God’s promise in the midst of unfairness

Sunday the 3rd of September 2017

Jeremiah 15: 15-21

I remember a time when I was in my first year of high school that I was in my maths class. Now I disliked maths and found this subject difficult. On this particular day, my maths teacher was trying hard to teach me and I was trying very hard to do as she was telling me. I worked really hard and concentrated the whole lesson; as far as I was concerned I was doing my best. However, in my class that day were a number of boys who were playing up, mucking around, and being disruptive. So my teacher in her wisdom decided that the whole class be kept in after school for 15 minutes.

To make matters worse this particular day I had been asked by the PE teacher to try out for the cricket team for the school. The cut off was this particular day. If you did not turn up you did not make the team. By the time I got out of the maths class the team had already gotten on the bus and had gone. As you might imagine I was not happy. I was so angry with my teacher all the way home.

When I got home my parents asked why I was not at cricket and I told them that the class had to stay in. They then assumed that I had done something wrong and, without giving me a chance to explain, got stuck into me about behaving better at school. By the time I got to my bedroom laying on my bed I was really angry. All I had done was try hard to do the right thing and I was being punished for something that I did not deserve to be punished for. I remember lying there and saying to God, “Life is so unfair”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah chapter 15, Jeremiah was in a similar position. Except that his complaint of unfairness was not against another human, it was against God. Jeremiah had been faithfully proclaiming to God’s people what God had told him to say. He had been courageous, he had tried his best. He had put up with an enormous amount of abuse because he was following God. And he had reached a point where he reached his limit and he was freely letting God know about it. Letting him know that, according to Jeremiah, this was unfair and he bitterly complained. He was one angry young man. And he gets to the point after outlining for God all that he had done for him (as if God did not know this!), where he says: 18 “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” In other words, he is accusing God here of making promises to Jeremiah and giving him hope, but every time he reaches out to trust God it’s like his promises vanish. And Jeremiah is questioning God on whether his promises are real, because if they were, why was he being treated this way?

As Christians, it is very easy for us to fall into the same temptation that Jeremiah did. It is easy to become disillusioned with God, because when we try to follow him, when we try to do the right thing, when we stand up for what is right, what happens? Jeremiah was speaking God’s Word to a people who did not want to hear. We live in the world where people around us do not want to hear what we as God’s people have to say.

Just look at those Christians who stand up and speak and see the persecution that they receive. Just look at the way they are treated with such disrespect and in some cases with outright hatred. It is very easy for us, isn’t it, to look around and see that here we are trying our best to follow God and we are treated unjustly. It is simply not fair. Even in our own personal lives, it can be like this; every time we try to do what is right by God, the evil one is there to push us two steps backwards. And at times if feels like we are trying our best, but we do not seem to be getting anywhere. We can complain just as Jeremiah did: ‘Why are you not keeping your promises, God?’

God’s response to Jeremiah tells us something of how God looks at things. God’s first response to Jeremiah was to say: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me;…” You see Jeremiah had become so fixated on his problems, on the things that were happening to him, that he failed to look to the Lord. The Lord was in control, but Jeremiah had taken his focus off him. Therefore the Lord told Jeremiah to repent; to turn back to him. The temptation is there for all of us, to take the focus off God. To see the problems that we face, the things going on in society and the world around us, as being hopeless. To start thinking to ourselves: “Well God’s not going to do anything anyway so why bother”. It is easy to become disillusioned with God because our focus is on the things in front of us and not on him. And he calls us just as he did Jeremiah to turn back to him, to repent.

The Lord says to Jeremiah: 20 “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. 21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

As Christians living in this world, the reality is that we will face opposition. It comes with following our Lord. People will not listen to us. Decisions will be made that cause us to grieve. Things will happen that will cause us to be discouraged. But the point is that the Lord and His Word stands firm. His promise is that he will act, in his way, in his own time. In his response to Jeremiah, he says the word “I …” five times. He reassures Jeremiah that he will strengthen him, be with him, help him. These same promises are for us also. In fact through his son Jesus Christ he has redeemed us and forgiven us for our lack of faith and our doubts. He has given us his Holy Spirit to help us where we are weak and struggle.

Life is not fair sometimes, and we often can’t see from our perspective why God lets things happen. But he urges us to trust him, to keep our focus on him in the midst of all the unfairness, knowing that he has things in his hands.

As I was putting this sermon together it struck me that sometimes in life we can make the Christian faith more complicated than it is. God calls us to trust him. Keeping our eyes on him, trusting that he has things in hand is important to our faith.

My encouragement to you all is to focus on God’s words of promise that he gives in this reading, that he will act, rescue, save, deliver us from the evil ones around us. The world can be difficult at times, but we have the assurance and the promise that our God is with us.

In our Bible study that was held in Launceston this week, it was spoken about how it is important for us to be positive. To look for what God is doing in us and around us; to give thanks to him for simple things; and in doing this it helps us to shift our focus from things in front of us to having a different perspective on life and lifting our eyes to see God working in us and around us.

Focusing on the Lord and what he is doing is what he asks us as his children. So I encourage you to do just this, to focus on the Lord, and to see what he is doing.