Guys, stop doing the things

Sermon from November 23, 2014  Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

This won the internet for me this week – it’s a summary of the Bible, called TL;DR – Too Long, Didn’t Read:

Click here to read it. (It will help make sense of the rest of the sermon as well as the title of this post too.)

10683641_10203362944294409_3613598912435667985_o-2So Jeremiah is a young prophet called to tell the people what God wants for them and for the world. And it ultimately results in him saying to the people, “stop doing the things!”

The world Jeremiah is speaking into is one enduring a regime change. Last week, the Assyrians were laying waste to the land, toppling old regimes. This week, we’ve advanced a few more generations and now the Babylonians are toppling kingdoms. Jeremiah is just a kid, although God doesn’t accept it as a reasonable excuse not to be a prophet. Throughout his life, Jeremiah is abandoned by his family, his friends, and is thought to be insane by all the folks around Jerusalem. It’s a tough thing to be a prophet – he was right to protest.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah is speaking to the insiders about how they treat the outsiders. He launches into this sermon, called the Temple Sermon, after his beautiful call by God at the beginning of the chapter – before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And this beautiful exchange, this call from God to Jeremiah, leads Jeremiah to give the people the what for. In their own place of worship, the place they feel safe and, perhaps, immune to sin and immune to doing much of anything at all for anyone but themselves.

He bursts their holier-than-thou bubble with these words from God: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” Or, in other words, simply being in a garage doesn’t make you a car just as going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. (Or, in their time, going to temple doesn’t make you a Jew.)

And he goes on to use these 2 words that always terrify me when I find them together in scripture: IF and THEN.

IfThenFor IF you truly amend your ways and your doings, IF you truly act justly one with another, IF you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and IF you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, THEN I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. 

IF you eat your dinner, THEN you can have a cookie.

IF you don’t have a meltdown in Target, THEN you can have a toy.

IF you study, THEN you’ll get into a good college.

We know this world, right? We know this black and white “this is the way the world works” stuff, right? IF and THEN is our reality. It’s terrifying to hear it communicated as God’s word. The very same God who knew us before we were formed. If we do this, only then will you love us?

And God wants us to stop hurting ourselves. God wants us to stop hurting others. God wants us to stop doing the things. To act like the one God knew before we were even formed. To act like the one God has called us to be in this world.

As many of you know, especially this week, our country is deep into this immigration debate, about how to handle 11 million undocumented immigrants. And I know some of us are pleased with the actions the president has taken and some of us can’t even stomach it. But regardless of what side we are on or what we think about the president’s decision, I think both sides are asking the wrong question. I don’t think the first question should be what is best for our country. The question shouldn’t be what’s practical and easiest. The question shouldn’t be whether they are taking our jobs and getting a free ride on American tax dollars. The first question we should be asking comes straight from Jeremiah: are we oppressing the alien, the orphan, and the widow? Are we shedding innocent blood? Are we seeking God’s justice? Are we serving God with a capital G and not the god of politics or greed? Our faith would have us go so much farther than President Obama did. Our faith demands that we ask the questions that concern love and life for the other. For the stranger.

One of my friends spent a week or so in El Salvador with ministry partners there and posted this heart breaker of a status update on Facebook:

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The God who knew us before he formed us weeps with our brokenness and dwells with us in the midst of the mess we’ve made doing all the things.

hands connectedSo God continues to form and call people to do justice, to look out for the most vulnerable all around us, to not cause harm to others, and to love God. And while you may nervously be looking around you for the next Jeremiah, stop looking. It’s you. God has called you to do these things. You, who God knew before God formed you.

To sit with the outcast, the unpopular kid in the lunchroom. Yes you. You sit with that kid.

To reach out to the prickly co-worker who seems to do you harm. Yes you.

To rely on God instead of on your own strength or your smart phone or your stubbornness. Yes you – let it go.

To demand reform for people trying to eat and live. Yes you –you’re called to do that.

Joe Rettmann, who is about to be baptized – this is what you’re being called into little dude. You’re being called into the body of Christ. And, being part of the body of Christ means we are propelled into the world to be light – Christ’s light – to all people. It’s really hard and, as you can see, we continue to do all the things that hurt each other. We’re glad to welcome you to it, Joe. We need you, another one who God knew before he formed, and now claims you in this water!

And thank you, God, for this baptism today. Because it washes away the IF and THEN. We cannot earn God’s love. Certainly, we live lives in response to all that God has given us. Certainly we are called to do hard things because God loves us and claims us. This water reminds us that God claims us and forgives us again and again. This water drowns the very thing that seeks to hurt others. This water drowns our sin and calls us into new life. Not because we’ve earned it but because God knew us before God formed us and God claims us, no ifs or thens about it.

Thanks be to God.