Jeremiah 26:1-7, 10-15
August 20, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Thus Saith the LORD”
Can you picture the “headlines” that would have followed Jeremiah’s “sermon” as described in this morning’s Lesson?
RADICAL RIGHT CAUSES RIOT IN TEMPLE COURT
INTOLERANT PREACHER STIRS UP JERUSALEM
TREASON CHARGES HUMILIATE DISRESPECTFUL PROPHET
We think we have problems! Put yourself in Jeremiah’s sandals! The flavor of the narrative closely resembles the vitriol and violence which erupted and gave full expression in Charlottesville, Virginia just this last week! Jeremiah had a “hard row to hoe!” But he was obedient to his Lord (which really is always the ultimate test of faith)… and not even a shadow of complaint is found with him for the treatment he received delivering the LORD’s oracles!
Jeremiah’s public warning was given as Judah was fading into oblivion. King Jehoiakim, mentioned by name in our lesson, was the 18th of Judah’s twenty kings! Soon the nation would disappear!
Proverbs 27 warns us all:
Know the state of your flocks,
and put your heart into caring for your herds,
for riches don’t last forever,
and the crown might not be passed to the next generation.
But God’s “people” were careless! They were so rebellious and so willfully contemptuous of His laws and statutes, He sent them several prophets to call them back to repentance. First there was Nahum… then Zephaniah… then Habakkuk. And the contemporary of them all – dear old Jeremiah. The “Weeping Prophet.” So faithful. So weathered. So worn. So true!
God told him to do something radical – indeed, daring! Can you picture yourself addressing a rebellious and violent crowd with a message they hated? But a true prophet always “did his job.” He was to take his position in what was probably the inner court of the Temple precincts. The Temple was built on the top of Mt. Zion, so as you moved from outer courts to inner courts, you were in effect climbing a terraced layout and architecture – with the Temple building standing out at the top above them all with its imposing persona.
The people thought of the Temple as their “home base” – that would stand forever and “save them” from all calamity. They had thus grown very lax and indolent in their commitment and dedication to the LORD. The Temple had become their security, not the LORD. “We will always be kept safe in this our fortress,” they assured themselves!
Jeremiah boomed forth God’s message to the people as they drew near to perform their religious “duties.” Thus saith the LORD… if you will not repent and return to me, I will make this place like Shiloh!”
To comprehend the impact of this threat, we must remember that following the Conquest of the Promised Land, the Tent of Meeting was set up in Shiloh in the hill country of Ephraim. The Ark of the Covenant was kept there and people gathered there from all Israel to worship the Almighty. Shiloh enjoyed prominence in the religious life of Israel… until it was swept away!
What happened? Because of pride and moral corruption it was overrun by the Philistines and the Ark captured. You may remember that when the High Priest, Eli, heard the news, he fell over backwards and broke his neck.
The faithless priests and false prophets who heard Jeremiah took umbrage at what he said… and were so offended at his implication that the same fate awaited Jerusalem, they apprehended him and shouted out that he deserved to die! They sent for the city officials as they dragged him over to the temple gate where trials were conducted. When the princes arrived, breathless, in their rush from the king’s quarters, they sat down at the gate and the trial began.
If, by the way, this sounds strangely familiar – it is almost identical to the treatment of our Lord… once more by faithless priests and false prophets. It is a template – a pattern, if you will — which has been reenacted time and time again across the pages of history. Quickly moving through the form and pretense of a trial so the execution can begin!
Witnesses were brought forth to build their case against him. Then finally Jeremiah was allowed to speak on his own defense.
What I have spoken I was told to speak by the LORD God, he carefully began. You must repent and amend your ways. You must repent and amend your behavior. You must obey the voice of the LORD your God. If you repent… He will repent of the evil He has pronounced against you.
There are so many lessons for us in these verses! But of them all, let us focus on the power of four of Jeremiah’s words, Thus saith the LORD! Thus saith the LORD!
How is it that Jeremiah could stand against the compromised princes and priests and prophets – and people — of his day? What moral courage is this? He knew that all things are in God’s great Hands and that He Himself had spoken the words “Thus saith the LORD.”
Understanding this foundation of life confers great power on all who accept what it means. Including you and me… Thus saith the LORD. It is the Voice of pure reason (God’s reason)! It is the Voice of ultimate authority… and we ignore it to our own demise – through mental gymnastics… through shrewd and crafty rationalizations!
It was the Hand of the Ancient of Days which wrote the words for Belshazzar, of old: Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.
Mene. God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.
Tekel. You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Upharsin. Your kingdom is divided and given to others.
The LORD God speaks words which no man can silence. He stops the pompous proclamations of men that their words may fall to the ground and disappear – unheard forever. Thus saith the LORD.
It was this understanding that gave courage and ability to the Apostolic Fathers, of old — including St. Clement of Rome – consecrated by St. Peter… and who carried such a burden himself with the care of Christ’s flock as Peter’s successor following his martyrdom… even as Roman persecutions were increasing… and leaderless congregations came to him for help..
It was this understanding which gave nerve and audacity to Queen Theodora (one of my favorite episodes in the annals of Church history) whose quick-thinking and incredible resolve (expressed in her reminder that purple is the noblest shroud) saved the reign of her husband, Justinian during the uprising of A.D. 532! Thus saith the LORD.
How sad it is that this grand four-word phrase has almost disappeared from so many secularized churches in America today!
It is no longer needed in churches which have committed themselves to man’s self-discovery… man’s wisdom… man’s planning.
It is no longer chic (that is, fashionable) in churches given wholesale to the entertainment and amusement of audiences which travel from place to place seeking the tickling of their ears (a-muse literally means no thinking). I read this past week about a new church in Denver, Colorado which uses cannabis (marijuana) as a “ritual sacrament” to elevate their spiritual journey… their understanding of themselves… and their search for fulfillment! Please note this is not about God! It is fully about Man!
It is all-but-forgotten by the churches which have adopted and internalized vox populi vox dei as their mantra. What does vox populi vox dei mean? It is Latin for “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” In such churches man has become the new god… Thus saith Man (with a capital “M”)!
But to those who reverence and who know the Almighty… who understand His power in history, His role in determining the affairs of men and nations… who seek to give Him humble worship – and to hear His Voice – Jeremiah’s are the best words of all.
Thus saith the LORD. These are powerful words which (literally) hold the world together!
They remind us of that which the writer to the Hebrews said – that God is shaking the earth yet today, so that what is unworthy may be uprooted… and that which is permanently built upon Thus saith the LORD may remain and endure!
These words, indeed, help us in our quandaries and our doubts and our perplexities. They remind us that in following them our godly plans and purposes may likewise endure and withstand His shaking.
Thus saith the LORD. Words of authority. Words of truth. Words of comfort. Words of permanence. Words that will endure. Words which, if we cling them and obey them, will likewise give us a lasting and enduring presence with the Almighty in time and for eternity.
Remember the violence of fallen Man! Remember Jeremiah, of old! Remember the LORD God we serve. It is He coined the phrase…
Thus saith the LORD. World without end… A-men.