Paying Attention: Mending Your Heart-Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Kids think they are the first generation to dream up trouble, as if parents were hatched full-grown and have no clue.  But, parents see down the road to the consequences of kids’ actions.  They’ve either been there or lived long enough to see what is coming.  It drives kids crazy the way parents are always predicting bad things are going to happen.  My mom would say: “That glass is going to get knocked off the counter if you sit it too close to the edge.”  Or, “You are going to have an accident if you keep following that car too close.”  What bugged me, she was usually right.  “You’ll be sorry”, she’d say.  I usually was and then she was too.  Parents can’t avoid feeling heart broken when a child is hurt.

Laws are meant to guide us to freedom.  Yet, we act recklessly with them; thinking they restrict our freedom to have fun.  Our wild ways are not more amusing because they are risky.  Our unruliness just makes us more foolish.  Yet, when our carelessness with rules and law causes us troubles because we ignored it, we crazily think we should not have to suffer the consequences of our actions.  We want freedom to break the rules and then for bad things not to happen though we abused our freedom.  This is the surest and straightest path to broken heart for both heaven and earth.

God adopted Israel before she was Israel.  God took in a poor slave people who lived in Egypt, who had no chance of being a world power.  God rescued them out of Pharaoh’s hand, gave them the law to live by, and delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Once they became a nation, Israel begins to model herself after her neighbors; worshipping their gods, rather than model an alternative relationship with the Living God for their neighbors.  Jeremiah expresses this divine hurt.  “Why have my people provoked me to anger with their images and foreign gods?”  They forgot the ancient wisdom that springs forth from Longhorn land: “You got to dance with the one that brung you”.

They ran after these gods; assuming the 1st commandment didn’t apply.  Their lament expresses astonishment God did not protect them from their enemies.  They cry: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved”.  They feel the heat of Babylon’s new ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, in whose image Saddam modeled his reign of terror, ready to march on Jerusalem and take them captive.  They thought they could worship other Gods, and God would be there for them.  They did not get it.

Jeremiah’s words demonstrate God has feelings.  It’s hard to know who is speaking when it says, “My joy is gone; grief is upon me, my heart is sick.”  Whose heart is sick, Jeremiah’s or God’s?  Maybe the point is we don’t know, because we are supposed to feel in the prophet’s agony what God is feeling.  God has wayward children and is a wounded parent.  The prophet gives us a clear vision of God’s heart in one of the most startling rushes of poetic verse in the Bible: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.”  God’s heart is broken by their brokenness.

Our living God runs the same gamut of emotions as any human.  This is why a relationship with God is like all love relationships: “If it’s easy, it’s sleazy”.  A real relationship with a real God has real feelings.  Jeremiah is pointed in describing how God feels about their pursuit of other gods; it’s an affront to the God in whose image they were made.

We prefer gods of our own making.  We delude ourselves into thinking they will always be there for us.  They’re products of our own creation and have no capacity to act for or against us.  They are projections of our desires; they cannot give life; they take life away as they draw us from a Living God.  We think idolatry is ancient because we do not pay homage to graven images before brewing our Starbucks.  Yet, anything God has made can be turned into a false god that can enslave and take control and rob us of divine joy.  None of us are immune from the worship of other gods.

Pay attention to the gods of your own making which break God’s heart and ours.  The god of the pulpit is the god of making all happy.  An unhealthy pastor bends backwards; making sure they don’t ask too much of anyone.  We want to be liked so people will attend and give.  Then, we build bigger buildings and everyone will see how God is blessing.  This is an exhausting god.  Even if we make everyone happy with our buildings, budgets and baptisms; the followers of the pastor who tries to make everyone happy will never know the satisfying joy of a real relationship with a living God.  They will forever long for more buildings, budgets and baptisms to keep them happy and their pastor will be tired.

The god of the pew is the god of success with sacrifice.  American Idol illustrates this idolatry; making stars out of unknown people.  If performers make it past Simon, who has made millions being rude; handlers reshape them into the image of American idols.  Clay Aiken, the patron saint of this God, lost by a slim margin to R&B artist Ruben Studdard in Idol’s second season.  He was made over; including a new ’do to cover his oversized ears.  He was not able to break loose from this cultural god till he wrote a book: Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life.  His book ignored Idol’s influence as he spoke of the influence of others in his life, including his faith.  The god of success over sacrifice thrives among America’s low culture and wants celebrities not artists.  Disciples who offer self for the sake of success will miss the sacrificial love of a living God experienced by offering self in sacrificial love for others.

Pay attention to the remedies that mend broken hearts.  There are times hearts are broken by necessary losses, which we all know.  These are required and mature us over the passage of time.  There are other times our hearts are broken by losses we bring upon ourselves.  Life gets out of control, our heart loses its connection to God’s heart; feeling God’s absence more than God’s presence.  We seek balms to heal our broken heart; wondering whether our hearts can ever be mended.  Whether our losses are necessary or self-induced God has provided what is needed.

When Jeremiah asks where to go for healing with the odd questions: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” he is making a point.  The balm he references comes from a balsam tree in a mountainous area that produces a medicinal resin used to many cure ills.  These questions are not expressions of concern if help can be found.  These questions mock their self-sufficiency; the people’s attitude they could conjure up resources to fix a problem, heal a disease, and make things right.

There are many things we can handle if we would observe the natural laws of creation.  The “avant garde” movie Tree of Life portrays how creation is governed by law and grace.  For example, if teens would go to school, stay off drugs, stop having children, and delay marriage; many of ills would be healed.  If adults would self-regulate, exercise self-discipline, and put others first; things would be different.  We refuse to listen to built-in warnings because we are still are denying our hearts need to be healed.

Our most enduring problems are spiritual.  We must pay attention to the remedies heaven offers for our broken hearts.  Our God offers forgiveness all the ways we have remade the Living God in our own image.  God offers healing for all the ways it has broken our hearts.   God offers reconciliation for all those relationships damaged by our wandering ways.  God offers redemption for consequences we thought irreversible.  God’s grace may be resistible, but the persistence of God’s grace endures from generation to generation offering remedies for our sin sick and broken hearts.

God didn’t suffer apart from us.  God came to suffer with and for us.  The good news the African slaves sang: “There’s a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.  There’s a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”  That balm isn’t a salve drawn from a balsam tree that cures from the outside in.  That balm comes from a Savior who hung on a tree; curing from the inside out.  Pay attention to your broken ways.  Be honest with yourself about your brokenness and with God who provides the balms needed to mend your heart.  Your broken heart can be mended and joined again to God.

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