Jeremiah 20:7-13 (3rd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 7—Series A)
“God Will Not Let You Go”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 25, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah 20:
You have deceived me, O Yahweh, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of Yahweh has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then it becomes like a burning fire in my heart shut up in my bones, and I am weary holding it in, and I am not able. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But Yahweh is with me as a terror-striking warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed, an eternal dishonor that will never be forgotten. 12 O Yahweh of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. 13 Sing to Yahweh; praise Yahweh! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.
Have you ever found yourself struggling with God? Maybe angry with Him because you found yourself in a terrible situation? Maybe you have found it hard to trust in the Lord because you feel that He let you down and betrayed your trust? Jeremiah felt that way. Jeremiah felt that the Lord had deceived him by enticing him to serve as the Lord’s prophet only to use him and then to toss Jeremiah aside.
Jeremiah complains in our text. He complains against God. He says, “God, it’s your fault I’ve become a laughingstock all day long. It’s your fault everyone makes fun of me. I prophesy your terror and doom against the unfaithful people of Judah, I call out ‘Violence and destruction are coming from the Lord,’ but nothing happens. I look like a fool. God, you prevailed upon me to assume this prophetic obligation of announcing Your Word of judgment against your people, but you haven’t done what You said you would do. And all I get out of this is anguish and pain.”
But then Jeremiah moves from his complaint to praise. “Yahweh is with me as a terror-striking warrior. Therefore, my persecutors will stumble and they will not overcome. . . . Sing to Yahweh; praise Yahweh, for He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” But in the verses immediately following our text, Jeremiah returns to his bitter complaint: “Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father. . . . Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:14-18).
Yikes! Did Jeremiah suddenly discover his favorable assessment of God to be wrong and then permanently changed his mind about the Lord? Let me ask it this way. When you struggle with God and the things of God, does that mean you permanently change the way you think about the Lord? No. What Jeremiah and we as believers in Christ undergo is the ebb and flow of our Christian experience. There are times when we do struggle with God, with trusting Him, feeling angry and deceived. There could be times when we, like Jeremiah, want to throw up our hands and walk away from God, even wishing the Lord never let us be born in the first place. Granted, that seems like an extreme, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Christians.
When we have these struggles and negative thoughts toward our Lord then we often wallow in the guilt of those thoughts and emotions. We think, “I’m a Christian. I should never doubt. I should never be angry. I should just take what the Lord hands me and deal with it. I should be better than that.” But that’s not reality. It’s not Biblical reality. Our faith relationship with God doesn’t always proceed in a straight line, from weak to strong. “Every day and every way it’s getting better and better,” doesn’t apply here. Often our faith relationship with our God and Lord vacillates. It wavers. Our trust in God, by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, does become ever stronger, but it seldom does so in a smooth, unbroken, upward path. Consider Peter: “Peter answered [Jesus], ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’” (Matt. 14:28-30 ESV).
Peter’s faith went back and forth. He trusted; he doubted; He trusted again in Jesus’ power to rescue and to save. Jeremiah was no different. Neither are we. When we face the temptations, the trials, and the struggles of this life, our faith relationship with the Lord does fluctuate. It goes three steps forward and two steps back, if you will. However, the good news promise is that the Lord who began a good work in us by first creating saving faith in our heart through Baptism and the Gospel will not let us go even when we foolishly try to loosen His grip on us!
Look at the stubbornness of God’s hold on Jeremiah! The prophet tried to shake God off—“I will not mention Him and I will not speak again in His name.” But look what happens! “[His Word] becomes like a burning fire in my heart, shut up in my bones and I am weary holding it in and I am not able.” God hangs on, insisting on delivering the good news of His mercy to Jeremiah and through Jeremiah. Jeremiah first sees this as bad news. He wants to be free from God and his prophetic call. But what Jeremiah will discover by the end of the text is that the fact that God pursues him and us with His goodness and ultimately overtakes and overpowers Jeremiah and us with His steadfast love and mercy and grace is really good news!
Our God relentlessly pursues us with His mercy, regardless of whether we welcome that pursuit at the time or not! Think of Jonah, for example. The Lord commanded him to go Nineveh and preach His Word to the Assyrians, and Jonah ran away! And the Lord went after Him, employing the services of a storm at sea and great fish to bring Jonah back to Him. The Psalmist asks in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in [the grave], you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:7-10 ESV).
God is truly Emmanuel, God With Us. He is the seeking God, the One who came to save us from our sins. He said through Ezekiel, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” (34:16). So God the Father sent His One-of-a-kind Son to take upon Himself our human flesh in order that He should seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
God the Son, Jesus Christ, was so determined in His pursuit of us in order to save us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil that He took on human flesh. He became fully man so that He would be able to endure the extreme of suffering our death and hell on a cross. You see, God did not want to let us go, not for a moment and certainly not for eternity. So Jesus died for us that we might receive the forgiveness of all our sins and so be made God’s sons and daughters for eternity. Ephesians 1:5, God the Father “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Jesus Christ has redeemed us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil so that we might belong to Him, to our great God and Savior, as heirs of eternal life.
The poet, Francis Thompson, speaks of God using what he calls “the Hound of Heaven” motif. Our God is a God who pursues and chases after us the way a hound chases a fox. God is relentless in His seeking us in order to forgive our sins and make us His own children forever. In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He overpowers us and overtakes us. Through the Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, He delivers faith in Christ to us. That faith graciously receives the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. As Jeremiah said, “He has delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” Sin, death, and the devil have no more power over us. We are the forgiven and redeemed children of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
So if you have you ever found yourself struggling with God, angry with Him, or feeling let down or abandoned by Him, there is Good News for you. There is Gospel for you. God will never let you go. Even if you should want to run away from God, He will not let you go. He will pursue you in order to hold you in His arms of mercy because you are His adopted children through His Son, Jesus Christ, your Savior. You have eternal life guaranteed with Him forever. So we can join in Jeremiah’s song of praise to the Lord even as we join with Paul confessing, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39 NASB). Amen.