Pr. Eric Swensson
August 19, 2013
I make posts on blogs and social media everyday, so I always need fresh images. Especially nowadays, people are much more likely to respond to a message with an image that captures their imagination. This is really nothing new, we merely have new means to help even the technologically challenged to become digital artists. People have always responded to images. As far back in time as archeologists can go, people were forming clay or carving stones into images, then we had stained glass and now we have digital.
Because I am on the Internet each day I come across tons of them. Some images stick with you. Let me share one now. It was a picture of a sheep that had a bucket covering its head. It was very funny. The sheep must have come across a feed pail in the field. Perhaps, it had a few grains in the bottom that were hard to get to. Whatever, while it was funny to look at, it made me think of a few things that are not funny at all. First, it made me think of that image of an ostrich with its head in the sand. This is, of course, about the phenomenon of denial, something that happens to individuals and groups. Then, since the photo was of a sheep, which is the symbolic of members of the church, it occurred to me how many sheep there must be today that would like to stick their head in the sand, or in a bucket, hoping against hope that their congregation and their denomination were always good and faithful and true. Next, I was thinking about the text I was preaching on and the verse Jeremiah 23:24, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?” We humans do this in all kinds of ways. A child sticks her fingers in her ears so as not to hear, but adults are much more sophisticated. How so?
Sometimes people say things to you that you will never forget, and this is one for me. Ten of us from my old congregation were in a meeting and were having to give an answer on why we did not want to be part of their church organization any longer. Many remarkable things were said during that hour. One of the first people was a retired pastor whom I had known for quite awhile. I was greatly surprised by his line of reasoning. He said that to him our petition to leave meant that he must be a heretic. I told him that was not our position and what he said, that was up to God. What was clear to us that they were definitely going in a new direction and we were not going there with them. Little did I know that what was actually happening is that this meeting was a heresy trial, only my congregation and I were not the ones being judged. By the time it was over it was clear that one after another of these synod officials and elected representatives held many views that were in conflict with Scripture. I will give one example, and one that you shall recognize as it is a very widespread tenet in many modern church organizations.
“Don’t you know that the Bible was written by men?” I was shocked to hear this. The speaker was a pastor who had gone to seminary in the preceding decade. This is what she had been taught. With these words if any of my congregants had any doubts about the steps we had taken to separate, no one did now.
“Don’t you know that the Bible was written by men?” No, I don’t know that. The Holy Scriptures tells us exactly who was involved in its writing. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)
This slide into secularism did not begin in the last few decades but centuries ago with the Enlightenment, and by the late nineteenth century theologians in Germany and England were teaching that the Bible was written by a primitive people full of superstitions. When I arrived at seminary they assumed that they would strip me of my naive ideas such as Moses parting the Red Sea and Peter writing I Peter. This is the sad backdrop for the battle over the authority of Scripture, a battle that the majority of the media and the secular world sees simply as homophobia. That is truly a shame, because what is at stake is much more about what is going on here in Jeremiah 23. The sheep are not getting fed. Shepherds, the pastors and deacons and bishops and presidents, whoever they are, and we must include Sunday School teachers and Bible Study leaders and parents who are still teaching their children to pray and reading children’s books of Bible stories. Shepherds could be feeding their sheep grain but they give straw, and if you ask me it is straw mixed with gummy bears and I don’t know, Cheetos or whatever junk food or candy is at hand.
That’s what false prophets are doing today. They are cheating the people. Instead of keeping it simple and simply teaching the clear words of Scripture, they make issues the subjects of their sermons, or they devote the time intended for the sermon into a talk on how to be better adjusted in times of stress. And in everything they say, the message always ends the same, everything will be all right, thank you for coming today.
So, we ask today with Jeremiah “who has paid attention to his word and listened?” That’s right, dear people, who is listening to the word of the Lord and who is not?
We need shepherds who tell us the truth. Jeremiah told the people of his day clearly that God was all powerful and was paying attention to what their king and priests and prophets were doing. Wrath would go forth like a whirling tempest and burst upon the head of the wicked. He said “the anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly.” He also gave reassuring words that after that God would hear their repenting cries and would gather them together and provide for them a new home and a good life.
This of course is seen again and again in Scripture. God makes a covenant, the people say “We will do this”. They don’t, they sin, God sends a messenger, a real prophet, he tells the people to repent, they kill the prophet, but things get so bad they finally repent and God forgives. Here in Jeremiah the prophet has a historical memory and says that the way God brought the people up from Egypt, He would bring them back to the land of Israel.
My question is why do so many think God is not capable of doing the same today? The reason for some is that being self-proclaimed atheists, they say they do not have to worry about God because there is no God. But that is not the way it is here in America. There may be many atheists in Europe, but here our problem is a church with false shepherds handing out coffee and doughnuts when they should lay in a stock of tissues for the tears of repentance and tears of joy, if they would only preach the Word of God.
That is the last image I want to leave with you, the Rock that breaks our rock-hard hearts, the fire that will burn away our dross when we submit to the crucible of our Lord. We are human. We sin and so we do much more than commit indiscretions. Scripture tells us clearly that God sees all we do but even more knows the intent. Why do we try and find hiding places when He counts every hair upon our head? But God forbears our foolishness on account of His Son. He lavishes His grace upon us and calls us to Him. Come.
Friends, that is my message today on “can a man hide himself so the Lord cannot see him.” Go out and search for that lost sheep, you know, the one with a pail on his head.