Summary: What to do when your life gets "put on hold."
Lessons From the Back Shelf
(What to do when life gets put on hold)
Jeremiah 32-33 December 31, 2000
Back shelf events ¡V now there¡¦s an oxymoron. The words just don¡¦t fit together. The back shelf is where you go to rot. There are no events. It¡¦s where you¡¦re put when the world is done with you, like a seldom-needed roasting pan, or a set of Christmas lights with one bulb out. You never work quite right, so you get put on the top shelf, way in the back. The back shelf!
Here we are on the brink of a New Year ¡V it¡¦s the end of this old one. It is quite natural to look back over the last year. We evaluate, revel in the good things; we reminisce, sometimes torture ourselves over the bad. We look at our waistlines after the holidays and make resolutions (in some cases, revolutions!).
But, what if you look back and there is nothing? What if you look back, and contrary to the calendar, all you can see is the back of the shelf? All you feel is the kind of thing we felt from November to December, while they located all the ballots! As George Goebel once remarked to Johnny Carson, I feel like the entire world¡¦s a tuxedo, and I¡¦m a pair of brown loafers.
Michael McDermott may have felt that way. He had a distinguished record of service to his country aboard nuclear submarines. He worked diligently in the computer industry. Then the IRS decided to grab a portion of his salary, and the next thing ¡V just last week ¡V he carries eighty pounds of assault weapons into work and kills 7 co-workers. The man had been put on the back shelf.
As we head into the new year; as we evaluate the past year ¡V if it appears to you that, along the way your life got put on hold, then this message is for you. Come with me for a peek at the life of the king of the back shelf ¡V Jeremiah.
God had called Jeremiah to be his voice against the ungodly condition of His chosen people ¡V to speak a warning. Jeremiah¡¦s call included the vision of a boiling cauldron facing the South; a picture of the invasion forces that would come from Judah¡¦s northern enemies.
In the 32nd chapter of Jeremiah¡¦s prophecy we find that what got him thrown in jail was his insistence that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would conquer Jerusalem. Jerusalem¡¦s king Zedekiah didn¡¦t like that!
While in prison, Jeremiah¡¦s cousin, Hanameel offers the prophet the right to purchase land in Anathoth. How strange. If the prophet¡¦s prediction came true (and it certainly did), then land titles issued under Hebrew law would be worthless. And if the prophecy failed, Jeremiah would stay in jail. It seemed odd to buy land under those conditions.
What was Jeremiah (and God) up to? He was making a bold statement that God would truly bring judgment on the people, but the judgment would end and God would also restore his people.
Behold, I will gather them out of all countries¡K32.37a
And they shall be my people, and I shall be their God¡K32.38
And fields shall be bought in this land¡K32.43a
The prophet spoke truth about the coming judgment of God, and it did not exactly endear him to the king. In fact, he got thrown in prison ¡V several times, and finally died in Egypt under house arrest -- no fairy-tale ending to an epic life!
Rather, the so-called fairy-tale endings to which we have become accustomed would have included Jeremiah¡¦s famous word from the Lord¡K
Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee
great and mighty things, which though knowest not.
¡KAnd then there would be a release from prison, return to favor, and eventual conquering of the bad guys. Jeremiah never saw it. His life got put on hold (from a human perspective), and he never again saw the light of day as a free man.
As a preacher, I must admit this is a scary prospect. As a preacher who happened (a few years ago) to find himself on hold, ministerially-speaking, I found it an obnoxious necessity. In Jeremiah¡¦s life and ministry I found the model for my own struggling, as well as the answers I need in that process of finding God when I have to wait. I found myself once again at five years old, waiting anxiously in the back seat of Dad¡¦s ¡¦48 Plymouth, asking, Are we there yet?
This morning¡¦s message is somewhat confessional ¡V it is where I was two years ago. It was that with which God had been working on in me, for nearly a year. Having left the last church I served, I was a year into seeking God¡¦s will for where I was to serve. The problem was, each time a place seemed to open up; it closed faster than a slap in the face. I was on-hold. I felt like Jeremiah in the pit, and I wanted some answers. I wanted some sense of purpose in the midst of what seemed like wasted time. Give me some rhyme and reason, Lord! Get me off the back shelf, please!