The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD:
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it were held guilty; disaster came upon them, says the LORD.
Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.
Thus says the LORD:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
One upon a time, long, long ago, there were no streaming services. There was no Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. There weren’t even home recordings of TV shows. There was even a time before VCRs! In those days there were not even 50 or 20 channels. There were three. There were movies that showed on Monday Night at the Movies, or Wednesday Night at the Movies; pick a night of the week, and they would show movies and that was your one night of the year to watch that movie. In my family’s line up, we would watch movies like Planet of the Apes, Tarzan, Charlton Heston in a variety of Biblical movies, and the two biggies each year were The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz. We loved them.
As I prepped for this sermon, the Wizard of Oz kept coming to mind.
Our passage this morning is from the prophet Jeremiah. From an academic perspective, it is an interesting and complicated book of the Bible. I was surprised in my reading for this week at the different perspectives about how to read Jeremiah. There is controversy about the order of the contents of the book—as many don’t think it was written in chronological order. There is controversy and discussion about who wrote what parts of it and when.
Jeremiah was a prophet in 627 BCE, before the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah wrote five poems or confessions and most think someone edited his words during the Babylonian exile. When we read books like this, it is important to remember the three lenses through which to look at the words. First, when Jeremiah spoke them. Then, when they were gathered and written down—likely during the Babylonian exile. These are two significant perspectives as one can be read as a warning before something bad happens, when the other is a reason why something happens. It is only after getting a sense of those two lenses that we should look at the passage from our perspective and see how it speaks into our lives.
It is as if Jeremiah told people where they were going wrong. He told them they didn’t love God like a bride or a newlywed. They didn’t think about God first thing in the morning or last thing at night. They didn’t give God their best or first fruits. They followed idols, they went after worthless things and became worthless themselves. They defiled the land that God had given them, and dug their own cisterns, rejecting the living water that God provided. They wanted control, and God wanted faith. God gave them good things, but they rejected them and looked for fulfillment and validation elsewhere.
Then the Babylonians defeated Israel and exiled the leaders of Israel, and there is another perspective—the one where the later generation uses Jeremiah’s words as a cautionary tale. The final lens is what we can take from this book and apply to our life today. What is applicable today?
All three of those lenses highlight the same points for me—remembering God’s good things. Remembering God’s good things.
The chapter begins with God telling Jeremiah to tell the people God remembers their early dedication to God. Like a bride and a first love. Where they gave their best and first gifts to God. How God gave them a land of plenty, gifts and goodness. How God got them out of Egypt and led them to their own land and fought their battles for them. How God saved them and gave them good things.
But the people wanted what their neighbors had. The people wandered and pursued worthless things and became worthless themselves. The text says they pursued profit, not God. They were brought into a land of plenty but ruined it because of how they switched gods and followed things that weren’t even gods. Instead of showing gratitude and considering and remembering all that God had done for them, they forgot God and defiled what God had given them.
As I read this, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz came to mind. Dorothy, an apparent orphan, is living with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She is a dreamer that may or may not do what she is asked. After interrupting everyone’s work, and falling into the pig sty, Dorothy’s Auntie Em challenges her to find someplace where she won’t get into trouble. Dorothy then breaks into “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and imagines a better place—where dreams come true and troubles melt like lemon drops.
Like Dorothy, the Israelites apparently wanted more than God had given them, even though God had given them good things. They had been brought out of captivity and into a place of freedom where the work they did was for themselves and not another nation. But like Dorothy, they wanted something else. From the outside, they thought neighbors had it easier and that their gods and their way of doing things must be better. The Israelites had latched on to wizards/or gods, that really weren’t gods just like the Wizard really wasn’t a wizard. They wanted things that really wouldn’t make them happy. They had forgotten their first love. They had ended up battling their own version of flying monkeys or fields of poppies or wicked witches—but they wanted to go their own way. Jeremiah is trying to warn them that there is “no place like home.”
As I read and re-read this passage, the theme of gratitude kept coming to mind. Jeremiah tells the people of Jerusalem to remember what God has done for them. Even the priests were no longer helping people to see God in their lives or remind them of what God had done for them. They needed to remember. They needed gratitude. Even when things aren’t going the way we want, if we remember how God answered prayers in the past, and how God gave us good things in the past, and maybe even current good things, we can be thankful in all circumstances. Gratitude is like ruby slippers for the soul. Gratitude is the spiritual “magic” that allows us to be positive in negative circumstances.
Back in the day, before cable, we had TV antenna. There was a device that we could turn to get a better reception for the four different TV stations. Gratitude gets us better reception. For those of us who have no clue what I am talking about with TV antennas, gratitude is like faster wifi! Better and faster uploads and downloads! When things are going poorly, we need to intentionally reconnect with God and gratitude is an excellent way to do that. I encourage you to find practical ways to be more thankful—to look for things for which to be thankful. Gratitude changes our world from sepia to technicolor. Gratitude allows us faster downloads of joy and faster uploads of worries and problems into God’s capable and loving hands.
Another thing that jumped out at me every time I read the passage, may have also struck the nature lovers out there. You may have picked up on verse 7, where Jeremiah says,
“I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
I wonder what the Israelites did to defile the land. It probably had to do with building altars and high places for other gods. I have to wonder what God thinks when God looks at the current state of the environment. For example, I read that the current estimated size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. I am very thankful that FPCA is an Earth Care Congregation. This is a program that FPCA participates through the PCUSA Mission Agency. To become an Earth Care Congregation, our congregation affirmed an Earth Care Pledge to integrate environmental practices and thinking into their worship, education, facilities, and outreach. God has given us good things in creation, and we are God’s chosen stewards. I am so thankful that our church continues to work to reduce our impact on the environment. Our property team and others work hard to keep the environmental impact in mind as we do things to update our property from our roof to windows to a/c units to recycling and composting to our landscaping. If you would like to help with this effort, or would like resources to help you make good choices at home, please reach out to me so I can connect you to our Earth Care Team, our Property Team, or Landscaping Team!
Our passage this morning closes with a harsh judgement from God through Jeremiah, that
“my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
God has provided good things for God’s people—everything they need, but they go elsewhere to find it themselves. They have forsaken God, rejected God’s good things, and gone out on their own and it isn’t working for them.
Jesus talks in the Gospel of John, chapter 4, about having living water; and if you drink that water, you will not be thirsty again. We remember that Jesus said in John 7, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” Like Dorothy, we wonder if the Land of Oz would be better. It looks shinier. It looks more colorful. We need to remember that God is the giver of good things, not the Wizard. We need to remember that when we turn to Jesus, when we lean on God, we will never be thirsty and will be able to show great gratitude and serve God in a multitude of ways. God has given us good things—let us rejoice and be glad in it!