Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 8/19

Jeremiah might not be the most welcome companion on a lazy, late summer Sunday morning.  If I was looking for a supply preacher to fill in I think I would call Jeremiah only after all the other options had failed. His is kind of a disturbing voice, not very upbeat or reassuring, probably not what you came wanting to hear today.  With Jeremiah you might go home not feeling very good about things; he might upset you.  But then Jesus’ voice is rather disturbing in today’s gospel too.  We’ll get to him later, but first Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah had received the word of the Lord, not that he really wanted it, because it was a harsh word, a harsh word for the people of Israel and Judah, a word calling into question things that they felt pretty good and pretty confident about.  Most notably, what they felt pretty confident about was that God was on their side.  They were the chosen people after all, special to this God; that’s what they had been taught forever. 

They had good reason to believe that this was true.  They knew the great stories of God’s mighty deeds, his presence, his involvement and deliverance, Moses and the exodus, all that.  In the past, God had acted decisively on behalf of these people.  The kingdom had prospered under King David and his son Solomon.  There had been some ups and downs since then but the Jerusalem establishment was still doing very well; they were in control; the rich were getting richer; business was good; the military was strong. 

Sure there were people who weren’t doing so well, but the poor you’ll always have with you right.  That’s just the way it is.  But Jerusalem was the Lord’s city.  The temple was in Jerusalem and the temple was the dwelling place of the Lord.  All of which was a source of great confidence.  They believed that the Lord was a God nearby, the protector and patron of the city and of them.

If they needed further assurance about this, there were establishment prophets telling them that all of that was true, that everything was fine; just stay the course, support those in power and ignore anyone who speaks against those in power; ignore people like Jeremiah who warned that unless there was repentance and a return to the ways of the Lord it was all going to come crashing down.  “Impossible,” these other prophets said.  They continued to proclaim what was more or less a blank check from the Lord.  They presumed that his support could be counted on no matter what…because he was on their side, a God nearby.

Jeremiah did indeed have a different word from the Lord.  “Am I a God near by; he says, and not a God far off?”  In other words, “Be careful about your presumptions.”  The accent of this word from the Lord, through Jeremiah is not on nearness, but on remoteness.  Don’t get too cozy with this God.  Don’t be too sure you know whose side this God is on.  There is a freedom and sovereignty here that you might not want to get too close to, a freedom that no individual, no faith group and no nation, chosen our otherwise, ought to take for granted.

That was the harsh word of Jeremiah in the face of the pep talks and motivational speeches of the house prophets.  He dared to say that the Lord was going to act against Jerusalem.  There was to be no miracle of deliverance this time.  The word from Jeremiah was that the Lord at that point in time was allied with Babylon, the enemy.  He was going to use Babylon, the enemy, to accomplish his purpose which at that point was to punish Jerusalem.  To get the full impact of this, imagine if someone suggested that at this point in time, our point in time, God was allied with al Qaeda in order to punish the United States.  It wouldn’t go over well would it, because we’d like to presume that God is on our side?  Well, that’s probably the easiest way to understand what Jeremiah was saying in his time so you can imagine how well he was received.

I told you that this probably wasn’t what you wanted to hear this morning.  Jeremiah didn’t want to say all this stuff either; he tried to get out of it.  But…he was just the messenger.  This was the word of the Lord, but probably very few were responding, “Thanks be to God.”  There’s a reason people like Robert Schuller are so popular with their upbeat, positive, inspirational messages.  That’s what people want to hear and there is a place for it.  But it may not be the word of the Lord that’s needed.  Sometimes we need to hear from people like Jeremiah.

Or I suppose I could say, sometimes we need to hear from people like Jesus.  As I said, his voice is kind of disturbing today too.  “Do you think I come to bring peace to the earth?” he asks.  Well, yeah.  Prince of Peace, blessed are the peacemakers; what’s that all about?  But Jesus is on a different track here.  He says, “No, I tell you, not peace but division; father against son, son against father, mother against daughter and so forth.”  Nothing very upbeat or inspirational about any of that.  God in Jeremiah is not portrayed like our kindly old uncle and Jesus in this text is not the warm fuzzy “Jesus loves you” Jesus.  This is not God as we would like God to be.

It does seem quite clear in the gospels that in order to bring peace to the world Jesus had to disturb the peace, or disturb what people thought was the peace anyway.  He honored the place of prophets like Jeremiah who, whether they wanted to or not, proclaimed the upsetting words of the Lord.  Now mind you, if that’s all we had from the prophets and from Jesus it would be pretty grim.  But I think it’s just as bad when we ignore or gloss over the disturbing words or always try to smooth them out so they fit better with what we would like them to say. 

A steady died of harsh and upsetting leads to a God who can only condemn us which from our side can lead only to despair.  A steady diet of uplifting and inspirational leads to a God devoid of sovereignty and majesty and mystery, a God not really worth being in relationship with.    We need the hopeful words and we need the challenging words because it may be that it’s in the tension between the two where something new happens.  In the tension God’s grace is made known as we find the God who saves us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and we also find the God who disturbs us and challenges us to be more than we ever thought we could be because in baptism he’s made us more than we ever thought we could be.  He’s made us children of God. 

Tim Bernard, the pastor at Messiah in Marquette spent some time last year at Holden Village, a Lutheran run retreat, conference center kind of place in Washington State.  While he was there a woman who either worked there or was a frequent visitor died.  I don’t think Tim knew this person, but one of the things she was remembered for was that when the peace was shared at worship services there rather than say the usual, “Peace be with you,” she would say, “May the peace of the Lord disturb you.”

As I thought about that driving home that day, I thought that’s a pretty good summary of the tension I’m talking about.  There should be an abiding sense of peace and assurance that our faith, our relationship with God provides.  No matter what we face, including those times Jeremiah warned about when God might be aligned against us, we can always come back to the refrain of the psalmist that God’s anger is but for a moment, his steadfast love and faithfulness forever.  At our worst and lowest, that’s an offer of peace. 

But it’s peace that also ought to disturb us at times, peace that ought to provoke us to repentance and action as we live out our calling as baptized children of God.  It’s peace that ought to disturb us, at least a little bit, even on a lazy, late summer Sunday morning.                     


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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