Monday, August 29, 2011

Proper 17 of Series A (Jeremiah 15:15-21)

“I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ, Jeremiah’s life stunk. He was called upon to be a prophet of the Lord in one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history; he would live to see Judah carted off into exile and Jerusalem burned and utterly destroyed. He stood as an island in the midst of a sea of idolatry, ungodliness, and rebellion. He had words to preach that no one wanted to hear, and they blamed the messenger for his terrible message. Before our text, Jeremiah had pleaded with God for mercy upon His people, but God refused. He instead responded with an even stronger declaration of judgment. God will not relent. And so Jeremiah does what he often did when confronted with a message too terrible to bear: he offers up a complaint to his Lord, a plea for aid. “O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” He needs deliverance, he needs God’s vengeance on his enemies, for the Word of God has become a terrible burden, a source of indignation, isolation, and reproach.

It was not always this way. In the beginning, Jeremiah found God’s Word to be the most wonderful thing in the world. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” The Word of God is truly an amazing gift! It declares to you the One who created you, who lovingly formed man from the dust of the earth, who similarly formed you in the womb of your mother. The Word declares to you Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, who came into this world for your salvation. The Word speaks to you of the cross and the empty tomb, it tells you of the deliverance that Christ won, the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life with Him in the new heavens and the new earth. But the Word of God does much more than simply tell you about salvation. Jeremiah declared with joy, “I am called by your name.” The Word of God calls you by God’s name when it is joined with the waters of Holy Baptism. There at the font you were called by God’s name, the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Word has given to you nothing less than eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. Every Christian can therefore say with Jeremiah, “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”

Jeremiah says that he ate the Word of God; in the book of Revelation, Saint John has a similar experience, he is invited to eat a scroll. “And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.” Jeremiah quickly learned what John discovered that day: the Word of God may taste sweet to the mouth, but when we take it in, the Word becomes a burden, it very often makes our lives bitter. “I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation.” The Word calls on you to live differently from the world, it calls on you to summon this world to repentance. The people around you don’t like it when others refuse to join in their life of sin, they don’t appreciate being told God’s Law. Bearing the Word means reproach, it means indignation, it means isolation. The world despises Christians; it pokes fun at you, it persecutes you by word and by deed. Jeremiah felt alone, isolated from his family and friends. They had abandoned him, for He bore the Word of God, a Word that condemns sin, and people like living in their sin. Jesus declared, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We cannot fully understand those words unless we realize what Jeremiah teaches us, that the Word of God is a cross, it is a burden. Bearing the Word of God means that you will lose your life in this world for the sake of Christ, you will give up everything for His sake.

Jeremiah is weary of bearing this burden, and so he cries out to God: “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” God’s Word initially brought such joy, but in Jeremiah’s mind, it was like a stream that promised refreshment and delivered only mud. This burden and cross has cost so much that he is ready to give up. When faced with that same burden, Peter declared, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” He didn’t want Jesus to bear that burden, because I think Peter realized that if Jesus bore the cross, he would have to as well. It seems so much easier to give in to the world and cast off the burden of the Word. Why should I continue to suffer the reproach and indignation of my friends, family, and neighbors? Why should I go to church while they sleep in? Why should I try so hard to follow God’s law? All it’s earned me is scorn, dirty looks, and the cold shoulder. How often are you, like Jeremiah, at the very edge of giving up, of casting off that cross and abandoning that burden? Maybe you crossed that line a long time ago, maybe you have already decided that the cost of following Christ is too high. Maybe you are only a Christian when it’s safe, and the rest of the time follow the ways of the world. Maybe your complaint has already led you over the edge.

God wants us to pour out our complaint to Him; He invites us to cry out even with words as harsh as Jeremiah’s. But now that we have spoken, it’s time for us to sit down and listen, for God has an answer. “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.’” In other words, ‘Repent!’ Repent of your desire to cast off the burden of the Word, repent of your desire to join in the ways of the world! Return to me, God declares; come back from the edge! Do not utter the worthless words of this world, but instead the precious Word of God, whatever the cost. As Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Christ has called on us to take up our cross, but although we may feel like Jeremiah that we bear this burden in isolation, we are not alone. “And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” This world will fight against you, for it hates you and everything that you stand for exactly as it hated Jesus and all that He stood for. But the world will not prevail against you. For with you stands our God, who gives you the most wonderful promise that we find in the Scriptures, “I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” You are not alone, for God boldly declares, ‘I am with you!’ No matter how isolated you feel in this world of sin, the Lord is with you. He is with you to save and defend you; the world will not overcome you, no matter how hard it tries. That is your confidence, your support as you bear the burden of the Word in this world of sin: ‘I am with you!’

How do we know this, how can we truly have confidence that God is with us? He proved it, God made this promise a concrete reality by taking our human flesh and becoming man. Jesus truly is God with us, Emmanuel come to save. It is only because of Him that this world cannot overcome you, for He has overcome the world. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” He does this by walking the path that you are called upon the walk, the path of the cross. Jesus suffered reproach, indignation, and isolation; He suffered everything that you face in this sinful, hostile world, and He faced it for you. He bore the reproach and indignation of His very own people as they spit in His face, as they cried out ‘Crucify, crucify!’ He was isolated, separated from all people, indeed He was abandoned by God Himself as He hung upon the cross. Jesus took on Jeremiah’s cry as His own: “I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation.” Jesus faced the reproach and indignation of God and the world for our sin. He suffered all for your redemption, He endured all for your salvation, He delivered Himself into the hand of the wicked so that you may be rescued from their grasp. The world can rage against you all it wants, it can even take your life, but the empty tomb means that nothing in this world can prevail over you. Even death itself has been defeated; this world has no weapon that can destroy God’s saints, those claimed by the blood of Jesus. You are redeemed, delivered, saved, by God with us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

That was God’s promise to Jeremiah as he bore the burden of God’s Word in a world of sin, the same promise that He gives to you again this very day. “I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.” This promise stands as firm today as you bear your cross as it did for Jeremiah as he bore his. Jesus is with us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to provide for us as we carry the burden of His Word. He came to you once again in His Word today to forgive your sins; He will come to you again next week as He did last week in His Body and Blood, providing food for the journey, nourishment as you bear the cross. And He promises you that one day you will lay down that cross and receive the promised rest, the eternal salvation that He won for you when He bore His cross for your salvation. In the Name of Emmanuel, God with us for our salvation, Amen.

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