“OTE 16 - THE PROPHETS”

JEREMIAH 1:4-10; 30:1-3; 31:4-7

NOVEMBER 15, 2015

Rev. Dr Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            I could have titled today’s sermon “Jeremiah: The Crazy Old Coot Who Was Right When the World Was Wrong.” That descriptive by the way would apply to a lot of God’s prophets. They were often seen as crazy old coots, out of touch with reality, doomsayers, pessimists extraordinaire. 

            Jeremiah, of course, did not start out as an old coot. He started out where all of us do, as an innocent child. At a tender, unannounced age God called him to be a prophet and the call was personally addressed and divinely delivered. Who among us has not dreamed of receiving such a direct, clear, unequivocal call by God to a particular life, to a particular course of action?

            Yet despite the clarity of the call Jeremiah initially turned it down. Quickly as he could, Jeremiah came up with two perfect reasons why he couldn't possibly do what God had asked him to do. First, he protested, "I don't know how to speak,” and followed that up with a second reason, "I am only a boy!"

            God, however, had years of practice dealing with nay-sayers. From Adam to Abraham, Jacob to Moses, God had never taken “no” for an answer. So, the stammering hesitancy of Jeremiah was no match for God's saying "Oh yes you will! Do not say, 'I am only a boy,' for you shall go to all I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

            Wouldn’t life be a lot simpler if we would only say “Yes” instead of “No” to God? There is a dynamic church in Canada, in Brantford, Ontario, who named themselves “The Yes! Church.” What a great name for a church! “The Yes! Church.” The church that says “Yes!” to God and not “No!” to God.

            Jeremiah's ministry began in the thirteenth year of Josiah and it ended some forty years later after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. His prophesying spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah.

            As with most prophets, and we have sixteen books of the Old Testament written from a prophet’s perspective, as with most prophets Jeremiah was not the most popular guy on the block. Like most prophets he said, “If you don’t clean up your act, this is going to happen and you are not going to like it,” and in Jeremiah’s case they did not clean up their act, and they didn’t like it.

            I’m sure you have heard the line, ”Well, I don't want to say it but, 'I told you so!’” Maybe you’ve not only heard it, but you have used it. Few people in history had a more delicious opportunity to say “I told you so” than the prophet Jeremiah. For forty years he had warned them saying "You lie, cheat, steal, you run after other gods, you take advantage of the weak, you neglect the poor. God will not tolerate this forever; God’s justice will fall on your heads and your nation will be destroyed.” And for forty years they ignored him. He was that crazy old coot, that prophet of doom, that purveyor of pessimism. They said, “Our economy is strong, the poor are quiet, our enemies are at bay, God loves us. Get lost, Jeremiah!"

            For forty years that's what he said and that’s how they responded. Then one day, the word circulated in the market places, "The current negotiations between our King Zedekiah and Babylon's Nebuchadnezzar did not go well. It is said a Babylonian army is on the march."  And then some days after that, the shout came from a watchtower in the wall. “Babylonian army sighted just outside our walls." And there they were. Thousands of Babylonian soldiers in closed ranks, disciplined, their armor glistening in the sun.

            The gates of the city were slammed shut and methodically, the Babylonian army set up their tents and command posts and waited. Having sealed off the city, they knew food supplies would eventually run out. Week after week passed, month after month - a year. In the city, food supplies were rationed thinner and thinner until food supplies were exhausted. They began to eat rats and bugs, and even bodies of their own dead. Dysentery, starvation, body sores and disease spread through Jerusalem. Hundreds died each day.

            Finally, with scarcely a healthy person left in the city, the Babylonian commander, Nebuzaradan by name, at the head of his relaxed and well-fed army, confidently advised his king, "The time has come. We now can do it. Resistance will be negligible." The battering rams were pushed into position and in a couple of days, the northern wall of the city was breached and in they poured - shouting, laughing, slashing, raping, pillaging. For days it went on, and finally stopped. After all, unless you are ISIS even rape and slaughter cease to be fun after a while.

            Zedekiah, the king of the Jews, was captured. First, they killed his sons before his eyes; then they plucked out his eyes so that would be the last thing he ever saw. Manacled and chained he was taken to Babylon and marched through the streets to the jeers and spit of its citizenry. Jerusalem, itself, was in total ruins. Because all this happened at the end of summer, those who were left in the city would have to survive a winter with no time left to plant a crop, with little body strength even to pile together some kind of lean-to. Even though it was all over, the dying would continue.

            At this moment we would have understood if the crazy old coot, the prophet of doom, Jeremiah said, “I told you so.”  But he didn’t. He said something else. Listen to what he said. Jeremiah 30:1-3 …

 

            The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.

 

            Jeremiah, the crazy old coot, is at it again. Against all odds, with Babylon solidly in the saddle as the most powerful nation the world and with the Hebrew nation destroyed, he promises restoration!

            How ridiculous that must have sounded, promising such a thing at a time like that!  But, of course, we know what they could not know, namely, that just as Jeremiah was right the first time about the destruction, he would be right the second time about the restoration.

            He even had put a time line on it, seventy years to the restoration, he said in the previous chapter and, give or take a few years, that was it. Just as he said in this text, they were able to come back in caravans, bundles on their backs, pots and pans ringing away slung across the haunches of their pack animals, laughing and crying with joy as, with each approaching mile, they began to recognize the streams and hills their parents had described so many times. They were coming home, to a home they had never seen, but the only place a Jew at the time could ever call “home."

            What do we make of all this? What can we say about the these times? What can we learn from the message of the prophets, and specifically from Jeremiah, the greatest Old Testament prophet?

            Well, first, and foremost, we need to remember that restoration comes by the grace of God and not by our deserving. What the people of Judah deserved was destruction. That’s what they had earned. The return from exile, the restoration, that was pure grace. No way was that earned.

            Astounding how often that point is lost, not understood. We think we deserve the grace of God. We hear people say, or maybe we say it ourselves, something like, ”God, all these years I've been coming to church. All these I’ve put offerings in the plate, not always that much but you know I've had other responsibilities. I obey the law, try to be a helpful neighbor. So, God, you can't let this happen to me. It wouldn't be fair. You wouldn't be keeping your side of the bargain. This should happen to somebody else. I deserve better."

            Have we ever caught ourselves thinking like that? If we are delivered from some difficult situation in life it is not because God owes us. It comes by grace, not because of what or who we are.  It comes because of who God is.

            My two buddies that I have lunch with on Wednesdays had an interesting exchange the other day. One of the guys, Randy said, “I’ve never met a perfect Christian,” to which Hank said, “I have,” and immediately Randy said, “What do you mean?”

            Hank said, “Well, every person is perfect in God’s eyes.”

            Randy replied, “I disagree. That’s the point of grace. If we are perfect in God’s eyes, that doesn’t leave any room for grace.”

            Randy was right, of course. In God’s eyes we are far from perfect, and what we deserve, what we have earned is destruction, but what we have received in Jesus Christ is deliverance, restoration, grace.

            Have we left any room for grace in our lives?

            The other thing we need to remember from Jeremiah is the proper response to deliverance,  the proper response to grace.

            Look with me at Jeremiah 31 beginning in verse four. Listen to these words, and remember they come on the heels of the destruction of Jerusalem ...

 

            Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

            For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give prays, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

 

            Do we have any merrymakers here this morning? Anyone bring their tambourine? Did here really sing aloud, really belt out the first two hymns, the first two songs?  After all we are the recipients of God’s deliverance, of God’s grace.

            Trudy and I missed the Michigan State football game. We were in the process of coming back from Mexico. We did, however, see film footage about the victory celebration after the game. People dancing. People shouting. People smiling and laughing. High fives abounding. It was a merry celebration.

            And you know what? We only beat Michigan State. I know they were ranked number 7 at the time, but folks, it was only Michigan State.

            Jesus Christ, on the other hand, beat death. He beat death and the best we can do is … well you know.

            Let’s stand and sing, and I mean, really sing our final hymn. That’s the proper response to God’s grace.

            Amen.