When I think of Jeremiah, the key thing that stands out about him (his life, his story, his impact on God’s people) in my mind is his sad, pathetic, end. For all the power of Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet of God, his demise on the world stage is just pitiful. Another dead, young Jew that none of the other Jews were willing to listen to while he was alive.
Oh sure, there are lots of things about Jeremiah which stand out more prominently in your study guide. Have a Study Bible? Got a commentary?? Taking in a lecture/sermon??? Then you are likely to have your picture of Jeremiah framed in notions of his youthfulness, his persistence, his powerful Word from God, his historical setting and all that. There are a handful of passages in Jeremiah’s prophecy which stand out to God’s people down through the eons and are plugged into many contexts such as his instruction to Bloom Where You Are Planted (29:5-7) or The Fire In His Bones (20:9) or The Plans God Has For You (29:11)… and so forth which become spiritual touchstones for many people.
Yet for me, the thing that stands out is the futility of his personal life. I resign from this. I am taking on a new perspective. I will now devote myself to the long view, and I will no longer press for or even hope for the short term. That is behind me now, in large part thanx to Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s sad story is important and must not be overlooked. But I cannot allow that to be the standout feature of his life for me anymore.
No doubt we have to guess at the actual end of Jeremiah’s life, but it seems clear that all of his worst fears came true as per the Word God gave him. His people were conquered due to their sin and went into exile, and in the large sweep of it all, Jeremiah – the faithful one – was swept up in all the pain and misery and Judgment with the others. For Jeremiah, it was his one life to live, but for God it was a bookmark in a continuing saga his people would come to terms with long after Jeremiah was gone and no longer around to enjoy it. Though we can safely presume Jeremiah suffered the judgement, we know that still is not actually the end of the story. There is a future yet, even for Jeremiah long swept up in death, and he most assuredly will enjoy it.
Just standing in Jeremiah’s shoes, not only do we have Jeremiah’s terrible book of Lamentations, I wonder sometimes if the 88th Psalm is not his prayer. It could, of course, be attributed to other authors and applies just as much to other prophets, but I can’t help but think of the terrible cost God let Jeremiah pay with basically NO REWARD this side of his resurrection. Jeremiah, even in death still runs with the horses (12:5), and the writer of Psalm 88 is still in the grave, dead and waiting.
I have read those tough questions this psalmist asks of God in Psalm 88:10-12. I know that at the time of his (or possibly her) death, these questions were left hanging there in the impossible, pregnant, silent pause of eternity waiting for God to answer! Eons passed, and I am aware that God left those questions hanging in that impossible silence for more than 500 years before he raised Jesus from the dead and blew those questions away with his answer of resounding YES! of the apocalypse!!!
But I am also mindful that the psalmist who cried this prayer with a dying breath, a psalmist who, if he is not Jeremiah himself nonetheless speaks for Jeremiah too, is still in that grave WAITING to hear the answer.
I cry for Jeremiah.
This has been my M.O. But weeping is what I resign from now. Jesus makes the difference. But there is still the angel to wrestle in the night. Let me explain.
Jesus suffered everything Jeremiah suffered – an then some – but Jesus rose in three days. Jeremiah is still waiting.
I have the assurance of resurrection Jeremiah did not have. But I feel just as sad for Jeremiah as Jeremiah did. I keep thinking that prophetically speaking, his story is my story too.
I am a sucker for reason… a sucker for persuasion. I keep thinking that if I reason with God’s people from God’s Word, they will listen and heed.
But you know what? They won’t! And I need not continue thinking they will… or might.
Just read God’s word and discover how often they actually don’t.
Now… don’t try to tell me it’s my tone or my attitude. (This has been tried before, but it fails to acknowledge how that upon my first attempt at addressing God’s people, as well as the second, third, fourth, and fifth, I was quite congenial, and yet rejected then too!) That is not what makes the difference – not when it’s God’s message. That is a Dale Carnegie type idea, not God’s God sends a word to his own people – to people who do NOT have the ears to hear or the eyes to see. God hardens the heart or softens it. God is utterly sovereign, and you aren’t. Even if you can persuade God, you have no control over him. And no matter how much “free will” God seems to allow you, he does not surrender his sovereignty. And anyway, Jonah’s tone and attitude did not take a page from Carnegie. Yet though he was a very successful preacher, his success was found among the enemies of God’s people and totally contrary to all conventional wisdom as regards persuasion – thus God gets all the glory!
Feel me yet?
And as I look at my own work, I sense myself quite tired of it. Lonely. Isolated. Defeated. Pointless.
Jesus says, “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If you open up, I will come in and party with you!” (Rev. 3:20). I prophetically give voice to that very passage and tie it to the Eucharist in a hundred ways. I point out that this is the same Jesus who describes himself as “the least of these brothers” in Matthew 25, and tie that to the homeless of our streets in a Christian town. I go to Luke’s Gospel, chapter 14, and point out the rules for throwing a party and what to expect, and I point out that in the breaking of the bread as we read about it in Luke 24, the stranger’s identity becomes clear to us. And I remind God’s people that the writer of Hebrews 13:2 insists we show hospitality to strangers because God’s people have entertained angels unaware AND that this writer was thinking of Abe and Sarah doing exactly that in Genesis 18. And in so doing, I have demonstrated to God’s people how deeply and pervasively biblical all of this sharing of the meal is.
But I have not won any friends. I have not influenced any people – either with sugar or stick.
On the contrary, I resign from a ministry that even tries. That is no longer the aim here! You are not going to change because I spoke up – whether in gentleness or in harsh tone! You are too proud, too arrogant, and too afraid to give God’s Word it’s due, and I see that now very clearly. And instead of persuading you, I will suffer the judgement with you – might even wind up froze to death outside your door! And for all my trouble, I don’t expect you to find conviction even then. No. I can only hope that there is a long view here that I might strain to see which you don’t even care about.
Thus, meanwhile my culture, my society, my nation and my church following in hot pursuit moves full tilt into sin and destruction. The poor and the rich are ever more separated by the great gulf which separated the rich man and Lazarus. And if the people of God are beholding at all to God’s Word, it surely is clear how important it is to address this stuff AND how to go about addressing it, AND the cost of NOT addressing it.
But like the prophets before us, the people of God do not listen.
And I am resigned that they won’t listen to me either.
I hereby turn away from such hope.
I hope in that OTHER hope now, that most risky one. That one which even Jeremiah – if he managed to keep up with the horses – might, just might, have grabbed hold of, but which the psalmist who penned Psalm 88 surely did not. But I am obligated, this side of Jesus’ resurrection to take hold of it, that I have, that I do, and that I will continue to speak God’s Word which will not return in vain! But which holds a LOOOOOOOONG view which my eyes cannot see, but perhaps my eyes of faith must surely focus on now by getting this close range lens out of the way.
I will strive for THAT hope. But I no longer have any expectation that my brothers and sisters in this contemporary age will listen or heed that most important knock at the door, and thus will not open the doors of hospitality to the angels of apocalypse. And I am in good company with Jeremiah if I lament that. And I do.