Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20 W 18th Sunday after Pentecost
The Homegrown Threat
the name of him who tests the hearts and minds of men and who judges them
righteously, dear friends in Christ:
Keeping track of current events these past few weeks we have all been
painfully reminded of what a dangerous and uncertain place the world – and even
our own nation – really is. When
defenseless Amish children in a one room school house in rural
so it is also with the
So in this sense the lines are clearly drawn. In the Church there is the light God’s Word and everywhere else there’s darkness. And we’re used to this: in the Church our brothers and sisters in faith – our neighbors in Christ. Outside the community of faith are any number of enemies who seek to destroy us. And so when we see various pundits ranting and raving against the Church and our faith in Christ, we’re not surprised. The scientists who tell us our faith is a superstition, the sociologists who blame the world’s ills on the suppression imposed by Christian morality, the worldly wise who tell us our faith is a crutch that prevents us from reaching our true potential, the philosophers who tell us we’re fools ... okay, we’re used to it. We expect it. We’ve got enemies out there. But what’s more disturbing and in many ways far more dangerous are the threats that come from within.
what Jeremiah the prophet is dealing with in this morning’s Old Testament
lesson. He was a priest who was called
to serve as God’s prophet and spokesman during the tumultuous last days of the
there were also plenty of enemies at home in the nation of
God’s wisdom, it fell to Jeremiah to preach this unpopular message: “Repent and return to the exclusive worship
of the One True God. Throw away the
idols, cleanse both the
the plot mentioned in this morning’s text.
The Lord told Jeremiah what they were up to, allowing him to escape the
ambush they’d set for him. And part of
what you hear in this reading is Jeremiah’s deep feeling of betrayal. “I had no idea that my own neighbors, my
coworkers in the
But again, such plots are fairly obvious. We know them when we see them; at least most of the time, anyway. Sometimes it takes a little work and investigation to get to the bottom of it. But even more threatening to the well being and security of the Church are those we believe to be our friends and allies who are murdering fellow Christians through the siren song of Gospel reductionism and the less obvious sell out of compromise.
Maybe this illustration will help. Some months ago I caught a program on The Learning Channel called The 750 Pound Man. It was about this guy who was literally eating himself to death. As I recall the story, he was always a big eater. He weighed something over 300 pounds when he got married at around age 25. And mind you his large size had nothing to do with some kind of glandular disorder. He simply ate too much and exercised too little. Well anyway, over the next several years he continued to gain weight. When he hit about 450 lbs, one of his knees finally gave out. It just couldn’t take the load. He dragged himself from the kitchen where he collapsed to the bedroom of his apartment, climbed into bed, and never walked again. Oh, his knee got fixed, but during his recovery he continued to gain weight while in bed. Between the added weight and the atrophy of his muscles from lying there several weeks, there was no way it would be safe for him to stand. And so that’s where he stayed, in bed, for the next four or five years while he put on yet another 300 pounds. It got so bad that he could only lie on his left side because if he tried to roll over on his back, his huge stomach would crush his lungs and suffocate him. If you’re a Star Wars fan, think Jabba the Hut – that’s what the poor guy looked like. And I’m not saying that to be cruel; but to give you an accurate description. The truth is that you had to feel sorry for the guy, at least to some extent. On the other hand, you had to conclude that he was largely responsible for his condition. He was, after all, doing it to himself.
But he couldn’t have got that way unless there were people helping him. Think about it: he couldn’t go to the grocery store, nor could he even answer the door if he ordered out. No, what happened was his wife and sister kept bringing food to him – and we’re not talking about normal portions of wholesome food, we’re talking about super-sized bags of Cheetos and whole cartons of Twinkies – and that was only to snack on to hold him between the massive meals he ate. It was insane. Before she left for work in the morning, his wife would stack up beside his bed everything he needed to make lunch and supper for the two of them. He had a hot plate, all his utensils, even a little refrigerator right there, and he would lie in bed snacking and cooking all afternoon and have supper ready and waiting when she got home. How convenient, huh? That wasn’t all: not surprisingly, he had a lot of health problems. Every couple weeks the rescue squad would have to come take him to the local hospital for heart problems and what not. It took fifteen guys and a special ambulance to move him. Even the hospital had to get a lot of special equipment for dealing with him. It’s not like a couple nurses could help him take a shower, you see. It was more like run him through the carwash.
Well, anyway, it comes to the point that the landlord evicts him and his wife because they’re not paying the rent. He ends up in a special diet center, one of those hospitals that treat the morbidly obese—but strangely, even there they don’t deal with the problem. At one point they show him listening impatiently to a dietician who’s explaining what healthy eating is all about. She sets a salad and some crackers down in front of him, and he’s like, “What’s this?” “It’s your lunch”, she tells him, and this look of absolute incredulity falls across his face. He’s thinking, “Maybe that’s what the little green men on your planet eat, but I’m human and this is Earth.” Finally he says to her rather doubtfully, “Okay, I’ll eat it; but I have to have my snacks too.” And it turns out there’s this whole closet near the head of his bed within his reach that’s stuffed full of junk food that his family brought for him. The dietician weakly tries to explain that that isn’t such a good idea; but he’s not paying attention. Her idea of a snack is half an apple. His is two bags of corn chips and half a gallon of nacho cheese. Out of the room the dietician explains to the camera, “Well, this isn’t a prison. We can’t take all that food away from him.” She goes on to explain that he eats because he has low self esteem and if they say anything negative to him, it will only make matters worse. A few weeks later, the guy dies of toxic shock caused by infections from his massive bed sores. They show his family and the staff of the diet center standing around wondering how this terrible tragedy happened. And if you’re watching this, you’re sitting there thinking, “Can’t you see it? He ate himself to death and every one of you helped him do it.” They were all so afraid of offending him, of bruising his fragile self image, of saying “no” to him that they became complicit in his death. They helped murder him. They didn’t pull the trigger; they just handed him the loaded gun knowing what he would do with it. They were the enemies in his own home. Just an aside here (and no, I’m not making this up) but the next show to come on that evening was called The One Thousand Pound Man. I passed on it. I’d had enough.
The point, however, is that we see this same thing going on in the Church. When dealing with people, often times family members, who on account of their inherent weaknesses have fallen into some sin or other, rather than deal with the problem head on and risk offending them, we take the easy way out. We make concessions. We compromise. We load them up on theological junk food. “Oh don’t worry. God loves you and will never judge you harshly even though … and you can fill in the blank here: you’re cheating on your spouse, living with someone outside of marriage, addicted to pornography, engaged in homosexuality, involved in unethical business practices, angry with your neighbor and refuse to forgive him, despising the means of grace by consistently avoiding God’s word and the worship of the church … we could add to this list all day. But here it is: when we fail to warn the sinner and call him to repent, and instead bring him false comfort and reinforce him in his sin, we are effectively bringing cheesecake to the 750 pound man. Pretending to be his friend and neighbor, we are actually helping to murder his eternal soul. There are times, you see, when we ourselves are the Church’s homegrown threat.
And on account of it, it is to us
that Jeremiah proclaims his unpopular message:
“Repent of your sin and return to the exclusive worship of the One True
God. Throw away your idols, your false
beliefs in a god who does not condemn sin, cleanse both the
Soli Deo Gloria!