June 25, 2017 3rd Sunday of Pentecost
Jeremiah 20:7-13 Romans 6:1b-11 Matthew 10:24-39
There is a character in the beloved children’s book, Winnie the Pooh, called Eeyore. Eeeyore is a gloomy donkey. His favorite expressions are, “Oh, my,” and “Oh, dear,” said in a sad gloomy voice. If a character says to him, “Good day, Eeyore,” he would probably answer, “It could be a good day. Unless of course it rains. Which it might. Since there’s a cloud over there.” Eeyore is the lovable pessimist of children’s literature.
I bring up Eeyore because our two pieces of scripture today seem to be incredibly pessimistic if not downright alarming. But today I want to focus on Jeremiah
Jeremiah is lamenting about the difficulties of being a prophet, but if you know the history of Jeremiah you would actually wonder why he didn’t lament more about his job, since he was given the commission by God to preach against the corruption of the Temple and the Government of Israel.
The Temple had basically turned into a vehicle to maintain the government’s agenda of corruption of the normal people. Israel shouldn’t have been surprised by this development. It was a classic example of: Be careful for what you wish for, because when you get it, it might feel good at the time, but you aren’t going to like the future consequences.
You see five hundred before Jeremiah, the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel went to the prophet Samuel and asked him to speak to God to appoint a king for them. Samuel warned them that what they really needed to do was to figure out how to work together, but, because they insisted, Samuel prayed for guidance from God, and God delivered the following message:
This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:11-18)
Still, the people wanted a king so God appointed Saul and the David, followed by Solomon, and then (except for a few bright and moral individuals who did follow the commandments of God and the Hebrew Law) it was downhill all the way until the aristocratic corruption was so entrenched that you couldn’t have extracted it from the structure of government with anything less than the Babylonian invasion.
Not only that but over the centuries, the people of Israel had taken to worshiping foreign gods as well as the God of Israel. Back then it was not unusual to find statues of Egyptian, Canaanite, and other gods in a Hebrew household, as objects to be worshiped and to ask favors from. Did people still believe in the Hebrew God? I think they did as their principle God, but humans like something they can touch and visualize – so why not pray to a cat, for a safe home, or a cow for lots of children, or a hawk for good rains, just to be on the safe side?
The problem with this is when they de-emphasize their own traditions they lost the focus on what made their relationship with God such a great thing. If you look at the ancient laws in the Torah they were made to give everyone a chance for equality among people both socially and economically because the main emphasis of the law is to care for your neighbor as you would care for yourself. The people, forgetting their own rights and traditions of equality, allowed the government to becoming more exploitative and corrupt. No wonder Jeremiah was so gloomy.
This is what Jeremiah was sent to prophesy against and pretty much everyone in power said to him – Hey be quiet! We are the ones running the country and you just don’t understand how hard it would be for us to change things at this point. Yeah – following the ancient laws is a nice ideal but this is how we are doing it. This is how we remember it being done. And we’ll all get by. And as far as all those household gods, well they really can’t hurt anyone. As long as everyone pays their Temple tax the main religion of Israel is doing just fine.
This is justification for a broken system. But what on earth does a gloomy donkey have to do with a frustrated angry prophet that no one listened to until it was too late?
Well, one of the problems that Jeremiah had was that he was often sidelined as an Eeyore. Oh that Jeremiah. Always preaching gloom and doom. The harvest is doing just fine this year. The Babylonians are way over there and aren’t interested in us. On a bright sunny day no one wants to hear about rain but that doesn’t mean rain isn’t coming.
Any dysfunctional system, is going to limp along and sort of function, until something happens that causes it to fall apart. A healthy system that works for the whole people, might have disagreements within it but it can meet crisis and adapt because it is not working on maintaining the system – it is working on maintaining the people within it, who will support it as long as they see that they are getting somewhere.
In our own lives we have Jeremiahs – legitimate people who know what they are talking about who try to warn us that we are on the wrong path. And we have Eeyores – people who simply see the possibility of gloom on the horizon and enjoy telling us about it. The problem happens when we mix up the two.
When any system, whether it be a family, a company, or an organization, has a problem solving session then you will have an Eeyore. “Oh, dear. If we try to fix that we’re going to have to do something different. We’ve never done it that way before. Someone isn’t going to like the color of the new carpet. Can you imagine the amount of money it’s going to take to fix it? It probably won’t change anything anyway. People will still trip when the walk in the entrance.” Kind of makes you want to throw up your hands and say, “Fine let’s just leave it the way it is until it falls apart and we HAVE to do something.” Eeyores tend to lead us to being re-active instead of pro-active.”
On the other hand you can get people who are so alarmist that they try to be uber-Jeremiahs and paint an apocalyptic picture of total destruction if we don’t change. “If we don’t change that carpet someone is going to really trip on it, break their leg and then we will be sued for everything we have and we will all be living out of our cars for the rest of our lives!” Sometimes you spend so much time calming that person down that you never solve the problem.
Jeremiah, as a prophet, might have seemed to be alarmist, because he told it like it was. However, he didn’t sugar coat the serious problems, or blow them out of proportion. He said, This is the deal. You’ve got a corrupt government, which isn’t following the laws that we all agreed to live under, and this makes you unable to protect yourselves. You believe that God is never going to let Jerusalem fall to any enemy but in reality we know that that the Babylonians are bigger, stronger and meaner than we are. We’ve got to get ourselves right with ourselves and God so that we can meet them face to face as equals. And the other thing he always preached was: God is mad at you but He wants to help you. Just get in line with Him and He will help us out of this mess.
Eeyores just see negative outcomes no matter what the change might be. Jeremiahs look at our problems and ask us to live up to our full potentials to solve them. The problem is to live up to our potentials we have to get out of our comfort zones. When Eeyores say, “Oh, dear. We’ve never done it that way before. How do we know it will work? It probably won’t,” we tend to think that maybe we should stay were we are and not do anything, until of course it’s to late.
Don’t let the Eeyore’s get you down. Be a Jeremiah. Look at the problems in your life, get them in line with God, and work on solving them with God. Just as God wanted the Hebrews to be proactive and work with Him to avoid disaster, God wants to work with us to avoid the disasters in our lives. God sees your heart and your mind. He is on your side. Commit your cause to Him and He will help you out of whatever difficulty you have, and get you to the other side, where you find your life for His sake.