Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 6/22

          Mostly what I’m going to do this morning is engage in a little Bible study, get into the text of today’s first lesson as see if we can make some sense of it.  The lesson is from Jeremiah.  It’s one of the laments of Jeremiah as in these verses Jeremiah takes the Lord to task concerning the difficulty of what he has been called to do among the people of Jerusalem, warning them about the fact that they would be defeated by Babylon and taken into exile.  This text is paired with today’s gospel because the gospel is also about the difficulty of doing what you’re called to do, the difficulty the disciples will face in following Jesus.  His isn’t a message of defeat and exile, but it isn’t necessarily what the people want to hear either; so Jesus lets the disciples know their task won’t be easy just like Jeremiah’s task wasn’t easy. 

          But let’s just consider Jeremiah.  What were the specifics of Jeremiah’s lament?  Why was he so upset with the Lord?  For that you have to go back to the previous chapter, chapter 19.  In chapter 19 the Lord tells Jeremiah to say to the people, “Hear the word of the Lord, etc.” (Jer. 19:3-4a) “I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem etc.” (Jer. 19: 7-9)  It’s not a happy scenario that Jeremiah announces and it challenges all the lies the rulers have been telling the people about how well everything is going.  What Jeremiah says sounds pretty graphic and explicit to me, it doesn’t seem to require any further explanation, but just in case they still don’t get it, the Lord tells Jeremiah to use a little object lesson with them.  He tells Jeremiah to buy an earthenware jug and take it with him when he makes his speech.  When you’re done talking, he tells Jeremiah, smash the jug in front of the people and say to them, (Jer. 19:11).

          This people and this city will be like a broken pot that can’t be mended.  Now you may have noticed that people in power don’t usually like their view of the truth to be questioned and that’s what Jeremiah was doing; those in power want you to just go along and trust that they know more than you do and that was just as true in ancient Jerusalem as it is today.  Jeremiah’s words were not what those who ruled wanted to hear so he would have to be dealt with and he was.  A priest named Pashhur, part of the religious bureaucracy, placed Jeremiah in the stocks in the upper Benjamin gate of the temple.  It was only for a day but it might have been for longer if Pashhur had known how Jeremiah would unload on him when he released him. (Jer. 20:3b-6)

          What becomes clear here is that while Jeremiah is taking it out on Pashhur, the one he is really upset with is the Lord.  You can hear his frustration and you can understand his frustration because after all, he’s just been saying and doing the things the Lord has commanded him; they’re not his words, they’re the Lord’s, but he’s the one taking the heat; which brings us to the lament.

          The first thing to note about this, maybe the most important thing to note about this, is that at this point of high frustration, even anger, at the end of his rope, Jeremiah turns to prayer; he takes his complaint to the Lord.  When you think about it, it makes sense.  The one he is angry with is the Lord, so that’s the one he needs to address.  He can vent all he wants at Passhur and it might make him feel better; but it’s not really going to get at the problem, which for Jeremiah is his relationship with a problematic God.

          This move to prayer may be a bit surprising to us because when we’re angry and upset we may not feel particularly prayerful.  Even if we feel like God is the problem or part of the problem we’re not likely to pray because we don’t think we have the words because you have to be nice when you address God.  But note that Jeremiah is not nice; in fact he’s nasty.  “O Lord you have enticed me and I was enticed,” except entice is a pretty soft translation of the Hebrew.  It could just as easily be rape. “O Lord you have raped me.”  Find that in a nice Lutheran prayer book.

          Jeremiah wasn’t concerned with niceties and he wasn’t concerned with pretending that everything was OK when really it wasn’t.  His concern was an honest, no holds barred engagement with the Lord.  Such an engagement includes praise and thanksgiving, but it also includes lament and complaint.  For the sake of the relationship, Jeremiah must be honest and so we get this rather fascinating prayer, and it is fascinating. (you might want to follow along in your bulletin)

          It starts with that harsh complaint and accusation addressed to the Lord and it also includes Jeremiah’s frustration that even when he tells himself he’s had it with the Lord and he’s not going to mention him or speak his name anymore, he can’t help himself because there is something like “a burning fire in my bones,” (v. 9).

          That self-recognition on the part of Jeremiah concerning his inability to turn from the Lord begins to move his prayer in a different direction so that by v. 11 he acknowledges the Lord’s presence with him and the confidence that provides.  Now that may seem strange; in four verses Jeremiah has gone from an accusation of rape to a statement of confidence in the one he just accused.  But this is prayer; it’s between Jeremiah and God and so it’s like when you’re mad at someone you love and part of you wants to stay mad because they deserve your anger but in your anger your mind wanders and images and remembrances of the positive things about the relationship, the things you like about the person keep getting in the way of the mad you’ve got going.  Something like that seems to have happened to Jeremiah.  By verse 13, the final verse of this lesson, something has changed; in the midst of Jeremiah’s anger, maybe because of Jeremiah’s anger, the Lord has somehow made his presence and his care known again so Jeremiah moves from anger into unabashed praise. (v. 13)

          But it doesn’t last; the praise doesn’t last.  In order to give us a happy ending, the lectionary makes verse 13 the last word, but it’s not the last word of Jeremiah’s prayer; listen to the verses that follow. (Jer. 20: 14-18)  Again, it’s like Jeremiah catches himself starting to feel better and says No!  I’m not ready for that!  I’m mad at God and I’ve got to be mad for awhile longer, because God deserves it!

          Jeremiah returns to anger and lament, but that doesn’t nullify verse 13.  Whatever happened to bring about the move from lament to praise in verse 13, whatever it was, because of it, Jeremiah has found new resources for his engagement with God because God himself has provided those resources.  Jeremiah can go back to lament and complaint, but it’s not the same.  It’s not the same because he knows that moment of praise; he knows in the deepest parts of his soul that regardless of how he feels right now, he will come back to praise again.  Deep down, he still trusts this God. 

          Those are resurrection moments, new life moments and Jesus knew something about that.  He cautioned his disciples about the difficulty of following him, because he knew that to get to resurrection there might be a cross or two or three along the way.  But he also knew that in prayer from those crosses we find that the God revealed in Jesus is still there, still with us, always providing new resources.  It can be difficult; it is difficult; but prayer from those crosses that we face, even angry prayer, will bring us to resurrection; it will bring us back to praise.  Deep down, we do trust this Jesus; like Jeremiah, we do trust this God.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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