The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 17, 2017
You understand, O LORD; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering—do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake. When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? Therefore this is what the LORD says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the LORD. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Help me out here. What is the day that our country sets aside to remember and to honor all the men and women who work so hard to make this nation the greatest and the most productive nation on the face of the earth? That’s right! It is called “Labor Day.” Why is it called “Labor Day”? Now that’s an easy question isn’t it! Every day millions upon millions of Americans faithfully “labor” at their jobs. Whether we are white collar workers or blue collar workers, whether we are building automobiles or space stations, whether we are teaching five year old children how to read or developing new technologies, the American worker has consistently been one of if not the best laborer in the world. But as many of you know from personal experience there is a reason why we call it “labor,” isn’t there. Sometimes going to work is just not fun. Sometimes we wonder why we don’t just quit our job and find something else to do— something that will be more rewarding or more fulfilling. Sometimes we think that our job, our work, our labor is nothing but a pain, a pain that we could easily do without. Thankfully— hopefully— those days are few and far between.
Our sermon text for today gives us an opportunity to look into the heart of a man who had become completely frustrated with his “job.” No matter how hard he tried, no matter how hard he worked it seemed like the only thing his labor brought to him was pain. That man was the prophet Jeremiah. Today, my friends, let’s use our time together to try and understand Jeremiah’s Labor Pains. There are two things we want to look at this morning. First, we will look at the source of Jeremiah’s pain. Then we will look at the solution to Jeremiah’s pain.
Jeremiah had been called directly by God Himself to proclaim God’s justice and God’s judgment upon God’s people. The nation of Judah had become so wicked and so rebellious that God was preparing to swing the sickle of the Babylonians and cut the entire nation of Judah down. At the same time, however, the LORD— the God of not only perfect justice but also the God of infinite mercy, grace and forgiveness— the LORD sent His servant Jeremiah into the midst of these rebellious people to give them an opportunity to repent. It was not too late for Judah to turn from her wicked ways and humble herself before the Lord her God.
Sadly, Jeremiah’s message to God’s people, Jeremiah’s clear condemnation of their sin, Jeremiah’s powerful call to repentance was not well received. Jeremiah was treated like a criminal. Jeremiah was treated like a social outcast, like a leper. He was ridiculed. He was rejected. He was scorned. There were even people who were plotting how to silence Jeremiah— forever!
In a moment of human weakness, a weakness with which many of us are all too familiar, Jeremiah lifted up his heart to heaven and lamented: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?”
This lament reveals to us that there were two main reasons as to why Jeremiah was experiencing so much pain in his labor as a prophet. First, Jeremiah knew that he had been given the very words of God Himself. Jeremiah knew that these words not only contained God’s condemnation of sin, but that these words also proclaimed the Lord’s message of forgiveness and mercy. That’s why Jeremiah describes God’s words as “my joy and my heart’s delight.” Jeremiah also knew that as a true prophet of the one and only true God he bore the name of the “LORD God Almighty.” Perhaps Jeremiah felt that since he was a prophet of the Lord that the people would automatically listen to him. When the people did not listen to him perhaps Jeremiah felt that the Lord would promptly step in and punish them. Perhaps Jeremiah thought that since he not only avoided joining in with the sins of the people, but clearly voiced his indignation and disgust at what was going on in Judah that there should be some kind of visible results from all his labor! When none of that happened Jeremiah was overwhelmed with sorrow and with frustration. That’s the first source of Jeremiah’s “labor pains.”
The second source of Jeremiah’s “labor pains” came from the fact that he felt as though God had let him down. Since God Himself had given Jeremiah the message he was to proclaim to Judah, since God Himself had sent Jeremiah to be the Lord’s spokesman to the people of Judah then why has the Lord “failed” to act? Was the Lord like a “deceptive brook” which gives water in the rainy season but then dries up when the water is needed the most? Was the Lord like a “spring that fails” — a God who makes promises but then doesn’t follow through? Yes, one of the reasons as to why Jeremiah was experiencing so much pain from his labor as a prophet is because he felt as though God had failed him.
As sad as that lament is, Jeremiah is certainly not alone in his lament, is he. We all too often think that as long as we are doing the Lord’s work, as long as we are faithfully proclaiming the Word that God Himself has given to us that everything will go along smoothly. People will listen to what we have to say. People will recognize that no matter what they might think and no matter what society might say a sin is still a sin in the eyes of the God of heaven and every sin is worthy of eternal condemnation in hell. People will kneel at the foot of the cross and confess, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” And if things don’t go as smoothly as we anticipated we too might begin to question God’s integrity. “Why should I keep doing this if all I get in return is rejection and ridicule and pain? Why should I keep putting myself out there and standing up for God’s Truth if God does nothing in return?”
Let me share with you a real life example. In my previous congregation I had a member who had been talking with two of his co-workers about the beauty and the blessings of being baptized in the name of the Triune God. It had gotten to the point where they thought they might want to be baptized, so we set up a time for them to meet with me. In that meeting we not only talked about what Baptism is but we also talked about what Baptism means for their daily life. How would their life change after they were baptized? How would their life openly and clearly proclaim to the people around them that they are now baptized children of God? How would they continue to grow stronger in their faith, in their knowledge, in their love for their Lord? In the end they both decided they did not want to be baptized— at least not by me. When I met with that member a few days later I encouraged him not to become discouraged, not to see this as a “set back” or a “failure,” not to feel uncomfortable when he sees these two gentlemen at work. He is doing exactly what the Lord called him to do! He was being a witness for Jesus! Just as Jeremiah could not control how the people of Judah would respond to the message God gave to Jeremiah to proclaim, so also we can’t control how people are going to respond when we share God’s Truth with them. But no matter how they respond we need to keep on living that Truth and we need to keep on sharing that Truth— even if it means that our “labor” brings us nothing but pain.
Whether it was Jeremiah some 2600 years ago or whether it is us today we need to remember that there is only one solution to our “labor pains.” If ever we begin to doubt whether or not doing the Lord’s work or sharing the Lord’s Word or being a witness for Jesus is “worth the trouble,” if ever we begin to doubt whether or not God is going to step up to the plate and do what only He can do, fulfill His promises He has made then we would do well to remember what the Lord says to Jeremiah here in our text: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them. I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue you and save you…I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.”
I think there are three major points that the Lord is emphasizing with these words. First of all, if we ever begin to doubt our God in any way, shape or form then we need to repent! Our God never fails to keep His promises. Our God never “changes his mind.” Our God never lets us down. Our God is always to everything He reveals to us here in His Word. So if like Jeremiah we ever begin to accuse God of being like a “deceptive brook” or a “spring that fails” we need to fall on our knees at the foot of the cross (Pointing to the cross) and ask God to forgive us for ever allowing such foolishness to come into our hearts and minds.
Secondly, we need to daily commit ourselves to being faithful to our God in both our words and our actions. No matter what kind of reaction we might receive from others, no matter how much pain and ridicule we might endure we must stand up for the Truth as it is revealed to us right here in God’s holy Word. We must consciously make sure that when other people look at our life and when other people listen to how we talk they can clearly see and hear that we are indeed a servant of the Lord God Almighty.
Finally, we need to trust our God completely. We need to trust that as long as we remain faithful to Him and to the covenant He has made with us (Pointing to Baptismal font) our God will guide us, He will protect us, He will rescue us— especially in the most painful and the most difficult situations we face in life.
If you look closely at the people with whom you worship on Sunday mornings you are going to see people who have or have had all different kinds of jobs. But even though we may labor at different places and in different ways, even though our jobs may bring with them their own unique “pain,” there is one thing we all have in common. While we may have different jobs we all share the very same calling. Like Jeremiah here in our text we have been called by the Lord God Himself to call sinners to repentance and to share with the repentant the glorious message of full and free forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. (Pointing to the cross) Like Jeremiah we have been called by God to stand up for the Truth and to share the Truth as faithfully as we possibly can. Like Jeremiah we have been called to be “laborers” for the Lord. If ever that labor begins to become a pain, we need to humbly kneel at the foot of the cross, receive the Lord’s forgiveness and then remember the promises that our God has made to us. For then, my friends, we will always have the joy of knowing that our “labor” in the Lord is never in vain!
To God be the glory!