9/21/2021 11:29:29 AM
A View from a Pit
Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, September 19, 2021
Do you sometimes feel like these are dark days that we’re living in? Jeremiah would certainly understand. If we do a quick comparison of our situation and his, we’d find that his days were probably darker than ours (not that it is a competition anyone wants to win); there is a good reason why Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet.” When God first called Jeremiah, God warned the young man that his ministry would be characterized by the daunting task of calling God’s people to repentance for abandoning God…and not just his fellow countrymen, but the people in power: kings, officials, priests—in other words, the kind of people who could make life extremely difficult for a young man like Jeremiah.
And today we have one example of that, in Jeremiah chapter 38. We might note that in chapter 37, right before this one, Jeremiah had been thrown in prison for a while. On what charge, we might wonder? Proclaiming a message of bad news: the Babylonians, who had already threatened Jerusalem a number of times, were going to come back, capture the city and burn it down. When Jeremiah temporarily left the city, they accused him of desertion, beat him up, and then locked him up in a dungeon. If any of us had gone through all that, we’d certainly be tempted to get as far away as we could from this corrupted city. But not Jeremiah. He gets right back to his task of telling the people what God told him.
2 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life; he will live.’ 3 And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’ ”
Now, maybe it’s not all that difficult for us to evaluate God’s message here and the reason he wanted Jeremiah to tell everyone. Yes, the Babylonian army is coming, and they are going to be victorious…but anyone who listens is going to escape the destruction that comes when they conquer the city. What God really wanted the whole time was a people who would listen to him, trust in him, and then be redeemed by him in the end. But the leaders didn’t see things the same way. They were so proud that they thought they still had a chance with their own solutions, and so they basically accuse Jeremiah of treason.
4 Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”
King Zedekiah doesn’t object at all…6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
It's nowhere near as exciting as a lion’s den or a fiery furnace; maybe that’s why this account isn’t nearly as familiar to us as the other two. But even though in theory, it is much less lethal at first, I don’t think any of us would be comfortable there. We’re not told exactly how long he was down there but try to imagine Jeremiah’s mindset as he has plenty of time to think, staring up at the opening. Try to imagine his inner conversation, because there is no one else to talk to… “Is this where I am going to die? How long will it take? Am I going to starve eventually, or die of thirst…or drown the first time it rains and the pit fills up?” And then perhaps the big nagging question: “Was it all worth it?”
It’s a question we might ask ourselves from time to time, in those situations where we have our own view from a dark pit. Thankfully it isn’t a literal cistern like Jeremiah was thrown into, but anyone who lets their light shine in a dark world is going to meet heavy resistance from time to time. Our suffering might simply be that people don’t listen to our genuine concern for their well-being. Or it may be that they do listen, and actively reject or suppress us in some way. It could be mocking or ridicule, it could be losing a job, it could be losing a friend, in another time or place it could mean losing our freedom or even our lives. If you’ve gone through any of those situations, you’ve probably asked the same question that we imagine Jeremiah asked: ”Is it all worth it?” If you haven’t been there yet, maybe it’s you’re anticipating the possibilities of suffering and those worries are keeping you from being more vocal about sharing your faith with people around you.
Is it worth it? Well, ... Is what worth it? If our lives are all about us, then the temptation is to avoid suffering at all costs. If I can skate through without ruffling any feathers, if I can just fly under the radar, if I can just go with the flow of society, I’ll be fine. It’s easier that way. And especially as Christians, we already know what we need to know to get to heaven (right?), so let’s enjoy life while we can and then enjoy eternity forever. If that’s where we settle, then is it worth it? I suppose it isn’t.
Is that how Jeremiah lived? Is that how Peter urged us to live in our second reading? Is that how Jesus said it would go for his disciples in our gospel reading for today? Of course, in all three cases, the answer is a resounding no. Jesus even said that just as he needed a cross to complete his mission, so do we. He calls upon everyone who follows him to be willing to lose our lives for him and for the gospel. Once more, if our lives are all about us, then that doesn’t make any sense.
God, forgive us for so many times that our lives have been all about us. God, forgive us for all the times when we didn’t have the confidence that he could work through us just as well as he worked through Jeremiah or the disciples of Jesus. God, forgive us for all the times when we forget that the only reason we have the confidence of heaven is because God worked in our lives through others who baptized us, who taught us, who preached to us throughout the years so that we would know that Jesus put us before himself as he went boldly to the cross, bearing our sins, taking our punishment, suffering God’s righteous wrath on our behalf, all because to him, you and I were worth every moment of rejection and suffering; he considered each of us worth dying for. What he wanted more than anything else was to spend eternity with us, and so the suffering was worth it. And that’s the message that we are privileged to share with the people God has called us to serve.
In the very next chapter, Jerusalem falls to Babylon after a long, brutal siege—just like God warned of famine and plague through Jeremiah. Did anyone listen? How many lives were spared because people listened to the truth that the prophet proclaimed? We’ll never know. Jeremiah may have never known. Just like we may never know how God works through the message of Jesus that we proclaim. But just like Jeremiah, we can have complete confidence that God’s Word is true and he will work through it as we share it.
Just think of how much ground we could cover if we all took part. Just think if we had the courage to talk about how much we love Jesus in the same way we care so much about our favorite sports teams or other hobbies. Just think if people knew our stance on the gospel as much as they know our stance on politics or vaccines. Just think if we spent as much time in the Bible as we do on social media platforms. Would any of those involve some sacrifices on our part? It’s certainly possible. Are souls worth it? Absolutely. The good news that we have is worth more than anything else we have. It’s worth more than anything else we can share.
Again, this time at least, Jeremiah was eventually rescued from the pit. But in God’s plan, it was good for him to have that time of reflection, and it is good for us to do the same every now and then. Let’s all remember that the price we might pay for sharing God’s word will never measure up to the price Jesus paid for us. Let’s also consider the price others might pay if we don’t share the gospel with them. Let’s consider it a blessed privilege to bear the name of Jesus, even if it involves suffering for him and for the gospel. Let’s consider it our highest honor that God would use sinful people like us to share his message of forgiveness, and let’s support one another as we look forward to the time when Jesus will come and rescue us from the pit of this world; with God’s blessings on our work, he’ll use us to lift up others with us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.