The Journey of Jeremiah
Thank you so much to the choir for that beautiful anthem. Thank you all so much to the praise team. What a blessing. The gift of music is a real blessing. There are some ways that can only speak to the heart that certain forms like music can. So we’re so appreciative of the music ministry in our church and it’s so wonderful to see all the Hi-C kids with us today. We had a great time skating around the rink in the outdoors and it’s just such a joy to see our youth laughing and having a good time and it’s really great to see all the college and university kids back from reading week. I’m really looking forward to that Korean barbecue here next week. We got that inspiration from the KSM C&C because they were grilling all this meat one Sunday and I began drooling as the smells oozed out into the fellowship hall. So I was like we need a piece of that too. That’s going to be fun. Today there’s the young families retreat with all the young children and the parents. Then next Friday, the women’s group and also the men.
So all ages, it seems like there are things going on and that’s, that’s a true blessing, isn’t it? There’s abundance in this community. I feel truly blessed and my prayer and my hope is that each of us here can find some sort of blessing from this community. Cause I think that’s how God wills it. And so with that word and theme in mind: blessing. I want to reflect today on a life of blessing. In today’s passage, we see a contrast between the two types of life. A life that is cursed and a life that is blessed.
Cursed vs. Blessed Life
A life that is cursed is one that has no life. You know, the imagery that Jeremiah uses, they all convey the lack of water, which in the ancient Middle East was the very source and enabler of life. So a cursed life is one that’s like a shell, but it has no life. A blessed life, on the other hand, is one that is full of life. It’s the life that can’t be taken away, even during dry spells. And there is fruitfulness.
As I started to reflect on this passage, I saw that this passage really emanated, it’s sprung forth from Jeremiah’s own life and experiences. This is almost like it was a confession or a declaration of the kind of life that he had lived and what God called Jeremiah when he was just a youth. We don’t know exactly how old, but when God called him he responded, “Oh God, but I don’t know how to speak. I’m only a boy.” But God’s response was this: “do not say, I am only a boy for you shall go to whom all send you, send you and you shall speak whatever I command you.” So this was Jeremiah’s calling. It was to go to speak and speak he did. This guy, he spoke truth to power. That’s what he did. He spoke out against a system and the people running it that enriched those with power and abused those who are weak and without power.
And he was especially harsh toward the religious establishment that ran the temple. You know, you’ve got to understand what the significance of this temple is. People believe that the temple is where actually God resided. Like God actually resided in a temple. These religious leaders, I guess they were a little smug maybe because since God resides here and we are in charge, we’re justified to do what we need to do. And Jeremiah, he unmasked the hypocrisy and the fact that they were making life more difficult, especially for the poor and weak because they impose all these requirements that made life very difficult and they enriched themselves. And so Jeremiah, he would always warn about the coming destruction, doom and gloom. Well, do you think people like to hear this kind of thing? Do people like downers? No. All this speaking, it didn’t endear him to the ruling classes.
Jeremiah, he suffered tremendously during his lifetime. And the book of Jeremiah goes into a lot of details. I mean he was placed in stocks. Do you guys know what stocks are? It’s when both of your feet are bound in those wooden boards. So it’s like you can’t move. And so what does that mean? To see you publicly humiliated? People laugh at you and he was put on trial by priests who wanted him dead. They wanted the death sentence. How stressful is that? Right? He was at one point, banished from the temple because he kept on speaking out against them and now the temple is the center of their community to be banished means you don’t belong to this community anymore. This guy was chased down and hunted and had to go into hiding. He was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned more than once. He was placed under house arrest. And one time he was thrown into muddying cistern, like little pool at the bottom and left to die until someone out of pity rescued him. This dude had a hard life.
Jeremiah feels abandoned
And throughout the book, we can see the deep anguish that he goes through in moments of great suffering. I mean, he felt at times betrayed, tricked, and duped by God. He said this at one point, “your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” He’s talking about his initial calling. There was excitement, joy, but now why is my pain unseizing, my wounds incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook like waters that fail and he goes on further to say I have become a laughing stock all day long. Everyone mocks me and at his lowest moments, he even regrets being born into the world. Cursed would be the day on which I was born the day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed. Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? Those are strong poetic words, aren’t they? He struggles and suffers. He loads his own existence and he is ready to give up like why do all of this? But just when he’s at this point, there’s something in him that stirs and he says this. “If I say I will not mention him (he’s talking about God) or speak any more in his name. Then within me, there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in and I cannot and so he doesn’t hold it in.” He carries on. He speaks. Jeremiah, he lived through the greatest crisis since his people had settled into the land of Israel. You know after they left Egypt with Moses and all that, they settled in cause at this point now this is after the time of King David and Solomon and their glorious peak, but now this new empire from the east mighty empire, Babylon, they came in and they crushed the Judah, right? The land that Jeremiah was living in, they destroyed the three things that gave the people their sense of identity and security. We talked about this at the college, right guys. Their monarchy, their temple and their land. God had promised King David that his line would endure forever and this would be a sign of God’s power and protection. The temple, I’ve already mentioned. This is where God himself resided and the Land God had made this promise to their forebear, their ancestor Abraham, that I will give you this land. But now they’re all gone. In fact, Babylon took the ruling classes, the leaders of society, and deported them to Babylon to live as exiles. Where was God? God had seemed to abandon them.
But into this void, Jeremiah spoke, he was transformed from a prophet of doom and destruction to a prophet of comfort and hope. You know during the hard years of exile in Babylon, people were trying to make sense and meaning of this like experience they’re going through. And at that time, the words of Jeremiah gave them hope and a new vision for their path ahead as a people. So when I began this sermon, I identified the two types of life, right? That illustrated this passage, the cursed life and the blessed life. And my main question was, what is the blessed life?
What is a Blessed Life?
In the context of Jeremiah’s life, I mean, I realize that you know, a life of blessing. It’s not one in which our circumstances are always good and you know that we’re experiencing abundance even though you know, we have an abundance here, but that’s not necessarily always a life of blessing because we can see that in the ups and downs of Jeremiah’s life. And so what I realized is this, a life of blessing is a life of calling. Jeremiah lived a life of calling. I mean it was so difficult at times, but in the end, he could say that he lived a blessed life because he lived a life of calling. What does it mean for us to live a life of calling? Is it a job? Is it what I do? You know, in my lovely ministry with Hi-C, we talk about this a lot because I know these kinds of questions are at the forefront of their minds. In human history, one of the most horrific tragedies in the history of humankind was the Holocaust during World War II. Never before or since has there been such a planned, efficient, ruthless and systematic killing of people on this scale.
And among the prisoners of the concentration camps, there was a psychiatrist named Victor Frankl and he documents what he and others went through in these concentration camps in a famous book called Man’s search for meaning and life in these prisons. I highly recommend this. It was one of the most dehumanizing ordeals one could face. They were stripped of everything. I mean literally, but also especially their human dignity. And he saw how people can become like primitive animals in this kind of context. But he concluded that all of this did not take away his belief that ultimately there is meaning in life and that this meaning can enable one to endure any situation that is thrown at the person.
What does Life expect from you?
So this is what he said. “We had to learn ourselves and furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” We need to stop thinking about the meaning of life and instead to think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life, daily and hourly. What matters is not what we expect from life, but what life expects from us. What does life expect from you? This I believe is what a calling is. It’s our response to the question of what life expects from us. What life expects from us is different for each person. And it also differs from moment to moment. So it is specific and unique to that moment for that person. For Jeremiah, there are moments when life expected him, so generally, his calling was to speak, but there are moments in life that expected him to speak harshly to people in power. There are moments when he to speak tenderly, to give hope, and yes, there were times when life expected him to suffer and Victor Frankel lived through tremendous suffering and he said this. “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task, his single and unique task. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.” What is your calling? What does life expect from you at this moment?
The Pervasive Heart
Is this something that we kind of figure out with our brains and our logic? Is it a rational thing or is it just kind of an impulse that we feel at a moment and feel inspired to do? No, I believe that this is something that must come from the core of our existence. The deepest part of our being. In other words, from our heart. It’s only from our heart that we can hear the calling of life itself. But Jeremiah has great insight. He says in today’s passage, the heart is devious above all else, it is perverse who can understand it?
The heart is devious and perverse and the heart is hidden. That’s why we can’t understand it. And it’s why no one else can really understand your heart either. In my marriage and being a parent, I don’t know, to be honest, there are things that kind of trigger me in different ways. I don’t know like words will come out of my mouth, right? Or certain things will make me react a certain way. Do you guys know what I’m talking about? Like if you’re married or your parents, I’m sure you know. Like I don’t know where they come from. They come from a place in my heart, but honestly, I don’t really understand.
The heart is devious above all else. It is perverse and can you understand it? But if you can’t understand your heart, then how can you discern what life is expecting from you? It’s sort of an impossible task, isn’t it? But thanks be to God that Jeremiah discovered this truth when he spoke the words of the Lord. I the Lord test the mind and search the heart. It is our God who tests our minds and searches our hearts. This is the spiritual journey to seek out the God who searches our hearts. And this is what it means to trust in God. To be like a tree planted by water. What is life calling you to and what is life expecting you from you at this moment? Maybe there’s someone you need to reconcile with. Maybe there’s an area of pain, uncertainty, or healing that you need to attend to.
Maybe life is calling you to let go of your anxiety as the choir sang and place your trust in God. In our prayers and our thoughts in each moment of our reflection, let us ask God to search our hearts, to reveal what is hidden, to disclose the deepest thoughts and desires that we have. I believe God will reveal, God will disclose what is in our hearts. And as that happens, we will begin to discern what life expects from us, our life of calling, and that a life of calling is truly a life of blessing. Let us sing together.