The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Jeremiah 15:15 “‘You who know, O Lord, Remember me, take notice of me, And take vengeance for me on my persecutors. Do not, in view of Your patience, take me away; Know that for Your sake I endure reproach. 16 Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers, Nor did I exult. Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone, For You filled me with indignation. 18 Why has my pain been perpetual And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream With water that is unreliable? 19 Therefore, thus says the Lord, “If you return, then I will restore you— Before Me you will stand; And if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman. They for their part may turn to you, But as for you, you must not turn to them. 20 Then I will make you to this people A fortified wall of bronze; And though they fight against you, They will not prevail over you; For I am with you to save you And deliver you,’ declares the Lord. 21 ‘So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.’” (NASB)
When I graduated from Concordia Theology Seminary in 1991, I received a call into the ministry, I had more than 100 classmates. That same year the St. Louis seminary graduated around 120 men. Between the two seminaries somewhere around 220 men received a call into the Holy Ministry. This past spring those two institutions a total of 103 pastoral candidates. Few men are being sent to the seminary from congregations, but there are fewer congregations that can afford a full time pastor. Lutherans aren’t alone in the decline.
As for what each other finds when the two groups are married up is this. Newly minted pastor stand of good chance of serving a congregation that isn’t as faithful as it ought to be to the words of God and some of those pastoral candidates aren’t as clear thinking as they should be either.
Declining church membership and attendance, has driven the church to introduce new measures, techniques, and styles. Unfortunately all that invovations has brought with it a theological sloppiness resulting in various degrees of unfaithfulness.
Today our culture, country, and especially churches and the Christians that occupy them are in desperate need of a true reformation. Step by step they have all turned away from that which is true, right, good, and acceptable to God. That’s been a problem since the beginning and such was the case when Jeremiah was a prophet.
The prophet Jeremiah lived from 627 – 580 b.c. He was a little after Isaiah and a contemporary of Ezekiel’s. His ministry covered the time just before the Israelites were beaten the Babylonians and taken into captivity in Babylon.
Scholars have given prophet Jeremiah a nickname. He is called the “Weeping Prophet.” Jeremiah was sent to Israel at the very height of their unbelief and rebellion. It was so bad, that the people did not believe – that they did not believe. Since Jeremiah was a prophet of mostly judgment and doom, he didn’t have much good to say about or to the Israelites. As we all have a want to do, the people did not want to hear the bad news, especially the kind Jeremiah was given to speak.
Jeremiah was given the job of telling the Israelites that they were going to die horrible deaths. They were going to die by way of war. They were going to die of starvation, disease, and animal attacks. These are the kinds of things that kill people in siege warfare.
The Israelites were so blinded by their own self-righteousness and unbelief that when the judgment of God actually came, it didn’t make sense to them. They couldn’t understand why God was treating them in such a manner. They, like so many today, thought they deserved more. They saw themselves a decent and religious people. It’s not that they didn’t believe the Yahweh Elohim didn’t exist, just thought they ought to cover all the bases and pay tribute to the God’s of other nations too.
As a people they had become so infected by the thinking and pagan religions of the day, they couldn’t understand how God could turn against them. They were the good guys seeking good ends. They had good intentions, like Peter in the Gospel lesson. They couldn’t see themselves as an ungodly people.
Just think today of the people in the streets and a good number of office holders in government, big corporations, and even the visible church. They regard people like you and me, Christians, conservatives, and constitutionalists as fascist, brown shirts, a people looking to suppress votes, and steal election. At the same time they are the ones acting like fascists, brown shirts, and so on. One can think of here Jesus in Matthew 15:14; “… bind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
In 1938 in Nazi Germany there was a Lutheran pastor. He would eventually be recognized as one of the best Lutheran theologians in the 20th century. His name was Herman Sasse. He lived from 1895 to 1976. As darkness fell over his country, he wrote this of the pastor church.
“Many of us are lonely and forsaken: pastors who at lonely posts in areas of the church where today the very things which had been the church’s salvation through the times of the worst apostasy, the Word of the Holy Scriptures and the Sacraments of the Lord, are perishing. . . .” (“The Lonely Way,” by Hermann Sasse, page 432)
As the church declines so does the country and as the country declines so does the church. Eventually we all join the weeping prophets. Jeremiah’s words become our words. “‘You who know, O Lord, Remember me, take notice of me, And take vengeance for me on my persecutors. Do not, in view of Your patience, take me away; Know that for Your sake I endure reproach.”
Telling the arrogant, they are arrogant, telling the self-righteous that nothing good lives in them, telling the young they do not know as much as they think they know, telling the religious that they have chosen the wrong religion, and telling the old they have lost their way, doesn’t make a preacher very popular.
God had known and appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet while Jeremiah was still on the womb. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” When Jeremiah was old enough, God called him into the office of prophet. Jeremiah response; “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:5-6).
God had said to Jeremiah at his calling, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. 8 ‘Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the Lord.” Yet Jeremiah still struggled, wept, and feared.
Jeremiah faced an angry and violent people, not unlike the mobs that forced republican convention goers to run gauntlets as they left the rose garden this past week. Things were so bad, God told Jeremiah that he wasn’t even suppose to pray for the Israelites. In the book of Romans we are told that things can be so bad, that God gives “them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful. (Romans 1:28ff) That description fit the people to whom Jeremiah was sent. I will leave its contemporary application to your own imagination.
When people came to Jeremiah and said, “‘Where should we go?’” God told Jeremiah “you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Those destined for death, to death; And those destined for the sword, to the sword; And those destined for famine, to famine; And those destined for captivity, to captivity.”’ (15:1-3)
From the point of view of the residents of Jerusalem, there is no good news in Jeremiah’s sermon. They were destined to die. The lucky ones would be taken away as slaves.
The good news of God’s rescue was reserved for Jeremiah. God tells him that He will protect him. All Jeremiah has to do is remain steadfast and faithful and do his job. At his calling into the ministry in 1:9 “The Lord stretched out His hand and touched my [Jeremiah’s] mouth, and the Lord said . . ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’”
Even though, or perhaps because of the pain and insult that he had received, Jeremiah wrote, “Know that for Your sake I endure reproach. 16 Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers, Nor did I exult. Because of Your hand upon me I sat alone.” That’s all the weeping prophet had to do. He had to be clear in his mind, steadfast in his spirit, and remain faithful to the task.
But we know, it’s not all that easy, is it. It’s easy to focus on the wrong things, to give in to our natural inclination to avoid conflict. It’s even harder to humble our minds and spirits.
It wasn’t for Peter in the Gospel lesson. Jesus was heading to Jerusalem and His crucifixion on Good Friday. He knew what lie ahead. Jesus told His “disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’” (Matthew 16:21-22)
All Peter had to do was to be clear in his mind and steadfast in his spirit that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He did not. He earned for himself the greatest rebuke possible in all of the New Testament. “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:23)
The Israelites to whom Jeremiah was sent, abhorred what is good; clung to what was evil. Peter in that moment, abhorred what was good and clung to what was evil. He had set his mind on sinful man’s interested not God’s.
There’s a saying that you don’t hear much today. It use to be said that a person who demonstrated a kind of hyper-Christian piety is a person who “is so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” I use to meet those kind of people from time-to-time. Not so much these days. But there is another truism that is even more true and applicable for our day. The visible church and a great many people who claim to belong to it, “are so earthly minded, they’re no heavenly good.” They set there minds on earthly things and serve only man’s sinful interests.
This has always been a problem. That’s why St. Paul wrote in the Epistle lesson, 9 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love . . .12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you . . 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. . . associate with the lowly. . . Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Romans 12:9-17)
God said to Jeremiah, “though they fight against you, They will not prevail over you; For I am with you to save you And deliver you . . . ‘So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.’”
Those words did not mean that Jeremiah would not suffer in this life. He did. There are two oral traditions concerning Jeremiah’s fate. One tells us that Jeremiah was stoned to death by Israelites. The other says they stuffed him in a rotted out fallen tree trunk, then sawed it in half.
The Bible never promises health, wealth, worldly peace, and smooth sailing for the faithful. It’s the opposite. Students are not greater than the Master and will not be treated any better than the Master.
Jeremiah was rescued and saved for eternity by the promise of the promised Messiah. The grasp of the violent came to an end, but the grasp of God did not.
That’s our hope as well. This life will have pain and pain as you know comes in different forms. Physical, spiritual, psychological. This life will have hardship, brokenness, and struggle. But these are all redeemed and serve a purpose. St. Apostle Paul wrote of his pain, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
With Jeremiah, we look forward to the fulness of that which our God has promised. We make the words of Jeremiah our own words, 16 “Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.” So chew on these words and make them your joy and delight. Your sins are forgiven. You shall rise again.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.