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Sunday, July 29, 2018


A sermon based upon Jeremiah 29:1-14
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  July 29,  2018 
(9-12) Sermon Series: Jeremiah: Prophet to the Nations

There is a story about a businessman who checked into a hotel late at night. He decided that he would stop in the lounge for a nightcap. Pretty soon he called the hotel desk, and asked, "What time will the lounge be opened in the morning?" The night clerk answered, "9:00 a.m." About an hour later he called again. The phone rang. The night clerk answered it. The businessman again asked, "What time will the lounge be opened in the morning?" He said, "9:00 a.m." He called a third time, and every hour throughout the night. Each time the night clerk answered, saying, "9:00 a.m."

At 7:00 a.m. the day manager arrived. The night clerk reported everything went all right, except for this crazy man who kept calling the desk every hour asking what time the lounge would open. Right then the phone rang again. The manager picked it up this time.  Sure enough it was the businessman asking what time the lounge would open. The manager said, "Look here! The night clerk tells me that you have been a nuisance all night long asking the same question. I am telling you for the last time, the lounge will be open at 9:00 a.m. You can't get in until then!" The businessman said, "Get in? I don't want to get in. I want to get out!"  (From Mark Trotter).

More and more people ‘want out’ of the world they must live in.   Life is not easy.  Relationships are not what they used to be.   Communities are not as tight-knit and the world is not as friendly.    People used to talk and look each at each other eye to eye.  People loved to come together so they could know what was going on at church, school, or in the community.  Everyone seemed to have the same values. Everyone seemed to have the same beliefs. But all that has changed now.  The world is becoming too complicated, diverse, and dangerous. 

And when you add all of that up, many people are saying, "I want out." And they find ways to get out. The voter statistics bear that out. There is an increased decline in voting.  Some move to express themselves through Facebook, or they escape into the fantasy NETFLIX, or find haven some corner of life.  They get ‘out’ and try to find more and more ways to escape the big, bad, hard to deal with world or they lock themselves into their own political, or cultural special interest groups.  People used to belong to community organizations for the good of the whole. Now they belong to special interest organizations to promote the ‘good’ that they want for themselves. The ties that held community together are weakening. Those ties once found in churches, service clubs, women's clubs, in lodges, are all on the decline. Some of them in serious decline.

In our text today, Jeremiah writes an interestingly ‘letter’ to people who ‘want out’.  They are people who are force to live in a world that was very different than the world they grew up in.  These people where God’s people, who because of the failure of their society, were having to live in a ‘far away’ land of exile.  Now, they wanted to go back home, but they couldn’t.   How where they to find meaning, hope, and promise in such a ‘god-forsaken’ place?   How were they going to ‘sing the Lord’s song’ in a strange land’?  This is the problem with physical or spiritual exile, is that you come to think you will never feel at home in the world again.

Many years ago, Teresa and I visited one of the darkest, coldest places on planet: The Auschwitz Concentration Camp, located in southern Poland.   We got the full effect of that tragic place because we visited in winter, when there was more than a foot of snow on the ground.   Auschwitz was a difficult place to visit, especially in winter, but it was a necessary reminder to us of just how low human behavior can go.  It symbolized for us the coldness of the human heart when it forgets God and forgets that every human deserves to be loved because we are all created in the ‘image of God’.

Amazingly, the story of Auschwitz has come to us because some people actually survived the cruelty of that God-forsaken place.   One of those survivors was Victor Frankl, who after World War II, chronicled his experiences.   The major question that remained in Frankl’s mind was how he and others were able to survive the mental, physical and emotional anguish of that experience, while others, who might have survived, weren’t able to.  He said the difference seemed come down to finding meaning and hope, even in the most difficult place.

In one of the most important books ever written about dealing with life, Frankl described how he found meaning and hope even in a strange, depressed, dark and deadly place.  Listen to his own words:
“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a person can aspire.
Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of humanity is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. …. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory...."[6]

How do people find meaning and imagine hope when their world falls apart and everything seems lost?   Jeremiah’s relates God’s surprising message to those who are now living in a world they never expected or have never known.  These are also words given through “through love and in love”: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope…. (NRSV, 29:11).  Instead of casting his people away, God is already making plans for them.  This is a very important message for us too when we wonder: How do we make ourselves at home when find ourselves living in the strange land of spiritual and cultural exile?  

You do realize that we also live in a kind of spiritual exile political captivity, don’t you?  Let me make this point again, but please don’t get me wrong, we live in a great country.  But, we also live in a country where we are surrounded on all sides with contrasting ways to live life.  Freedom has a cost attached to it. Part of that cost is that there is not one way to live, but that we are inundated with many values, ideas, and lifestyles that run contrary to God’s will and God’s word.

Because we live in a world that is free to reject God’s word and will, we also, like the Hebrew people of Jeremiah's time, are also faced with an uncertain future.  We live in a world where security is no longer assured.  We live in a world where we have to lock our doors, consider the dangers to our children, and face the constant pull of influences that can destroy our families and our Christian witness. 

God’s people living Babylonian exile, must have felt that way too.  They were forced to live in a world unlike their own.  How were they to respond?  How were they to live?   How would they find meaning and hope, when they found themselves ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ weeping because they ‘remembered Zion’ (how it used to be), now so far away? (Psalm 137: 1-4).
Whether we’ve ever been in a ‘strange land’, devastating things can happen that dislocate us physically, emo­tionally, spiritually from the world we know. Life can suddenly become totally out of joint because the old, familiar orientation points are gone or are at least no longer visible.  There is an unreal quality to everything. One of the names given to that experience for those who have moved from one coun­try to another is "culture shock." As a former missionary who has lived another country, I know that culture shock is all that and more, even when you prepare for the change and actually choose it, you can still feel out of sorts.

When we first moved to Germany, we were supposed to temporarily live with a German family for a couple of weeks until we got an apartment.  What was supposed to be a couple of weeks became six months.   The wife of in the home where we were staying was dying with cancer.  They were still gracious to us, allowing us to live in the main part of their home, but it was still difficult.  Our crates with all our things could not be released to us until we got an permanent residence.  We couldn’t get our permanent resident because the apartment was still under construction.  Then, right when we finally got our apartment, Teresa fell and broke her leg, requiring surgery and two weeks hospitalization.   When we finally got out of language school and moved to our work, we couldn’t sleep because of a mentally ill neighbor, who played music all night and slept all day.  We had to move again.  In addition, my mother was ill here at home.  I had to call her often to check on her and Dad.  The whole time we lived in Germany we didn’t even have a telephone.   We were on a waiting list and spent too many hours in telephone booth’s.  I didn’t’ feel like Superman, but like Clark Kent having a night mare that he couldn’t get his clothes changed.   It was crazy!  I started having eye problems.  Even thought I was enjoying my new work, I started having trouble driving at night, as all the lights came together in a blur.   The doctor who examined me said my eyes were fine, it was just the result of all the stress—moving from home, learning a new language, preaching in German, and learning to deal with a new culture.  I told him I didn’t feel stress.  He said that it was ‘good stress’, but it was still stress and when I finally adjusted, my eyes would heal. 

As hard as our culture shock was when we moved to Europe, and as difficult as the culture shock of our changing society is today,  the emotional and psychological damage that would have resulted from a forced, violent deportation and exile in a foreign land — as the people of Judah went through — must have been extremely traumatizing.   God's word through Jeremiah to the exiles, however, turns out to be remarkably similar to what we discovered was the key to getting through the culture shock of living in Germany. God tells the people, in effect, to accept the changes, keep moving forward, learn the language, to get on with living in our new place, and to make themselves at home. The alternative was to live like traumatized zombies, to remain casualties, and allow a victim mentality to hold them back from the blessings of God and from being a blessing to others 
Changing times and changing ways of looking at the value of life have caused a rift even between Christian communities.  We can see the world as such a risky, wrong-headed, dangerous place, that we throw up our hands in disgust or like an Ostrich we stick our heads in the sand and decide to hate the world around us.   However, this is not a wise move.  In all conditions of life, whether good or bad, it wise, as it is also our Christian duty, not run away from the changes and challenges before us.   Jeremiah is telling the Hebrew people to seek the good of the country where they are being held captive.  He wants them to know that if they live peacefully, even the pagan culture will protect and give life back to them.  They must, however, demonstrate lives that reflect in goodness and honesty; being patient in allowing God to deliver them in due time.  They were told to find meaning in serving their world.

This advice was grounded not just in God’s love, but it was grounded in all practicality. 
Not long ago, statistics came out telling where the best places to live and the happiest places on earth are.  Most of Europe seems to be a happier place to live, with Finland at the top of the list.  The US is 18th.   In the United States, the best towns to live in where Austin, Texas,  Denver, with Raleigh and Charlotte not too far behind.   I find these statistics rather misleading, because right after these statistics came out, someone started leaving ‘bomb’ packages on doorsteps in Austin, Texas.  I bet Austin won’t even make the list next year. 

Now, I’m not trying to make light of what is happening in Austin, but the truth is that the only thing that can make something ‘the best place to live’ is our own mind, our own heart, our own determination.   So, what do you do if you are an avid skier happily living in the mountains and suddenly your job or family make a move the coast?   You could mope and moan and miss the mountains.  Or, you could take up waterskiing and get on with your life.   What you do with your new surroundings has much more to do with what’s inside of you than what’s happening outside.

Think about this.  There is a child’s toy made of a slimy, slippery substance called "gooze" which takes on the shape of whatever it is placed in.  When you hold gooze in your hand it doesn't stay put.  It oozes and seeps downward through your fingers, escaping containment and moving on. It doesn't dissolve or dissipate. It reshapes itself to fit into whatever it is placed.   God wanted the exiled people of Israel to become ‘gooze’ in Babylonian culture and community.  Without losing their identity as God's chosen people, they were to reconfigure themselves to fit into "the city where I have sent you."  Living, thriving, insinuating themselves into every facet of the life of this city, not rolling themselves into a miserable ball, was God's plan for his exiled people. Through practiced malleability they would ensure their continued life and faith--even if it were not a life now lived in the promised land.

So, as we apply this to living our own lives, “What is the best place or the best cultural surroundings for you and I to live a Christian life and raise a Christian family? Where is the best place for you to bring the love of Christ into this world? Is it in a neighborhood touted as the best place to raise kids? Or in a community that offers the best working conditions for your and your spouse? Or an environment that offers the best recreation for your family? Or a big city that offers the best cultural opportunities and diversities? Or is the best place to live one that is safe and remote from the troubles of terrorism and ABC (atomic/biological/chemical) attacks?   Jeremiah's advice to the exiled Israelites is advice that has not changed for twenty-first century Christians. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever the place God has placed us, there is the best place for us to do the work of God, to spread the love of Christ, to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.   As the people of God, we don't tread water. We swim actively in the current, sometimes against the current, guided by the inner strength of God's Spirit that guides us.  As we allow ourselves to become genuine--members of our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities, and our country, our witness expands as we make ourselves at home, even in a ‘strange’ world like ours.  Whatever situation we find ourselves in, the joy comes from what is in within, not from what is going on around us.

Len Sweet tells of a celebration in New York city for Harman Management, one of the largest KFC franchisers with over two hundred stores. The spot was the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center.  As the group was walking to Rockefeller Center, someone asked who was going to be the party's entertainment.
    "Johnny Desmond."
    "Who?" people asked.

It became apparent that the young people were hoping for Bruce Springsteen, not Johnny Desmond. Some griped, but one young manager said, "Johnny Desmond is going to be there tonight. We cannot change that. Why don't we have some fun and try to be the best audience Johnny Desmond has ever had."

That idea was contagious.   So for song after song, the audience clapped and cheered. Desmond got better and better, singing as he had not sung in years.  For the finale, he sang 'New York, New York.' The audience exploded in a standing ovation. Johnny Desmond, his face wet with tears, walked out into the audience, hugged people and said, 'This is the greatest night of my life.'" (Adapted from Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson, Soar With Your Strengths, (New York: Dell Publishing, 1992), 192-93).

How do you live when you don’t get what you want, or don’t end up where you want to end up?  The apostle Paul put it like this: “Whatever state I'm in, I’ll learn to be content (Phil. 4:11).”    In other words, wherever God has put you, whatever time you live in, whatever situation,  wherever you live,  this is best place to live.  This was the advice of Jeremiah to the exiles:  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer. 29:7).”

We find hope by living in hope.  We find good, by doing good.  We discover community and fellowship, by living in community and having fellowship with others.   We come to know God’s plan for us, by living toward the future, not running away from it.   We come to know what life is about by living, caring, forgiving ourselves, forgetting the past, and getting involved in the world around us, not by escaping, being careless, holding grudges or staying in our rooms at home.

Maxie Dunnam told of a woman at his church who had been caught stealing and sentenced to prison.  After serving time in prison, she sold everything she had, except for a few necessities, and gave it all away to the poor.  Then she moved to the mountains and, as time passed, she became an excellent painter.  When she reflected on her transformation in her life she said, “When you have been caught, you have nothing to hide.  And when you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.  And when you have nothing to fear, oh my, what you can become.”

Imagine what you could become if you give your life to God, no matter what has happened.  Imagine what our church could become or what ‘plans’ or ‘future’ God could have for us, if we truly gave our situation to God.  

David Mazel is a writer. He is really an urban storyteller. He tells a story about Mr. Hoffman, who owns a corner grocery in his neighborhood. It was the kind of store, you will remember, where the owner of the store, or the clerk behind the counter, would reach up on the shelves and get things for you and put it in your bag. He knew your name, and would ask about your family.

He said Mr. Hoffman was usually very friendly, talked to everybody and smiled. But on this particular day when David Mazel went into the grocery store, Mr. Hoffman was in a different mood. His chin was in his hands, and he was staring out into space, in an empty store. Mazel said, "How are you?" Mr. Hoffman said, "I was just thinking about the time when I was a boy, and I went to the big city for the first time. I had never seen one. I spent the whole day looking up at the tall buildings and the tall people. When I got home I cried. I told my mother that the city made me feel that I don't matter, that I am so little and it is so big. She dried my eyes, and told me, `You're wrong. Everybody matters. Everybody is a treasure.'"

Then he said this. "I am just a shopkeeper, that's all I am. Anybody can do that. I am overwhelmed, Mr. Mazel, by people like you. You are a published writer, and yet you are my friend and you pay attention to me."

Friendship exists when somebody pays attention to you. Community exists when people pay attention to each other, or when the community pays attention to individual people and we treat each other, our children, our families, and our lives, no matter small, as a treasure.   God has plans for all of us, and he leaves no one out of his plans.  

In the 17th century there was a church built in the little village of Staffordshire, in England. There is a plaque in that church that reads like this: 
“In the year 1653
When throughout the nation
All things sacred where either demolished or profaned
Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, founded this church
Whose singular praise it is
To have done the best things in the worst times.

We are to dig in. We are to seek the welfare of the people around us. We are to do the best thing always, even in the worst times.   This is how God’s plans are discovered.  This is how the future continues to come. 

So, even when life looks like a disaster, and even when nothing looks like the will of God,  somehow, if we get on with life, with caring, and with living for the good of all,  in the mysterious providence of God, when we look back, we might be able to see that it all had a greater purpose, and that it has been the will of God.  Even in the midst of exile -- in a strange land, under oppression, God still spoke a wonderful word through his prophet: "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (vs. 11)  Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

‘…Trust in a Lie?”

A sermon based upon Jeremiah 28: 1-17
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  July 22, 2018 
(8-12) Sermon Series: Jeremiah: Prophet to the Nations

 Perhaps you’ve noticed that being a teenager and getting a tattoo goes hand and hand these days.   One girl showed her girlfriend’s mother a delicate little Japanese symbol on her hip.
“Please don’t tell my parents,” she begged.
“I won’t,” I promised. “You’re 18 now, so I guess it’s your choice.  By the way, what does
 that stand for?”
          “Honesty,” she said  (

This story certainly illustrates one very important point that I want to get across to you today: the truth isn’t what it used to be.

Do you recall watching the 1972 movie, “The Poseidon Adventure”?   In particular, I recall watching, as the ship started to sink, how the majority of the passengers, rather than head toward the bottom decks of the ship to safety, moved toward the top decks to their doom.  Under normal circumstances they would be making the right choice. But since the boat had capsized, what was up was now down, and what was previously down was now up. Getting to safety required more than just going with what was normal, or what you were used to, but getting to safety required rightly assessing the situation by following a reliable guide who could take you where you’d never gone before.
When you think about how rapidly values and views are changing today, whether they be cultural, technological, philosophical or even moral, you must agree that we live in a world that, for good or ill, has been turned upside down. Many values, institutions, and beliefs that once held our world together, are struggling to survive.  We live in a world where new ideas rule the day.
Interestingly, in our text today, the world of Jeremiah had also been turned upside down.  The world God’s people knew was collapsing before their very eyes.  Why was all this happening?  The prophet Jeremiah said it was because they had forgotten their covenant promise with God.  Now, God was about to allow the consequences of their choice to come down upon them.  The difficult task the true Jeremiah had was to bring a message that was unlike any other.  It was an upside-down message that would go against all the other messages prophets had brought before, going against the grain of everything that everyone believed about God, about Jerusalem, and about the truth.   That’s the difficult, impossible task Jeremiah was given.  It’s part of why people have called him the ‘weeping prophet’. 
In light of all the difficult of Jeremiah’s prophetic message, take a closer look at how his own personal and prophetic situation might speak to our own day and time, when, as one scholar has described it, ‘truth is stranger than it used to be.’   We live in a time when the church is to deliver a prophetic message of truth in a world that struggles, very much like Pontius Pilate did when he asked Jesus, “What is truth?”   How can anyone still trust in any kind of ‘eternal’ truth in a world that is both temporal and most every form of truth is considered relative to what matters only in this moment?  Let’s see if Jeremiah on situation can shed light on our own.
Jeremiah’s situation was certainly significant. Whereas normally the role of a prophet was to pray and intercede on behalf of the people, in Jeremiah 7:16 God instructs Jeremiah to no longer pray for JerusalemMt. Zion had been considered the mighty fortress of God because of the presence of Yahweh (cf. Psalm 46; 48), yet now, as revealed in chapter 21, God sends Jeremiah his prophet to do the unthinkable---to call upon King Zedekiah to surrender Jerusalem over to the Babylonians and to give in to what is to come.  Instead of ‘stand up and fight’, the message was ‘give up and give in.’
To symbolize what is to come, in Jeremiah 27:2ff), we read how Jeremiah places a yoke on his neck as a sign of the impending yoke of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s rule upon the region. Jeremiah again calls upon King Zedekiah and the people not to resist the rule of the Babylon, since it is God who has given him rule over the nations and creation.  Whereas previously the role of the prophets was to call upon Israel’s kings to resist allegiances to foreign kings or powers (e.g., Hosea 5:13; 8:9-11), according to Jeremiah it would now be false prophets would who say such words (27:14-15).  In other words, what used to be true was now false and what used to be false, was now the very difficult truth God wanted God’s people to hear and understand.  For God’s people the world was turned upside down.
Haven’t we also known times in history, when the ‘truth’ gets confusing, when everything we knew to be true before, is turned upside down?   The most unforgettable example is during the rise of Nazi Germany, when a people followed Hitler because they thought and believed their government and leader could do no wrong.  The Germans like us, were taught to be patriotic and to put trust and confidence in their leaders, but this time it was not what they should have done, as their leaders were not telling them the truth.  Most Germans came to realize this, but it was too late.   There were, however, some who never understood.  
I’ll never forget interviewing an older, German woman on the streets of a German city.  She was probably in her early 20’s when Hitler came to power. When I interviewed her it was almost 50 years afterwards.  “What did you think of Hitler?”, I asked.  Her answer shocked me.  She continued, “Hitler was the greatest leader in my life-time.  When He was in power we had no economic problems.  The whole country ran well: politics, economics, religion, day to day life was almost perfect.  Everyone had a job, good clothes, and the future looked bright.  It’s too bad it all came to an end.”  Hearing this very strange response, I attempted to clarify: “You thought Hitler was a good leader?”  Again, she answered, “He made things better for the German people. Everyone had a car in their garage.”  And of course, she was right, to a point. Everything was going well for Germans who were living off the backs of murdered Jews, seized land, and toppled governments, including their own.  But this lady just couldn’t see beyond her own nose, even after 50 years.
Sometimes what we think is true, isn’t.  We always need to try to see beyond what we think is true, even if it is true for us or true to what we want to believe.  What we want to be true is not always the case, we all see life with individualized, emotional and intellectual blinders that can prevent us from seeing or thinking beyond the immediate and the obvious.  This can be understood by what happens when you are driving on snow.  If you start sliding, the obvious reaction is to hit your brakes and turn away from the slide, but this makes things worst.  In order to respond correctly you have to train your retrain your brain to keep your foot off the brake and turn into the skid and wait for you vehicle to straighten up.  It’s not easy to resist your most normal, obvious reaction, but if you drive in icy conditions you have learn this.
In our text, Judah is in a skid toward destruction and the most obvious reaction is to fan the flames of nationalism and rally the troops to fight their enemy.  This is what they have done in the past, but now God speaks through the prophet that this is now the wrong way to think. The new truth is that Judah must give in and give up.  That was not a popular message, but it turned out to be the truth.  Still, it was a truth that God’s people did not want to hear.  What complicated matters for God’s prophet was that all the prophets would rather tell the people what they wanted to hear rather than tell the truth they needed to hear.
Interestingly, in the very confusing times in which Jeremiah lived, because people were easily confused about the truth, Jeremiah did not always right out oppose those who differed with him.  He tried to commend their efforts.  He even tried to hope that what they said was true. 

A good example of Jeremiah’s cautious behavior is on display right here in our text.  After the Hananiah countered Jeremiah’s warning about Babylon, saying that Babylon’s power will soon be broken, Jeremiah surprisingly responds with a wishful “Amen!” (v 6).  He does not immediately oppose, argue with, or react to Hananiah’s differing opinion, only adding that we must wait and see whose words will come true.  The one who tells the truth will be considered a true prophet (v 9).

What is most instructive for us is how Jeremiah handles opposing, contradicting opinions and perspectives.  Jeremiah does not immediately argue or react.  He takes his time.  He allows the opposing side to speak his mind.  He is even agreeable to the point that he hopes that they are right.  Jeremiah does not respond to his antagonist without time for serious thought and reflection.  Today, most people would laugh at Jeremiah’s respectful, reflective approach.  People prefer to follow someone who would be quicker on their feet and show immediate power and strength.  When we were getting our German Driver’s license, our instructor told us that if were ever involved in a fender bender, we’d better speak up against the other person in front of the policeman.  If you didn’t speak up, they will consider you in the wrong and guilty.  Well, once I was in a fender bender and I spoke up.  They found me guilty anyway.
In most cultures, the strong and quick to react are rewarded the most.    The great standup folksy funny man, Will Rodgers, had a reputation that he was so quick witted that he could make anyone laugh. President Calvin Coolidge had a reputation that he never laughed at anything.  Finally, Will Rodgers was invited to the White House. People wondered what would happen. Both men's reputations were at stake. It is said that Will Rodgers came through the reception line and was introduced to the President. "President Coolidge, this is Will Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers, this is President Calvin Coolidge." Will Rodgers leaned forward and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name." The President cracked up and started laughing. 
We admire people who are quick on their feet, don't we?   General George Armstrong Custer was that kind of person in a different way.  In fact, many historians think he might have been the next President of the United States if he hadn't been killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was so popular that the Democrats were priming him to be their next candidate. Gen. Custer had a reputation for being quick on his feet, able to analyze battle situations and react quickly. His quickness paid off in many battles. 
Fresh out of West Point, he served under General McClellan in the Civil War. Once Gen. McClellan marched to the edge of a river, where he and all of his officers stopped their horses. Gen. McClellan commented, "I wish I knew how deep this river was so I knew whether the troops could cross or not." The officers sat on their horses wondering what to do. Custer spurred his horse and rode into the middle of the river. From the river he called out, "General, this is how deep it is." No wonder Custer had a reputation for being able to make quick decisions. It was his strength. Also, it was his weakness. 
Once when Custer was marching his 7th Cavalry across the plains he decided to try the speed of his greyhounds against a herd of antelope grazing two miles away. On the spur of the moment, he left his troops and took off after the antelope. He chased this herd several miles but couldn't catch up with them. By the time he stopped he realized he was lost out on the Great Plains. Looking around to try and get some directions, he spotted his first buffalo. Giving in to the emotions of the moment, Gen. Custer spurred his horse and took off after the buffalo. After chasing the huge bull for several miles, he decided to finish the hunt by shooting the buffalo in the head. As he lowered his revolver to the buffalo's head, the animal whirled on the horse, so that Custer's thoroughbred reared just as Custer fired the shot. Gen. Custer shot his own horse in the head. As he freed himself of his dead horse, he discovered he was without food, without water, without a horse, lost out on the Great Plains. Hours later, his troops found him. He might easily have died out in the middle of the prairie.
People like Gen. Custer are popular because they show the ability to be decisive ” sometimes to their own detriment. The prophet Jeremiah, on the other hand, was not quick at all. He did not react like Will Rodgers or Gen. Custer. He was the kind of person who had to go home and think about it for a while and then come back later to give his response (Stephen E. Ambrose, CRAZY HORSE AND CUSTER, 1975, pp. 266, 267). 
When Hananiah took the yoke off of Jeremiah's neck, broke it, and announced, "Thus says the Lord, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon” ( 28:2) preaching exactly the opposite that Jeremiah had been preaching, Jeremiah paused.  Perhaps he really didn’t know what to say or how to respond. His only reaction was to hope that it was so, agreeing with a somewhat sarcastic, "A-men! Go ahead, tell everybody that. I hope you are right!" Not knowing how else to respond, Jeremiah went home. 
But when Jeremiah got home, he rethought that whole conversation. Have you ever done that?  Have you ever thought, "Boy, I wish I had said such and such...." I suspect Jeremiah laid in bed at night thinking about what had occurred. He prayed about it over and over until the Lord gave him the proper response.
In these confusing times, when it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what the truth is, or when it can be very difficult to discern what God is saying, it is important that we learn this very important lesson from Jeremiah.  We need to learn that while sometimes it is very clear what God is saying, there are times when the truth become is less clear.  There are times when it shows more wisdom when we say less than when we say more.  My father was certainly a good example of saying less.  He was a Sunday School teacher and a deacon, and he had a lot to say when he taught his Sunday School class, but he was also a very quiet reflective, person at home.  One he told me the reason he was quiet was because Scripture says ‘we will all give an account to the Lord at the judgement for every word idle word we speak’ (Matt. 12:36).
That we will are accountable for our words is a very good reason to be careful with what we think, believe and say is true.  Since discerning the truth can be difficult, confusing and changing at times, we can all be gullible to hearing what we want to hear and believing what we want to believe.  We should be always take care and be careful with the truth, mainly because we could be wrong.   When we rush to speak, rush to believe something to be true, especially when there are differing opinions, we could very well be reacting out of our own needs, fears, or desires, than giving a good, thoughtful response.  
But perhaps the most important lesson here is not just about what we think.  The most important reason for pausing in our response, and for considering the truth carefully, is that we need to allow God the chance to speak, to reveal and to act upon the ‘new’ truth we may need to hear, believe and come to understand.   If Jeremiah had merely spoken with no time for thought, the words would have been his words alone, and not God's. Sometime, even when we know the truth, and especially when we think we do, we need to stop, pause to then listen for God in the situation.  
Most of us cherish the music of Handel's "Messiah," particularly at Christmas. We love the beautiful choruses and the solos. We stand together reverently as we listen to the "Halleluia Chorus." But most of us don't know much about Handel's life and what brought him to write "Messiah." 
In his 30's Handel became successful as a composer. By his 20's he had already established his reputation throughout Europe as an outstanding organist. On moving to London, he decided to build a reputation as a music composer. Through his 30's and 40's he continued to write music in London. He primarily wrote operas for the upper class. The difficulty was that it took him so much time to write an opera and to rehearse it with the singers and to get everything ready that by the time it was finally performed, he was deeply in debt. His income from each opera went to pay back the debts he had incurred during the composing and rehearsals. It took him about 2 months to get an opera ready. The opera would run for 3 or 6 nights; sometimes a really well-received opera would run for 11 nights. He would pay his bills and then immediately he needed to start on another opera. 
For 20 years his life became a frantic routine of churning out more and more operas to pay his debts. He was living on the edge of debtor's prison day in and day out. Can anybody relate to that ” running day and night just to stay even? Then, when he was 52 years old, Handel suffered a stroke and lost the use of the right side of his body. He could no longer accompany his operas. He was forced, by his bad health, to take a break. He left London and went to France to soak in some hot, natural baths. He wanted to get the right side of his body working again. It was on one of those days, while sitting in the bath, praying that somehow his right hand would be restored so he could continue with his music, that somebody said to him, "Sometimes people need more than entertainment. I can still remember when I heard your oratorio, `Esther.' That oratorio inspired me. It lifted my spirits at a time when I was discouraged." The speaker was not aware that the music for "Esther" had been stolen from Handel and used by someone else who combined it with the biblical material. The speaker continued, "Monsieur Handel, the world is full of discouragement. Why don't you write something that will inspire human beings to live useful lives?"
Bathing in those hot baths for a number of days, Handel finally began to get a little movement in his hand. With full recovery, he was able to use his arm and his hand again. It was a day of rejoicing when he could sit down at an organ and play again with both hands. He returned to London. But in the back of his mind he kept thinking about that statement made to him at the baths. When he got back to London, he began writing music for biblical oratorios along with operas. Writer Charles Jennens asked for an appointment with Handel to discuss some new music for a piece he had written called "Messiah." Handel was so impressed by the compilation of Old Testament prophecies which were fulfilled by Jesus that he sat down and worked for twenty-four straight days. In less than a month he completed the music for the "Messiah." 
The last 20 years of his life he spent writing music for biblical oratorios. He took many Old Testament passages and put them to music. He discovered his real gift was inspirational music. Now he had a higher purpose than frantically churning out opera after opera to pay debts. But it took a crisis in his life to make him pause long enough to make the discovery. It is a shame when we wait until we have a stroke or a heart attack or a divorce before we sit back and think about where our lives are headed (Charles Ludwig, GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL (Mott Media, 1987), p. 148).
Like Handel, you and I need to pause every so often in order to get God's perspective. We need to respond instead of frantically reacting to everything.  We need to find God’s truth, not just the truth we want to find.  In our text, Jeremiah went home and prayed, "Lord, give me a response." We need to do the same. When we take time to thoughtfully and prayerfully respond, we can find our way through to real answers” not the simple, superficial answers that always please the crowd or make us feel good.  And when we give God a chance to give us His answer we also give God the chance to act in ways that bring real solutions, real healing, and real hope into our lives
The most sobering part of this passage is that in the end, only one prophet could be right.  It can be the same way with the truth.  The truth is the still what is true, but the sometimes we have to wait until for the ‘truth’ to be revealed and become clear, not just to us, but to everyone.  And in this case, the truth was not the ‘good news’ everyone wanted to hear about ‘peace’, but it was the ‘bad news’ no one wanted to hear about ‘judgement’, which even Jeremiah did not wish to preach, but he did (See, vs. 12-14).

Most of you have heard those jokes about ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’.  In one of them, two golfer-friends made a deal that the one who got to heaven first would report back to the one remaining on earth whether there is a golf course in heaven. After the one died, he came back in the other’s dream, saying, "I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that there is a golf course in heaven. The bad news is that you have a tee-off time tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.!"

God, too, has good news and bad news for us. The good news is the Gospel of God’s love in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The bad news is the judgment of God upon sin. We are eager to hear the good news but shudder at the bad news. Both are necessary, for God is both love and justice. Yet, we loathe to hear the bad news, and we tend to speak only of God’s love.

Again, in our text today, we have two preachers with news for the people of Judah. Hananiah has good news and Jeremiah has had news.  To symbolize the bad news of coming judgement, exile and captivity, Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck.  He urged the Jews to put on the yoke of Babylonian captivity and to accept God’s truth, for it was now God’s will to deliever them into the hands of their enemy and to punish Judah for her sins.  Jeremiah was rejected for preaching this message and was condemned as a traitor to his country.  In our text, Hananiah dramatically took off the yoke off Jeremiah and smashed it.    Hananiah then we on to preach the kind of popular message everyone wanted to hear.  God was soon going to break the ‘yoke’ of Babylon and the nation would be delivered.

Later, after praying about how to respond to Hananiah’s popular, good news, God sent Jeremiah to tell Hananiah that because you have ‘made this people to trust in a lie’ ((v. 15), God will not only ‘turn the yoke of wood’ into a ‘yoke of iron’ (v. 13), but because of Hananiah’s own rejection of God’s truth, Jeremiah prophesied that Hananiah would die within a year (v. 16-17).   Within seven months, Hananiah died.

The bad ‘good news’ of Hananiah would not sell to God nor to God’s true prophet, Jeremiah. The bad news was popular, as it is today, with the people. Hananiah’s bad good news turned out to be bad for him and the people. God has bad news for us as well as good news. In fact, we can’t really hear and receive the ‘good news’ of the gospel until we first hear the bad news about our sin, rebellion and rejection of God’s truth.   Are we willing to hear what we don’t want to hear, as well as to hear, what we want to hear? 

William Willimon, a Methodist pastor, once told about his how, when he was a child, his Sunday school teacher told him the story of Joseph and his brothers.  During the telling of the story, little William pushed Stanley into a radiator at the back of the room.  After Stanley left the room, screaming and bleeding and then taken to an emergency room, the teacher opened her Bible and said to William, "Now, William, you know what Joseph’s brothers felt like. They had a little brother, and they did to him what you did to Stanley.  But God loved them. And God loves you - even if you did push Stanley into the radiator."   Willimon, a Methodist preacher himself, said his Methodist Sunday School told him the good news without the bad news, just like a good Methodist might, but not like a Christian should.  He said, we just can’t head straight for the good news, without understanding and accepting the bad news.  Indeed, God loves us even when we do bad things. But is there no judgement, justice, accountability? Is that all one gets after a sin - "God loves you"?  Where is justice in this case? Yes, God loves us, but there is also accountability and a penalty to be paid.  Justice demands it. God is also justice. Christ forgave the repentant thief and promised him paradise, but sin still had to suffered for, both by the sinner and the sinless one, as they both died on a cross.

How do we accept the ‘bad news’ before we get to the ‘good news’.  WE must confess and turn from our sins, and seek God’s forgiveness.  We must come to know, understand and respond with the truth we need to know, not just the truth we want to hear.   God, loves and will forgive us, but we can’t keep living a lie and think that everything is forgiven without a cost, but the cost that Jesus paid when he ‘paid it all’ and the cost that we must pay when we ‘confess’ and ‘turn’ from our sins.

There is a great story about a boy who visited his grandparents. He was given his first sling-shot. He had lots of fun with it in the woods, but he never could hit anything. On his way home for dinner, he saw his grandmother’s pet duck. He took aim and miraculously hit and killed it. He panicked and hid it in a woodpile. Then he saw Sally, his sister, standing at the corner of the house. She had seen what happened. She did not say anything. After dinner, grandmother said, "O.K., Sally, let’s clear the table and wash the dishes." Sally replied, "Oh, Grandmother, Johnny said he wanted to do the dishes today. Didn’t you, Johnny?" Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck." So Johnny did the dishes. Later, grandfather called the children to go fishing. Grandmother said, "Sorry, but Sally can’t go. She has to help me clean the house and get supper." Sally smiled, "That’s all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help. Didn’t you, Johnny?" Again she whispered, "Remember the duck." This went on for days, and Johnny did all the chores. Finally, he got fed up with it and confessed all to Grandmother. She took him in her arms and said, "I know, Johnny. While I was standing at the kitchen window, I saw what happened. Because I love you, I forgive you. I wondered how long you were going to let Sally make a slave of you."

We, too, are needless slaves of sin. The Devil is forever whispering, "Run from the truth so that you only see you want to see.   But like the grandmother, God wants us to see the truth and come to grips with it, so we can discover how we can live in true peace and hope.   In Jesus Christ, the bad news and the hard truth, can be transformed into the good news and the freeing truth, because God’s love can free us from fear and release to know the truth that can ‘set us free’.   Only when we seek the truth, face the truth, and find the truth, can we hear God’s good news of salvation: "If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness ..."   Living a lie did not end well for Hananiah and it won’t end well for us either.   We need to allow the challenge of God’s truth to find us and free us because we are willing to listen to the God who speaks with more than mere words we want to hear, but who speaks the truth we need to hear---the truth that saves because it is the truth.  Amen. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

“Like a Fire In My Bones.”

A sermon based upon Jeremiah 20: 7-13
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  July 15th, 2018 
(7-12) Sermon Series: Jeremiah: Prophet to the Nations

I grew up during the heart of the Cold War.  It was a war, perceived to be a struggle between freedom and tyranny, between faith and atheism, between democracy and dictatorship, and of course, between communism and capitalism.  One of my favorite stories out of that era tells how a KBG agent enters a Russian apartment where a Christian Bible Study was taking place.  He told the group he would give them one last chance to admit their illegal activities, abandon their secret meetings and disband, or they would be reported, which would result in very serious consequences.  A few of the group accepted his threat and leave.  Closing the door, the KBG agent says, “Now that I know who are real Christians, I’m a Christian too. I couldn’t take a chance to join your group until I knew whose faith was real.”

I love that story because it raises an increasingly important question: What would you do if you were being persecuted for your faith?  Would you be able to stand firm and be a witness to your faith?   In out text, the prophet Jeremiah is being persecuted, not so much because of his faith, but because his faith demands that he tell the truth.  

Sometimes, the most difficult thing to speak is the truth.   We know that, don’t we?  Your friend comes up to you and has bad breath.  Do you tell them truth?  “Don’t you like my new dress, honey?”   Do you dare tell her the truth?   Or your child can’t throw a ball, but they try.  Do you tell them they don’t have any athletic skills?   Of course not,  but you say,  ‘that was good, honey!’   You encourage them.  You complement them, but you don’t tell them the truth.  Then, you are in the hospital visiting your colleague.  “I just know I’m not going to get better.”  You look around at the tubes, the IV’s and the machines.   You know what is going to happen.  Do you agree with them?  Do you tell them the truth?   I recall the most wonderful thing the Emergency responder said to me, when, after my accident, I was laying there in my wrecked car, with my left leg nearly amputated.   “How does it look,” I asked.   “Is it bad?”  “Oh, it’s not that bad, we see this kind of thing all the time.”   I knew that he didn’t, and he knew he didn’t, but it was a comforting thought.

Any kind of truth, especially the moral truth can be hard to speak and hard to hear too.  When the ‘truth’ about Olympic Dr. Larry Nasser was discovered, as young girls started to tell Michigan State authorities about his abusive behavior, school and Olympic officials did not want to hear or believe it was true.  I heard one of the girls, who dropped out early say, that Dr. Nasser was their ‘golden boy’.   The Olympic gymnastics program at Michigan State was their ‘claim to fame’.  When the truth was told by the young girls, no one wanted to hear or believe it.  Sometimes even the parents had a hard time believing it, at first.   That is how hard the truth can be.  It often sets us into denial and defensiveness.   Even when we know it is true in our hearts, our minds can tell us that must be otherwise.

The difficult-to-swallow truth Jeremiah told in today’s Scripture passage, was also something the people of Judah and Jerusalem did not want to hear.  Jeremiah was sent by God to tell God’s people about their spiritual faults and failures, and to warn them of the soon-coming consequences of that failure, if, that is, they didn’t change their ways.  

This “truth-telling” by Jeremiah was most graphically expressed back in chapter 7, in Jeremiah’s infamous ‘temple sermon’.  In that sermon Jeremiah told Judah that if the people did not change their ways, the ‘Lord would do to them the same as he did to Shiloh’ (7:14).  He specifically warned them not to come to church to pray and think everything was OK: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (4).  In other words: “Don’t think you are safe or saved because you are here in this sanctuary.”   He urged: “For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever” (5-7).  Jeremiah pointed to the failure of the religious establishment in way that later inspired Jesus, when Jeremiah has God asking his people:  “Has this temple, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers….?   I am watching, says the Lord (7:11).  God says, he sees and knows, what is really going on.

If you think this is direct, an even more powerful, truth-telling sermon, was acted out in a parable and was even more direct. This happens in chapter 19, just before today’s text.  Jeremiah takes a piece of pottery, perhaps the one from the potters house, goes outside the city gate and deliberately breaks it into pieces in front of a big crowd, announcing to Jerusalem that “the God of Israel” will bring on this ‘city and upon all its towns’ the great ‘disaster’ God has promised because (19:10), as a people, ‘they have stiffened their neck’  and would not listen to God’s words” (19:15). 

As you can imagine, this very direct kind preaching got Jeremiah in a lot of ‘hot water’ with the religious and political leadership.  In the beginning of chapter 20, we read how one of the leading priests, Pashhur, ‘struck him in the face’ (20: 2) and put Jeremiah into stocks, humiliating him in the public square (20: 1-6).  Having to endure such treatment, especially when Jeremiah telling the truth God gave to him, is why Jeremiah says in our text that the ‘word of the Lord became a reproach’ to him (8) making him a ‘laughingstock all day long (7).  This was the price Jeremiah had to pay saying and doing what was right, which was, in his case as a prophet of the Lord, to tell the truth, because the truth was what no one wanted to hear. 

Jeremiah knew from the beginning that his job would be difficult, but he still never imagined it would be like this.  That’s why today’s text today begins with some of the strongest words of complaint found in all of Scripture: ‘O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed (20:7).  It’s definitely not a good way to begin a sermon.  You come to church thinking you’d be inspired and encouraged, but you have to start with a preacher beginning his message with words no one wants to hear.   “Lord, you deceived me! (20:7, NIV).  ‘Lord, you have enticed me!’ (NRSV), that is ‘YOU have lead me into a trap.’  Who wants to hear the truth Jeremiah speaks:  God you are a deceiver!  God, you are responsible for this.  God, this is not what I signed up for.   Jeremiah is saying some difficult things, but for him, in this ‘terrible’ moment, it felt like, and it was the truth.

While it may not be as extreme, all of us have been in situations when the truth hurts; it hurts to both to tell it, hurts to hear it, or it hurts to live it.  Especially in these days of ‘political correctness’ and ‘fake news’ it’s getting harder to tell the truth, to listen to the truth, let alone to share or live the truth of our faith.  How are you going to hold up under these difficult times?  How are you going to withstand the pressures to living and sharing the truth no one else lives or believes?   

Do you recall that 7O’s song, Rose Garden, sung by Lynn Anderson, that went: “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain, sometime?”  The lyrics continue with the husband telling his sweetheart that he could promise her things like big diamond rings, the moon, or the world on a silver platter; but the only thing he can give is himself.  He cannot promise "a rose garden," because life is unpredictable and there are certain to be difficult times.  No one can promise you that your life will be pleasant, comfortable, free from stress and from aches and pains all the way through.  No one can guarantee that your life will be happy, successful or that it will fulfill your dreams. There is an inherent risk in being born and living. Every day’s news underscores the hazards that come with being alive and having
An esteemed professor in a seminary was lecturing to his church history class. He had just described some of the martyrs of the early church; people who lost their lives because of their faithfulness to the truth of the gospel. He closed his book and looked the students in the eye, and said, "You know, things haven’t changed a whole lot in many parts of the world. Some of you may be called on to defend the faith, and to lay your reputation on the line. It is not beyond the realm of imagination that some of you may one day be in the position to suffer or die for your faith."  (As told in a sermon by Brett Blair at
God certainly never promised that it would, be easy.  All that Jesus could promise his disciples was a cross; a cross that he had to bear and a cross that his disciples would have to bear too.   This is one of the core messages of the Christian life, which is also about real life.  God  has promised to be with us, but God never promised us that it’s always going to be pleasant and sweet.   And this is not just a religious reality we are speaking about.  In Nicholas Sparks breakout novel, “The Notebook”, there is this incredible quote.  Do you remember it?  My Secretary in Greensboro introduced me to Sparks.  I haven’t seen many of his movies or read his books, but I did see this one.  In it, young Noah says to his girlfriend:  “So it's not gonna be easy. It's going to be really hard; we're gonna have to work at this everyday, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday. You and me... everyday.” (
Now, of course this isn’t the Bible, but it is true to life, isn’t it?  Nothing that is worth anything is easy, and this was certainly Jeremiah’s experience too.   Jeremiah lived the truth and told the people the truth and what did it get him?  He was ridiculed, made a laughingstock, put into stocks where the public could mock him, and thrown into a pit to die.  He was even called a traitor to his country by the political leaders.  Jeremiah was probably the most unpopular, hated man, in Jerusalem.   This was the personal pain he bore for doing what was right and for telling the truth.   What even made it worst, is that he felt God had ‘deceived’ him too.   
Such a difficult situation, if we were in it, might make us wonder too: Why be good or do good, put yourself out for others, or champion an unpopular righteous cause when you get nothing for it but abuse, ridicule, suffering, or even death for your pains?  Who would want to be a Christian, a whistleblower, an advocate, or activist for just cause, if it means that you would expect rejection, ridicule, rebuke and maybe feel regret too? 
If there is no reward, not even a thank-you, for speaking the truth, for doing the right thing, or for championing God’s justice and righteousness in this world, then, why do it? If you do, what drives you to be, to live, and to talk like a Christian?
In our text, Jeremiah tells us what drove him to tell the truth. He said, in verse 9 of our text: "If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot.’ "  For some unexplainable reason, there remained within Jeremiah, an inner necessity to speak and serve God and God’s truth, regardless of the cost to oneself.  Where does a ‘fire’ like this come from?  Is it real?  Is it spiritual?  Is it moral?  Is it God?
Paul had the same feeling when he wrote, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16)." Paul understood, like Jeremiah, that there is a "must" we must obey.   Some time ago, I was introduced to Milada Horakova, the Czech lawyer, politician, and woman of faith, who stood up to tell the truth, both when the Nazi’s and when the Communists invaded her country (  She was imprisoned by the Nazis in a consecration camp, but liberated by the US Army.  Then, when the communists came, she spoke out again.   She suffered opposition, threats and persecution again.   
In the Czech film made about her life, she apologized to her husband and daughter for what she was putting their through, but she could not stop telling the truth.  When Milada finally realized that communist where not going to listen, and that all hope was lost, she decided to take her family and leave the country.  But on the very day she was to leave, they came after and arrested her, took her to prison, tortured her, and finally hung her.  But in spite of all this, and that she knew it could happen,  Milada Horakova never stopped telling the truth, even if it killed her, and it did.  What made it all the more tragic, is that when she was preparing to be executed, they would not even let her hug her daughter one last time.  It was terrible, awful and appalling, but she stayed resolved.
As I watched that film about Milada Horakova, it reminded me of one of my favorite hymns from my childhood,  “I am Resolved.”  I used to love to hear the choir at my childhood church when they say that song with so much volume and harmony.  The bass line was electric.  Perhaps you remember how it goes, “I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the worlds delight; things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight.  I will hasten to him, hasten so glad and free, (this is where the bass line came in).  Then the song ends: “Jesus, greatest, highest, I come to thee.”  (Words by Palmer Hartsough, in The Baptist Hymnal, 1975, p. 177).
Do you recall that automobile slogan serval years ago, which said: "We are driven!"  I think is was foreign car, but there is truth in it.  As an auto is driven, so are we.   We are all ‘driven’ by something.  What drives a person to be a "pinch-penny" - fear?  What drives a person to drugs or alcohol - insecurity? What drives a multi-millionaire senior citizen to seek the presidency – power, ego?   What drives a workaholic – the thrill of success?   What drives a person to jump out of an airplane at 20 or 90?  What makes people tick? Why do we do the things we do? Ever ask yourself that?  Why do people put themselves at risk, when they already have so much?
When it comes to doing good, as God’s people, we too are driven.  The Bible says we are ‘driven’ from within by God’s Spirit, God’s fire, and God’s wind.  So, why be good or do good, put ourselves out for others, or champion an unpopular righteous cause when you get nothing for it but abuse, ridicule, suffering, or even death for your pains?  
This was Jeremiah’s experience as a prophet, wasn’t it?   He told the people the truth God revealed to him: no peace for the nation, only destruction, death, and captivity. It broke his heart to say it, but he had to say it to be true to his calling as a preacher. And what did it get him? He was ridiculed, made a laughingstock, put into stocks where the public could mock him, and thrown into a pit to die. What hurt him most was to be called a traitor to his country by his countrymen. Jeremiah was the most unpopular man of his day.  What made him do this?
Again, we may not suffer to that extreme, but for a Christian, the one who follows Jesus in this world, the expectation of opposition is ‘par for the course’ of life.  We have no right to expect anything else. Jesus said in the gospel that “a disciple is not above his master” (Matt. 10:24).   If the Master is persecuted, why wouldn’t the same happen to a disciple? Jesus also told his followers that they should “not fear those who can kill the body, but to fear only him who could kill both body and soul.”(Matt. 10:28).  Knowing this, it takes a brave person to be a true Christian! Have you ever thought of yourself as a brave person?  
If you truly follow Jesus and go against the grain of this world, you are considered brave. If there is no reward in this world and not even a thank-you for speaking the truth, doing the right thing, and championing the cause of God in the world, then why do it?  Jeremiah told us what drove him to do it: "If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot”(v.9).  What he means is that there is within him, an inner necessity to speak the truth and to serve God, regardless of the cost to oneself.  There is a "must" to obey. We cannot help ourselves. The truth of God must come out. We cannot hide our convictions, and our joy must be released or we will burst! There is a fire in our bones that drives us to be, to do, and to speak the truth of God.   
The late Lutheran preacher, John Brokhoff said “it is like an old-fashioned tea kettle with a whistle on the spout. When the fire is hot and the water boils, the whistle goes off like crazy. There is no stopping it until the kettle is removed from the fire.”   He continued to explain why it seemed foolish and vain to think that we can get church members to witness or churches to grow by putting on a churchwide campaigns with all sorts of meetings, programs, and gimmicks. If the fire of faith were burning in our souls, our witnessing would be automatic, the fire would be an eternal flame, and people out in the cold of the world want to have their hearts warmed. (From His sermon, “We Are Driven”,  CSS Publishing,  “Old Truths for New Times”,.).
Knowing what Jeremiah did, and knowing what others who have suffered for the truth, have done,  how do we keep living and telling the truth, no matter what.   How do we get this flame, this burning, and this ‘fire shut up in (our) bones’?   
Well, what Jeremiah finally says, is that it’s not what you’re going through, but who is going through it with you.  The ‘fire’ in Jeremiah’s bones; his ‘spirit’ or his ‘heart’ found its strength in his faith that “The LORD” was ‘with him’ like a ‘dread’ or ‘mighty warrior (20:11).   Even when everything was going against him, Jeremiah understood all his suffering as a ‘test’, because he understood that the LORD Almighty ‘examines’, ‘tests’, ‘probes’ to prove the human ‘heart and mind’ (20:12).  In other words, when Jeremiah was suffering, even when he was suffering for telling the truth, he was affirmed that he was not alone.  Even when he called God a ‘deceiver’ (KJV), he was still talking to, believing in, and trusting the God ‘with him’.
I know that this is a ‘stretch’ for many people to accept or believe.  Most people want easier answers, or they want to trust in a God who keeps them out of trouble.  But the way of faith that kept the fires of faith burning in Jeremiah’s heart, was the knowledge that if you trust God anyway, and you do right anyway, and when you live and tell the truth in love anyway, that no matter what happens, or doesn’t happen, exactly because you keep trusting in this God who is ‘with us,’ you continue to spark and rekindle the ‘fire’ that fuels the heart and spirit.   For when we give ourselves to him, and are willing to suffer and die for what is true, right, and just, we come to know more intimately the heart of the God who is suffering love.
When William Booth began his work with the charity that became the Salvation Army, his wife, Catherine, was reluctant to accompany him on the great adventure of faith. Upon having to face the decision to go or not to go, she encountered Christ.  She wrote: "He did not smile at me, nor did he chide, but raised his hand, and I saw the nailprints on it." "That is your way," he said, "and there is no other." And she said, "So be it, Lord. Will you go with me?"  The LORD answered in her heart: "I will be with you, to the very end(Also from Brokhoff, ibid).
When the ‘fire’ of faith burns in our bones, we should be bold in our witnessing and work for the LORD.  One of the things that astounded the city officials of Jerusalem at the time of the Apostles was how bold they were when they were an uneducated, untrained bunch of common peasants.  When the Apostles defied them with those remarkable words: "We must obey God rather than men," (Acts 4: 19, 5:29),the biblical account remarks that it was exactly then, when they were willing to suffer for the truth, that people “took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). To have God in Christ Jesus with you makes you courageous against the fear of people or even death.  Only faith can give us courage and conviction and certainty against all odds.  God and his Christ are worth the risk of our lives, for even when you suffer with Jesus, you still suffer for something, rather than ending up suffering for nothing, which is where most people end up.   
Not everyone agrees the logic of suffering for the truth of God in Christ.   Back in 1982, three years after I began my work as a pastor, a Gallup poll indicated that 43% of the American people said there is nothing worth risking their lives for, while only 13% would risk their lives for religious reasons.   If that’s how it was back in 1982, I’m sure it’s much less now.   Apparently, many people, even people in the churches, don’t see faith in God or truth, or in what is right, to be truth worth living, sacrificing, suffering, or worth dying for.   And though most see this is strictly a problem for the churches, it’s also a problem for everyone, because when the fire of faith is gone, so goes the fire of love, and the fire of hope too.
Like Jeremiah telling the truth to the religious in Jerusalem, when Martin Luther once stood up against the wayward wrongly directed powers of Catholic Rome,  a Cardinal thundered at Luther, demanding to know who he was to defy Rome. "The Pope’s little finger is stronger than all Germany. Do you expect the princes to defend you, a wretched worm like you? I tell you, NO! And where will you be then?" "Then, as now," answered Luther, "I will be in the hands of the Almighty God."
In the crucial issues of our day, God asks us only to be faithful to him and his cause, because our cause is God’s cause, and God’s cause is our cause.  For this reason, because God is our ‘mighty warrior’ (20:11, NIV) and we don’t struggle and suffer for the truth of faith, hope, and love alone, we rest in knowing that God does not expect win the battle for him, but God expects us to entrust the battle to him. Jeremiah certainly wasn’t successful.  He was preaching on a sinking ship.   Jerusalem was his Titanic.  So, whatever success Jeremiah had, it was up to God, not Jeremiah.  What Jeremiah had was to be willing to suffering and to stay faithful to the truth.  
A woman in the hospital, facing several weeks of chemotherapy treatments, was in good spirits. She said, "I’ve decided that I can’t carry this load all by myself. It’s in the Lord’s hands. Whatever his will is, is mine also."  Even in suffering and dying there can be a relief, and a peace that defies understanding, when you put something in the Lord’s hands. Jeremiah said, "for to you I have committed my cause (12)." One version of the Bible translates it, "I’ve laid my case before you (CEB)."  Jesus himself said much the same, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46).   Even with the whole world against him, Jesus committed his way to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying "Your will, not mine be done."  The Lord has not promised you or me a rose garden, but he has given us a LORD who prayed his way through a very difficult and dark garden.  (From William Kilby)  
Sometime in life, and in faith, we too will have face a world stands against us, and is not for us,  but like Jeremiah, and of course, like Jesus, our hope lies in what the Lord has promised, not in what the world or this life can never promise.  God has promised to be with each one of us, no matter what: "I will never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13: 5), God has said in his word.  Even in a dying nation, or on a sinking ship, and even when God’s truth turns against us,  our God is able to ‘give perfect peace to those who keep their minds on Him in trust (Isa. 26:3, my translation).  If we will ‘commit our cause’ to him, he will give himself to us.  Have you ‘committed’ your cause’ to him?   In Christ, he has already given himself to you.  Amen.