’s what someone told my great grandfather in 1933 just before he lost everything as the bank failed in which he had all his wealth deposited.
I read Jeremiah and the words crush me. He wrote, “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” You bet, Jeremiah. I feel your pain! As I watch the campaign for the presidency, I hear Jeremiah speaking to me,
“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.”
Personally, I am overwhelmed with grief that we have been brought so low as a people hearing shouts of “Lock her up.” or to be told by the ultimate expert that our current president was in fact born in the United States. Of course, we can find issues on the other side—emails missing, use of a personal email server that might have compromised our national security, lack of transparency, and a “basket of deplorables.”
But it’s not the national elections that lead people to despair. Advertisements destroying the character of candidates with half-truths and slander fill our evening television watching. My question is why anyone even bothers to run for public office. Oh, I know why. There’s something in it for them. Jesus, however, says the dishonest steward is better than an honest person who can’t get anything done for the people. At least that’s what I understand him to teach.
Getting back to Jeremiah, I am really in despair as I read, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” There is no balm in Gilead. Where was Gilead and what made it an important point of reference? As far as I can find out, it was an area east of the Jordan River, well known for its spices and ointments. The “balm of Gilead” was, therefore, a high-quality ointment with healing properties.
The balm of Gilead is a metaphor for healing powers. Jeremiah refers to it again in a later chapter. But a reference to Gilead is found earlier in the book of Genesis; specifically in the story of Joseph. In chapter 37 of Genesis, we read that as Joseph’s brothers contemplated how to kill him, a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by on their way to Egypt from Gilead. In their cargo were “spices, balm, and myrrh.”
Gilead has found its way into poetry. Edgar Allen Poe included it in his poem, “The Raven.” He wrote:
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by Horror haunted,- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there -is there balm in Gilead? -tell me, I implore!
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
So, these past two weeks I have been in the pit of despair with Jeremiah and now with Poe. Not helped by Poe or even the words of Jesus. I sat at my desk wondering what could draw me out and up to higher plain. Then, I thought of the African American Spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead.” Despite Jeremiah’s claim that it not there anymore or Poe’s raven saying, “Nevermore,” this old spiritual says there is a balm ion Gilead.
I looked it up and found it in our Hymnal 1982; it’s hymn number 676. The words are assuring and are:
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit revives
my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead to heal
the sin sick soul.
If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus,
and say “He died for all.”
There is a balm in Gilead…
So there, Jeremiah! Quit being a stick in the mud. There is a balm in Gilead, and it is Jesus Christ. We can get out of our despair by remembering that there is a balm in Gilead to make us whole.
 Jeremiah 4:11-12.
 Luke 16:1-13.
 All quotations are from RCL Old Testament lesson for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1.
 http://www.gotquestions.org. The balm made from resin taken from a flowering plant in the Middle East, although the exact species is unknown, was also called the “balsam of Mecca.” Myrrh comes from a similar plant—Commiphora myrrha. The Bible uses the term “balm of Gilead” metaphorically as an example of something with healing or soothing powers.
 Genesis 37:25.
 Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven,” 1845.
 Hymnal 1982, Church Publishing Corporation.
 “There is a Balm in Gilead,” African American Spiritual; words are in public domain.
Photos are from open sources.