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Sermon July 24, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1266

July 24, 2016 Jeremiah 2:4-13

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Where is the Lord Who...?”

 

  • Where is the Lord who…?

     

The Bible is not shy about the problems that come when people or nations fail to acknowledge God. Acknowledgment means more than just giving a nod to God. Biblically it is confessing belief, faithfulness, and commitment to the living God. We have seen in our lifetime the places in our nation and in some parts of the church universal where God is no longer acknowledged as Lord of all and that lack of acknowledgment has led to a multitude of problems. This is one of the reasons Christians have voiced concern over the absence of God in most sectors of our society like education or business. This is why there is now a threat to religious liberty in what once was a nation with a Christian spirit. This is also why we repeat the exhortation to remember the Lord in all things. The question Jeremiah presents is one that marks us as God's people. It is a question of identity and relationship. It is like asking where a little girl is when she is right there in the room. “Where’s my little girl? There she is!” This is a way to acknowledge her presence.

It is not a question of confusion or lament as if God where not there or here. It is a question that really is a confession of faith. Where is the God who brought us out of slavery? This is the Lord God, the one who delivers. It is a rhetorical question meant to convey a confession of faith.

In the case of Jeremiah it is a question of remembering God. “They did not say, where is the Lord who brought us out of Egypt and led us in the wilderness?” They did not remember who had delivered them! It is a question of telling the story of God, the story of deliverance and guidance. It is a question of the presence of God; they traded their God for other gods who had never delivered anybody. It is a question of justice, “the priests did not say, ‘where is the Lord?’” instead, they went after things that do not profit.

 

We might express Jeremiah's voice in this way: “The USA did not say, 'where is the Lord who began our nation?'” “Where is the Lord who gives us wisdom in education?” The church did not say, “Where is the Lord who saved us through his Son Jesus Christ?” “Where is the Lord who gave us his word to follow?” Failure to express this kind of question is a failure to acknowledge God.

 

 

 

  • Going After Worthless Things

 

When the question is ignored, the pursuit in life turns from God to worthless things.

There is an interesting story told by the Jews about Abraham. It is not a biblical story but a midrash story, that is, a story about the Bible and in this case about a Abram before his name was changed to Abraham. Abram is said to have “destroyed nearly all the idols in his father’s store and then placed a stick in the hand of the largest remaining idol. When Terah, Abram’s father, asked who had done this, Abram replied that the large idol had. Terah replied the idol could not have done such a thing. Responded Abram, ‘Then why do you worship it?’” (from Jewish Spiritual Guidance, 24)

 

Why do we worship worthless things? In the time of Jeremiah, Israel had traded the God who delivered them from Egypt for the gods who could not do anything at all. The main problem was, no one was even asking the question. No one was concerned whether God was present or not! No one was concerned with the memory of God’s mighty work. No one cared to notice that God was with them. No one pursued the living God, but they pursued everything else. The people pursued other things, even other gods. They virtually treated God like a used car, trading God in for another model. They forgot to tell the story and didn’t care that they forgot! They did not keep covenant so God in turn brings them up on charges.

It is a fascinating phrase in verse 5; went after worthlessness, and became worthless...” You are what you eat. You are what you pursue. As one commentator said, “pursue a bubble and become a bubble!” How many kids will end up with health problems when they start pursuing the enhancement drugs that some professional athletes pursue? How many people will end up in bankruptcy when they pursue a get rich quick scheme? How many of us become exactly like the things we pursue? When we pursue more money we become greedy, when we pursue good looks we become vain, when we pursue entertainment we become as empty as a 22-minute sitcom. When we pursue only works we become self-righteous.

Isaiah 44:9-20 reveals the folly of pursuing worthless things. The passage tells of all the effort it takes to fashion an idol only to discover that the idol is basically the residue or left overs after the wood is used to bake bread and roast meat. So often we will put great effort into the things of this world and come to realize that we have invested time and energy and money into something that is ultimately worthless. This comes when we fail to acknowledge God.

 

 

  • Remembering Where We Come From

 

Israel, of all people, should have known better. They had the real deal, the living God, and yet they traded God for something worthless. Even the other nations who had their variety of gods have never traded them in. 10 For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. 11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.

 

Perhaps we should not be too harsh in our judgment of Israel. They were, after all, serving the only God who requires something of them. All the other gods, the gods of other nations, required nothing. They were quite easy to serve because they just sat there – silent – giving and requiring nothing because they were no gods. Adam Welch says that the “grace which gave much asked much; it demanded self-surrender. And without self-surrender on the part of those who received it, grace became and empty word. No other nation changed its god…The reason [they did not change gods] was that it all meant so little. There was no cause to forsake such gods, because it involved so little to follow them. Israel forsook [God], because the relation to Him was full of ethical content…It laid a [responsibility on people], it had a yoke and bonds. The bonds were those of love, but love’s bonds are the most enduring and the most exacting.” (from Jeremiah 1-25: To Pluck Up, To Tear Down, Walter Brueggemann, p.34)

 

We trade that way today. We trade following God for following something easier or for following nothing at all! We give up fountains of living water because we think it is too much for us. We don’t care to carry the buckets and buckets of living water that keep coming and coming. Instead, we tell God “no thanks” and we go out on our own, digging our own wells for life, creating our own buckets of self-sufficiency and pride. But they are cracked cisterns, cracked buckets, only slightly cracked, so that we don’t notice it at first, just a drip here and a drop there, but our buckets are leaky. We trade God in for easy buckets that feel light but are only light because the water is pouring out on the ground behind us.

Where is the Lord who...? The Lord is the one with the living water that calls for more from us but only because God knows that real love binds us to God and God to us.

The question, “where is the Lord who...?” must be asked repeatedly:

To remember and tell the story,

To notice God’s presence,

To bring justice,

To keep the practice of fidelity.

 

 

 

  • Two Evils

 

The warning to us and to nations is found in the final two verses of our reading this morning:

12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

 

Be appalled, be shocked, be desolate, O heavens. Are we not appalled and shocked by the ways of the world? Yet this warning is against God's own people. “My people have committed two evils.” What have they done?

 

1. Forsaken God.

2. Made leaky cisterns.

 

We forsake the Lord when we do anything that fails to acknowledge God in the process or outcome. Deuteronomy 8 is a classic example when Israel fails to remember that it was God who brought them through the wilderness and to the promised land and gave them and abundance of possessions. This is what happens when we as a church or as a nation forget the Lord who brought us to freedom in Christ.

The leaky cistern in the case of Deuteronomy 8 is the belief that they had done everything on their own. We place ourselves before the Lord can pat ourselves on the back as if God has done nothing.

 

So we gather in this place to contemplate the question, where is the Lord who brought us out of Egypt, (who brought us out of sin and death)? Where is the Lord who led us in the wilderness, who led us through our wildernesses? We ask the question in order to consistently notice our foundational point of reference, to continue to be shaped by the story and the memory, and to remember our reason for being. As the church, it is our responsibility to lift the question before the nation and to imagine ways to bring back the acknowledgment of God both in the church and in the world.

 

Where is the Lord who...?” It is our question for the day; we state it often so that we might never forget God. To forsake the question is to forsake God. Let us proclaim the question so that we may never forget and continue to live in faithfulness to the living God who is the fountain of living waters. Amen.