Amazing Trust, Jeremiah 20:7–13, Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7), June 21, 2020
Name the author of this quote:
“O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”
Do you think it is Elijah sitting under the broom tree, ready to die?
Or how about Paul, after being stoned and left for dead outside the Lystra city limits?
What about a psalmist in a lamenting mood?
Or is it Jesus, talking to His Father after going 10 rounds with the Pharisees?
Could it be your own pastor? Does it sound like something you have said?
The correct answer could be “all of the above,” but the exact words are from the prophet Jeremiah. (7:7-8) Jeremiah was a very lonely and bitter prophet.
In our first reading Jeremiah is having a trust crisis. He fears that God has played with him, deceived him, and treated him badly. Yet, even in our Gospel reading Jesus sends out the disciples with hard warnings of persecution and divided families. Jesus ends this portion of His discourse with an admonition to trust and not be afraid. God has numbered the very hairs of our heads. He is watching, He cares, and He will do something about it. His help may come in the resurrection from the dead on the last day, mind you, but He will do something about it. Jesus asks us to trust, and act, on His radical message.
We like trust, value it, even go so far as to call it a virtue, but there are limits. You would not want to be found gullible, and we all know that the email from Nigeria telling us that millions could be ours if only we would let them wire transfer some funds through our account is a scam. What’s more, our trust is often dangerously placed in ourselves.
Generally speaking, we Lutherans are a modest people who want to live comfortable lives. We have our retirement accounts and our comfortable cars. We have a home in the right sort of neighborhood, and we are respectable people who pay our bills. We pay our taxes, vote in the elections, may have served in the military, and support the firemen who raise a little something for charity every now and again. We trust Jesus, sure, but we also have a pretty good idea of what it takes to have a trustful and respectable life.
Yet there are plenty of things capable of eroding our trust today.
Social unrest. I mean, what is happening in our urban cities these days?
Maybe a pandemic. Is it safe to even go to church?
Employment woes that lead to financial hardship. Layoffs don’t seem to be based on any kind of company loyalty to the worker. And don’t even mention the stock market roller coaster!
Fake news. I don’t even know who you can you trust, CNN or FOX? Right!
There seems to be a political landscape that is only comprised of people telling people that the other guys are nothing but liars.
What about privacy. Is there someone recording and noting every click we make on the computer? Are they tracking everyone we talk to on our cell phone, or everywhere we go?
How can I trust anything with all the terrorism in the world today? Did you see that dark-skinned Arab looking fellow in seat 32b on the plane that just boarded?
Can we even trust that neighbor down the street, maybe they’re a predator or some psychopath?
How can God be calling us to trust in all these situations? Even the readings today, which contain all this talk about trust, do they really help? Jesus seems to be speaking of a radical life which has nothing to do with us today. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived long ago. His angst is historically interesting, but not really something we are concerned with today, right?
Or does it? After all, if you read a little deeper in Jeremiah, at times he sounds a lot like the protesters who are outraged at the abuses which they perceive from the police.
And, you really have to have some compassion for poor Jeremiah. He just couldn’t win. The occasion of his lament is found in the verses immediately prior to our reading this morning, (vs 1-7). And today’s text seems to take Jeremiah’s complaint one step further.
Most scholars agree that Jeremiah appears to have been a descendent of Eli and lived under a curse. In the opening chapters of 1st Samuel, the priest Eli had been cursed by God. His descendants would die young and leave weeping orphaned children. This plays out in a number of scenes throughout the reign of David and into the reign of Solomon. King Solomon finally had enough of these guys, who had consistently backed the wrong guy, and made a misstep at every juncture. He banished them to a small village outside of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is a priest of living under that curse.
But Jeremiah’s early career hardly seemed cursed. He had risen to considerable prominence. He had been an advisor to King Josiah and had helped him orchestrate his reforms in the last days of the 7th century BC. But when today’s text transpires Josiah was dead and Jeremiah’s counsel was no longer welcome in the palace of Josiah’s sons.
God sent him again and again with a difficult word for the king and citizens of Jerusalem. The sins of the people were great. The Babylonians would come and lay waste the land, destroy the temple, cart off the populace into a bitter exile, and only a remnant would remain. As you can imagine this did not endear him to the kings, or the people.
What transpires next is what makes Jeremiah so valuable to us as Christians, and almost unique in world religions. After this, perhaps while he is confined in stocks, Jeremiah takes his complaints and his negative feelings to God. He raises his profound disappointment in God-with God.
Imagine Jeremiah speaking these words while he is bound hand and foot in some public square while people spit and hurl insults at him. He does not psychologically suppress it, in the name of faith. He does not simply submit to the will of God. He does not resign himself to the cruel reality that the wheel of history sometimes crushes us. He gets angry. He accuses God of deceiving him, cheating him, lying to him. He counted on God’s promises and feels like God has let him down, and he is going to let God know about this.
Perhaps what is amazing is that Jeremiah doesn’t get fried for this. In fact, we get the very nature of God revealed most beautifully in God’s response to his anger. God loves him and gently restores him. God can take our anger, more than that, He invites us to trust Him and bring all our emotions to Him.
Without a doubt, Jeremiah’s cursed life becomes a foreshadowing, a prophecy in itself, of the One who bore the curse for us on a tree. Jeremiah’s lament becomes a strange forward echo of Jesus’ own words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jeremiah’s depiction of his plight is specific and eerily reminiscent of Jesus. His best friends have turned against him; Judas-like. He is completely alone and abandoned by those who knew him; like disciples fleeing from a garden. His prophetic message is the problem; as Jesus’ own message was really what got Him killed. When Jeremiah tries to bottle it up, his bones are on fire and he is compelled to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus knows full well what awaits Him in Jerusalem, yet compelled by the passion of His love, He goes anyway.
When Jeremiah speaks, he is hated. He trusts God even when he cannot win. He closes out his expression of grief with an affirmation of his trust. He looks forward to the day when God will vindicate him and shame his enemies. He sings to the one who delivers him.
It doesn’t last, if you keep reading, you find that Jeremiah immediately returns to his somber theme. He curses the day of his birth. He wishes that he had died in the womb, and regrets the day that someone sent out his birth announcements. He looks like someone we would be calling 911 about.
Trusting God does not automatically make all the bad feelings go away. Christians can still struggle. Just because we have faith does not mean that we always feel good or that we have somehow banished these sorts of thoughts.
How often are you and I forced into that sort of pretense? When we go out and about, we put on a mask of perfection; our family is just so, our marriage is stress free. We imagine that God and others are watching and if they knew what was really happing in our homes, or our lives that they would no longer love us. It is fake and inauthentic, but it is all too very human.
Yet Jeremiah’s words ascend to faithful heights; when he appears to go to the basement of woe and despair, God stayed down there with him, God abided with Jeremiah his whole life, even when he did not have the happy thoughts which, some imagine, are the only right thoughts for Christians to have.
God invites you today to trust Him. He invites you to be totally honest with Him. He already knows it. But like Adam hiding in the garden, you can hear His invitation to step out from behind the bush, which you are hiding, and trust Him. He does not force you out. Just like God asked Adam what he has done, not because He needed information, but because Adam needed to say it.
So God makes that possible for you today without making it a confrontation or an accusation. There is hope and a promise of a real security, a true trust can only be found in the merciful presence of God. Amen.