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June 25, 2017



6.25.17                              Pentecost 3                    - Jeremiah 20:7-13ESV

7O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. 13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.


Jeremiah is one of the most colorful characters in the Bible but many people don’t know much about him, other than, perhaps, he wrote a long book in the Old Testament.  I’m going to review the life of Jeremiah with you because there is a strong message of encouragement for us today.  He was the son of a priest from a small town near Jerusalem, born after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered and deported by the Assyrian empire in the 7th century BC.  At a young age God called him to be a prophet, saying, “I have put my words in your mouth” (so he could talk with his mouth full).  At first things went well.  A revival of true religion was sponsored by the good king Josiah under Jeremiah’s influence.  But when Josiah died in battle, the roof caved in on the land of Judah.  Its rulers started making political alliances with neighboring countries to protect them from the now-powerful Babylonians, importing their pagan practices as well, instead of depending on the Lord God.  Jeremiah was suspected of treason because God informed him that an invasion by the Babylonians was an inevitable part of His plan to discipline the people.  They needed to learn to trust God to save them, not mortal men.
His life in danger, Jeremiah continued to write warnings from his hideout.  One time, while his secretary, Baruch, was delivering a letter, he was seized by court advisors of the new king Jehoiakim.  They took the scroll in his hand and showed it to the king.  After hearing a few lines read to him, the king cut the scroll into strips which he burned in a fire, and ordered the immediate arrest of Jeremiah. On the run, Jeremiah continued to preach against the faithless rulers of Judah, while watching the royal family deposed and exiled by the bully Babylonians. 
During the siege of Jerusalem, he was imprisoned, thrown into a muddy cistern, but his life was spared.  When the Jews were carried off into the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah predicted it would last for 70 years and some would return to their homeland.  To show his confidence that the Lord would keep His promise to them, Jeremiah bought a piece of property near his hometown, knowing he would not live to possess it.  Allowed to stay in Judah by the new regime, Jeremiah served the few remaining Jews in that territory.  But scorned by them he was taken for protective custody to Egypt, tradition tells us, where he was stoned to death for irritating the Jewish refugee colony there. 
Quite a stormy career. Not a recruitment poster for being a prophet.  Jeremiah must have had a personality disorder; he kept opening his big mouth and making people mad at him.  And yet, we think of Jeremiah as a hero of the faith, an example of the theme for this sermon.  GOD’S WORD: YOU CAN’T KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.  That’s true for us, too.  Despite the opposition we might receive, we must speak out for God on the issues of our day. 
Just prior to this lesson we hear Jeremiah complaining about the treatment he was receiving from a certain temple official who had ordered him beaten and put in stocks overnight. You see, the religious establishment was out to get him, too.   Apparently the prophet had had it up to here.  He even blames God somewhat, insinuating that the Lord had tricked him into becoming a prophet against his will.  It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  No prestige, he got no respect, like Rodney Dangerfield used to say.  Here he was, the servant of the Lord, doing his job diligently, but he was the “laughingstock” of the people who mocked him like some sort of right wingnut.  A prophet of doom and gloom, he was always crying out, “Violence and destruction,” the classic caricature of the crackpot on the street corner carrying a sign: “Repent! The end is near.”   
[A little comic relief.  Reminds me of a story about an elderly couple sitting out on the lawn of their house in the country.  Since it was on a busy road, they put a sign in the front yard: “Repent, the end is near.”  Sure enough, a convertible came speeding by, and an instant later they heard the squealing of tires and a loud crash.  Ma turns to Pa and says, “Maybe we should change the sign:  ‘Turn here.  Bridge out ahead.’”]     
Thing is, that’s what the people needed to hear.  He condemned their sins because they were guilty of gross idolatry and rank hypocrisy.  Judgment was coming – individually and nationally – if they didn’t turn away from their evil ways and turn back to beg the Lord’s mercy.  But they didn’t want to hear that message, so, typically, they attacked the messenger.  They looked for anything they could pin on him, a false move, a little slip, a molehill they could turn into a mountain.  Sort of like gotcha media these days.  People with conservative religious values become easy targets labeled as hateful bigots just for expressing biblical beliefs.  It’s always been that way.  (Remember John the Baptist.  They brought his head on a platter for condemning the king’s adulterous affair. )
Never easy to accuse fellow human beings of sin, because we know we’re all sinners.  As Christians we have the unpleasant duty to admonish sinners but also the glorious privilege to comfort them.  Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, the saying goes.  Our goal is not to put them on a guilt trip but rather to help them get on the path of forgiveness and peace.  Still, it’s much safer to look the other way, don’t say anything.  Don’t make waves.  Have you ever felt that way?  Admit to being a Bible-believing Christian who actually takes it seriously?  What, and risk being considered a “holier than thou” hypocrite?  Or, on social issues – stand up for the right to life of unborn babies, speak out against the oxymoron of same-sex marriage, point out the dangers of transgender confusion – not so hard when you’re preaching to the choir in a church like this, but say it in public?  I don’t think so.  Better to be a live chicken than a dead duck. 
Jeremiah almost got to the point where he was ready to shut up, quit talking about God’s word.  But you know what?  He couldn’t do it.  He tried to hold back but it wouldn’t work.  “If I say, I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”  He couldn’t help it.  Like the psalmwriter said (Ps 145): “I believed, therefore I have spoken.”  Like the apostles said (Ac 4): “We cannot help speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”  Likewise, you can’t keep God’s Word to yourself.
That’s because the word of God gives you heart burn, it’s like fire in the belly.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt the heat when Jesus opened the Scriptures to them: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” they asked.  The word of God cuts to the bone.  The writer to the Hebrews wrote that it’s “sharper than a double-edged sword, dividing joints and marrow, soul and spirit, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  If God’s word has cut you to the quick, it will slice through the thick hide of others, too.  Situations come up that remind you of Bible passages you heard or Bible stories you learned, and you see an application.  If you see something, say something.  “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” Paul said (Rm 10)  Let it out.  Tell it like it is.  You can’t keep it to yourself.  Jesus told us, “You are the light of the world.”  Don’t hide it under a bowl.  Let it shine!
As you speak up for the Lord, he will overcome those who put you down.  Jeremiah almost sounds paranoid here, talking to himself.  People are “whispering” about him, even “close friends” waiting to “denounce” him, “watching” for him to “fall,” hoping he will be “deceived” so they can take “revenge” on him.  Talk about a basket case.  He knew he was engaged in a battle between the forces of good and evil.  Not just philosophical differences or personal preferences, this was a clash between right and wrong, true or false.  We are experiencing a similar culture war, as it’s been called.  You may not identify the uniforms, but you can recognize the enemy.  “By their fruits you will know them,” Jesus defined the false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing. 
The bad news is that we have to fight the battle, we can’t flee from it, because it is all around us (and within us).  The good news is that we already know who won.  Jesus did.  He came into this world to defeat the devil, to abolish Satan’s reign of terror.  By His death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has triumphed.  By the grace of God and the gift of faith, His victory is ours. 
Although Jeremiah didn’t know all these details, he could declare: “The Lord is with me as a warrior.”  That verse should be imprinted in our minds, embossed on our brains.  Ultimately God will show who’s in charge.  Until then, we will hope in the Lord as we warrior on.  Jesus urged: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Here the prophet regains his composure and conviction that his “persecutors will stumble” and they will “not succeed.”  He commits his “cause” to the “Lord of hosts.”  And he ends by singing the praises of the Lord for delivering him from evil, even as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer so often. 
Folks, let’s learn from Jeremiah today that you can’t keep God’s Word to yourself.  Then listen again to Jesus in the gospel lesson:  “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”  Amen.