Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
I Will Save You, Says the Lord - September 3, 2017 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Jeremiah 15:15-21
We have such a smart God. Have you ever noticed how feeble His servants were? They were no different in their weakness of faith, and their trust in God, than we are. I believe God chose such people, such weak vessels, to illustrate so vividly that as He used them, so He can and does use us, just as weak vessels, today. And we are reminded that when God does use us, He does so, not because of any merit or worthiness within us, but because of His grace poured out on us. We are left to sit in awe and say, praise the Lord, to God be the glory. As we lived through the events of this past week some of us were affected very little and some more. Some of us may have been asking, what could we do to help, we are such feeble servants? Perhaps we questioned God as Jeremiah does?
Our text begins with Jeremiah getting ready to ask two questions. He begins first with a plea for help as we read in verse fifteen, “15O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach”(v. 15). Literally, Jeremiah says, “O Lord, you know.” The Lord does know Jeremiah. The prophet begins this book, his prophecy, by writing God’s words, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah knows that God created him, giving him life at conception, but even more, knowing him even before he was conceived. Jeremiah knows that God called him and set him apart to be His prophet even from the creation of the world. Therefore, Jeremiah takes his cause to the Lord. He asks that the Lord would remember him, avenge his persecutors, and allow him to continue, peacefully, to live in the land.
Jeremiah next prays a word reminding God of his faithfulness, that is Jeremiah’s faithfulness. We read verse sixteen, “16Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (v. 16). Jeremiah reminds the Lord how he had joyfully received the word of the Lord. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” He was not starving spiritually. He also bears the Lord’s name. God had put His name on Jeremiah, very much like God putting His name on us at our baptism. We belong to God, which means we are given to, all that we need, according to God’s omniscient knowledge of our needs and notice I did not say wants.
And Jeremiah prays a few more words reminding God of His faithfulness, that is God’s faithfulness. We read verse seventeen, “17I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation” (v. 17). Jeremiah did not go out carousing and partying with the guys. He was completely devoted, with his whole life, to the Lord. He sits alone, probably because he did not go out, and because of the message he preaches. It is hard to make friends when you are down on everything everyone is doing, not that what he was saying and doing was Jeremiah’s fault.
All of this leads up to the two rhetorical questions that Jeremiah asks and really, what we might call Jeremiah’s blaspheme. We read verse eighteen, “18Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (v. 18). Jeremiah’s first question is, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to heal?” The unending pain that he is praying about is his life. Perhaps there are times in our lives when we can all relate to how Jeremiah feels. He says, “why me?” Why does everyone hate me? Why am I the one who brings only bad news? Why can I not bring good news? Why? Why? Why?
His second question is, “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like waters that fail?” Here Jeremiah accuses God of being undependable. Pretty stiff words from such a lowly man. Maybe we sometimes feel that way too, but do we have the nerve to actually say that out loud, to God? Maybe, I should remind you that you do not have to say it, because God already knows what you are thinking. I am sure there are many who this past week questioned God and accused Him of being undependable as well.
Our text continues with God’s response. We read verses nineteen through twenty-one, “19Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. 20And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord. 21I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (v. 19-21).
Literally, what God says is, “I will cause you to repent, and I will restore you,” that is I will give you forgiveness. This is an answer to Jeremiah’s doubt of self worth. Here we see, as always, God demonstrating His grace. God does not simply reject Jeremiah, nor does He wipe him out for his sass and unbelief. Rather, in His justice, God calls Jeremiah to repent; to repent of his doubt and mistrust. And yet, Jeremiah “cannot by his own reason or strength” fulfill God’s condition. Thus God moves Jeremiah to repent. Unfortunately the English does not do justice to the Hebrew. The literal English translation would be, “I cause you to repent.” Thus we see how repentance is necessary, how God must work this repentance in us through the Law and how God provides the means, the Gospel to bring the fullness of repentance.
Jeremiah was restored so that he might continue to serve God. This is an answer to his doubt of mission. God did not let Jeremiah off the hook, so to speak. Just because he has doubts does not mean God will take his job from him. No, God reassures him that he will continue to serve the Lord as the Lord works through him.
And God promises, I will give you as a wall to this people. This is an answer to his doubt of God’s faithfulness. God reminds Jeremiah that He is in charge. God will do the doing. God will do because He is God and Jeremiah need doubt no more.
Our text for today reminds us that we are so very much like Jeremiah. How often do we ask: “Who am I?” We hear people trying to “find themselves,” trying to be one with something, trying to find the “meaning of life.” And usually they are looking in the wrong place. They are looking inside themselves. As we have said before, when we look inside ourselves all we find is that we are sinful human beings, conceived and born in sin and having every inclination of our heart to do evil all the time. We cannot find the answers to life, the answer to who or whose we are by looking inside ourselves. For the answer to life’s questions we have to look outside ourselves. When we look outside ourselves, especially when we look in God’s Word we hear God’s answer. God’s answer is this: You are my child, purchased by the blood of Jesus. We are special. We are somebody, not because we found ourselves, not because we got to be one with something, or anything, not because we found the meaning of life, but because God, through the blood of Jesus on the cross made us somebody. We have value because of the value God gives us, the value of the life of His Son. Our value is that God so loved us so much that He gave His life, shedding His blood for us. That is value!
How often do we ask: what am I doing here? Again, the question is one of meaning in our lives. When we look outside ourselves, to God and His Word, we hear God’s answer: You are here to be a priest in the priesthood of all believers. You are here to do the good works I have prepared in advance for you to do. We have a job to do, not because God can not do it Himself, but because He wants to show us how much He loves us. His love for us is shown by the fact that God works through our imperfections to serve Him by serving other which brings glory to His name.
How often do we ask: Is God faithful? Here we blaspheme like Jeremiah. We doubt God’s presence, just because He does not reveal Himself to us the way we expect, nor do what we expect. Nor do when we expect. Yet, we hear God’s answer: Yes, I am faithful. Indeed, as we confess, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
After the events of last week there are many who are asking these questions today, “Why me?” “How could God do this to me?” “Why are all these innocent people being affected by such events?” Of course we would never equate what we call natural disasters with God’s direct punishment for sin, otherwise we would have to say God is not a good aim, yet we are reminded that we live in a world that continues to bear the marks of the curse from the Garden of Eden. With that said, we see God’s answer to Jeremiah is His answer to us even today, that He moves us to repent and that He is faithful. See how He calls His people to help one another. See how He shows His love as we serve Him by being of service to those in need. See how He strengthens us as we are drawn to Him in times of need and how He continually cares for us. Yes, we are feeble individuals. Yes, the world hates us because of the exclusive claim of Jesus, the only way to eternal life. Yes, we have doubts in times of trouble. And so, Jesus calls us to repent of our doubt. He moves us to repent of our inaction to help and be of service, even to give an answer for our hope through our actions. He restores us and moves and works in us to be the people He would have us to be.
In our epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us of how God works in and through us. Apart from God working in and through us we cannot do what Paul tells us to do, we cannot live as Paul tells us to live. But, with God working in and through us, then we are able to genuinely love others with brotherly affection, then we are able to show honor, to rejoice in hope, to be patient in tribulation, to contribute to the needs of others. It is only with the Lord’s help that we will be able to bless those who persecute us and live in harmony with each other.
In our Gospel lesson we are reminded by Jesus that He is the one who gives us value and it is only through His suffering and dying on the cross and faith in Him that we have such value. It is sins forgiven that gives us value. And so Jesus also reminds us that our value gives us purpose and our purpose is to lose our lives in this world so that we will have life in the world to come, in other words, by faith in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us we move the focus of our life off this world and the things of this world and instead we focus our attention, our life on the world to come, making sure we are ready and giving an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus so that others might be ready as well.
Our text for this morning convicts us and comforts us. We question God like Jeremiah and in one way that is okay. Read through the Psalms. The psalmist many times lamented about his problems and says, Why? Why me, Lord? Why have You deserted me? And in a sense our questioning can be praising God. When we ask God “why?”, we are telling God, “I know You are in charge that is why I am asking you.” Our text also convicts us of our doubts and mistrust of God. On the other hand, our text comforts us by showing that as God answered and strengthened Jeremiah, so He answers and strengthens us. He reminds us that we are His, purchased by the blood of Jesus, forgiven and made His children, that He works His good works in and through us so that we serve Him by serving others, and that He is faithful. So, once again we are pointed in the right direction, we are pointed to the cross, we are pointed to Jesus, yes, Jesus, just Jesus. Thanks be to God and to Him be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.