Paying Attention: Conveying Your Passion-Jeremiah 4: 5-8, 14-28

There are fictional villains: Captain Nemo, Professor Moriarty, Lex Luther, Dr. No, and Darth Vader.  Then there is evil personified: Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Milošević and this week Anders Behring Breivik, who says his actions were “atrocious but necessary”.  These are rotten characters who are brilliant, but skilled at hurting others.  When God files a complaint against Israel in v. 22, says, “They are all skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”  He’s not speaking of a few evil geniuses among the people.  All God’s people were skilled at doing wrong.

In the late 7th century B.C., The northern half of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians; but the southern kingdom, Judah, escaped by becoming an Assyrian satellite.  Judah never learned her spiritual lessons from political troubles; she constantly turned to idols.  God’s judgment arrived in the form of a fully revived and powerful Babylonian empire under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar.  The “scorching wind” in v. 11 Jeremiah speaks of is the divine judgment.  In verse 18 God says, “Your own (ways) conduct and (doings) actions have brought this on you.

It’s easy to distance from ancient Judah just as we distance from super villains.  Judah’s punishment 2,700 years ago seems no more relevant to us than is 007’s strangling of Goldfinger or Batman’s defeat of the Joker.  We are glad to see consequences for those evildoers; so we easily pin the blame on a few grandiose idiots.  That is not what good people do.  God pins the blame for Judah’s judgment in v. 22, when he says:“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.”  It’s not just a few evil idiots that caused their trouble.  It says all of them together are “skilled in doing evil.”  Jeremiah asks them to face the reality every person was good at doing bad.

It is so easy to dismiss the problems of our economy on a politician’s self serving way or the greed of some evil Wall Street investment banker.  We are also to blame and responsible for our national deficit.  We utter our cut spending demands unless it effects what Big Brother owes me.  We justify our credit seeking culture despite outrageous usury practices that gave us 20% interest and second liens for things we really don’t need.  We are good at bad.  This is why we should examine our expressions at wrong in the world evil by paying attention first in how we convey our passions.

Our call may take us to the risky arena of conflict.  We may be in a position to be ridiculed by people who will not like what we have to say.  Yet, we are not to sit aloft, watching with apathy, rooted in an uncaring indifference, as if the world is a stage.  This leaves evil within us and without us unchecked in the world.  This is our only life and it is a full blown scrimmage.  Sometimes we will be called to express our passion in a heated situation.

The prophet Jeremiah says God gets angry at the people.  It says, “The fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us”.  Since we’re created in the image of God, it must be okay to be angry.  Holy angry should boil up at a man who shoots his ex-wife while two their children are in the back seat; otherwise something is spiritually wrong.  Passions are to be conveyed in a healthy manner; so others can know we care about them and we are willing to take action because it is right and we want the best for others.  In answering the call of God, we will need to pay attention how we convey our passion, so it is consistent to God’s call in our lives.

Jeremiah saw a people who thought they were invulnerable, since God was on their side.  They thought nothing could happen to them no matter how they lived.  They thought their “chosenness” meant God was locked into protecting them against their enemies.  He reminds them they were chosen for a special mission; to reflect the character of God as they bore a light to the nations.  They were to demonstrate God’s desire for a creation where everyone is valued, the vulnerable are treasured; and love of neighbor is a spiritual duty.  God’s missional people started to act like the other nations and not like ambassadors of God to the nations; God’s wrath was kindled, and Jeremiah spoke of God’s anger.

God doesn’t act out of rage; moving directly from anger to action to mete out a form of divine punishment to prove divine authority.  God inspires a prophet to feel the very heart of God and to speak the words of God from the heart.  This is why it is hard to tell who is speaking when we read, “My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!  Oh, the walls of my heart!  My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent tell.  Is it God or Jeremiah’s voice?  I think both; God and Jeremiah are both speaking.  Jeremiahs feels a deep sadness as he speaks these weeping words about Judah’s evil.  Jeremiah’s heart is crushed for what’s happening to his people.  Jeremiah walks in the shoes of his people while walking with God as he conveys the heart of God for the way they have shipwrecked their lives and world.

We inside the church are not any better in expressing our anger than those outside the church.  I am aware how little anguish I feel in my anger.  Anguish comes from the same root word as anger, meaning grief or sorrow.  Often, anger is a condition that ignores my heart allowing my tongue to work faster than the mind.  We’re to be careful so we don’t move directly from anger to action.  We must pass our anger through anguish before moving to action to reflect the ways of God.  We respond to evil with the heart of God by still feeling the pain of the entire situation.

Would-be prophets rush to speak of God’s judgment; claiming destruction for some named sin.  Some tell us God is judging our capitalist system for oppressing third-world peoples in the interest of preserving our way of life; while others will announce the blessings of God are withheld because we don’t pray in schools.  Some are quick to justify going to war; while others mystifyingly seem to justify the actions of those who threaten our freedom.  I am struck by how people claim to know the mind of God with such clarity.

Jeremiah avoids rash personal judgment regarding God’s holy judgment.  He is caught in the anguish of the words he speaks, rather than the anger they convey.  He understands his passion will not be conveyed, if he speaks too quickly from a lofty position rather than suffer the weight of the tragedy.  So he discharges God’s woeful errand; filled with a blazing passion to impassion the people with understanding for God.  Prophets understand the purpose of a prophet is not to be inspired, but to inspire the people back into a relationship with the living God.  So we convey the passion of our call with a heavy heart for the needs of those we serve.  That same passion bubbles up from a soul full of redemptive love for those to whom our prophetic mission is directed.  To do so we must pay close attention to our hearts as we convey our passions.

Remember when Jesus kneeled down in the dirt with a woman who was about to be stoned for her sin by religious leaders.  Jesus is angry, but he sympathizes with accuser and accused.  He wrote in the dust for what must have seemed like an eternity.  He hesitated; refusing to give the crowds what they might have wanted.  He did not fix an interpretation or pronounce others fate.  He allowed for a moment, so people might have time to see themselves differently.  When he finally spoke, he said, “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone”.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 7:19 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks Pastor Russell for your sermon on anger this morning. I love to read your blog afterwards and rewind in my mind the things I missed the first time. It also helps me to read your sermon.
    Glad Terri and family made it ok.
    Have a blessed week.

  2. Pastor Russell,
    Sorry I had to miss another sermon. I had to leave to help with Children’s Church today. I appreciate that you post your sermons. Have a wonderful evening!


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