This past Sunday, I got the opportunity to preach my last sermon in our fall series out of the book of Jeremiah. Nathan will finish things up on Sunday as we transition into thinking about Advent and the coming of our Rescuer.
At each service, as I approached the end of my message, I got pretty choked up as I realized where Jeremiah ended his years of faithful service.
He was taken by a disobedient remnant of people to Egypt. Jeremiah didn’t want to go. God didn’t want them to go. But, as they had done over and over, they didn’t listen to God’s instruction or God’s words of hope. The remnant did what they thought would make them feel secure and comfortable. Entering into the rigor and protection of Egypt seemed so much better than staying in the rubble and chaos of devastated Jerusalem.
Even though God had promised:
If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up…
From our human vantage, Jeremiah was the ‘least successful prophet of all time’. He pleaded with his people, his friends and neighbors, to change their mind and to amend their life.
The worst happened.
God’s words through Jeremiah didn’t change the trajectory of His people. It’s hard to see. It’s harder to read.
Yet, he was able to say…
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Compare that to a prophet like Jonah– probably ‘the most wildly successful prophet of all time.’ He gets sent to a foreign land, to Nineveh. He is not happy to go. He is not happy when he gets there. He preaches the worst sermon ever. Over a hundred thousand people change their mind and repent. He is not happy about that. And the book ends with him in a funk– grumpy and ticked. Not happy.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jeremiah, in his ‘failure’ seems to have gotten something about God that Jonah did not get in his ‘success’. That realization makes me sober and careful and inspires my prayers for humility.
So why I was so emotional as we came to the end of this series? Here are some thoughts:
- I have loved the hard work that our congregation has done on this book. Generally, it is an unfamiliar story, really long, and sometimes hard to understand. Many of you took on the task of reading through the whole book and then studying it faithfully in small groups for 11 weeks. I am proud of you. May the Lord increase your love for the Scriptures as you seek Him in new places of the Bible.
- I have loved the relevance of this book for the temptations that afflict us all. We know the problems of idolatry, religious pretense, and superficial experience. We see the shortcomings and limitations of the society in which we live. We resist the triumphalism of ‘it will all just get better’ and we resist the despair that might lead us to cocoon ourselves from the wider world.
No. Instead, let us lament what is broken and busted. Let us acknowledge what is not easy to fix and seems slow in coming. Let us wait in sincere hope for God’s timing and the sure future arrival of the One who will make all things right. Jeremiah has given us words and images (that linen loincloth!) for what ‘living by faith’ means.
- Most personally, we live in a cultural moment that is increasingly dismissive of Jesus and His people– thinking they have no relevance for the longings and despair that is all around us. Jeremiah faithfully said what is true– the very words of God– yet there was no change. It is my hope and expectation that myself and our church will be faithful day in and day out to say what is true. And it is my sincere desire that many people will be transformed, changed, and find the courage to amend their life.
Maybe. And maybe not.
It is a great honor to invite people to stay home and to not run to Egypt. It might be my highest privilege as a pastor– to be in the midst of junk and crud and wrong thinking and to get to shine a light and spray a hose and beg people to stay home. It is a privilege to say over and over, Egypt will disappoint you. It always has and it will again. I am grateful for the chance to say it many times in many different ways each week. I am grateful for all of you who join me in the task of saying the same. You are good partners in this project of renewal and amendment of life.
But that doesn’t make it easy. And it definitely carries a truckload of emotion as you watch people make spiritual decisions that affect them and everyone around them. I am grateful that we are in it together. This is a beautiful church and we serve a gracious and beautiful God.