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Pentecost 2A, Jeremiah 20:7-13, Rev. Charles Schulz
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Does the air smell different today? Is the sun a slightly different color? Does the earth feel a bit different under our feet? Something has changed and I can’t quite figure out what it is. Oh, yes! I remember now. We have just completed the festival half of the church year and entered into non-festival time. The festival half had all the big celebrations: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and then last Sunday, the feast of the Holy Trinity. That time focused on God’s gift of the Son, the Son’s work of salvation for us and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Now the focus shifts –for the next five months we’re in the “green season” – see the paraments. Get used to them. The green will be up for a long time. It’s summer time for growth and in the church, our growth as disciples of Christ. We respond to His saving love and grow in the Spirit He has given us that we might bear fruit which pleases Him and praises His name. Our readings, too, will carry this theme forward, beginning already with this week’s reading.
But the lessons today don’t start us off gently. Jesus sends out His disciples, predicting they will encounter betrayals and persecutions and even martyrdom. Jeremiah in the Old Testament laments the opposition he endures from the very people he was called to serve with the Word of God. The effect of these first readings is to dispel any fantasies that we might have entertained that following Jesus will make us popular people in this world or that our life will now be easy and smooth going as we live by faith. We are Christians because the love of God has come to us through the Lord Jesus. Through Him, the Father has given us forgiveness, life and salvation – the greatest treasures we would dare hope for. The sure promise of eternal life comes with knowing Christ. With our faith we are put right with God, but that means being put in opposition to Satan. We hear that in the Baptismal rite, where we renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways. And that means that we also set in opposition to a corrupt and sinful world.
If we don’t keep this in mind, if we’re not expecting this, we may sometimes think that something is wrong when people don’t like us for being Christians. We might begin to imagine that we’re doing something wrong. Maybe we should practice our Christianity in a kinder, gentler way? Such self-examination doesn’t hurt. There are offensive Christians who seem to present their faith along with their own judgmental arrogance. We should always be ready to humbly repent of any such attitudes. At the same time, there is an offense which rightly belongs to the Word of God. God’s Word condemns sin in all its manifestations – those we find in ourselves and those we see in society as common behavior, even those now celebrated as rights and freedoms. The Word of God offends even when it offers salvation in Christ because it declares that He alone gives forgiveness and eternal life; all other ways are false. If we remove these offenses, we will no longer be bearers of the true Word. If we remove these offenses, we may lose the Word of God for ourselves and find ourselves under the very judgment of God.
Still, we get hurt and feel sad when people whisper about us, call us names, “un-friend” us for our Christian faith. If this is what comes with living faithfully according to God’s Word, do you ever feel you’ve been deceived by God? Christ comes to us with a revelation of divine love, but as a consequence we get hatred from some people. The angels sang a message of “peace on earth” but the Prince of Peace says he does not bring peace but a sword and even to set family members against one another. We hear the Good news of great joy – but we also know the sorrow of seeing people reject it and rejecting us for it.
The prophet Jeremiah had days like that, a lot of days like that, and so he was called the weeping prophet. In his day, God called Jeremiah to call the people to repentance. Judgment was coming, yet the king, the priests, the prophets and the temple crowd were all convinced that everything was going well. It was the calm before the storm of divine destruction. So, they had deceived themselves with the thought that God was always on their side. No matter what, God couldn’t let their enemies destroy Jerusalem. It was God’s city, an impregnable fortress, with God as their constant defender. It had stood against foes for over 400 years. Nothing was going to change that – but they did not factor in their unfaithfulness. In their hearts, they had forsaken God and His ways. They mingled their worship of the true God with the worship of other gods and they followed the superstitions of their imaginations. They were treating God’s Temple like a good-luck charm rather than honoring God as Lord and Savior. So while all the false prophets were declaring “peace, peace,” Jeremiah was left with the lonely and unwelcome message of death, defeat and destruction. He was called into the service of God and He was given the unpleasant task of proclaiming a word which no one wanted to hear, few believed, and most mocked.
A climax came in Jeremiah’s ministry when God told him once again to predict the destruction of the city, but this time in a most dramatic fashion. He took a clay pot to the city gate, the one which lead to the city garbage dump where you could see the rot and the decay and smell the stench. Then the prophet declared the Word of the Lord, “I am bringing disaster.” War would come. A siege would be laid around the city. Hunger would set in and the starving people would resort to eating their sons and daughters. This should have been no surprise. Already in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had foretold that this is what would happen to those who broke God’s covenant with them. Jeremiah then lifted that clay pot and smashed it, saying: “Thus says the Lord of Host: So will I break this people and this city….so that it can never be mended.” And to add insult to injury, he then went from the city gate to the courtyard of the temple where the crowds were gathered and he repeated his message. For all his trouble, Jeremiah was then beaten by Pashhur, the chief officer of the temple. They put him in the stocks overnight. Of course, when he was being released, Jeremiah only sharpened his condemnations and pointed them at Pashhur himself, predicting that he would go into captivity and die there.
That’s what brings us up to our reading today. Can you understand why Jeremiah would complain that God had deceived Him? He loved the Word of God. For him it was life and salvation. He delighted to know God and he found his greatest joy in God. So God calls him into service and he gets ready to go. He’s like a young pastoral candidate, eager to get his call papers. He has in mind that he’s going to be a pastor of some dear parish of people who love God and His Word. He imagines in his mind’s eye the joy he will have to share the Good News with those who are hungry and thirsty to hear it, the happy days of baptizing children and bringing them into the Kingdom, instructing young people who are growing in faith and knowledge, marrying faithful men and women who live in purity, commitment and true love. He longs for the worship services where he’ll get to lead the people of God in singing praise to God, offering Him their needs and humbly waiting on His will while they grow in His grace. He’s got all of this in mind and he opens those call documents. It’s not to a parish, at all. It’s to an insane asylum. And this isn’t just any asylum. This one is filled with people who are deluded into thinking that they themselves are Jesus Christ. Each one thinks he is God. And this young pastor’s mission is to tell them that they are not God; in fact, they are far from God and in need of repentance and salvation from the true God. He goes but it is not easy going. The patients will spit at him and laugh at him. They will condemn him and threaten him. Day after day he brings them God’s Word, but they won’t hear of it, won’t believe it, and they hate him all the more for it. That was the ministry of Jeremiah in Judah, but he didn’t just have an asylum where he would have to share this message 9-5 and then go home. He had this message for the whole nation and every hour of every day it was the Word of God against them and them against the Word of God and the poor prophet caught in the middle. He was caught between the Rock and the hard places – the Rock of God and His holy unchanging Word and the hard hearts of the people who had their own ideas about how blessed they were with God always on their side, while in reality they themselves were playing God.
Can you see why Jeremiah complains that he has become a laughingstock? He’s the one sane man in a country of people who have gone mad with their own ideas about God. Every time he opens his mouth, it just gets him more ridicule and more trouble. God had filled him with such a message of gloom and doom, that the people apparently even gave him a nickname: “Terror on every side.” “Hey, have you heard ‘Terror on Every Side’ today? Yea, he’s got this new message. Yea, it’s not just terror on every side, it’s terror on top and bottom, too.” These days, they might call him Grumpy Guss or Prudish Pete or Old Fire and Brimstone.
So, Jeremiah tried a new tack. He tried to keep the word inside him. He’d forget about it. Don’t speak the message God gave him, just let the people go to hell if that’s what they had aimed to do. But that didn’t work, either. He says, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones and I am wearing holding it in, and I cannot” (v. 9). The divine Word had come to Jeremiah with the power of God and with the purpose of God to warn His people and give them opportunity to repent. It would not be thwarted. It burned with God’s wrath at their injustices and their idolatries. It burned with God’s own passion for His people that He wanted them back at His side and He would have it proclaimed even if they were not willing to listen. So the Word just had to spill over from the prophet’s mouth, come what may.
Six centuries later, when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, He suffered the same mocking and ridicule and rejection. Just as Jeremiah’s contemporaries conspired against him, whispering their plots, so Jesus’ enemies conspired and plotted and finally got Him nailed to a cross. And still He burned with passion for His people and for all people. So He went willingly, unlike Jeremiah, without complaint, to bear their sins, our sins, and become Himself the sacrifice that would win us all back to God.
Jeremiah had a foretaste of the sufferings of the Christ who loves this hurt and hurting world even unto death. He also had a foretaste of the power of His resurrection. Jeremiah doesn’t stay down in the dumps. He rises up again. He goes from lamenting his plight among the people to consider again the blessing of having God on his side, or rather, being himself on the side of God. “The Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors…will not succeed” (vs. 11). By faith, Jeremiah re-evaluates his situation. He’s not alone with a nation against him. He has the Lord with him. He imagines the Lord to be like Clint Eastwood, ready to lay all his enemies low. God is like Rambo or Robocop, someone who will defend his friend and deal with his enemies as prosecutor, judge and executioner all in one, with swift and terrible justice.
Then Jeremiah thinks about his own personal relationship with God, the one who “tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind.” He realizes that this situation isn’t just about decrying the unfaithfulness and unbelief of the nation. His ministry is also about God testing his own faithfulness. Where is your heart at, Jeremiah? Will you trust in God, even when the whole world seems against you? Will you have joy in Him when your job to proclaim His Word yields you only earthly misery? Will you have peace in the Prince of Peace even if those who are faithful to Him will only have trouble in this fallen and sinful world? Here Jeremiah has his breakthrough to a fresh realization of God’s grace. He realizes again the goodness and faithfulness of God to him, the undeserved mercy he has experienced in God’s love and forgiveness toward him. He realizes again that he is a beggar, needing everything from God and finding everything in God who gives Himself so freely and fully to His people who trust in Him. So the prophet ends this complaint and lament. The pity party turns to praise as he says, “Sing to the Lord; Praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the evildoers” (vs. 13).
So, this is the deception that God pulled over on His prophet. This is the deception that God has pulled over on you. He gave you His Word with the promise that in it He would give you forgiveness, life and salvation. He has and it does. But it also earns you some enemies. Satan will rage against you. The world won’t have place for you anymore. Those who are comfortable in their sins will feel guilty, uncomfortable and angry sometimes by your very presence. If you speak God’s Word as God empowers you to, if you tell of your Savior and His holy Law and His saving love which alone brings salvation, you may lose friends. You may find family members turned against you. But this you will have: You will have God on your side because you will be on the side of God. The world will be offended by the Word of God, but don’t you be offended. They may stumble over the Rock which is Christ but you make that Rock your foundation and you build your house on His Holy Word and it will stand forever. There will be trials in this world. In any case, there will be trials. But those who bear unashamed the hardships which come with following Christ will never be put to shame. He will rescue and deliver. Even going to the cross for us, he delivers us. And His deliverance is as sure as His rising from the tomb.
Jeremiah had been given a visible sign of the destruction of Jerusalem. He went to the gate and shattered the pot to say that God would shatter the nation. In those days, when a prophet spoke a word or enacted a word like that, that wasn’t considered an idea for consideration or a topic for conversation. The prophetic word was active and powerful and accomplished what it said. So when Jeremiah did that, it was like an act of treason. He was considered personally responsible for letting loose spiritual forces which would bring the city to the ground.
You have been given a visible sign as well—a powerful and effective visible sign which does what it says. In Holy Baptism, God has spoken a better word to you than breaking a pot over you. He has poured His water of life on you and spoken His Name over you. Yes, He has set you against Satan and the fallen world and even against your own sinful flesh. But He has given you Himself and made you His own. He’s given you names as well: Not “Terror on every side” like Jeremiah, but “Beloved Child,” “Holy priest,” “Christ’s disciple,” “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” “Saint,” and more.
Yes, He has given you a word of Law to tell to the world. You will not be able to endorse or support the idolatry, the immorality, the injustice and the selfishness that seem to make this world go around. God will even use you at times to instruct people in right and wrong and some may not welcome that message. But God has also given you a Holy Word of Gospel, a sweet message of forgiveness that is yours to share with the world by the blood of Jesus Christ. God is merciful and gracious, eager to receive all who repent of their sins and call upon Christ as their Savior. I hope you earn yourself some nicknames for telling people about Jesus. I hope you won’t be called Grumpy Guss but Gospel Guss; you won’t be Prudish Patsy but Praising Patsy, not Doom and Gloom Lou but Allelluia Lou.
We may all have our moments when we resonate with Jeremiah. We might complain about our lot in life and even get angry with God for giving us our callings. We might try to forget about God or grow weary of this world’s wickedness. But in the end, God invites us to live and hang our hats where Jeremiah comes to his breakthrough by the victory of faith. We can rejoice and praise the Lord. The Lord is with us. He delivers the needy and He delivers us.
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