CU Chapel Devotion
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Jeremiah 20:7-18 Sermon
February 3, 2015 


TEXT:  [Jeremiah writes]  O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived.  You overpowered me and won. I’ve been made fun of all day long.  Everyone mocks me.  Each time I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence and destruction!”  The Lord’s word has made me the object of insults and contempt all day long.  I think to myself, “I can forget the Lord and no longer speak his name.”  But his word is inside me like a burning fire shut up in my bones.  I wear myself out holding it in, but I can’t do it any longer.  10 I have heard many people whispering, “Terror is everywhere!  Report him! Let’s report him!”  All my closest friends are waiting to see me stumble.  They say, “Maybe he will be tricked.  Then we can overpower him and take revenge on him.”  11 But the Lord is on my side like a terrifying warrior.  That is why those who persecute me will stumble. They can’t win.  They will be very ashamed that they can’t succeed.  Their eternal shame will not be forgotten.  12 But the Lord of Armies examines the righteous.  He sees their motives and thoughts.  I want to see you take revenge on them, because I’ve brought my case to you.  13 Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord!  He has rescued the lives of needy people from the power of wicked people.   

            This morning, I'm going to get a bit personal with you, and share something that isn't easy for me to do.  This is an example of how, by ignoring some fairly strong warnings, my past caught up with me.  I guess you could say that this is public confession time.

            When I was in high school, I started smoking cigarettes.  It seemed like all of the cool kids did it, and I wanted to fit in with everybody else.  Plus my parents both smoked, their friends smoked, and lots of people I'd come in contact with smoked.  A person could smoke almost anywhere, even in your hospital room as you were recuperating from something, or in the church basement during a council meeting.  And almost every restaurant had an ash tray on the table; there was just something about having a cigarette with that last cup of coffee that made for a very pleasant ending to the meal.

            But there were risks involved, very serious risks.  There were the warnings on the packs themselves.  The very first one read, "Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health."  The surgeon general also issued warnings.  And President Richard Nixon signed a bill that banned all cigarette advertisements from TV and radio as ofJanuary 1, 1970.

            The advertisements were targeting people, just like me.  On TV, the Beverly Hillbillies did cigarette ads.  And even the Flintstones, the cartoon show, had Fred and Barney and Wilma and Betty lighting up in their own specialized commercial.  If you want to see what I saw back then, all of these commercials are preserved for posterity on You Tube.

            I heard all the warnings.  Hypocritical as it sounds, my parents didn't want me to smoke.  My grandmother even offered me $100 if I didn't smoke until I was 21, which was money I, in good conscience, had to refuse.  The pack warnings, the health demonstrations, and everything else didn't seem to work.  Even when my own mother developed emphysema, I still continued to smoke. She begged me to stop, she didn't want me to suffer like she was, but I didn't listen.  Nor did I listen to my friends and relatives, most of whom had stopped smoking themselves. 

            In my defense, I wasn't really a heavy smoker, probably a pack or less a day.  I had a chest X-ray every year that showed my lungs to be clean and clear.  Plus, smoking was something that I genuinely enjoyed.  So I really wasn't all that worried.  All of the warnings were there for everybody else, and not for me.

            For 43 years, I smoked daily and regularly.  I haven't had a cigarette now in over two years, but it was too late.  I now have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD; and yes, it will slowly and progressively kill me.  It affects my daily activities, and my ministry.  I have to compensate for it and ask for help doing things I had no trouble doing even a few years ago.  I have to do things more slowly, and take my time.  It is definitely frustrating and perturbing. 

            Today, we are focusing our attention upon the Prophet Jeremiah, a very bitter and lonely person.  Jeremiah had the task of preaching God's Word to a people who simply did not want to hear it.  He was sounding a warning, a very strong and stern warning that God was about to execute judgment upon them.  They were a bunch of idolaters and hypocrites.

            Like I said, the people just wouldn't listen to Jeremiah's warning cry.  Jeremiah didn't want them to experience the wrath of God.  He wanted them to repent!  Why didn't they listen to him?  Wasn't it to their ultimate benefit to listen to the warning and be saved?

            But instead, the people mocked and mistreated Jeremiah.  They threw him in jail and abused him.  And even the chiefTempleofficial beat him and locked him up in stocks so he could publicly endure even more ridicule.  Certainly Jeremiah complained about the people and what was happening, and we can see why.

            But you know something?  Things really don't change too much over the years.  People don't really want to listen to God.  People tend to find portions of God's Word offensive, and cast away those things that seem exclusive and judgmental.  And it doesn't take too much for us to see this in our society where homosexuality is gaining more and more social acceptance, and abortion is regarded as an appropriate form of birth control.

            So what's the cause of all this?  Why are people so stubborn?  When I teach confirmation class, I talk about the three things that stand against God:  The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  We nickname these "The Unholy Three."  One pastor even opined, "with these things fighting against God and his Word, it's a wonder anybody is saved at all!"   Thankfully, the "unholy three" are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit! 

            We have a rebellious spirit, and we don't want anybody to tell us what to do and what not to do, especially God.  Our rebellious spirits will rationalize our disobedience and try to deafen our ears to God's voice.

            It's our human nature to bristle at God's law, because it shows us to be the sinful people we are.  So when we hear the good news of the Gospel, we would expect people to receive this message with gratitude and joy.  The God whom we have offended and sinned against has forgiven our sins by grace through faith alone.  What a concept that is!

            But no, the Gospel is offensive too because it goes against human nature.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 18:  "The message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved."  Christ's sacrifice on the cross is both foolish and disgusting to those who lack faith.  To them, it is only a symbol of violence and death.

            But to us who come to know Jesus as our Saviour, the cross is not offensive at all.  It is the symbol of Christ's love for us that caused him to come to this earth, to take our load of sin from us, and to pay the price for that sin in our place.  He shed his blood so we could live and have the hope of heaven before us.

            But by nature, we are still sinful and rebellious people.  We continually sin against God.  That is why we continually return to the throne of grace and hear once again those words that mean so much:  "Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven!"  That's the joy we have in knowing our Saviour Jesus Christ through faith alone.  Our sinfulness is removed and replaced with Christ's righteousness.

            We walk the path of faith in our daily lives, and frequently that path won't be an easy one.  Maybe we won't suffer the rejection that Jeremiah did, but there will be those times that being a Christian and standing up for our faith will be difficult.  Those "unholy three," the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh continually work against us.  Sometimes we will be discouraged and wonder if our faith is worth it.  Sometimes God's Word will seem so unpopular that we want to keep it hidden. 

            But God wants people to turn to him and live.  "The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe the Gospel," Jesus said as he began his ministry.  Jesus wants us to make disciples of all nations, because he has a wonderful future in store for all his children.  And even though our time on earth might be fraught with difficulties, Jesus promises us that he will never leave us, nor forsake us.  This is what gave Jeremiah cause to rejoice.  At the end of his lament, his sorrow turns to joy as he says in verse 13 of our text:  "Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord!  He has rescued the lives of needy people from the power of wicked people."

            Warnings aren't easy for us to hear, even when those warnings are intended for our ultimate good.  We think we know what's best, and we don't want to hear anything different.  In short, we are stubborn.

            If I would have heeded those warnings about cigarette smoking, I'd probably be in a lot better shape than I am now.  I'm in pulmonary rehab and taking medications to make things easier for me, but what I have is not curable, according to medical science anyway.  There's always hope for a miracle!

            When I was diagnosed with COPD, I sort of joked with the doctor saying, "If I knew which cigarette caused this, I wouldn't have smoked it."  Then he looked at me and said rather tersely, "That would have been your first one."

            I was at my mother's bedside as she gasped her last breath.  I know she was very happy when I told her several weeks before she died that I hadn't had a cigarette in months.  I finally heeded her warning.  She told me, "I just hope is not too late."

            I hate to admit it, but even now with all I've been through, I still find cigarettes attractive.  I haven't lost the taste or desire; in fact I'd love to have one right now.  It was something I enjoyed; but I can say now that it wasn't worth ignoring the warnings.

            The sinful human nature is always within us, tempting us to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to God, to ignore the various warnings, and go in the wrong direction.  Therefore, let us exclaim with the hymn writer:  "Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow his example pure...Faithful Lord, abide with me; Saviour lead, I follow Thee."