God makes it easier to be Jeremiah
Jeremiah struggled with God’s Word today. You wouldn’t know it by the words before you. As the verse of the day, you heard half of Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words became a joy to me, and the delight of my heart.” Hear the whole verse and you still might miss it it: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, o LORD God almighty.”
What’s the problem? Look at the surrounding verses. The LORD tells Jeremiah to tell his countrymen that death, destruction, plague, and famine are coming. And Jeremiah says, “Oh, goodie. I get to be the bearer of more good news.” Actually, what Jeremiah says is, “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me.” Jeremiah curses his mother, then grumbles at God: “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?”
Who likes being a Jeremiah? Who likes being the bad cop, the bearer of bad news, the hard case? On occasion, there’s a certain, savage satisfaction to being a Jeremiah; that’s mostly because it satisfies our hunger for a pound of flesh. It’s the satisfaction Bill Cosby put on Noah’s lips. The crowds watch Noah building his ark and ask, “Whatcha’ doin’ up there, Noah?”
And he says, “I can’t tell you! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Well, can’t you give us a hint?”
“You want a hint?”
“How long can you tread water? Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
Likewise, at times and moments, Jeremiah no doubt felt good swinging the hammer of God’s law. He saw a kingdom falling apart. He saw idols and incense, sexual immorality, oppression, injustice – all those sins that the LORD’s prophets denounced for over 200 years. It feels good to point the finger and say: “How long can you tread water? Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
But even putting aside the question of how much of that good feeling is a desire for vengeance as opposed to wanting to win a brother over, there still comes that moment when being Jeremiah just stinks. All your friends have left. The nation thinks you’re nuts. Or worst, racist and bigoted and intolerant.
God called Jeremiah to go against the grain. He called Jeremiah to call his countrymen away from what felt good, away from what everyone else does, away from sin. And they didn’t want to. And they cursed Jeremiah. Spit on him. Beat him. Destroyed his books. Threw him into dark cisterns. Forced him into exile.
Don’t you see the potential for such in our lives? Most potently it’s in looming challenges that the Church faces as gay marriage becomes more and more acceptable. A court in New Mexico says a business has to take pictures of a newly married gay couple whether they want to or not. As more and more states define marriage more and more broadly, a direct challenge to a church that refuses to marry a gay couple will most certainly come. And how will the courts decide? Who knows?
Even if that never happens, we still have to deal with being counter-cultural on the issue. The Bible says homosexual behavior is a sin. More than that, it says all sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin. You heard that in Hebrews today, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure.” This word, like Jesus Christ, remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet as statistics suggest, most couples have sex before getting married. An increasingly growing number of couples live together without the benefit of marriage.
And we have to speak out. And not just about sex. It’s about abortion. Or cheating on taxes. Or insurance fraud. Or any number of other sins that have become “accepted.” First we must be Jeremiah’s to ourselves. We must condemn our own sinful hearts that lower the bars however and wherever they lower them. And it’s not pleasant. It’s no fun to be Jeremiah.
But you know what happens if there’s no Jeremiah. If there’s no Jeremiah, there’s no remnant. For sure, most of Israel and Judah fell away from the LORD, just as today, most of the world rejects Jesus, and even many who profess to be Christians have wandered from the faith. But because God keeps sending Jeremiahs, God keeps on preserving a remnant. There remain always at least that 7,000 whose knees have not bowed down to Baal in whatever form he manifests himself today.
That doesn’t change the long, hard, slogging nature of being Jeremiah. Perhaps you’ve seen the movies based on The Lord of the Rings novels, or read the books. Two creatures, called hobbits, small men, named Frodo and Sam, must destroy a ring of power before the enemy, Sauron, can retrieve it and conquer their world.
To destroy the ring, they must go into the heart of Sauron’s kingdom, Mordor, and throw the ring into a seething volcano called, aptly, Mt. Doom. To get there requires a long, perilous journey to unknown lands, facing countless enemies.
Along the way Frodo and Sam meet creatures called elves, who provide them with a food called lembas. Lembas is a bread like substance that provides more than normal amounts of energy.
Eventually, Frodo and Sam run out of almost all other food except lembas. They must survive on it, and it alone, for a long period of time. And despite its almost miraculous qualities, they complain about this food. “Lembas again! Yeesh!”
Sounds like another group of people from a decidedly non-fictional world. The people of Israel marched through the desert for forty years after God freed them from Egypt. They spent forty years in the desert because they disobeyed God and failed to trust in Him. They wandered not because their maps didn’t work, but because they were lost spiritually. Yet even then, God provided them with food. A very lembas-like food, with an equally Elvish name: manna. Unlike lembas, this manna didn’t do anything miraculous. You couldn’t leap tall buildings or stop a speeding bullet after eating manna. What was miraculous was that it kept on coming. Day after day for forty years God covered the ground with it. Each day the Israelites gathered what they needed – “Give us this day our daily bread” – and the next day they woke up, without any food left, and found the ground covered in manna-dew.
And they got sick of it. They grumbled and complained, just like Sam and Frodo. Just like Jeremiah. Just like we do.
We complain because it’s the same old thing. Another lesson about sexual purity. More words about humility and the last being first. More words about contentment and avoiding the love of money and greed. More words that I have to use to rebuke myself and my children and those around. Where are the words that I’m really going to like? Where are the words that will make me popular? Where are the words filled with power, the words that break rocks and blast like fire?
What we’re really saying is, “Where are you, God? You call yourself the LORD God Almighty, the LORD of hosts, of armies, of divisions! Jesus boasted of having twelve legions of angels to call down to His aid. Big words. You’ve left us high and dry. We’ve got scraps of paper, drops of water, crumbs of bread, sips of wine. You’ve left us with lembas. I’m sick of lembas! I’m sick of manna!”
Yet Jeremiah said, “When your words came, I ate them. They were my joy and my heart’s delight.” Just as Frodo and Sam ate the lembas, and the people of Israel ate the manna. Because there is nothing else. We need nothing else. Nothing else bears the name of the LORD God almighty. Nothing else brings us Jesus.
Just words? Those words are, “I am the bread of life. I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Jesus speaks, not empty promises, mere words, but resurrections! Words that give what they offer: life, eternity, reward, resurrection. Because He gave what He had to offer: Himself over into death and back to life. Even among the hard words God gave Jeremiah, we hear these: “They sinned against me, but I will wash away that sin.”
Just drops of water? That water cleanse and renews, it regenerates and washes. It gives new life, according to the promise of God. Those drops of water are your ark, lifting you up above death and destruction, lifting you up above the devil’s accusations, above the filth of your sin, above death and hell itself, above the slings and arrows of this horrible world. That water is your heart’s delight, because through that water you bear God’s name, the name placed upon you there: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Just crumbs and sips? No, no, so much more. God brings this to you. Famished with hunger, starving in the desert, alone in a dying, decaying world, waking up with nothing left in the tank or the pantry, you find the ground covered in this, you find the ground covered in God’s words attached to the simplest of foods, the basics of our diet: bread that is His body, given for you; wine that is His blood, shed for you. God brings these to you.
Oh so often it is for us as for Jeremiah. We wander through this world. We bounce back and forth from reproach and rebuke. We suffer for saying the truth. We suffer when we fail to speak the truth or act the truth. Blind, deaf, dumb, we have nothing left. Until God gives it. “When your words came.” Literally, the Hebrew says, “They were found, your words. And I ate them.” At the right place, at the right time, God brings us to what we need, and it’s always Jesus, the Word made flesh, who says, “Eat me and live.” It’s always Jesus, our heart’s delight.
Not lembas, more than manna. Daily bread. Life-giving, life-sustaining, life-altering bread. The only bread that kept Jeremiah going throughout the hardest years in the life of his country, God gives you today and everyday. God gives you Jesus. He brings the Word made flesh to you. He brings life to you yesterday, today, and forever. So that you can be Jeremiah. So that you can be with Jeremiah in heaven, because God’s Word’s come, and we eat them. Amen.