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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 09/01/2013

It’s Labor Day weekend, unofficially the last weekend of summer with most “fall” schedules beginning this week if they didn’t start already last week.  It’s one final long summer weekend though, but if you were hoping for a light hearted, end of summer celebration here at church, it’s going to be hard to make that happen.  But don’t blame me; Jeremiah arrived last week and he’s going to be around for awhile, and he’s pretty good at bursting any light hearted balloons of celebration that might be floating around out there.  

A little background though on Jeremiah.  It’s usually difficult to really know much about exactly who the prophets were but with Jeremiah there’s a little more to go on.  In chapter one he’s identified as being from the priests of Anathoth, a fact which at first probably doesn’t sound all that important; just identifying his hometown.  But actually it’s one of those little Bible details that’s worth paying attention to.  Anathoth was a village north of Jerusalem, outside the boundaries of Judah so as far as the people of Jerusalem were concerned, Jeremiah was an outsider.  That’s significant in itself because for the most part we don’t like someone from somewhere else pointing out our faults; but there’s more.  

Being one of the priests of Anathoth also connects Jeremiah to Abiathar, an obscure Bible name that you’re probably not familiar with, but Abiathar  was a priest who several hundred years earlier had disapproved of King Solomon’s desire for and acquisition of great wealth and material goods along with disapproving of his flirtation with other gods.  Most of us when we think of Solomon we think “the wisdom of Solomon” but he was a much more complicated character than that.  His wisdom gave way to a desire for more, more of pretty much everything all of which was straying from the way of the Lord.  For voicing his disapproval of Solomon’s activities, Abiathar was banished from Jerusalem to Anathoth, meaning that Jeremiah was rooted in this community that for four hundred years had expressed opposition to those who abused the power of the monarchy in Jerusalem. 

So, although Jeremiah resisted his call to be a prophet in the reading we heard last week, in some ways he came by such a call naturally.  His people weren’t afraid to tell the truth, even if the truth wasn’t pleasant and the word of the Lord voiced by Jeremiah, for the most part, is not pleasant.  Today you get these questions from the Lord, kind of like a wounded parent wondering, after all I have done for you why have you strayed from me?  There’s pain and disappointment but then there are the words, “I accuse you.”  I accuse you is not what anyone wants to hear from the Lord, but that’s the word conveyed by Jeremiah today.

Another thing worth knowing about the priests of Anathoth is that much of their thought and guidance came from study of the book of Deuteronomy.  You don’t have to know much about that other than the fact that the tradition of Deuteronomy is about the necessity for discipline and obedience.  If you obey my commands, then I will be your God is the message of Deuteronomy.  The relationship of the people to the Lord was conditional in other words.  Remember though, the Bible isn’t consistent on this.  There are places where it seems that God’s love is unconditional but other places where there is the big IF; if you obey.  The big IF is where Jeremiah is coming from and thus the accusation because when it comes to the big IF, they were all guilty, and so are we.

A conditional if/then covenant keeps us honest.  It reminds us of our end of the bargain but rather than get into conditional vs. unconditional covenants and the tension that’s created by that, today I think it’s better to think about what Jeremiah has done in these verses with this poetic rendition of the mind of the Lord.

I believe that the prophets and others who wrote the Bible were blessed or maybe cursed with the ability to see or perceive things that others couldn’t, the truth behind the truth or the knowledge just beyond that which we can know as it were.  They were inspired by the Lord but then there is a human element involved with questions about how they should present what was revealed to them; how do you truthfully say what has been revealed to you?   How much do you say, how much do you leave unsaid?

In this case, like a good poet, I think Jeremiah says just enough.  He says just enough to create an image that makes us think, that makes us ask questions about ourselves, questions that need to be asked.  There is accusation in these verses, that is clear, and actually, throughout much of Jeremiah one can get the idea that it’s too late to change things; the verdict is final.  That’s a possibility that isn’t very pleasant to think about but while it can’t be ignored it’s one that I don’t think is ever meant to be the last word.  We can’t ignore the possibility of “too late” but we do better to use these words of Jeremiah as a way to look in the mirror and reflect on the meaning of this accusation.

One aspect of the accusation that is repeated several times concerns things that are worthless or things that do not profit.  The way Jeremiah raises this issue though leaves his hearers and readers from then until now plenty of room to find themselves. In other words, he’s not real specific about that which is worthless and does not profit, he doesn’t provide a list and that makes it more difficult to point fingers and compare, more difficult to say, “He’s not talking about me.”  Instead, it allows each of us to think about that which has value and worth in our lives.  It allows each of us to consider how much time and energy we spend on that which isn’t worth much.

In the case of Jeremiah one of the concerns was idolatry, the pursuit of gods other than the Lord, Baal in particular maybe tempting us to say, “He’s not talking about me; Baal isn’t my problem.”  But Jeremiah’s poetry opens us to reflection on our own small g gods and the worth that we give them.  We all have them; you know what yours are, I know what mine are and we all know the ways we convince ourselves that they’re not really gods.  In our moments of honesty though, we know otherwise.  We know that there are things that we value more than our relationship with God.  We can’t escape the accusation that Jeremiah puts before us.

We know all that; the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time knew all that and we know why we go after worthless things too.  We go after them because the immediate value, the immediate attraction, the immediate worth is so enticing.  Through Jeremiah, the Lord calls these things that we value worthless, but from our perspective their worthlessness is down the road; it’s deferred, it’s later.   There’s a part of us knows that too, but a bigger part of us says “Who cares?”  We want it now and in the short term, our small g gods work pretty well; they satisfy. 

In that respect, they’re like Jeremiah’s cracked cistern in that they work for awhile.  A cracked cistern will hold water; it might be awhile before you even notice that it’s cracked.  But slowly, maybe very slowly, the water leaks out and the cistern’s long term worthlessness is revealed.  You can refill it, but the water will keep leaking out. 

In contrast, what Jeremiah offers is the living water of the Lord, living water being a image that will eventually be associated with Jesus.  It’s another one of those images that I think is best left unexplained.  That can be frustrating because we like explanation, but Jeremiah and the other prophets were also poets and poets don’t explain.  They say just enough, and then let it sink into the mind and the imagination.  As soon as you start explaining, the fountain of living water becomes another cracked cistern as the possibilities for meaning leak out.

You can see that Jeremiah doesn’t really make for a casual, end of summer Sunday.  There is judgment in what he says but mixed in there are also words that look beyond judgment.  Jeremiah knows where the fountain of living water is and that’s where he wants us to be.  He knows the God who is the source of that water and he wants us to know too.  He invites us to a place of honor so we can drink from the fountain of the Lord who makes us worthy.  He invites us to drink the water, and live.

Rev. Warren Geier


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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