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Facing An Old Inconvenient Truth

February 16, 2020

30 An appalling and horrible thing
   has happened in the land:
31 the prophets prophesy falsely,
   and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
my people love to have it so,
   but what will you do when the end comes?


Divine Gardener,
you give growth to our seeds
and to the towering forest trees;
you raise to abundant life that which seems dead.
Teach us to choose blessing
and life rather than death,
so that we may walk blamelessly,
seeking you
through reconciliation with all of your children. Amen.


The Scripture for this sermon is from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet” because the time, situation, and message he felt forced to proclaim during his ministry was so depressing. Jeremiah’s ministry occurred during the reigns of the last kings of ancient Judah: Josiah, Johoahaz (who only ruled for three months before taken to Egypt as a prisoner); Jehoakim (608-597 B.C.); Jehoachin (who only ruled for three months and ten days before he was taken prisoner and exiled in Babylon for the rest of his life); and Zedekiah (who ruled for eleven years until he was captured by the Babylonians, forced to watch his sons executed, blinded, and then executed when Judah was finally conquered by the Babylonian Empire during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar).


Jeremiah watched, worried, and warned his nation about its wickedness. He watched as his nation falsely claimed that it was living up to divine commands of faithfulness and justice. Jeremiah grieved because the rulers, priests, and other prophets who were beholden to the ruling establishment were stubborn and hypocritical. He grieved because his warnings were not heeded.


And Jeremiah grieved because God ordained him to deliver a very inconvenient truth that the ruling establishment refused to believe and didn’t want him to tell: Judah was out of time to make things right. God would not protect the nation any longer.


Instead, God ordered Jeremiah to proclaim inconvenient truth. God had condemned the nation to a dreadful future. God would not prevent the Babylonians from defeating his nation’s military. Even worse, the Babylonians would be executing God’s judgment on a proud and disobedient nation. The conquering Babylonians would plunder and burn the temple built in Jerusalem by Solomon centuries earlier. National leaders would be killed without mercy. Most of the population would be removed from the land and forced to live as exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah was ordained to deliver the grievous message that Judah – him nation – would suffer the loss of its land, leadership, and religious life as part of God’s judgment because of generations of societal idolatry, greed, hypocrisy, violence, and injustice, its idolatry. Jeremiah was called to deliver inconvenient truth.


That explains the stern and depressing tone of the passage we’ve read from Jeremiah 5. That chapter begins with Jeremiah being told to search throughout Jerusalem “and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth – so that I may pardon Jerusalem” (Jer. 5:1). That is the context for these words:


Declare this in the house of Jacob,
   proclaim it in Judah:
21 Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
   who have eyes, but do not see,
   who have ears, but do not hear.
22 Do you not fear me? says the Lord;
   Do you not tremble before me?

I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
   a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail,
   though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
23 But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
   they have turned aside and gone away.
24 They do not say in their hearts,
   ‘Let us fear the 
Lord our God,
who gives the rain in its season,
   the autumn rain and the spring rain,
and keeps for us
   the weeks appointed for the harvest.’
25 Your iniquities have turned these away,
   and your sins have deprived you of good.
26 For scoundrels are found among my people;
   they take over the goods of others.
Like fowlers they set a trap;
   they catch human beings.
27 Like a cage full of birds,
   their houses are full of treachery;
therefore they have become great and rich,
28   they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;
   they do not judge with justice
the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,
   and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
29 Shall I not punish them for these things?

says the Lord,
   and shall I not bring retribution
   on a nation such as this?

Faithfulness to God’s demands that prophetic people tell the truth even that truth is inconvenient. Faithfulness to God demands that we declare God’s inconvenient truth to a deceitful and unjust nation.


God has not called us to be counselors and cheerleaders to our deceitful and unjust nation.


God has not called us to conceal God’s judgment sentence on state-sanctioned deceit, hypocrisy, and evil conduct.


No matter how much prophetic people may love our nation, no matter how much we may prefer to avoid delivering inconvenient truth about divine judgment, and no matter how much we want to avoid resentment and mistreatment from others because we deliver inconvenient truth, faithfulness to God impels that we declare God’s inconvenient truth.


It is time for prophetic people in the United States to declare a dreadful message to our society like the one Jeremiah was ordered to proclaim. And make no mistake. The message we must proclaim is not popular. We will learn, as Jeremiah did, that our message will offend people, including people we know, respect, and love.


People will be offended because they do not want to hear inconvenient truth. They don’t want to see inconvenient truth. They don’t want to admit inconvenient truth. And they don’t want to heed inconvenient truth. Because they cannot strike out at God, a nation of deceitful, hypocritical, and unjust people will always target prophetic people.


Martin Luther King, Jr. was hounded, threatened, and subjected to painful criticism throughout his last years. Some of his critics were religious leaders. Most black religious leaders and congregations refused to be associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The leaders of independent black denominations did not support the SCLC. In some cases, they joined white religious leaders and groups in criticizing King’s demonstrations against U.S. racism, capitalism, and warmongering. Since King’s assassination in 1968, politicians, preachers, and others have paid lip service to his prophetic life and pimped his prestige at every opportunity.


However, the gap between people who are wealthy and people who are poor is wider than it was when King was murdered.


The United States not only leads the world in making war outside its borders. We are killing one another with guns. We are killing one another by poisoning the air, water, and soil that produces the food we consume.


Idolatry to the greed inherent in capitalism has blinded the entire society from seeing the harm caused by generations of devotion to profit-making rather than building communities where every person is protected from commercial ruthlessness and violence. People are sick and dying because they cannot afford mental and physical health care and treatment only because the U.S. economy is built on capitalist greed, not communal good.


Now is not the time for prophetic people to be quiet. Now is not the time for us to seek favorable attention and treatment from deceitful, hypocritical, and unjust politicians and their corporate sponsors. Now is the time for us to speak and behave as Jeremiah spoke and acted. Now is the time for us to say to this society what Jeremiah said to Judah.


An appalling and horrible thing
   has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
   and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
my people love to have it so,
   but what will you do when the end comes?

Without a doubt, “an appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land.” As prophetic people, it is our duty to as this society what we will do. What will we do before God allows this society to suffer the fate suffered by Judah?

However, we must not fool ourselves. Sooner or later, people who feed the death wish chosen by Judah find, as Judah did, a way to destroy themselves.

Judge of Creation, we are like Jeremiah.

We see evidence of idolatry to greed, deceit, and injustice at every turn. We see commercial robbery licensed as economic good. We see capitalist self-centeredness preferred to communal well-being.

We see manufactured, merchandised, and marketed violence. We see the suffering this has caused in our time. We know the suffering it has caused across the history of this nation.

And we know our nation has not heard your prophets. We have rejected your prophets in favor of politicians, priests, and prophets who spin lies we have chosen to believe. We cannot blame you for our current plight. This is the mess people, including the majority of religious leaders and congregations, have chosen.

Strengthen us to proclaim your stern yet loving message of judgment to our nation. Deliver us from a spirit of fear, timidity, and concern about being unpopular. Help us to hear your voice, see your ways, and declare your truth with clarity and strength, so that whether the people of our time listen or not, see or not, and heed or not, they will know that we have been your prophetic people in their presence.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, the prophet who called us to love you faithfully and one another generously. Amen.