Have you ever felt devastated? Hopeless? Heartbroken? Persecuted? Have you suffered? Ever felt that feeling like things were happening that were out of your control and that there was nothing that you could do to stop it?
In those times, did you feel an absence of God? Or perhaps did you ask, “Why God?” Why me? Why this? Why now?
If not, then you have been blessed. If you have felt this way, which I bet most, if not all of us here have, then you are right alongside of millions of Christians struggling with this, even this very day, and of a majority of figures of the bible. Including the prophet Jeremiah, whose sad and mournful words we heard this morning.
In fact, if there is a prophet of the OT that understands pain and trouble, it would be the prophet Jeremiah. The weeping prophet, he would later be called. A person who really felt the pain of others, the pain of his nation, a mourning and a sadness for his nation that had stepped away from God and stepped towards the idolatry of their times. And so the prophet was called and raised among the people. And it is from Jeremiah that we get the book of Jeremiah, as well as the book of lamentations.
Which is what we read this morning. A lamentation. An agony brought forth before the Lord. Raw emotion. Brought on by suffering. Weeping, wailing, crying, sobbing, moaning, lament, grieving, and mourning are all examples of what we refer to in the church as lamenting. And the prophet Jeremiah was one who was not afraid to show it.
You see, Jeremiah was called up to serve in the office of prophet to a people who had strayed from God. Had abandoned God. Had, like we touched on last week, taken on other gods. Had broken the commandments of God. In their times it took form partly as doing sacrifices to baal; but can mean anything that we put in front of God. In our day it can look like the love of money, chasing our own wealth and prestige, or something such as an addiction. To sex, to drugs, to alcohol, even to adrenaline. A rush. Anything that stands in between our relationship between us and God.
The people of Israel had done this in a big way, even to a point of offering sacrifices of children. And so the prophet preached. And stood up against injustice, was faithful to his mission and calling. He challenged those who were greedy and corrupt. He did what he was supposed to do. And he knew the consequences that would occur if the people did not turn from their ways and return to God. He was given by God the foresight the predict the 70 year Babylonian Captivity. And he warned the people of it.
But unfortunately those words fell on deaf ears. And the idolatry continued. Jeremiah even suffered for preaching against it. Was made a mockery. Was later Attacked. Beaten, Jailed. Even thrown into a cistern. But all along Jeremiah holds the truth of what was to come and did his best to serve God. So, in his moments of suffering; in the moments that he felt like a failure; in the moments that everything seemed to be out of control; he wept. He cried. He did the only thing he could do in the situation. And he brought it to the ears of God in a raw and real way. And although he wouldn’t know it then, God was listening.
Brothers and sisters, I have had a Jeremiah kind of week and I am sure that I am not the only one. And I am sure that there is no coincidence at all that this very week, this would be the scripture that was selected in the lectionary.
This week I found out that a man I know, whom at one time I regarded as a friend; whose children I know; who I have known for years and years, since childhood- Died. Overdosed by Heroin.
In fact he makes the fifth person that I have known whose life has ended early by this- which has become nothing less than an idolatry of our generation.
I have had mixed emotions this week. At times feeling plain out angry- angry at him, angry at the person who gave it to him. Angry at the dealer. Angry that his beautiful little girls were the ones that found him dead that next morning. Angry that as a nation we continue to struggle with this epidemic. Angry that he would make such a terrible decision when all of us who knew him knew how hard he had been working to overcome the bad decisions that he had made. But most of all I have wept. I have wept and wept. Like Jeremiah I wept. For his family. For his little girls. For our entire generation. Yet another person gone. Yet another life wasted. Yet another family lying in devastation and ruin. Lord have I wept. Because it was all that I had left that I could do.
Like in the days of Jeremiah, the truth, as it was right in front of the people of Israel, is right in front of us. And yet, despite this, they walked themselves into a season away from God and into captivity. And brothers and sisters, I lament that we are doing the same; as a generation that has forgotten the ordinances of God and walked away from his offer of mercy and grace, and towards captivities of every kind.
Yet there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. A lesson of faithfulness, and it is God’s message to us this morning. A lesson to be like Jeremiah. A promise of God’s character. A promise that, when we are in these moments of desperation, that God hears our words. That when we cry out to God with whole hearts, and ask those tough questions- we can live with the promise that He is walking with us. That our crying isn’t falling on deaf ears, but instead is falling on the heart of a God that loves and cares for us. Pursues us, as we talked about last week.
And today he encourages us- that when our strength is weak, when we feel like we are failing, when we are in a position of retreat or the world feels like it is crashing in around us- to remain faithful like Jeremiah. To keep the mission at hand. To continue to do the will of God always. In this we live to inherit the promises of God, found later in Jeremiah chapter 29: 10-14
"For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive."
What we walk away with from this account of Jeremiah is this- that if we remain faithful, if we do our part. If we answer our call. If we continue to fight through what is tough and difficult and consumes us- on the other side lies deliverance. On the other side is blessings. On the other side of if we will find growth- for us, and even for our entire society. It may mean that we for a time will suffer. We may grieve, we may be burdened. But we are neither alone nor abandoned. And as for us today- whether that means stepping into the presence of God in heaven, or taking us out of the bondage of sin and addiction as a society- that promise sounds pretty good to me. Amen.