First Mennonite Church
October 11, 2015
The Breaking Point
Text: Jeremiah 20:7-18
Have you experienced the frustration or pain of being misinterpreted, or when your good intentions was taken the wrong way?
Once, I was riding in a crowded bus in Central America. It was one of those school buses used for public transportation there. I was sitting on the end of the seat close to the center aisle. Along the way a man and his son boarded the bus. Both the boy and his dad looked as if they were wearing their working clothes, sort of shaggy and dirty. When the little boy and his dad boarded the bus, there was no empty seat for them. The man went farther down the aisle of the bus but the boy stood on the aisle by where I was sitting. So, I scooted in to give him some space to sit on. In my desire to make more space for the young boy to sit down I sort of tried to minimize myself. Then I heard the rough voice of a man talking to the boy. “It seems you are worth nothing or maybe your friend here thinks he is too good to even touch you,” he said. What he said was loud enough to be heard by many around me. And my intention was only to make more space for the boy to sit better, not to avoid touching him.
There can be many other reasons for frustration. Have you had the experience where your best was not good enough? Imagine how the loving parents of a teenager feel when they are told their child is not doing well at school or is being disrespectful to his teachers?
How about that time when you felt fairly confident you were going to get that job just to find out later that somebody else got it?
Discouragement and disappointment hit everyone occasionally in life. If someone says he or she has never felt discouraged before or experienced disappointment at some point in his or her life, we’d wonder if that person is telling the truth. Having said that, I can tell you I have felt discouraged more than once. When I did something and it did not give the intended results or when I had wanted to do something and it did not go beyond the attempt. It is natural to feel discouraged or disappointed when our plans do not work out or when the expected result do not pan out.
The passage for today shows how deep of a pit Jeremiah felt he was in and it was not of his own choosing to be there. He felt God had played a devious trick on him. Jeremiah felt betrayed and abandoned by God who had promised no one would prevail against Jeremiah. God promised he was going to stand up for Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8, 19). In this passage Jeremiah lamented in prayer before God how he felt: deceived and powerless. Yet, to get a clearer picture of the situation, I will be useful to step back a little.
In the last two verses of Jeremiah 19, the prophet found himself in the temple court and there he proclaimed a short message to those present. Jeremiah’s message was: God will bring disaster upon this city and all the towns around because you have remained a rebellious people. This message certainly did not sit well with the chief security officer of the temple. Pashhur arrested Jeremiah and put him in the stock all night. In the morning, Pashhur released his prisoner. Jeremiah instead of fleeing as fast as he could, after his release, he turned around and addressed Pashhur. Jeremiah gave a Pashhur an even grimmer message in more detailed. Jeremiah told Pashhur that the Lord had changed his name to “Terror-all-around,” because terror was coming not only to the city but to Pashhur as well.
It was after Jeremiah had conveyed that message of judgment, his arrest, and his release from prison that he finally broke before God. The prayer of lament we have for our passage today is the last recorded lament of Jeremiah in his book. It seemed that Jeremiah had come to the “end of his rope.” Jeremiah had seen it all. All he had received so far for obeying God was derision, mockery, and rejection. His pain has not only been spiritual and emotional but also physical. The work God had called him to do had proven much more difficult than Jeremiah had anticipated. But what was worse in Jeremiah’s view, was that God had not come in his defense. God had been a no-show contrary to what he had promised. And Jeremiah felt his life had reached the bottom of the pit and the only thing left to be done was to cover the pit with dirt and be buried alive. In verses 14-18, Jeremiah expresses his deep sense of despair in which he felt that non-existence and non-living were better alternatives to his misery. Jeremiah wished he had never been born. He wished his mother’s womb were an extension of the grave. In his excruciating pain and pit-like despair, Jeremiah even cursed the innocent man who announced of Jeremiah’s birth to his dad. In Jeremiah’s darkest hour, his birth was the beginning of his curse and not the occasion of sublime joy.
Jeremiah’s lament was that God had deceived him and that God had overpowered him. He was both confused and helpless. His life had been nothing but misery and shame. Every time Jeremiah opened his mouth in obedience to God’s command, he had to prepare himself for the pain and rejection that would follow. His message had never been a welcomed message. Fatigue and despair had followed his preaching. Jeremiah felt he could go no more. He wanted to shut up his mouth. Jeremiah wished he could remain silent thus avoid all the trouble. Verse 9 says,
But 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 can you do when silence is not an option, even if it brings pain? The prophets of God cannot stay silent. The word of God has difficulty finding good soil or willing ears to listen. Sometimes, it is better to speak soothing words than the words of God. Yet, fire will burn the heart of the prophet if he or she remains silent.
Jeremiah chapter 20 can teach three basic lessons about our faith journey. It can teach us how to pray when we feel discouraged, disappointed, and even when we feel as if God is not there for us when we need him the must. This passage is also a powerful reminder about the authenticity of our commitment with God and his word. Do we shrink back when our faith is tried by fire? Do we prefer to remain silent in order to avoid trouble? Jeremiah chapter 20 can also be a warning against the idea that following Jesus is a rosy journey of only joy and happiness. Many times I have heard preachers say, “Come to Jesus and all your troubles will be gone.” Jeremiah 20 reminds us that obeying God and being his mouthpiece will not always be easy or without pain. Speaking the word of God will on occasions make enemies. Not everyone will welcome our message.
Let me close with a word about prayer of lament. Prayer as we know is the most intimate way to relate to God. Intimacy in any relationship can only be possible when there are two basic elements: trust and commitment. If you are married or have been married, you can understand the comparison more fully, but it is also true about our relationship with God. When we trust God we can talk with God in prayer about anything without feeling that we are out of bounds. There is nothing we cannot say. There is nothing that will shock God. Jeremiah trusted God. Therefore his complaint and lament before God was not out of bounds. Jeremiah trusted the Lord to the point that he could even accuse God as having deceived him. Jeremiah was confident that God would not be shock if he would “spill out his guts” before him. Jeremiah trusted that no matter how raw his emotions were or how of little faith his cry would sound, God’s grace was far greater than Jeremiah’s misery and disappointment. We can learn from Jeremiah’s prayer of lament that it is only the person who truly believes that God can and will indeed come to the rescue the one who can speak so honestly and fearlessly before God.
Yahweh was committed not only to Jeremiah, but to his people. God made a covenant with Israel and also with Jeremiah. God had said to Jeremiah, “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord (Jer. 1:17-19). Jeremiah trusted these words because they came from the mouth of the Lord. And grounded on this trust, Jeremiah found strength not only to confront God but also to fall before God in worship and praise.
12 Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.
The Lord also knows our heart. He probes our heart and mind and we can rest assured he will be there for us. We should praise the Lord when we experience joy, but we can also lament before the Lord if we feel sad, broken or disappointed. We can cry out our eyes if we need to cry. It does not matter how we feel, but let us make every prayer an honest prayer before the Lord. When we pray with an honest heart, we can rest assured that God will stand by our side like he stood with Jeremiah. Amen!