Summary: We can call ourselves Christians, go to church, give our tithes, etc. and yet have rejected God effectively. The picture Jeremiah gives of life in Judah comes close to life in the Christian West, with several gods competing for our loyalty.
[Sermon preached on 4 March 2018, 3rd Sunday in Lent / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
It is so endearing at times to see little children in a big supermarket or shopping mall. They come in with mom or dad, but as soon as they see something interesting—toys, candies, pets, or anything else that moves—they go their own way and forget everything else around them.
And then at some point, suddenly, they look up and realize that mom or dad is not there anymore. They look around, first carefully walking, then running and checking out places. and then when they cannot find their parents, they start shouting, “Mommy!!! Daddy!!!” And when even that doesn’t help, you see their faces change from hope to fear and then to a sense of rejection. They think that they will never see mommy or daddy again. The result is a heart-rending crying that won’t stop until their parents have found them. Of course, we know that they wouldn’t ever reject their child just like that!
But what we don’t see in the supermarkets and shopping malls are the elderly parents that have been rejected by their grown-up children. They wait in vain, day after day, for their children to visit them or to give them a phone call and ask, “How are you? Would you like me to come over? Is there anything I can do for you?”
These parents have given the best years of their lives to their children. They have given what they could, sacrificed their time, their strength, their resources—everything—in order to give their children the best possible in life.
But then, when they in turn start being in need of their children, they find no gratitude, no commitment. They are just expected to understand that the children have a life of their own. They need their privacy. They need time and energy to develop their careers. They now have children of their own that take up so many of their resources.
And the parents try to understand, I am sure. They explain to others with an air of pride how their kids are so busy, because they have such a responsible job and are taking so good care of their own kids. But deep down inside, there is the searing pain of rejection, too great and too deep to describe, and too shameful to share with others.
God is like a rejected parent. The reading from Jeremiah 7 shows us a God who has been rejected by his people—a Father in heaven whose children have let him down and turned their backs on him. And the Gospel reading from John 8 give us a sad picture of how his children rejected even his greatest gift of love—his only begotten Son Jesus.
These are dramatic words in Jeremiah 7—even shocking—when God speaks to Jeremiah:
“Don’t pray for this people! Don’t offer any plea or petition for them! Don’t plead with me, for I will not listen!”
Wow! That’s tough language, isn’t it? Jeremiah is told that he is no longer allowed to pray for the people of God. And if he does, God will simply put his fingers in his ears, so to say, and make sure he doesn’t hear a word.
Have you ever seen parents doing that to their children? I have. Again, we need not go further than the supermarket to see it happening all the time. Kids find their way to the candy department and start begging for candies. Mom and dad answer with a firm “no”. Today is not candy day. Some other time. But kids are not good at taking “no” for an answer. So they keep on asking, they insist, they become stubborn and impossible to handle.
And that is where many parents lose their patience. It doesn’t mean that they stop loving their kids. It doesn’t mean that they stop caring for them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to give their very best to their children. It only means that at that point they come to the conclusion that their kids now need a firm teaching on the need to respect their parents. They need to understand that “no” means “no”. They need to obey their parents and accept their authority.
Jeremiah lived in a time when the people of Israel had turned away from God. They did not think of him any longer as “the” God of Israel. At best, he was “a” god—one among a lot of colleagues and competitors. For Israel, God’s law and authority had become negotiable. People felt they were no longer dependent on him. After all, they could always turn to other gods who were more apt to adjust to their needs and demands. Look, for example, at how Jeremiah 7 describes life in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem: