2022-01-30 Epiphany 4
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Two old farmers were in town one morning for farmer coffee at the A&W at the crack of 6:45AM. One of them said to the other, “Just got new hearing aids. Suckers cost me $7,000.00! But they’re state of the art and should last for years. After all this time, I can hear perfectly now!” “Oh, that’s great!” replied the other, “What brand of hearing aids are they?” Looking down at his watch the man replied “Yep, it’s nearly 7 o’clock now!”
A wise theologian said “the first duty of love, is to listen.” When God speaks and calls His people, how well do they listen? Historically speaking, the answer is “not very good!” It’s the hardest thing parents have to deal with their kids, isn’t it? You tell them things over and over and over, but they just don’t seem to listen or to hear. Half the time it’s on purpose so it drives you doubly bonkers! It is very frustrating when people just won’t listen to you. If you are a parent, I know you’ve experienced this. If you are a human being, I know you’ve experienced this! It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature to turn not only a blind eye, but to turn a deaf ear (or two) as well, especially if it is words we don’t want to hear.
Enter: The Prophet Jeremiah. Last Sunday was Nehemiah, this Sunday it’s Jeremiah. The Old Testament prophets of God were a special breed of people. They’re lives were often filled with crazy things, from walking around naked and barefoot for 3 years in the case of Isaiah (20:1-5) to being told by God to marry a harlot in the case of Hosea (3:1-5). Jeremiah was likewise a strange cat. He was appointed a prophet to the nations before God even formed him in his mother’s womb! How’s that for a calling? A prophet before birth. Most of us have free will in the matter of our life’s work and vocations. If we want to be farmers or astronauts or doctors or artists, we can pursue those jobs. But not Jeremiah. God hand picked him to be put in the prophetic office from day one. And, this calling was not an easy one. Jeremiah was fairly reluctant about the call, as was Moses before him. “I’m slow to speech” and “Oh Lord, I’m too young, just pick someone else” just wasn’t going to cut it. Jeremiah was going to go and preach whether he wanted to or not.
When you consider jobs and job stress, it’s not uncommon for people in certain high stress occupations to commit suicide. Doctors and lawyers and police officers are at the top of the list. But among the highest rates of suicide by profession are … dentists. Yes, you heard right, dentists. I think the reason is simply that everybody hates you! I mean, nobody gets up in the morning and says, “Yee haw! I can’t wait to go see the dentist today, causing myself sickening bodily pain and leaving myself bankrupt in the process!” I personally guarantee nobody says that. Everyone hates going to the dentist. And dentists walk right beside the Biblical prophets through the years in this regard. Nobody liked seeing them either. Nobody wanted to listen to them. And the reason is simple: everybody hated them too! Nobody wakes up in the morning and says “Yee haw! I can’t wait to hear a harsh word of condemning Law from God’s spokesman today! I can’t wait to hear the news that our city is going to be overrun and conquered by foreign nations! I’m waiting with bated breath to hear about how God is going to utterly smash us into oblivion for our sins!”
And so here’s poor ol’ hated Jeremiah, chosen by God yet despised by men, walking the prophet’s precarious path, and he is preaching. “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’” (Jer 1:10) And herein lies the zingers. If you are a shy person, someone who by nature doesn’t like to rock the boat and stir things up and you are told, by God, that you are going to pluck up and break down, destroy, and overthrow, I imagine you’d get a wee bit antsy about it. It means that the words spoken are going to go against the grain. They are going to be like a salmon swimming up stream, opposite the flow. They will be words like salt and lemon juice in an open wound or hand sanitizer on a paper cut! And, people are largely not going to listen to you. This is why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, right? Doubly so if people are going to try to kill you for your words!
But the prophets had to remember that the words they spoke and the stuff they said weren’t their own words and ideas, they were God’s words. That alone should have made them more at ease, but it seldom did. Jeremiah should have taken comfort in these words that God also spoke to him too: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jer 1:8). But despite this promise from God, all the prophets struggled to preach those difficult words of repentance to a people who didn’t want to listen. And we can relate to this too.
We can find ourselves walking the prophet’s path from time to time so to speak. When we see things around us happening that aren’t right, that go against God’s will and His word, things that are scary and spiritually damaging to others, illegal, or immoral – do we speak up or clam up? Do we look down and not say anything, not wanting to rock the boat? If so, we’re much like reluctant Jeremiah. But if the Dentist doesn’t drill out the rot, what happens? It festers and gets worse rather than heal. If the people we care about aren’t warned about their sin, if they aren’t cared for, if the Word of God doesn’t reach their ears, what’s going to happen? They will continue down that dark road of iniquity that leads to everlasting death and destruction. So what’s worse? Rocking the boat, making people feel uneasy or watching them walk towards hades, away from God and His love for them?
Have you ever faced such a struggle? It’s a daunting experience to say the least. It’s not easy to walk the prophet’s path and have the awkward conversations with people. It’s not easy to be a faithful Christian in this hostile world. But God’s promise still holds true for us as it did for Jeremiah. If what we say truly is God’s Word, spoken in love, then we will be found faithful to our Heavenly Father. And love is the key. Our 1 Corinthians reading really fleshes it out for us. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. . . . Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
And this is the key. This heavenly love is what “builds and plants.” When people know that you care about them, it is only then that they will care about what you have to say. I remember people in downtown Edmonton standing on the proverbial soap box and preaching to the masses down off Whyte Ave at the Strathcona Farmer’s market. They’d be out there a shoutin’ about the end of the world and “turn or burn” messages of repentance before it’s too late. But the majority of people would just keep walking by, writing off these religious wacko preachers. They will only care when they know you care.
It’s the same thing with us and God. We know that God cares for each of us, so much so that He willingly spread His arms out on the cross and died for us. He healed diseases, freed people from sin and the devil’s spiritual attacks. He built people up and planted faith, hope and love in their hearts. This He did, even though as Jesus the “Prophet Supreme” paid the supreme price. Many people didn’t listen to His words, despite His great love for them. However, if we do listen and heed the ‘incarnate Word,’ Jesus Christ the Son of God, who was sent for this purpose, the greatest Heavenly reward awaits us. “He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (LK 11:28). May we always be hearing and listening to the Word of God now and forever more. Amen!