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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, Septmber 20, 2015

These are the Days of Jeremiah

Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20

Today we read a very brief passage from a major figure in salvation history—the prophet Jeremiah. The Book of Jeremiah, in fact, is the longest book in the Bible. And our three verses today are not only brief, but they are personal. Here is a man whom God appointed for a major task with eternal implications. And yet, today we are going to look at three verses that speak of Jeremiah’s personal struggle, and consider how they may guide us in our struggle as Christians in today’s world. When we read the prophets, we rightly devote most of our attention to their message, because it is God’s revelation. But at times, we are wise to look at the personal aspects of a prophet’s vocation.

I’m going to look at three things:

1. We had better expect to be opposed for our commitment to Jesus.

2. How we handle that opposition spiritually matters.

3. We should commit ourselves to God’s cause and put our trust in God.

First a little background. God appointed Jeremiah to point out the people’s sin, to call them to repent, and to warn them of coming disasters. It is painful, difficult and perilous to tell the world about its sin, and about what God is going to do about it. I expect that you have some personal experience with that reality. We are living in a world that is spinning in all directions because it has cynically rejected God’s moral compass. If you are trying to live a faithful life devoted to God, you will certainly have experienced the pain, difficulty and peril of telling people about God’s will.

Jeremiah was a young man when God approached him and called him to be a prophet. God said to him:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. [Jeremiah 1:5]

We quote those words often, along with Psalm 139, to tell the world that every life is unique and precious, and that God has a purpose for each of us. Jeremiah tells us he served from the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah through the fall of Judah’s last king when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. (Jeremiah 1:2-3) So we can place him precisely in history: he prophesied for 40 years, from 626 BC to 586 BC. They were tumultuous years very much like our times:

• The leaders of the nations were corrupt.

• Nations were rising up against nations.

• Superpowers in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon were running rampant, intent on dominating world affairs.

• The pagan nations were exporting their false gods and their wicked practices.

• In Judah, God’s people were living in blatant disregard of God’s Law.

Doesn’t that sound eerily like our times?

• Corruption is a spreading like wildfire in the financial markets, commercial trade and government.

• Wars and civil wars are raging all over the globe.

• Rogue nations have developed nuclear weapons capable of mass destruction.

• Islamic jihadists are pushing their religion through murder and conquest.

• And here at home, things are becoming the cultural norm that God’s Word says are unthinkable.

Jeremiah’s job, assigned to him by God, was to announce the end of an era. He was to alert the people to their sin and its consequences. He reminded them of God’s covenant, which they were violating, and the curses God had said would befall them if they did not keep the covenant. (See Deuteronomy 29:29ff) He told them that they would be led off to Babylon in exile. And he also told them of the restoration that God would one day bring, for God’s mercy is great and His steadfast love endures forever.

Jeremiah suffered as a prophet. First of all, he loved his nation and its people. He was the son of a priest, and he was steeped in the ritual practices of worshiping God and keeping His festivals. It was deeply painful to Jeremiah to see the Hebrew people’s disregard of God’s Word.

Second, Jeremiah struggled with God. He wanted a less severe punishment for God’s people. Each time he had to tell them of an army overrunning them, or of their being wrenched from their homeland, he wanted God to tone it down and do something a little less drastic.

And finally, his message was hugely unpopular. People don’t like to be told that they are sinners, do they? They don’t like to be told that God is going to punish them. They much prefer to be told that God loves them just as they are, and that God wants them to be happy. In fact, there were plenty of false prophets in the land who were doing just that. That was who the kings were listening to. Their message was that Jeremiah was a dangerous alarmist and defeatist.

That is the context for the passage we read this morning. There had been plots against Jeremiah’s life. And he tells us he was completely unaware that this was going on. He says the Lord revealed the plots to him, and that he had been “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” not knowing what they were planning. We are, of course, familiar with the image of the lamb led to the slaughter. We worship the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and who was slain in complete innocence so that we may be saved.

Why would Jeremiah be so naïve that he knew nothing about these plots? Most of us can probably identify. We want to trust God’s people. Something in us is inclined to assume the best in people. There are two opposite ways to approach the issue of trusting people.

• You can trust them until they show you they cannot be trusted;

• or you can distrust everyone until they prove they deserve your trust.

If you are a trusting person by nature, you live a less angry life. You are more at peace with people. But you also are going to be disappointed on many occasions. And the more corrupt the world is, the more people ignore God’s Law, the more disappointed you will be. Corrupt and sinful people cannot be trusted.

On the other hand, if you are by nature a distrusting person, you won’t have many good friends, you will have a lot of suspicions, and your happiness will suffer as a result. But at least you won’t get taken in very often.

What did Jesus tell us about this? He said we should be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16) He was telling us not to abandon the loving hearts that make us want to trust. But He also told us to expect opposition. He said that the world is going to be an increasingly wicked place, where “brother will betray brother." He told us that we would be handed over to the local councils and flogged on account of Him. (Matthew 10:17-18)

I can’t help but think of the Christian florists and photographers and bakers who are getting caught in the net as same-sex marriage sweeps the land. I’ve seen the florist, Barronelle Stutzman, interviewed. She talks about how she treated the gay man who had been her customer for years. When he asked her to do the flowers for his wedding, she took his hands in hers and said in so many words, “I love you, but I can’t do this for you, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ." And she ended up in court with a huge fine, and she became an object of ridicule, and faces financial ruin.

What we are witnessing is not really about civil rights. It is about people not liking to be told that their behavior is sinful. These are the days of Jeremiah all over again. What about that group that is trying to show the world some ugly truths about Planned Parenthood with its series of videos? You can bet they will end up in court with some kind of a charge against them for their undercover video operation. We have to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. We have to love our neighbors no matter who they are. And we have to expect that there will be a backlash against us for adhering to the Word of God. We go to our Marches for Life and take part in the peaceful witnessing of 600,000 people and then we put up with being called an angry mob.

So what does Jeremiah say to us about how to deal with that spiritually? Well, he gives us a candid look at himself.

But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. [Jeremiah 11:20]

Jeremiah wanted those people who wickedly plotted to kill him to get what was coming to them. It’s hard to blame him. We see that in many places in the Bible. At its worst, it sounds like “We hate those people for what they have done to us, so please punish them." But the overall Biblical message is that God is one day going to turn the wicked world upside down and restore it to the perfection for which He made it. Jesus is going to come again and judge everyone according to their deeds, and there will be no more sin and no more crying. Come Lord Jesus!

If we revel in thoughts of God punishing those who have wronged us, we are going to be unhappy people. We will find it hard to let go of past hurts and forgive those who sin against us. But what did Jesus command? He told us to love our enemies and to pray for them. So we pray—not that they will get what is coming to them, but that they will repent and turn to the Lord and be saved. For the Bible tells us that God our Savior wants everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:4)

If we are looking for spiritual advice in these verses from Jeremiah, we can find it in the rest verse 20. Jeremiah says, “O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind...." And then he says, “to you I have committed my cause." What I hear this scripture saying is that we should commit our cause to God and then trust Him, for He is righteous. Forget whether we ever get the satisfaction of seeing our enemies get what’s coming to them. Focus on the fact that God has called us to love Him and serve Him and build our lives around Him. Focus on the fact that the one who has called us is –

• the King of kings and Lord of lords,

• the all-powerful one who created the heavens and the earth with a Word from His mouth,

• The one in whom all things have their being,

• The one who showed His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us; (Romans 5:8)

• The one who cares for the poor and the outcast and the orphan and the widow;

• The one who leaves the 99 sheep and goes out after the one that is lost;

• The one who works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Jeremiah was called by God to serve Him as prophet. He objected, “I’m too young. I don’t know how to speak." And God told him, “Do not be afraid for I am with you." So Jeremiah committed himself to God’s cause. We, too, have a calling on our lives. Our call is to be the disciples of Jesus Christ, and to be His witnesses in Lancaster and Northumberland and Richmond and Essex and Westmoreland and across this nation and to the ends of the earth.

We are called to worship Him and to be good people who keep His commandments. But we are also called to tell the world who God is and what God is doing. So in a sense, our call is not all that different from Jeremiah’s is it? Nor is our destiny any different. We are witnessing to what Jesus called a perverse, unbelieving and wicked generation (Matthew 12:39, 17:17). And we can be certain that we will experience the same kind of push-back and opposition and ridicule and hatred as Jeremiah experienced—and as Jesus experienced—and as the first disciples experienced. But if we commit ourselves to the task, and if we put our trust in God, who is the only One who will never betray our trust, we are going to be okay.

Jesus said that He told us these things so that we may have joy and that our joy may be complete. Being the people of God is what true joy is all about.

Think about those Christians in Charleston, South Carolina, whose pastor and eight fellow parishioners were murdered by Dylann Roof. They astounded the world by proclaiming their forgiveness of the killer. They gave witness that they serve Jesus. They have given the world an example that many people are still scratching their heads over. And they are still grieving mightily. But when the trial comes, they won’t be calling for blood. They will be witnessing for the love of Christ.

• And hopefully, the world will hear that there is a righteous God in heaven who sent His only Son to save us from our sins.

• And hopefully many will repent and turn to Him.

• And hopefully, the covenant will be restored for this nation.

• And hopefully we will be a generation who knows and loves the Lord Jesus, and God will be glorified, and all the company of heaven will sing for joy.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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