Sermon 092009 Jeremiah 11:18-20; Mark 9:30-37
Dysfunctional Families. There are so many different ideas, emotions, memories, that come to mind when we hear these words. People tell me about growing up in homes where they knew they would move away as soon as they had an opportunity. Other people are living in dysfunctional family settings right now, and many of these people maybe don’t realize it yet. Sometimes it takes an outsider. How many of you didn’t realize that your family wasn’t as normal as you thought until you got married and introduced someone new to it? I definitely fall into that group, Anne would ask simple questions (why does your family do that?) that I had a hard time answering.
At any rate, none of us grew up in a family that functioned perfectly. None of live in families where everything is perfect now. Someone told me about a friend they had that found out as an adult that they had a sibling they never knew about. They get together on occasion now, but this person told me that after 3 days or so, they really start to annoy one another. I said, “I guess they really are related!”
Today we are going to go on a journey through 3 different dysfunctional family relationships. My prayer for us is that we grow in appreciation of how God takes us, sinners as we are, and through his grace restores us and reconnects us to his family. That no matter how God finds us, or in whatever family struggle we find ourselves, that we would know we are a valued part of God’s family.
The first relationship that we are going to look at comes to us in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah. I need you to be honest with me. How many of you read this passage and thought to yourself, “what in the world is this all about?” If you did, I commend you for being observant and thoughtful, because these verses don’t make a whole lot of sense by themselves. What’s going on here is that Jeremiah is depressed because he has just learned that a group of people wants to kill him. To make matters worse, this group of people is from his hometown of Anathoth.
We read in Jeremiah 11:12 that God let Jeremiah know that, “the men of Anathoth… are seeking your life and saying, ‘Do not prophecy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands.’” So this is horrible, but it gets much worse. Not only are the people from Jeremiah’s hometown plotting to kill him, listen to Jeremiah 12:6, “Your BROTHERS, your OWN FAMILY – even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you.” His own flesh and blood, his own family, his own brothers have been calling for his death. I’ve had fights with my brothers, but it usually ended up in wrestling match, not a death wish.
So what we have is a terrible situation for Jeremiah. First off he is feeling betrayed: “The LORD made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” He says, I felt like the gentle lamb, the family pet that played with the kids and slept in their rooms, suddenly being taken to be butchered! If you’ve ever been betrayed, maybe you can relate.
But the worst thing of all is that Jeremiah is now in the unenviable position of having to call down judgment from God on his own family. How hard it must have been to speak these words: “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” Jeremiah has committed his cause to God; he has thrown in with God, and now asks for vengeance upon the enemies of God and His word, no matter who they might be. It’s an unimaginable and heartbreaking situation for Jeremiah. No wonder he is lamenting.
But this leads us to understand something about the second dysfunctional relationship we are going to talk about this morning. You see, in Jeremiah 11 and 12, the prophet speaks openly and plainly about how he has been betrayed, and how much this hurts. But Jeremiah isn’t the only one who has suffered heartbreak on account of his family. Wrapped all around Jeremiah’s tears and mourning is the sadness, and pain, and mourning of God. God who has also been betrayed by the family he loves, by his own people, his own children.
God speaks with pain about these people whom he loves, whom he led out of slavery in Egypt to give them their own promised land, these people whom he has provided for and protected all these years. You can hear the hurt and betrayal in God’s words (Jer. 11:9-10): “Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who have refused to listen to my words. They have followed after other gods to serve them.” Here we see that God’s own people make up the dysfunctional part of God’s own family. It’s hard to believe that they would show such little gratitude, or that they would run off and worship other gods, or that they would be so brazen in rejecting the one who loves them so much. But they do. And it breaks God’s heart.
Which leads us to the third dysfunctional family relationship that we find in our lessons for today. This one is a little more personal. This one involves you. We’ll get to that in a minute. Right now a good place to start talking about this is in Jesus words in the first part of the Gospel lesson. We meet up with the Son of God taking his disciples away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to spend some intentional and intense time teaching them about what was soon to happen: We read that he was, “teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” This wasn’t an easy thing for the disciples to hear, in fact Mark makes is clear that, “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
I don’t blame the disciples for not understanding, or at least not wanting to understand. Because this isn’t at all what any of them wanted for their Lord, or what they pictured happening to the long awaited Messiah. It was the ultimate in betrayal, that the people whom Jesus came to save would be the very people that reject him, and punish him, and kill him. But Jesus says this is exactly what is going to happen! John 1:11 states it so chillingly: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” So what we have is the plain truth that Jesus came into this world to save the very people that reject him, and sin against him, and hurt him.
And this includes us. There isn’t one person in this room that doesn’t fall into this category. We are those people who have betrayed God, who have neglected to do what he ask, who have gone chasing after other things, who have given our hearts and minds to other gods. We are those who have been unfaithful to our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. We don’t like to think of ourselves in these terms, but we need to, because this is the reality. Maybe James captures this part of our lives the best when he says that we are guilty of being, “double minded.”
Back in Israel’s day, the people were double minded because they praised God with their lips, but not so much with their hearts and their lives. Does this describe you at all? Do you ever find that when it comes to God your words and your life and actions don’t exactly meet up. And by not exactly, I mean not hardly at all! If you don’t think this describes you, you’re not looking hard enough. The people of Israel were double-minded in that they wanted to know that God was looking out for them, but they spent a whole bunch of their time and effort and affection on pursuing the earthly things around them. They got caught up worshipping other gods. Some were actual idols, others were just stuff, wealth, fame, bigger house and a brand new horse in the stable. Do you ever let your earthy pursuits crowd out your pursuit of God? If you say no, you’re not thinking hard enough about it. How about your sins? What do you struggle with? What do you keep doing that God doesn’t want you to do? What is God calling you to do that you keep running from?
You see, God has a huge family. A huge dysfunctional family. And you are a part of it. A part of the great crowd of sinners who break God’s heart. A part of the great cast of the double-minded that waffle and waiver in your devotion to God. You are a part of God’s own people. The people he came to save, but who too many times, have not received him like they ought to. I know. I’m part of this great crowd as well. It’s not a pretty picture.
The reality is that we shouldn’t still be part of God’s family. Just like Jeremiah had to call for God’s wrathful justice upon the people in his own family because they rejected God, God should be calling for our destruction. God should be banishing us from ever being part of his family and casting us away from himself forever. Every last one of us has not been able to live the perfect life God calls us to live, or to be holy and shun sin like God calls us to do, or to be connected to God like he wants us to be. We have failed miserably, we have fallen horribly short of the mark, and we have ourselves to blame just like the people of Jeremiah’s day.
But the people of Jeremiah’s day experienced a real miracle. God promised them that he would continue to love them, that he would, “Have compassion on them and bring each of them back to his own inheritance.” God continued to love them, even when they failed, and sinned, and had nothing to offer to God.
And works an even bigger miracle in your life today. God still loves you too. He wants you to be his. He knows you, he knows all about how you have let him down, he knows the things you’ve struggled with and need help with. He knows how often and how painfully you have broken his heart. But he still made a choice concerning you. A choice that wasn’t easy, but a choice that he made anyways.
God chose do die for his dysfunctional family. He chose do die for sinners who have rejected him. He chose to die for people that have chased after idols. He chose to die for you. On a cross, on an instrument of torture and shame, he paid the dreadful price for all of your sins, and double-mindedness, all of your rejection, and refusal to receive him. And in doing this he did something you could never do for yourself. He restored the relationship that you broke with him. He reconciled you to himself, no longer seeing your sins, but seeing the grace and mercy and perfection that he won for you. He rewrote the ending to your story in Easter’s empty tomb; no longer hell and misery, but life eternal, in perfect relationship with the Creator, because of Christ.
And this is where we are to return over and over again. We still struggle with sinful dysfunction! So time and time again God calls us to return to the cross to confess our sins and to experience the gift of his merciful restoration once again. Over and over God calls us to experience the joy of the promises he made clear in his own resurrection. To take heart in joy of heaven that awaits, to be confident that God calls us his people, even though we are the last people in the world who deserve to be given that title. God wants us to be connected in joy to the cross and the empty tomb. To live lives of joyful, grateful response, to this, the ultimate gift he could give us.
Remember the relationship that is most important. That God sacrificed himself for your sins. And no matter how dysfunctional your earthly family might be, or how much brokenness you have experienced in your relationships, no matter how double minded and sinful you are, Know this: God has single minded devotion to you. He loves you perfectly. And he has made you a valued part of HIS perfect family. He has made you his now, and forever. AMEN