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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Quitman, Mississippi
January 22, 2012
(Third Sunday after Epiphany)

Topic: “Where is the Word of the Lord?” (Jeremiah 17:15)

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 17:14-18 (NRS Version)

14 Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise.
15 See how they say to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!
16 But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service, nor have I desired the fatal day. You know what came from my lips; it was before your face.
17 Do not become a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster;
18 Let my persecutors be shamed, but do not let me be shamed; let them be dismayed, but do not let me be dismayed; bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction!

Think about 40 years ago–1972.

I was in high school. I was looking forward to graduating in May of that year. And I did graduate (summa cum “barely”). And then I had started dating, and she came over for my graduation that year. Two years later I went to hers.

What were YOU doing 40 years ago? Think about how long ago 40 years is.

Jeremiah is a prophet after my own heart. He was never afraid to ask hard questions even if those questions were directed toward God. The questions that he asked were not trivial questions. They were well thought-out questions that went right at the heart of Israel: Israel’s faith, Israel’s existence, his state and his existence. Some of the questions Jeremiah asks are questions that I ask — even ask God sometimes.

You probably have heard me say that I believe it’s OK to ask questions. That’s how we learn anything. That’s how all the sciences get advanced, because people would ask questions and then search for right answers. Any of the great discoveries came because someone asked, “Why?” Even great steps in the church have come because of questions. Martin Luther asked, “why” and when he didn’t get an answer he posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. Great theological understanding has come because someone asked, “why.”

Jeremiah began his ministry around 625 BC. Jerusalem didn’t fall until 588 and 587 BC. Jeremiah struggles to remain faithful to God during that 40 year period. He struggles to remain faithful to his calling as a prophet and his calling as a human being. He’s often lonely because of the message that he has, one given by God. That message is very unpopular. At times he seems frustrated, but God has given him this message and now it seems like God is not answering him.

For around 40 years Jeremiah preaches this same message and for 40 years it is as though God is not living up to His end of the bargain. I’ll bet you’ve gotten frustrated sometimes. I know I have. You may pray for something and it seems like there’s no response. You may make a request of God and you’re met by silence. You confess that God has all power and knows what we need even before we ask for it, and nothing…it’s frustrating. I know it’s frustrating for me. But there is a lesson that Jeremiah teaches.

Remember I said that he [Jeremiah] delivered his message for 40 years, and in the end God did fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy, but 40 years later. You and I have become creatures of impulse. We want it, and we want it NOW. We don’t want to wait for it.

The second computer I had was “fast.” I could go into the office in the morning, turn it on, go into the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee, sit down and read the paper. I could get a cup of coffee and drink that cup of coffee while I finished the paper, get up, get another cup of coffee, go back in the office and it [the computer] would ALMOST be through loading the operating system. Now you say, how is that “fast?” Well, compared to the first computer I had, that was fast. Now I go in and I turn my computer on and if it doesn’t come up in just an instant, I’m complaining: “Oh come on!”

And its not just in the electronics world that we’re that way. We’re just an impatient people. In 1971 I worked in a grocery store after school. And in that grocery store at that time there was very little ready-to-eat food. Oh, there were “beanie weenies” [and] there were “TV dinners,” but the salsbury steak really tasted like cardboard with gravy on it…but now you go in the grocery store and they are loaded with packages of ingredients that all you have to do is add water, and in some cases you don’t even have to add water. Just pop it in the microwave [and] a few minutes later take it out and you’re ready to eat.

[For] 40 years Jeremiah repeated his prophecy. [For] 40 years he preached it. [For] 40 years Jeremiah waited. So the first lesson that we gain from Jeremiah today is this: God’s time and my time do not necessarily coincide. The Psalmist reminds us of that when he wrote, “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” And Peter said almost the same thing: “…but do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”

The Lord is not slow about His promise as some think of slowness, but is patient with you. Not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. In His time God will do what God has promised.

I don’t know about you, but personally I’m very happy that God doesn’t do things instantaneously. This world, I’m afraid, would be more like a bug zapper–one of those electric bug zappers. I can hear it now: “Oops. You sinned. zzzitt!” “You lied. zzzitt!” “Ohhh you broke one of BIG TEN. zzzitt!” I don’t know about you but I’m glad that God doesn’t act instantaneously [like that bug zapper]. And Peter told us in the text I read from 2 Peter why God doesn’t act instantaneously. He said, “…not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Somewhere along the way Jeremiah must have come to the realization that God was not just not acting on His promise, but that he was acting like a parent who loves a child, wanting to give that child one more opportunity, one more chance. 40 years is a long time to preach a message of “Repent or God will judge,” and it seems as though God is not judging. People are still following false gods, still sinning, still rebelling, but Jeremiah preaches on. Like so many of God’s prophets before him and after him, Jeremiah was not a popular person. His message of doom and gloom grated on the nerves of those who had to listen to it day after day, week after week, year after year. I’m sure along the way somebody said: “Jeremiah, get off of it!” “Jeremiah, try something else. That isn’t working for you!”

Not only was it [Jeremiah’s message] not popular to the masses in Israel but it was not popular with the leaders of Israel, either. They tried and tried to put him out of their misery, only to be stymied by God who protects Jeremiah time after time. Most of them are telling the king that Jerusalem would not fall, that Jerusalem would not be overrun by the Babylonians. And as time passes on it seems like they are right. Nothing is happening. There’s no burning, no sacking, no overruning, and yet Jeremiah persists in his preaching. And in the midst of this Jeremiah asks, “Where is the word of the Lord?”

That’s the question Jeremiah asks and it’s the question that you may be asking as well, “Where is the word of the Lord?” You may ask it when it seems as if there is a delay to some answer to a prayer that you have. It may come when it seems as though God is just not there. Where is the word of the Lord?

“Where is the word of the Lord,” we might ask as we look around us and see sinful people who seemingly thrive while good people are punished. Where is the word of the Lord?

In Jeremiah there seems to be no answer and it’s before God that he calls out, “Where is the word of the Lord?”

Where is the word of the Lord in a country that is so concerned with the value of human life and yet aborts babies in their mother’s womb?

Where is the word of the Lord for a country that could feed the whole world but chooses not to feed its own?

Where is the word of the Lord for a country whose economic system is in jeopardy and politicians are only interested in the next election?

Where is the word of the Lord for a country that mocks His name and refuses to acknowledge His sovereignty?

Where is the word of the Lord for a church that conforms to worldly ideas and succumbs to the pressure of other human beings?

Where is the word of the Lord for the church that looks at numbers and statistics instead of people?

Where is the word of the Lord for denominational leadership that wields power with impunity and immunity?

Where is the word of the Lord? Where is the word of the Lord for Christians who call themselves “Christians” but don’t follow Christ?

Where is the word of the Lord? Where is the word of the Lord? I don’t know where it is, but I DO know that God knows. I know that He is not just not answering our prayers, but will act in His time. And I know that in this time of waiting, He is hoping that we’ll turn from our ways, heeding the call of the prophets, heeding the call of Jesus to return to Him.

Where is the word of the Lord? I pray that God is mercifully slow to act.

  

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