September 3, 2023
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
15 Lord, you understand;
remember me and care for me.
Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
16 When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.
17 I never sat in the company of revelers,
never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
and you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unending
and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
like a spring that fails.
19 Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“If you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
but you must not turn to them.
20 I will make you a wall to this people,
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked
and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”
Your whole class was invited to the birthday party. When you arrived, there were games, a bounce house, pizza, hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, face painting and gift bags for all to take home at the end. The grownups said that no one was supposed to have any cupcakes until after singing the birthday song, but all your friends decided to sneak some before singing. When you heard their plan, you went and told an adult. The next week at school, none of your friends would play with you. At the end of the week, you yelled at your parents for telling you to do the right thing because now all your friends do not like you and you are all alone.
Before he saw his first birthday, God had plans for Jeremiah. Jeremiah served as a prophet to the kingdom of Judah for over forty years. Judah saw the rise and fall of five kings during Jeremiah’s time as prophet from Josiah who was good and worked to turn Judah back to the Lord, to Zedekiah who was the final straw in turning Judah away from the Lord. During Zedekiah’s rule, Babylon conquered Judah and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. In Jeremiah 1, we hear the Lord’s call to Jeremiah to serve as his prophet, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” These initial words to Jeremiah were meant to bring confidence in his calling. The Lord then detailed the great plans he had for Jeremiah, 9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” The Lord’s call to Jeremiah to be his prophet came at a young age and would have been overwhelming for anyone. So, the Lord encouraged him for his calling in Jeremiah 1,
17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
As with other prophets, Jeremiah promised the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, but Jeremiah lived through the destruction. This meant Jeremiah spoke against the wickedness of his country, its corrupt political and religious leaders, and the socially accepted ungodly trends. The overwhelming majority fought against him, but God promised to keep him standing firm.
Jeremiah often suffered alone in the nation influencing magnitude of his calling. In our Old Testament reading today from Jeremiah 15, we hear his own words to the Lord, 15 Lord, you understand; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. Jeremiah’s words began with the understanding that God knows exactly what is going on in Jeremiah’s life. God sees the 30,000-foot view as well as the hidden thoughts in every individual’s mind and the feelings of their heart. So, Jeremiah appeals to God to take action on his behalf. Jeremiah continued to say, “You are long-suffering—do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.” He recognized God’s long-suffering or patience with the wickedness of Judah, but worried that waiting to punish Judah would mean they would kill Jeremiah for prophesying their destruction for their wicked ways. Jeremiah appeals to God for the sake of his life since his worries are the result of being God’s messenger. He continued, 16 “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. 17 I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.” The word of the Lord filled Jeremiah with joy and he faithfully carried out his calling to speak the word of the Lord, and to abstain from the wicked lifestyle embraced by all those around him. Yet, this left him alone and angry. Finally, Jeremiah confesses he is at a breaking point physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, 18 “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” Jeremiah’s pain from the hatred of his country and from watching so many reject God’s call to turn away from evil and back to the Lord, left him without relief. His lonely suffering even brought him to speak against the Lord. He once ate the word of the Lord and was filled with joy, but now he compared the Lord to a seasonal creek that runs dry for months or a once flowing spring that dried up. Jeremiah’s suffering alone tempted him to turn from God leaving him on the side of the people condemned for their wickedness.
You do not want to be like Jeremiah. Hearing Jeremiah pour his lonely suffering heart out to the point of describing God as a dry well empties you of any desire to walk in his sandals. Yet, you are called to walk, talk and suffer as he did. You do not have his specific calling to address the rise and fall of nations, but you are called to serve God by sharing his message as we hear in 1 Peter 2, 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. God called you to declare his light in the darkness, and often you feel like a flashlight searching for survivors in the night after a hurricane. As a Christian, you feel alone often. Whether you feel it is just you or just your family, your congregation, your church body or as Christians compared to all the unbelievers of the world, it feels overwhelming. Thoughts like “No one is listening” or “There is no point in sharing Jesus” pop up in your head, in conversations and in how you live. Rather than share the word of the Lord like Jeremiah, we become bland and no different from the worldly. We become known as Christians just because we are nice or conform to a certain morality, rather than being known as Christians because we talked about sin and grace, law and gospel. Our lonely suffering turns us inward away from God, so we begin to think of him like a dried-up spring. Despite your suffering, there is no future when we turn away from the Lord.
The Lord has a powerful response to our lonely suffering. In response to Jeremiah, this is what the Lord said in Jeremiah 15, 19 Therefore this is what the Lord says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. It was not that the Lord had not understood Jeremiah’s situation, his feelings, his suffering or his request to be cared for and avenged. God knew the reality and severity of his situation, so he was quick to the cure. God spoke to Jeremiah’s spiritual need to turn back to him. In his suffering, he doubted God and called him a liar, a giver of false hope, uttering worthless words but God is not a dried-up spring. God is the water of life. God promised to retore him so that he could serve him by speaking the truth. In our Gospel reading from Matthew 16, Jesus detailed God’s promise to restore all people, 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. With these words, Jesus revealed that he would suffer alone. Jesus faced the full hatred of the world who condemned him to death. He also suffered hell on the cross as God abandoned him to death for our sins. After his suffering and death, would come the resurrection to eternal life. When Jesus said these things, 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus stopped Peter from his human worldly view and pointed him back to the truth. God did the same for Jeremiah, 19 … Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. The people needed to hear God’s word from Jeremiah, but Jeremiah needed nothing from them. As with Peter and Jeremiah, God calls us to turn to him when we suffer lonely as his people in the wicked world.
God provides restoration in the face of your suffering. The word of the Lord to Jeremiah remains true for you, since God does not change, 20 I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. Like in Jeremiah 1, the Lord used the image of an impenetrable wall. It is the Lord who makes you a wall to the threats of unbelief and hatred for your faith in Jesus. He is the strength living in you with you and for you. He accomplishes this through his word as he did to Jeremiah who again said, 16 When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. God’s Word strengthens you so that any threat from the devil, demons, the unbelieving world and your own sinful heart is crushed at the power of God. Your answer to all things, even lonely suffering becomes, “What does the Bible say?” Your answer becomes, the Lord says, and the Lord says in Jeremiah 15, 21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.” Jesus restored your relationship with him by saving you and delivering you from sin, death and hell, and suffering in this world. In Matthew 16, Jesus is honest with us about our suffering, 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” You are facing lonely suffering for Jesus’ sake, but we also hold on to this truth from our New Testament reading from Romans 8, 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We have not yet been fully restored, but the one who promised to restore us is faithful. We are waiting for God’s last promise, to return and bring us to heaven. As we wait, we have this encouragement from Romans 8, 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Each week you are invited to Bible study and worship. Here we are called to be honest about our sins, for giving into what is evil, and our suffering for the sake of Jesus, for loving what is good. We are blessed to share in the lonely suffering together. We are blessed to share God’s promise to restore, rescue, save and deliver us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. God was the source of Jeremiah’s strength and ours too. God also gave him his message in the Bible to share, and it is our message to share too. Turn to the Lord in your lonely suffering for he will restore you. Amen.