Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Let It Out!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, c.1545

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked. (CEV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough gig. The Lord God almighty didn’t give him much choice about his life’s work. Jeremiah was commissioned by God with a message of doom and destruction. If that weren’t enough, God promised him that no one would respond, nobody would repent, and not one person would listen to what he had to say. Sheesh, talk about a tough ministry!

But Jeremiah was compelled to speak. He just could not hold it in. His calling, his life’s work, bubbled up and out of him, no matter what he did to try and keep a lid on it. Whenever Jeremiah would try and walk away and say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” then the words from God burned like a fire in his belly. Jeremiah got worn out trying to keep the message domesticated within him.

Maybe you can relate in some small way.  It isn’t always easy talking about God to others, let alone talking about some subject other people really don’t want to hear.  Yet, as the people of God, we discover it is much more painful to keep it inside than it is letting it out and taking the consequences as they may come.

Or it could be that you resonate with Jeremiah’s trying to distance himself from God.  You were hurt, wounded in some way, and no matter how hard you run from God, your inner sacred space will not leave you alone – it relentlessly tracks you down and hounds you, barking to be heard and expressed.

What then, should we do? How, then, shall we live? Don’t keep silent. Speak! Let your voice out. Say what is important to you. Because ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or thinking God will eventually give-up isn’t going to happen, my friend.  Let the Word have its way.

God Almighty, you have your ways in this world, and they don’t always make sense to me.  Sticking my fingers in my ears trying to pretend you are not there isn’t working – my heart burns within me.  So, help me to speak with all the confidence of the message I have, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Judges 2:6-15 – *Sigh*

After Joshua had dismissed them, the People of Israel went off to claim their allotted territories and take possession of the land. The people worshiped God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the time of the leaders who survived him, leaders who had been in on all of God’s great work that he had done for Israel. Then Joshua son of Nun, the servant of God, died. He was 110 years old. They buried him in his allotted inheritance at Timnath Heres in the hills of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash.

Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.

The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them. They actually worshiped them! And oh, how they angered God as they worshiped god Baal and goddess Astarte! God’s anger was hot against Israel: He handed them off to plunderers who stripped them; he sold them cheap to enemies on all sides. They were helpless before their enemies. Every time they walked out the door God was with them—but for evil, just as God had said, just as he had sworn he would do. They were in a bad way. (MSG)

The Old Testament book of Judges reads like a soap opera. The main characters are the ancient Israelites, fresh from coming into the Promised Land; God, the One who brought them into the land with a series of miraculous events and divine interventions; and, of course, the Judges, the men and women who led the people and ruled in the land.

Throughout the book of Judges, there are plenty of adventures and misadventures. The exploits and foibles narrate a sad downward spiral of people forsaking the worship of God; God arresting their attention; the people awakening to their dire condition and crying out to God; God sending a Judge to save them; the people slipping into a worse condition; and, the cycle starting all over again with more disastrous results and brokenness than before. *Sigh*

In today’s lesson, we get a clue as to where it all began and why it kept happening. Tucked away in the middle of these verses is the cryptic message that when Joshua’s generation died, the next generation did not know the Lord or any of the mighty acts God did on their behalf. *Sigh*

The first generation of Israelites born into the Promised Land were flat out ignorant of God because their parents and religious leaders failed to pass on values, experiences, and knowledge to their children. They were not intentional about providing the kind of education to their kids that would let them know about the person and work of God. *Sigh*

Emerging generations need present generations to grab hold of the mandate to graciously teach and develop them in the words and ways of Jesus Christ – because faith is not a magically delicious box of Lucky Charms which providentially drops from the sky. *Sigh*

It behooves us all to consider ways to pass on the grace and truth of Jesus to the next generation – and to do so in a loving and compelling way. And, if you feel a low confidence level in doing this, go on a discovery with teens, kids, and grandkids so that you are all learning together.

A few of the ways my wife and I taught our three girls when they were young included singing Scripture, even coming up with our own original tunes; dramatizing biblical stories, complete with costumes and interesting ad libs; and, prayer walking together outside.

I am more than confident younger generations will have ideas that are not boring or pedantic. In other words, take some initiative and have some fun with it. Then, neither you nor anyone else will be ending sentences with a big *Sigh*

Lord God Almighty, you have acted in the past with mighty deeds and gracious ways. Enable your people to pass on their love for Jesus to the next generation so that your kingdom breaks into the generations and your will be done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. Amen.

Psalm 78:1-7 – For the Next Generation

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands. (NLT)

Every generation needs to recall and renew their ancestral faith – not in a wooden or bland acceptance but through vigorous retrospection of God’s past actions applied to present life. This happens primarily through the telling and retelling of stories. Both verbal and written history play a significant role in shaping current and future generations for ongoing faith.

Discussing God and Scripture need not be forced nor awkward. Most people like talking about things important to them. I have no problem talking about the latest books I am reading, my kids and grandkids, and bacon, simply because they are such a big part of my life. Conversations about these and other subjects arise organically out of the time and attention I have given them over so many years.

One of the best ways to live into faith and pass the baton is to regularly spend time with God through consistent Bible reading, heartfelt worship, earnest prayer, ongoing fellowship, participation in service, and other opportunities to learn about God. Talking about Jesus is to be an organic thing from a heart-wellspring that loves God and ponders divine commands.

The passing along of faith needs some intentional purpose and planning. When it comes to family, we can be willing and ready to ask good questions, instead of merely barfing out information. Typically, when my girls were growing up, most of our conversations around the table would center around one question I asked. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over together. Sometimes, the question was deeply theological, and other times it was an intensely practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, and I would usually ask them to tell their “God story” or to participate with us in the question. If they were not followers of Jesus, I would ask them what they thought about him, and why, as well as tell us about their own religion.

Passing on the faith to the next generations is a sacred trust God has given to us. Embrace it within the home by talking about God and God’s Holy Word as a regular part of your everyday life, and freely converse in public, as well. The following are a few ways of impressing faith to younger generations:

  1. Train them to lead. Adults do not have to do everything. Everyone from toddlers to teenagers can be empowered to serve, if we will take up the challenge to mentor them. When my girls still lived at home, I took at least one of them everywhere I went; it made no difference what it was, whether to the grocery store, on a hospital visit, or even a church meeting. Serving is now second nature to them, part of the air they breathe.
  2. Show empathy to young persons and young families. Any old fool can criticize younger generations about their lack of involvement and how they are always on social media. The wise person will recognize they need our help, not our judgment. To have empathy for them means we recognize they are just trying to do the best they can in this crazy world we live in – a world very different than the one many of us grew up in. It is a hard world, one that is extremely competitive, requiring an offbeat energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid. And being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The needed response is not to criticize but to empathize and find ways to help.
  3. More dialogue, less monologue. Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way that we can likely reach younger generations. Dialogue will go much further than just telling others what they should believe and do. I admit I had to learn this one the hard way. Being a preacher does not always translate well at home.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself within an older generation, seriously think about taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations will mean they do not have to do everything our way. Instead, we will commit to listening for what they tell us they need to love God and build into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be a great neighbor. Again, any common curmudgeon can crank on about how messed up the world is. However, the wise person will focus on teaching, empowering, and developing young people into good neighbors who engage their local community and the world by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

Lord God Almighty, I believe. I wish for the next generations to believe in you, too. So, let my faith be full and unreserved; let it penetrate all my thoughts and ways. Let my faith be joyful, worthy of being emulated by others. Give peace and gladness to my spirit so that it may shine forth in all my conversations, whether sacred or secular. Let my faith be humble and fully surrendered to the work of your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

James 2:14-26 – Faith Works

What good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (NIV)

Genuine authentic faith is more than mere sentiment and head knowledge. Faith without works does not work. Strong robust faith is active and can withstand adversity.

The rhetorical questions the Apostle James asked were meant to awake his readers to the reality that true faith is always active. In other words, inactive faith is not really faith at all. In his letters to the churches, the Apostle Paul typically talked about the relationship between faith and works before a person converts to Christ, whereas the Apostle James emphasized the role of works after a profession of faith in Christ.

St. James was getting at the heart of how a believer in Jesus ought to live. And he did this by giving an illustration of the relationship between faith and works: If someone is in need and a person expresses a sentimental feeling, even if that feeling is sincere, without backing it up with action – the expression is merely an expression, nothing more. 

I once came home after a long day at work on a Valentine’s Day several years ago. I had picked up some flowers at a drive through flower shop. I walked into the door and handed my wife the flowers with an “I love you.”  Then, I sat down in a heap and turned on the television. My dear wife’s response was not so favorable to my sentimental overtures. I did not really put any thought or action behind Valentine’s Day, and she knew it. My words of “I love you” just did not sync with my actions. 

Just so you know, I redeemed myself the next year by winning a contest on a local radio station for a spouse’s best love note, and it got read on the air several times throughout the day for my lovely wife to hear. My commitment and actions were were nicely aligned so that when I said “I love you” at the end of that workday, there was no doubt about it.

Faith requires that actions sync with words. For example, when we say “I will pray for you” it needs to be more than an expression of concern – we need to spend the time and commitment it takes in praying for them.

Faith involves emotions yet ought not be limited by them. Faith can neither exist nor survive without deeds. Christian works are not an added extra to faith any more than breathing is an added extra to the body. Both faith and action is needed for the Christian life.

True faith is shown as the genuine article by how it acts in real life situations. Faith is more than a checklist of right beliefs to sign-off on, as if it were some fire insurance policy against hell. Frankly, as a Pastor, I have heard some pretty lame justifications over the decades for failing to help others, give to the poor, be involved in justice work, and just plain serve in the church, like, “I’m not wired that way,” “That’s not my gift,” “That’s what we pay you to do,” and the ever-prolific, “This church is not meeting my needs.”

Those in the habit of complaining without an intent to boots-on-the-ground helping do not yet have an active faith. Each person is to do their part in serving the common good of all. And we all suffer when that does not happen. Bifurcating faith and action leave us with a false faith. 

If faith without action is okay, then so is the entire demonic realm. The glimpses of Satan we get in the Bible leads me to think that the devil has the entire thing memorized and knows it well from Genesis to Revelation. Yet, knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Information by itself is useless unless it is accompanied by gracious and loving action. (1 Corinthians 8:1)

Salvation is a term Christians are familiar with. In the Christian tradition, it refers to being saved from sin, death, and hell. Sanctification is another term most Christians recognize. It means “to become holy,” or, “to be set apart” for God. Sanctification is not an event but a process. Whereas saving faith is a gift given without works, sanctifying faith requires a great deal of effort. A lot of energy is expended to live the Christian life. The late Dallas Willard used to often say, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.” 

The Apostle James dealt primarily with the sanctifying faith every Christian needs to exhibit. It is as if we have been graciously granted a full-ride scholarship to a university (salvation) but now the real work begins (sanctification) to learn, grow, and obtain the degree. And, just as a student will surely become discouraged at some point throughout their education and wonder if they ought to drop out, so the Christian will face tremendous adversity and challenge. Indeed, a lot of blood-sweat-and-tears goes into our spiritual studies so that our faith will be strengthened for a lifetime of active loving service.

For example, the Old Testament character Abraham was saved from an empty way of life in a pagan country and given a gift of grace to move to the country God would show him. Abraham did nothing to earn this favor.  God just chose him (Joshua 24:2-3). Abraham sojourned as a pilgrim throughout the land God gave him, which mirrored his spiritual sojourning and learning to be a follower of God. Abraham faced a monumental test of faith when asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19).

Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did. Testing of faith is necessary so that we become mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:3-4). The way for authentic faith to develop and grow is in the fiery trial of adversity and hardship. Spiritual maturation, holiness, and a well-rounded faith come by means of difficult life circumstances.

Rahab and the Two Spies by Unknown artist

To press the significance of faith and works, the example of the Old Testament character Rahab is highlighted. Rahab was a prostitute who lived in the red-light district of Jericho. St. James was doing something profound and important – he took two extreme examples, one a giant of the faith, and the other an almost overlooked example of faith, to demonstrate we all are candidates for real faith.

Rahab’s faith and actions worked harmoniously. She genuinely believed the city of Jericho was going to be overcome by God’s judgment, and, so, she housed the visiting Israelite spies (Joshua 2:1-11). Methinks we must expand our understanding of faith to include persons others might exclude. Some may be quick to judge those with dubious lives and backgrounds, as well as the poor and needy. The bald fact of the matter is that we cannot sanitize Rahab as something other than what she was – and because of her faith she ended up being an ancestor of Jesus himself (Matthew 1:5).

From the standpoint of faith, Abraham and Rahab are on the same level. In Christ’s new egalitarian society, all are welcome, all are equal. Together, we work on our sanctifying faith by submitting to adversity as our teacher; finding solace in God’s Holy Word and Spirit; praying for and with others; worshiping God like there is no tomorrow; leaning into faithful relationships; keeping our eyes open to what God is doing; being patient with the process of sanctification; and embracing unwanted change as our friend.

Faith works, my young Padawan. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Energize it.