SERVICE FOR THE LORD’S DAY
June 14, 2020
WORDS OF WORSHIP Jeremiah 32:17-19, CEB
17 Lord God, you created heaven and earth by your great power and outstretched arm; nothing is too hard for you! 18 You act with mercy toward thousands upon thousands, but you also bring the consequences of the fathers’ sins on their children after them. Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of heavenly forces, 19 marvelous are your purposes, and mighty are your deeds. You are aware of all the ways of humanity, and you reward us for how we live and what we do even now.
God of mercy and grace, we need to hear your message of truth as well as a message of hope. As we listen and worship today, show us where we need to put away the things that have gotten in the way of our relationship with you. Show us what we need to change in our response to the needs of others. Give us your strength to be honest with ourselves and with you. May we, your people, turn fully back to you, for the sake of our world. Amen.
CONFESSION from Jeremiah 14, CEB
To Judah in the day of Jeremiah, “10This is what the Lord proclaims about this people:
Since they have loved to wander off and haven’t restrained themselves, I won’t accept them. Now I will recall their wrongdoing and punish their sin.” Though Judah did not turn back to God, we can learn from their mistakes. Let us confess the sins of our own era as we hear these words of prayer from Jeremiah:
7Even though our sins testify against us, help us, Lord, for your name’s sake.
We have turned away from you and sinned against you time and again.
8 You are the hope of Israel, [and of our world today]
its savior in times of trouble.
Why are you like a stranger in the land, like a tourist spending only the night?
9 Why are you like one taken by surprise, like a warrior unable to act?
[Why does it feel like you are distant, Lord.
Where are the answers to COVID-19, to racism, to violence?]
Yet you are in our midst, Lord; we are called by your name. Don’t give up on us.
20 We acknowledge our sin, Lord, the wrongdoing of our ancestors,
because we have sinned against you.
21 For your name’s sake, don’t reject us, don’t scorn your glorious throne.
Remember your covenant with us; don’t break it.
[But Lord in your mercy, help us also to keep covenant with you!]
PARDON Romans 8:1-3, CEB
“1 So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin.” When we repent, it is through the grace and mercy of Jesus that our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God!
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Lord of justice and righteousness, let us hear your Word not only with our ears, but understand its message with our minds and be determined to change our hearts and our lives according to what we hear. Amen.
This is only one chapter of many that talk about the idolatry and disobedience of Judah in the time of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 7, CEB
7:1 Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: 2 Stand near the gate of the Lord’s temple and proclaim there this message: Listen to the Lord’s word, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, says: Improve your conduct and your actions, and I will dwell with you in this place. 4 Don’t trust in lies: “This is the Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple!” 5 No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; 6 if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, 7 only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time.
8 And yet you trust in lies that will only hurt you. 9 Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, sacrifice to Baal and go after other gods that you don’t know, 10 and then come and stand before me in this temple that bears my name, and say, “We are safe,” only to keep on doing all these detestable things? 11 Do you regard this temple, which bears my name, as a hiding place for criminals? I can see what’s going on here, declares the Lord. 12 Just go to my sanctuary in Shiloh, where I let my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, because you haven’t listened when I spoke to you again and again or responded when I called you, 14 I will do to this temple that bears my name and on which you rely, the place that I gave to you and your ancestors, just as I did to Shiloh. 15 I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out the rest of your family, all the people of Ephraim.
16 As for you, don’t pray for these people, don’t cry out or plead for them, and don’t intercede with me, for I won’t listen to you. 17 Can’t you see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead dough to make sacrificial cakes for the queen of heaven. And to offend me all the more, they pour out drink offerings to foreign gods. 19 But am I the one they are really offending? declares the Lord. Aren’t they in fact humiliating themselves? 20 Therefore, this is what the Lord God says: I’m going to pour out my fierce anger on this place, on humans and beasts, on the trees of the field and the crops of the fertile land. It will burn and not go out.
21 This is what the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, says: Add your entirely burned offerings to your sacrifices and eat them yourselves! 22 On the day I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I didn’t say a thing—I gave no instructions—about entirely burned offerings or sacrifices. 23 Rather, this is what I required of them: Obey me so that I may become your God and you may become my people. Follow the path I mark out for you so that it may go well with you. 24 But they didn’t listen or pay attention. They followed their willful and evil hearts and went backward rather than forward. 25 From the moment your ancestors left the land of Egypt to this day, I have sent you all my servants the prophets—day after day. 26 But they didn’t listen to me or pay attention; they were stubborn and did more harm than their ancestors. 27 When you tell them all this, they won’t listen to you. When you call to them, they won’t respond. 28 Therefore, say to them: This nation neither obeys the Lord its God nor accepts correction; truth has disappeared; it has vanished from their lips.
29 Cut off your hair and cast it away;
grieve on the well-traveled paths.
The Lord has rejected you
and has cast off a generation that provokes his anger.
30 The people of Judah have done what displeases me, declares the Lord. They have corrupted the temple that bears my name by setting up their disgusting idols. 31 They have built shrines at Topheth in the Ben-hinnom Valley to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, although I never commanded such a thing, nor did it ever cross my mind. 32 So now the time is coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer speak of Topheth or the Ben-hinnom Valley, but the Carnage Valley. They will bury in Topheth until no space is left. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for birds and wild animals, with no one to drive them off. 34 I will silence the sound of joy and delight as well as the voice of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, for the country will be reduced to a wasteland.
You can see there is an issue regarding true worship and worshipping fake gods and that it brings dire consequences. Centuries later Jesus had a conversation about true worship with the woman at the well:
John 4, selected verses, CEB
“If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.”
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks from the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”
SERMON Idolatry, Our Downfall
Many of us struggle with forgetfulness. We’ve joked about going into a room and forgetting why we went there. I do the same thing with websites. I can have tabs open on my web browser and forget what why I opened them. We go from parental moments to senior moments of forgetfulness when we can’t put a name and face together or figure out where we left our keys or our glasses. Of course, for some, the memory issues are far more serious and require special care.
There is another kind of forgetfulness we forget to even notice. That is forgetting God, forgetting to nurture and strength our relationship with God, forgetting God’s law and failing to be obedient to it, forgetting to worship God above all else. If I asked you about God’s Law, many would begin with the Ten Commandments. That’s the part of the Torah we know best. These commandments begin with God, putting God above all else in our relationships, and worshipping God faithfully. Listen to the first four commandments from God’s Word:
“3 “Never have any other god.
4 Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water.
5 Never worship them or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a God who does not tolerate rivals. I punish children for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. 6 But I show mercy to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my commandments.
7 “Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly. The Lord will make sure that anyone who carelessly uses his name will be punished.
8 “Remember the day of rest by observing it as a holy day. 9 You have six days to do all your work. 10 The seventh day is the day of rest—a holy day dedicated to the Lord your God. You, your sons, your daughters, your male and female slaves, your cattle, and the foreigners living in your city must never do any work on that day. 11 In six days the Lord made heaven, earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. He didn’t work on the seventh day. That’s why the Lord blessed the day he stopped his work and set this day apart as holy.
These commandments repeated through the generations are pretty clear that only God is God, and only God is to be worshipped. They are also clear that there will be consequences if God’s people put anything else in God’s place. But they did, and so do we.
As Melissa Spoelstra opens her chapter on idolatry in Jeremiah’s day, she shares a contrast in verses from Jeremiah 10 and something on the reality of Judah’s sin.
Jeremiah 10:15-16 states, “15 Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies!
On the day of reckoning they will all be destroyed.
16 But the God of Israel is no idol!
He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including Israel, his own special possession.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!” (NLT)
The historical fact is this: “King Jehoiakim reigned eleven years in Judah and sponsored idolatry. He strongly opposed Jeremiah’s message and ministry.”[i]
The king knew the Law and chose to ignore it. He knew God and chose to ignore God. King Jehoiakim’s father is the one who led many reforms and restored worship in Judah, yet the son went another direction. It happened often in their history. It happens in ours.
Maybe you know parents who have a sincere relationship with God, yet their children make other choices. Some of those choices are obviously bad: drugs or alcohol, violence, crime. The parents are heartbroken that their children have put these things ahead of what they were taught, ahead of loving God. We can understand that God is equally heartbroken when any of his children make such choices.
But other choices look just fine: work, family, a nice lifestyle, even church or community service. What could be wrong with any of these? Unless, of course, they leave God out of the picture, or put God on a back burner. What if work or a nice house or even church become our god instead of God himself? OUCH!
Our Judeo-Christian heritage is all about remembering. We are called to remember the stories of God and God’s people in scripture. Many New Testament passages remember verses and stories from the Old Testament. Every year Jews celebrate Passover to remember God delivering them from slavery in Egypt. On Shavu’ot they remember God’s gift of the Law. At the same times, during Holy Week Christians remember Christ giving his body and shedding his blood to forgive our sin; on Easter we remember His resurrection, at Pentecost we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit. Spoelstra says there are multiple references in Jeremiah to remembering or forgetting, and she suggests “God knows our tendency to forget and calls us to intentionally set patterns in our lives to help us remember Him against the backdrop of counterfeit gods screaming for our attention.” [ii]
God wants us to remember the covenant God made with us, that we are called to live as God’s people. But the things of this world demand our attention and pull us away from God. It can be as seductive as advertising telling us what the good life looks like and which products will get us there. It can be as subtle as the to do list we never complete. Spoelstra calls us out for this, “If we call ourselves Christ-followers, then we should agree that our relationship with God should be the number one thing in our lives. Yet many times we forget what is most important because of the lure of things of this world.” [iii] We might blame the many things available in the world that pull our attention away from God, but it was just as bad in Bible times. She reminds us, “Even without television, magazines, the Internet, and other modern media, the people of [Judah] were so focused on the things of this earth that they forgot their God.”[iv]
In Jeremiah’s day, as in the time of Moses, the word idol referred to something created by a craftsman, some sort of statue made of wood or stone, ceramics or metal and worshipped as a god. It may have represented something in the natural world or a supernatural being like Baal or Astarte among the Canaanites. In our day, the word idol can refer to a blood and flesh human being. Think of the program “American Idol.” The South Korean musicians I enjoy are also called idols. But while we may consider it harmless to refer to celebrities of the music industry this way, it still bothers me. I know there are many things, including entertainers, who are given god-like status to their detriment and ours. Only God is GOD!
Spoelstra states the danger when she urges, “Do whatever it takes to remember the covenant you made the day you asked Christ to take first place in your life. If we aren’t intentional, counterfeits will replace God’s best for us, and…they never really satisfy.” [v]
Spoelstra shares a story I have also heard about losing the real thing to cling to a fake. The gist of the story is this: A little girl saved up for a whole year to buy a plastic pearl necklace. She loved her pearls and wore them every day. She didn’t care that they were plastic. They were pretty, and they were hers. But one day her daddy asked her, “Do you love me?” Well, of course she did and said so. But then her daddy asked her to give him her pearls. That she couldn’t do. She offered her baby doll instead. Another day her daddy asked her again, “Do you love me? Will you give me your pearls?” Yes, she loved him, but she offered him another toy instead of her pearls. After this happened a few times, she got worried about why her daddy wanted her pearls, then one day she tearfully brought them forward and put them in her daddy’s hands. “Here, Daddy. This is for you.” With one hand her daddy took her fake pearls, and with the other hand he pulled a velvet box out of his pocket, one that contained the strand of real pearls he had purchased some time ago especially for her. Sometimes we cling to the fake things we buy or create for ourselves, and we miss out on the real relationship and love God offers us. God still loves us, but it makes God sad when we choose something else to have first place in our hearts.
There is another example of this in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 2, God asks, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that made them wander so far? They pursued what was worthless and became worthless.”[vi] Then God accuses, “I brought you into a land of plenty, to enjoy its gifts and goodness, but you ruined my land; you disgraced my heritage.”[vii] And later, “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!.”[viii]
Listen to this explanation of the cisterns from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible,
“Cisterns in ancient agricultural society were dug for at least two reasons: to store grain and food, and to store rainwater. Stored rainwater was used especially during the dry season (approximately May through September). Cisterns were dug in natural rock, or the ancient Israelites at times took advantage of natural cave formations to turn them into cisterns. In many cases cisterns had to be lined with plaster to be waterproof. … Cisterns could suffer cracks in the lining; therefore, water would seep out and a precious source of life was lost. Jeremiah uses the cisterns here as a metaphor to explain how Israel has abandoned Yahweh, the source of all life, and has substituted him with other gods — i.e., cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.”[ix]
Now contrast these cracked cisterns that leak the collected rainwater with the living water Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. If you drink the water from the well or the cistern or the tap water in your kitchen, you will be thirsty again and back for more of the same. It is necessary in this human life, but it is not eternal. It cannot satisfy completely. There are many things that can temporarily quench our needs. Spoelstra writes, “We put our trust in people, jobs, status, money, and any number of things that may seem safer to trust than God. We dig in our heels with empty systems that aren’t really secure and make our own feeble attempts at feeling safe and loved. It’s all just a cracked cistern.”[x] However, Jesus offers us living water. With this image of fresh flowing spring water, Jesus is offering His own Holy Spirit that Jesus would pour out on all come Pentecost.[xi]
The cracked cisterns in our lives, the idols we are tempted to worship, are “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”[xii] This is Timothy Keller’s definition of an idol in his book Counterfeit Gods. As stated before, these can be “an inherently bad object, practice, or habit” or it may be “a good person, thing, or practice that we elevate above God.”[xiii] The first we need to cut out of our lives completely. The second we need to put back in proper perspective. In both cases we can surrender these things to God.
One physical practice toward prayerfully giving up something that as taken over our lives is to write them out on a piece of paper, then give up that paper. You can toss it in the trash or burn it in a campfire. We have sometimes written down what we need to surrender or be forgiven on notes we nail to the cross in the chapel on Ash Wednesday. Various retreats effectively use a similar exercise. Those same retreats often begin with a talk that helps attendees identify the things that have taken over God’s place in their lives. If we ask ourselves how we spend our time, our money, and our energy we can make an honest evaluation of our priorities, not just what we think or say they are, but what we actually invest our lives into. As we look at the answers to those questions, we can see what may have taken first place in place of God. That’s the idol we need to surrender.
Spoelstra identifies it, “Something crosses the line into idolatry based on its elevation in our heart and mind…the danger comes when these things become ultimate or deified.”[xiv] Keller wrote, “We know a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries.”[xv] Work becomes an idol when it threatens your health or relationships, or if getting ahead tempts you to break a rule or commit a crime. Love has become an idol, according to Keller, if you allow your lover to abuse or exploit you, if you choose to ignore the disease that a dysfunctional relationship has become.[xvi]
In Jeremiah, chapters 7, which was our lesson for today, through chapter 10, which we quoted briefly earlier, are known as the Temple address. Like Jesus’ sermon on the mount, it is a collection of Jeremiah’s proclamations. These were likely given standing at the gate to the Temple. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Standing at the temple gate guaranteed a large audience for Jeremiah’s proclamation. Gate areas in the ancient Near Eastern world were places where much human activity and traffic took place”[xvii] At this place in the inner court, Jeremiah’s message from God would be heard by many who came there to worship. Note also that worship can mean both serving and bowing down. If we worship an idol we may be bowing down in reverence to it or serving its purposes, but we are called to reverence and serve none but God. In Jeremiah’s day, the Temple itself had become a sort of idol. People were chanting “The Lord’s Temple is here!”[xviii] as if that protected them from the coming Babylonian invasion. Eventually the Babylonians destroyed the Temple. Returning to God was the only thing that could have protected them, not the Temple, but they did not choose God.
Another sin of God’s people was that they failed to protect the most vulnerable whom God had told them repeatedly in the Law and the Prophets to protect – the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. We still have a long way to go in this regard. King Jehoiakim was also guilty of murdering the innocent, a prophet named Uriah. [xix] We struggle with this as well. In verse 9 Jeremiah accuses the people of theft, murder, adultery, lying, and worshipping Baal, pretty much breaking at least half of the Ten Commandments. He says in verse 10 that the Temple has become a den of thieves. This is what Jesus quotes when he clears out the Temple after his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The Chapter continues with many details of how God’s people have turned to worshipping the counterfeit gods of their neighbors rather than keeping the Temple as God’s sacred place and worshipping God only.
There would be consequences for turning away from God to these counterfeits, just as there are consequences for us. In Jeremiah’s day God did not stop the Babylonians from overtaking Judah, carrying away not only the sacred objects and destroying Temple, but carrying away many Judean’s themselves and destroying their land. Others escaped to Egypt, the land of slavery where they had vowed never to return. Spoelstra points out what we may have missed, “God was willing to stop these consequences if they would stop their idolatrous ways.”[xx] Will we learn that valuable lesson? She continues, “Just as our idolatry takes a different form today, the consequences of our idolatry also take shape differently in our culture.”[xxi]
How do we turn things around? Spoelstra suggests we look in the mirror. As any good counselor or life coach will tell you, the only person you can change is rourself. But as we do, “As we take steps of obedience toward God and realize the ramifications of our personal idolatry, it causes a ripple effect to those in our spheres of influence.”[xxii] We can each take an honest look at our own life, then put God and God’s will first in every area of our lives. Sometimes we think the things in our lives that have taken God’s place aren’t that serious, so we don’t bother to change. Looking at her own life, Melissa Spoelstra writes, “my personal idolatry, the apathy in my spirit, the missed opportunities, and the ultimate consequences on my relationships do affect me.”[xxiii]
Yes, Jesus has already died on the cross and forgiven us. That doesn’t excuse us to continue in attitudes and behaviors that are against God’s best intentions for us. She states, “We justify our bad habits, our consumer attitudes, our selfishness, and our idols just as the people of [Judah] did.”[xxiv]
So, what does Jeremiah warn us not to do? As noted earlier, our greed must not allow us to ignore the needs of the immigrant, orphan, or widow, the marginalized and vulnerable of our society. Spoelstra easily puts it in 21st century terms that fit most white citizens in the United States, “We live in a First-World bubble of privilege and excess.”[xxv] She confesses seeing the difference between what her family takes for granted like ice cream or cell phones as compared to children she met on a mission trip to Guatemala who eat maybe one bowl of rice in a day and have worms in their feet, because they have no shoes. It’s a tough wake up call. So are many statistics around the world that show us the needs in terms of clean water, nutrition, medicines, safety, employment, housing, education, and so much more we take for granted. Spoelstra admits, “We can’t ‘fix it’” but she is convinced God doesn’t want us to ignore the needs, that we can do something![xxvi] She quotes Proverbs 21:13, “Those who close their ears to the cries of the poor will themselves call out but receive no answer.” It reminds me of Jesus saying, “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”[xxvii]
Jeremiah talked about the greed that kept people from caring for the vulnerable in his day. In Jeremiah 6:13-14 we read:
“13 Everyone, great and small, tries to make money dishonestly; even prophets and priests cheat the people. 14 They act as if my people's wounds were only scratches. ‘All is well,’ they say, when all is not well.”
And in Jeremiah 8:10-11, this is repeated with the consequences that what they own now will be given away, because they have neglected these wounds among their people.
What does that say to us? There is a reason that #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and other movements have had to take drastic measures to grab our attention and hopefully lead not only to legislation and policy changes, but to change our attitudes and behaviors. We too often think “it’s not my problem, so how important can it be? It’s only a superficial wound.” We have ignored the deep wounds that generations have caused in terms of race, gender, nationality, economic status, sexual orientation, and more. By not correcting the mistakes of our ancestors, we have perpetuated them; we have let the wounds fester. God will not sit still if we continue to ignore his commandments to love and respect all of God’s children.
While Jeremiah talks about our failure to care for others, especially the vulnerable, he also condemns our greed. About Jeremiah’s day, Spoelstra writes, “Everyone was consumed with the need for stuff. Those who had a lot wanted more. Those who had little wanted more.”[xxviii] It’s classic “keeping up with the Jones,” and we are just as guilty yet today. Advertising, home shopping networks, online stores all encourage us to buy, buy, buy! I’m as guilty as anyone else. It’s a miracle I put any of my stimulus check in savings, but that was to replace the savings I had already spent on other things. I want nice things. I want convenient things. Who doesn’t? But it gets out of control. Spoelstra reminds us, “It’s not about the things themselves, …it’s about the place they take in our hearts. God wants to give us good gifts but not to have those gifts take priority over Him.” [xxix]
Our own desire to have more is another wound we ignore, this time in ourselves. “When we settle for stuff to fulfill us, it’s like putting a bandage over a bloody, gaping wound. It’s a superficial treatment. Sin is the mortal wound that separates us from [God]. We need Christ, not more stuff.”[xxx] This is Spoelstra’s take on consumerism taken to greedy extremes. Instead, God expects good stewardship of all gifts, all the resources God makes available to us.
Jeremiah criticized the people of his day for borrowing the wrong things from the cultures around them. He delivered this message from God, “Don’t follow the ways of the nations.”[xxxi] It included astrology and making idols. But such things were foolish. They did not make the heavens and the earth. They do not control the rains or storms. “They are a delusion, a charade; at the appointed time they will vanish!”[xxxii]
Only God is the Creator, the Almighty, the Ultimate and Eternal God.
Those in Jeremiah’s day were looking to outside influences worshipped by neighboring cultures to save them from desperate circumstances without recognizing they had gotten themselves into these consequential situations. Others in the Bible tried to manage their own agendas rather than waiting on God’s plan and timing. Sarah sought a child by having Abraham sleep with Hagar. Rebecca coached Jacob to trick Isaac and receive the blessing intended for Esau. They tried to fulfill God’s promises by their own means.
Whether it is putting our trust in society or our own schemes, trusting these idols is like Jeremiah’s phrase, “putting a scarecrow in a cucumber or melon patch.” [xxxiii] As Spoelstra learned from her grandfather, melons and cucumbers grow on vines along the ground with plenty of leafy cover. You don’t really see much of the fruit from above, but you have to feel under the leaves to find them. The scarecrow is useless, because God already hid the fruit from the crows. In the same way, many of our worldly schemes are useless, because God already has a plan to accomplish his purpose. Sometimes our ideas get in his way. Instead we need to listen to God and wait on God’s purpose. We are to cooperate with it, but not to supplant it.
That leaves us with the question of how we listen for God’s will, but that is next week’s lesson. In the meantime, this week, I urge you to take an honest look at your own lives, the only ones you have the power to change. Where has greed or convenience caused you to consume more than you need? Where has your lifestyle put others or creation at risk? Who do you intentionally or unintentionally judge others and consider them less worthy? What do you trust more than God or prioritize above God? Once you have identified these difficult answers, what will you do about it? Choosing to ignore our sin and idolatry will have consequences, but choosing to change will have a healthy and positive ripple effect not only for ourselves but in the world around us. Put your trust in God, and put God first in your life!
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version p. 14
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
PRAYER OF LAMENT (adapted from Book of Common Worship,PCUSA)
Gracious God, by day and night we pour out our prayer to you.
We are crying out for justice, yearning for what is right, longing for your peace.
Come quickly to help us, O God; save those who call upon your name.
We hear of hateful violence and senseless killing,
And your people cry “How long?”
We feel the suffering, sorrow, and shame of the oppressed
And your people cry “How long?”
We fear that justice will again be delayed or denied
And your people cry “How long?”
We recognize patterns of privilege and systems of discrimination
And your people cry “How long?”
We see your creation destroyed by carelessness and greed
And your people cry “How long?”
We weep for the victims of COVID-19,
We grieve in the aftermath of rioting and police brutality,
We pray for an end to racial profiling and discrimination,
And your people cry “How long?”
We long for a day when all people will be treated
With the respect and dignity deserved by all of God’s children
No matter their race or gender, status or creed, nationality or background.
And your people cry “How long?”
Gracious God, keep us working and praying for the day
when your justice will roll down like waters,
and your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Replenish our strength and stir up our hope
as we look for signs of your coming reign.
And fill us with the peace that passes understanding--
the deep peace of Jesus Christ our Savior,
in whose holy name we pray. Amen.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING (also from Book of Common Worship)
Eternal God, creator of the world and giver of all good,
we thank you for the earth, our home, and for the gift of life.
We praise you for your love in Jesus Christ, who came to heal this broken world,
who died rejected on the cross, and rose triumphant from the dead.
Because he lives, we live to praise you, our God forever.
Gracious God, who called us from death to life, we give ourselves to you;
and with the church through all ages
we thank you for your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE LORD'S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever. Amen.
CHARGE & BLESSING Jeremiah 29:11, GW
“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.”
Go in peace to serve the Lord our God
and work for his justice and righteousness in this world.
[i] Melissa Spoelstra, Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, p. 769
[ii] p. 781
[iii] p. 846
[iv] p. 847
[v] p. 894
[vi] Jeremiah 2:5, CEB
[vii] Jeremiah 2:7, CEB
[viii] Jeremiah 2:13, CEB
[ix] From Bible Gateway Plus Study Bibles found at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah%202%3A13&version=NLT
[x] Spoelstra, p. 944
[xi] Orthodox Study Bible notes, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4%3A14&version=NLT
[xii] Spoelstra quotes Timothy Keller from Counterfeit Gods, on her p. 952
[xiii] Spoelstra, p. 952
[xiv] p. 989
[xv] Quoted by Spoelstra, p. 989
[xviii] Jeremiah 7:4, CEB
[xix] Refers to Jeremiah 26:20-23
[xx] Spoelstra, p.1064
[xxi] p. 1084
[xxii] p. 1092
[xxiii] p. 1168
[xxiv] p. 1177
[xxv] p. 1230
[xxvii] Matthew 7:21, CEB
[xxviii] Spoelstra, p, 1279
[xxix] p. 1279
[xxx] p. 1287
[xxxi] Jeremiah 10:2a, CEB
[xxxii] Jeremiah 10:15, CEB
[xxxiii] Jeremiah 10:5
Jeremiah lived 2600 years ago, but has as much to say to our world today as he did to Judah then. The Bible Study from which I am taking much of this series is Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World by Melissa Spoelstra. A Bible Study to accompany the sermons can be found at Faith Adventures.