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Note:  Yesterday was the Commemoration of Jeremiah, but due to time constraints, I  did not finish this post then.-Pr. Schroeder

Biography:  

The prophet Jeremiah was active as God’s prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah ca. 627 to 582 B.C. As a prophet he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. In his preaching he often used symbols, such as an almond rod (Jer. 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17). His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God’s anger toward his rebellious people. He suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen. As far as can be known, he died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly. He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God’s people to repentance. (LCMS Commemoration Biographies)

Selected Verses from Jeremiah:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2: 12-13

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord‘s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:  1-10

 For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!” Jeremiah 20:  8

“…they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate— Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes.12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13 Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. Jeremiah 38

Jeremiah was considered unpatriotic because in the midst of a battle against Judah he preached Judah’s destruction.  Jeremiah said to Judah you can not put your trust in the Temple and then commit immorality.  Jeremiah, among the written prophets (there were other prophets whose sermons were not written down by them, e. g. Nathan),  is unique in the sense that he lamented to the Lord of being maligned, mocked and derided (Jer 11:18-20; 12:1-6; 15:10-21, 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13). Jeremiah is so noted for his cries  of “violence and destruction” that we have an English word, “jeremiad”:  “a prolonged lamentation or complaint; also :  a cautionary or angry harangue”.  In fact, Jeremiah has been called “the prophet of wrath” but as Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote, Jeremiah lived in “an age of wrath“.

We too live in an age of wrath:  the slaughter of the generations in the womb, murder as play in video games, acceptance of sexual immorality, adoring the televised/internet image which all points to lawlessness, actually Lawlessness?

The LORD called Jeremiah to preach His Word and it was directed against the corruption of government and religion.  After the death of King Solomon, the LORD prophesied that Israel would be divided because of the sins of Rehoboam.  It was divided in 933BC.   It was in this time period the LORD called the prophets whose messages were written down becoming a major section in the Holy Bible.  In 722BC, the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom thus ending it.  The Southern Kingdom, Judah, centered in Jerusalem continued till the exile into Babylon in 587BC.  It seems that Judah thought they would not be destroyed because of God’s own promise to David that a royal Davidide would be on the throne forever in Jerusalem.  But Judah, as did the northern Kingdom, forgot God’s Word and specifically government and religion forgot the Word of the Lord and thought mechanically that just because they were Judeans, then the LORD would continually bless them…mechanically without faith and love. They went their own way. 

The Judeans thought their problems were political and especially in the threat of other countries.  This was not the root problem.  Their problem was God which Jeremiah abundantly made clear to them.  I would suspect that Americans think that our own country is forever.  It is not.  Again Abraham Heschel: “The problem is not the separation of church and state, but church and God.”  Christian church body after church body has sold out to the world, explicitly or implicitly.  The only jeremiads we hear are the ones we hurl at each other, we need to hear the LORD’s jeremiads toward us.  The LORD is against us and our sin, that is, His Law before He is for us, the Gospel. The true King is on the throne of David:  Jesus Christ.  He bore the Cross and it is His scepter.  He calls not to acceptance of sin but repentance.  He calls not to acceptance of the way things are, He calls to repentance to the way things will be and are in Him:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. St. Matthew 4: 17

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. St. Luke 15: 10

(He ) said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. St. Luke 24  

 Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jeremiah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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General Intro to Commemorations of Old Testament:  The introduction of Old Testament saints into the cycle of commemorations in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is most welcome because it is most Biblical.  We may not think of the Old Testament worthies as “Saint”, but think again!  Hebrews 11 has been called the “hall of heroes”, or I call it the roll-call of the saints in Christ and all of them as recorded in the Old Testament!  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, they put “St.” in front of the OT saints, so:  St. Jonah!  It is these saints who first cheer us  on and encourage us saints in Christ Jesus to persevere, as recorded in Hebrews 12, the crescendo of the roll-call:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Now let’s look at St. Jonah!

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Jonah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

About Jonah:

A singular prophet among the many in the Old Testament, Jonah the son of Amittai was born about an hour’s walk from the town of Nazareth. The focus of his prophetic ministry was the call to preach at Nineveh, the capital of pagan Assyria(Jonah 1:2). His reluctance to respond and God’s insistence that His call be heeded is the story of the book that bears Jonah’s name. Although the swallowing and disgorging of Jonah by the great fish is the most remembered detail of his life, it is addressed in only three verses of the book (Jonah1:17; 2:1, 10). Throughout the book, the important theme is how God deals compassionately with sinners. Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of the fish is mentioned by Jesus as a sign of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew12:39-41). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:

Many years ago, when I first read Jonah on my own, no longer in Sunday School, I was amazed by it!  Now if you have not read it (it’s short, more like a short story), this is a spoiler alert. Just skip the rest of the reflection!  Read/re-read  Jonah  and come back for the reflection. 

Did you read/re-read Jonah?  Notice that in chapters 1-3, we are not told why Jonah runs away when the Lord called him to preach to the great capital of the Assyrian Empire, Ninevah.  Oh, Jonah was reluctant prophet, we were taught.  Yes, he was, but  reluctance is the result, not the cause.  We are not told why he was reluctant.

When Ninevah, from the King down, repents, the Lord forgives and changes His mind about His judgment towards them.  The Lord takes no pleasure in  the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from their evil to the Lord and live (see Ezekiel 33:11) So Jonah, after Ninevah’s repentance unto life in the Lord’s grace, parks himself outside of the great city and we are told he is angry. Dr. Reed Lessing (professor OT, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in his commentary Jonah), points out that  the 4 times the word anger appears (really:  infuriated),it is in the last chapter and it’s subject is Jonah!  Why was he angry?  Finally, after all the action in the first 3 chapters we find out that his anger is coupled with the reason why he fled to Tarshish and away from  the Lord’s call, from Dr. Reed’s translation:  “For this reason I previously fled toward Tarshish because I knew you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, and changing your verdict about evil.”  Jonah fled because of God’s grace! He fled because He did not destroy the Gentile Assyrians!  Jonah’s true confession of the Faith (“…you are a gracious and merciful God, etc.) becomes in Jonah’s heart and mouth his accusation against the Lord! Is your evil because I myself am good? (see  Matthew 20:1:  literal translation of the second question!). Yes.  Ask any congregation, ‘do you want to grow?’ and the answer is yes.  But I would maintain we may  not want this to happen  to the point of those people joining who don’t deserve it like we do who have “…borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat”  (Matthew 20: 12) and they receive the same, even the most wicked and at the 11th hour:  the Lord’s free gift of grace to all who hunger and thirst, and repent and turn to the Lord (see Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20: 1-16/ Matthew 20 ).  From Dr. Lessing’s commentary:

We simply stand under God’s overflowing grace like rain, allowing its cool refreshment to fill our dry cracks. Then we pick up the bucket and dump it on someone else. Grace flows from Yahweh not on those who attempt to earn it, but on those who confess their need for it. The Spirit-empowered response is then to share it. But Jonah is like the angry older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:28-30): he views God’s lavish welcome for undeserving sinners who repent as an insult to his “deserving” self. The prophet has yet to embrace the Law and Gospel character of God expressed in James 2:13: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

One last thought:  Jonah ran away twice.  The Lord never runs away and He sought Jonah twice.   Blessed Jonah’s Day

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About Samuel:  Samuel, last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century BC. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Samuel 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House.)

Reflection: I posted the pointed reflection by Lutheran Pastor Murray below for The Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Martyr.  The Old Testament lesson for in the daily lectionary was from 1 Samuel:  Saul sparing the life of King Agag though the Lord told Saul not to spare his life.   Saul did so because of compassion though he had no direct command from God to do so. The Lord told Saul that his life was then forfeit. 

In  seemingly less strenuous circumstances we think it’s all right to do something because we think, “…God will understand.”  Like the businessman on a long trip away from family, a few drinks in the hotel bar, a nice woman with a sad story…God will understand.  He won’t and neither will the man’s wife or his children.  We can build a whole false ethos around under the cloak of  ‘theology’. Pr. Murray points out that we are pretty good at “creating our own righteousness”.  All this points to in Lutheran theology the Third Use of the Law as guide for moral behavior and the litmus test is how does the action fair in way of our commitments and relationships in life:  mother, father, brother, sister, citizen, etc. The way to find out quite easily if what we are doing is actually holy is to ask: Is it conformity to God’s Law?  If not, then pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”

Samuel’s very name means literally “God hears”.  He was named so because Samuel’s Mother, Hannah was childless and God heard her distress.  “Surely to obey the voice of the Lord is better than sacrifice.”  Samuel heard for the Lord heard him…and us as well. 

For further reflection, Meditation by Pr. Murray, from his A Year with the Church Fathers (CPH): 

There can be no freeform holiness that comes from our own hearts. We often define and act on our own set of pious principles in seeking our own righteousness. This is purely a rebellion against the clear and unchanging will of God in the Law. There can be no holiness apart from the specific commands of a holy God. Our revision of the divine Law arises from seemingly righteous principles. Perhaps Saul spared Agag (1 Samuel 15) out of a desire to be compassionate and gracious, which God Himself claims to be (Psalm 86:15). Why shouldn’t Saul be able to get in on the compassion act? Simply because he had a direct command from God to do otherwise.

A veteran pastor was confronted by two married couples whom he considered pious members of his parish. They announced to him that they were swapping spouses and wondered if he might unite them in a double wedding. They argued that their spouse swap was loving and that, after all, the Holy Spirit had let them know that this was a good thing. He strongly suggested to them that they could not ignore the Sixth Commandment, and that maybe their spouse swap was merely self-serving. Our impieties are often perpetrated for pious reasons; love and compassion being common among those pious reasons. We even argue that God agrees with us. Like Saul, who as a worldly ruler considered it his prerogative to spare Agag, our pieties tend to benefit ourselves. We must flee from creating our own righteousness and remain tied down to the clear Word of God.

“Saul saw fit to use compassion when he spared the king whom God commanded to be slain (1 Samuel 15:9-11). However, he deserved to have his disobedient compassion, or, if you prefer it, his compassionate disobedience, rejected and condemned, that man may be on his guard against extending mercy to his fellow man in opposition to the sentence of Him by whom man was made. Truth, by the mouth of the Incarnate Himself, proclaims as if in a thundering voice, ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5). And in order to except martyrs from this sentence, to whose lot it has fallen to be slain for the name of Christ before being washed in the Baptism of Christ, He says in another passage, ‘Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39)” (Augustine, On the Soul and its Origin, 2.17).

Almighty God, in Your mercy You gave Samuel to courage to call Israel to repentance and to renew their dedication to the Lord.  Call us to repentance as Nathan called David to repentance, so by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David,  we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

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