| Jeremiah 2:4-13
||Sun, August 30, 1998
Rev. Ed Searcy
|It must have been something to hear Jeremiah preach.
Even after twenty-five hundred years
his sermons still pack a punch.
Jeremiah is more than a preacher ...
he is a poet.
Jeremiah is the master of metaphor.
Witness today's text ...
nine verses from the second chapter of Jeremiah.
At first glance they look like any other text from the Bible:
"Hear the word of the Lord ...
Thus says the Lord".
We're tempted to imagine that we've heard it all before.
But, then, Jeremiah changes everything.
Suddenly the congregation ...
in the Temple perhaps
or in the city gates ...
is no longer at prayer.
They thought they had come to hear a sermon,
to be fed by "The Word of God".
Jeremiah changes all of that
as soon as he opens his mouth.
His are not the words of a preacher
trained in the seminary.
Jeremiah is not preaching ...
he is in court.
Jeremiah is an attorney
acting on behalf of a plaintiff in a civil suit.
And not just any old plaintiff, either.
Jeremiah has been retained by
It doesn't take long for those in the galleries
to figure out what is going on.
They have happened upon a divorce case.
A husband is suing for divorce ...
claiming infidelity and unfaithfulness on the part of his bride.
And just when the plaintiff's lawyer rises
to give his opening speech
an extraordinary event occurs.
The plaintiff - God Almighty -
gets up and gestures for his lawyer - Jeremiah -
to be seated.
It is the plaintiff himself who opens the case in court:
"What wrong did you find in me
that you went far from me
and went after worthless things
and became worthless yourselves?"
Now, if you haven't guessed already
the defendant in the case is Israel.
The very people who hang on Jeremiah's every word.
The people of Israel, who have come to worship God
instead find themselves being sued for divorce by God.
Suddenly their comfortable pew (or chair as the case may be)
has become as uncomfortable
as the seat of the accused at trial.
As the plaintiff's speech begins
you can imagine what the defendant is thinking ...
"went after worthless things ... became worthless myself?
What in heaven's name is he talking about?
We did no such thing.
Just wait until it is our turn to get in a word edgewise.
We'll tell it like it really is.
We did not go after worthless things. Never once.
We only went after what we deserved.
We sought security.
After all, "in God we trust" may be a nice motto
but it won't get you very far in the real world'
Everyone knows that.
So, we hedged our bets.
We beefed up security.
Added a few alarm systems here
and security patrols there.
And, just in case our currency lost value
we invested heavily in Assyrian stocks
and Babylonian futures.
What is all this talk about going after worthless things
and becoming worthless ourselves?
We only wanted what was best for our children.
We only wanted to be happy
and to be free
and to enjoy life.
Is that all worthless?
Wait until it is our turn to speak ...
then we'll tell the judge a thing or two."
But the plaintiff is in full flight ...
"My Lord, they did not bother to look for me.
They forgot about me.
They stopped telling the story of our marriage ...
how I rescued them from slavery
and led them through deserts and pits, drought and darkness ...
We went through hell together.
And what do I get.
Amnesia, that's what.
Suddenly they have no memory of those days.
They have a rather onvenient selective memory.
Here they live in the land I gave them
as if I don't exist.
They act as if my property is theirs to do with as they will.
They don't care.
Even their political and religious leaders
don't seek me out.
All of them run after things do not profit."
"Things that do not profit?" ...
the accused can hardly stand it.
Suddenly they blurt it out:
"Forget to call on the Lord?
What are you talking about?
Where have you been week after week
when we were in Temple
singing hymns and praying prayers
and offering our own hard earned cash to you ...
yes, to you.
And speaking of cash
don't you know what makes the world go round?
Profit, that's what.
A healthy economy.
Without that no amount of praying
and preaching will amount to a hill of beans.
If you want to call that fooling around',
if you want to call that idolatry',
well you are entitled to your opinion
but the verdict is not in yet"
The judge's gavel is pounding ...
"Order, order in the court.
The defendant will remain silent
until the plaintiff has finished speaking."
"There you have it" says the Almighty,
"there's the proof.
Therefore I accuse you
and I accuse your children's children ...
After all, with ancestors like you
they haven't got a hope of knowing me.
You are guilty of breaking your solemn oath.
You have treated our marriage vows as a joke.
You have swapped partners all week long
and then, on the Sabbath day,
you act as if there is nothing wrong.
Look ... look to Cyprus or Kedar ...
Look to any culture on the face of the earth.
Has anyone ever seen any thing like this?
Has any people voluntarily changed gods before?
It doesn't even matter if their gods don't exist ...
They still remain faithful.
But my people have exchanged a marriage with the
Creator of heaven and earth
for things that are of no worth."
Turning to the bystanders in the public gallery
the plaintiff shakes his head in despair:
"Be appalled, O heavens at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate".
The bystanders in this court room
turn out to be the heavens and earth.
The universe is witness to these divorce proceedings
and sits in shocked silence:
"How could God's people
ever have been unfaithful to such a faithful partner?
Did they not realize how lucky they were
to be married to One like this?
How could they have thrown it all away
on such a worthless fling?"
The defendants, though, still sit defiantly erect
still awaiting their turn to speak.
The plaintiff summarises his argument ...
as his legal counsel looks on, still dumbfounded:
I accuse my people of two evils:
one, that they have abandoned me,
the fountain of living water,
that they have dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water."
With that, the plaintiff walks across the court room
finds his chair and sits down.
All eyes turn to the defendants.
The defendants who have been so eager
to rise to their own defence.
But they do not move.
They do not speak.
Instead they begin to weep.
The court room is silent
except for the sound of their sobs.
It is something about the closing words
of the plaintiff
that finally breaks through their defences:
"they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water."
They have no answer to this accusation.
Because it is true.
It is so obviously true.
It may not be true to anyone else in the court room
but Israel knows it is true.
Inside, they are dried up ...
withered ... parched.
Lord knows they try to store
whatever blessings that shower on them from heaven.
They build sanctuaries and liturgies,
congregations and denominations ...
and for awhile it seems as though each one will hold
the living water.
But slowly, ever so slowly
they realize that each cistern that they build
is cracked ... flawed ... leaky.
Eventually each holy vessel,
no matter how carefully constructed,
Some make cisterns for themselves.
They make their own individual life
into a private holding tank.
Into it they pour prayers
and bible passages,
and sacrificial gifts.
Surely such a holy life will never run dry.
Or so they imagine.
But now the tears running down their cheeks
feel like the last few drops of water
seeping through the cracks.
Others seek living water
in bottled spirits,
in climbing ladders,
in building empires.
Now not one of them speaks.
What can they say in their own defence?
The accusations are true.
The evidence is in plain view.
Why else are they running after each new spirituality'
with its promise of life giving water?
And why is their land so void of truth and justice ...
so desperate for love of neighbour?
The truth is
they have long since given up drinking
from the fountain of living water ...
the source that bubbles up freely for every thirsty soul
who cares to drink it.
They have long since chosen instead
to raise up generations of children
who are taught to believe that survival depends upon
producing and consuming cisterns of all shapes and sizes.
God's own people
must always depend for their survival
on the grace of God alone.
This is the first and primary thing ...
the central reality around which all of life is to be lived:
Life is the gift of God.
The earth belongs to God.
We live when we place our trust in God
whose grace never runs dry never,
whose love never ends.
"Ah", you say, "but what about that angry rejected lover
we just witnessed in the court room?
The one who sat his lawyer down
and then raged at his unfaithful partner?
Do you call that love?"
Slowly the defendants wipe their eyes
and raise their heads.
They stand ...
at last ready to speak:
"Yes", they say in one voice,
"yes ... we call that love."