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Worship Theme: The Ministry of the Gospel will face opposition
Sermon Theme: Stand Up for What's Right
I don’t want to be an ostrich with my head buried in the sand and no clue what’s going on around me, nor do I want to grab a bullhorn, stand on the corner, and turn people off by blasting my opinions, as if I have all the answers on how to fix what’s wrong in our society and culture and world. I don’t think you want to be or do that either. But we know that what God says in Holy Scripture is right, and then comes times that we want to state in a calm and caring way what God has to say, but we get a little skittish and clam up because we’re pretty sure the politically correct crowd and Tolerance Police are going to get in our face and tell us to zip it and take a hike. How do we handle that?
For one thing, we need to remember that we aren’t the only Christians who have taken flack. Millions of Christians over the years know what that’s like, and I’m not just talking about over the last few years or the last few decades or even the last few centuries. Two thousand six hundred years ago Jeremiah the prophet stood up for what is right and took all kinds of flack. But he learned how to live in a hostile society with confidence and contentment. Would you like to do that? Then pay attention to today’s first reading from Jeremiah chapter twenty, and learn to “Stand Up for What’s Right!” When you do, you will find that …
Frustration can lead to despair
What would you think if I stood here in this pulpit, showed you a very nice antique clay jar, and then proceeded to denounce all the sinfulness in your lives, saying, “God says: Because of your sin I am going to bring on you every disaster imaginable”? Then I would hurl the jar to the floor, smashing it to smithereens, shouting, “God says: I will smash you just as this jar is smashed.” What would you think? A few of you might be muttering under your breath, “Atta boy, pastor! Go get ’em!” But most of you might think it’s time to call the men in white coats to haul me away.
Jeremiah did the clay jar thing, shouting, “This is what the LORD is going to do to Jerusalem!” Smash! A lot of people unfriended him on Facebook, and the big shots who were listening had Jeremiah … beaten and put in the stocks. How often do you think Jeremiah preached like that? How many times do you think he repeated that kind of message? One long sermon? A couple of weekends in a row? A couple of months? No! That’s what Jeremiah sounded like every time he opened his mouth for forty years. This was his whole ministry every day in the temple courts and on the streets of ancient Jerusalem. Yet, the people for their sin did not listen. After a while Jeremiah’s message not only wore on the people, but their failure to listen wore on him. Frustration can lead to despair. You can hear it, can’t you? “You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”
If you ever tried to speak the truth and ran into flack, you know it’s not pleasant. In fact, it can be downright frustrating when people don’t want to listen. That frustration can lead to despair. But you can remain bold and confident as Jeremiah did when you realize as he did that the truth you are speaking is not yours. Stand up for what’s right even though there are times when you will feel frustrated because the message is not yours. It’s God’s!
A focus on God’s Word can lead to danger
Don’t you just love the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on Easter afternoon? I’m sure you remember it. As they were walking along, suddenly the risen Jesus was walking with them although he kept them from recognizing him. He explained that the events which so troubled them, the bloody-cross execution and reports of his coming back to life, were all predicted in the Old Testament and had to happen in order for all the sins of all people to be forgiven. At the end of the day the two looked at each other and said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). That’s the line that sticks in my mind. It reminds me of something Peter and John said later on. When ordered not to speak any more about Jesus, they replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
If a government official visited you and said, “Over the last ten years we have miscalculated your taxes. We owe you ten thousand dollars. Here’s the check,” my guess is that you would tell someone. People who just had their first baby splash the news on every social media platform, text their relatives, and some even snail-mail birth notices. They just have to tell their friends. If a distant aunt passed away and left you two million dollars, you might want to keep that a secret at first, but eventually you couldn’t keep the good news inside.
God’s forgiving love to us is more important and more special than a tax refund, a new baby, and an unbelievably huge inheritance. Why? Because without it I’m stuck, and so are you. Without it I’m caught with my hand in the cookie jar doing something I thought would be OK but realizing too late, “Cut it out! What you did was wrong!” Without it I fall in the pit of self-pity and have a hard time climbing out. But in spite of my failures, in spite of my shame, in spite of knowing that I ought to be whacked eternally, the Lord God does the Emmaus-thing with me, opens up the Scriptures, and proves that I’m still his and headed to heaven. He does that for you, too. Are not our hearts burning within us?
But what if someone you know is in the wrong, has sinned, or is holding on to an error that is obviously contrary to what the Bible says? Would you be eager to speak up? Probably not! Your heart may be burning but not with joy, more like burning with heartburn and maybe a little of the fire of God’s holy anger against sin.
That’s what was gnawing at Jeremiah’s gut. Certainly, he had good news to proclaim. His book contains gorgeous promises of God’s love and forgiveness. But that was not Jeremiah’s primary job. His main mission was to condemn the people for their crookedness and rebellion. God told him to do that. So, Jeremiah focused on God’s Word. When he did, that focus led to personal danger. “I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived. Then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.’” He received death threats. The king stole his sermon scrolls and burned them. He was dumped into a muddy cistern. He was thrown into a dungeon. He was kept under guard. But he stood up for what’s right. “If I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
What is it that makes us afraid to speak up when we see someone in sin or in the wrong? We may be afraid that they will think we are trying to say that we are better than they are. We may be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. But think of the consequences if we don’t speak. Our friend may be endangering his or her relationship with God and in danger of losing heaven. So, stand up for what’s right even if it seems there’s a danger of losing an important relationship. Our relationship with God and their relationship with God are more important.
God’s victory leads to delight
In chapter eleven of the last book of the Bible, God gives us a picture of him channeling his message of mercy to people through Christians. In that picture there are enemies of God’s truth who oppose the message, and it appears that they win the battle and that God’s messengers are defeated and killed. But just when we think that it’s time to give up hope, we are reminded that God can’t die and neither can his church. His messengers are raised to life and stand victorious. Someone once said of the Bible, “I read the book to the end, and we win!”
That is exactly what Jeremiah experienced. If you read his entire book, it looks like he loses. He is kidnaped by cowardly countrymen who fled the attack of Babylon and ran to Egypt. We hear no more about Jeremiah. We assume that he died in Egypt. Did he lose? Not at all! Jeremiah stood up for what’s right. All of what he predicted came true. God’s holy anger against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem came true. Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were deported. But Jeremiah also proclaimed that after seventy years of disciplinary expulsion from the land of promise God would rescue his people and allow them to return home and rebuild the ruins so that his promise of a Savior from that nation would come true. It did … in Jesus. Even though Jeremiah lived six centuries before Christ was born, he was so confident in God’s victory that he could sing for joy. “LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind … to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”
When we feel the flack, can we still sing for joy? When we look at our feeble attempts to stand up for what’s right, when we face our fears, can we rejoice? Yes! I can’t say it any better than the apostle. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer … as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (1 Peter 4:12-14,16).
God does not ask us to be conceited, self-centered, self-possessed, haughty, offensive, rude, or tactless. God simply asks to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Stand up for what’s right, and let God bless in his Word in his way. Amen.
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