St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 04-05-09: Fifth Sunday Of The Great Fast


While his name means "God has exalted" or "God has established," the prophecies of Jeremiah were primarily directed toward the Israelites, the Lord also gave him prophetic messages for other nations of the world. His ministry service took place during the last forty years of the existence of the kingdom of Judah, approximately from 627 to 586 BC.

Jeremiah has often been called the weeping prophet because he struggled with feelings of insecurity, doubt and alienation. Because of the constant opposition he faced, he became so depressed that he cursed the day of his birth. Despite the cost to himself, he spoke the word of the Lord with uncompromising honesty.

Though the date and place of Jeremiah's death are uncertain, Jewish tradition holds that he was stoned to death by fellow Jews while living in Egypt after the destruction of Jerusalem. Despite their misfortunes, those who had taken refuge in Egypt remained unrepentant, blaming their troubles not realistically on their idolatry, but on their failure to worship Ishtar, the pagan queen of heaven.

It is hard to find evidence in the book of Jeremiah that the prophet enjoyed any sense of personal triumph throughout the course of his ministry. Though he may have felt vindicated when his prophecies about Jerusalem came true, such feelings would have been small comfort in light of the suffering that had befallen the people.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to nations" Jeremiah 1: 5. Jeremiah lay flat on the ground, his face pressed into the dirt, remembering the words he heard as a youth, words from heaven that had at first reassured him and then shaken him, unmaking his own plans for life.

"But Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child," he objected. "Do not say, 'I am only a child,"' the Lord replied. "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. Tell me what you see."

"I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north."

"From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land," the Lord said. "Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land - against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you."

In the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, this word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, a youth who. Like the boy king of Judah, had suddenly been called into service. Prophet and king - Jeremiah and Josiah - the two were like brothers sharing the same passion, working for the same cause. But when Josiah died, Jeremiah was suddenly left alone, lamenting the loss of the man who bolstered his hope that Judah might one day return to the Lord.

Jeremiah rolled over, staring at the darkness of the dungeon prison. He could smell the dank earth, feel its damp chill clinging to him like ice coating a stick. He had not eaten for some time. Food was scarce in a city under siege. How long had he been here? he wondered in the recesses of his soul. A long time was his certain conclusion. No wonder the Lord had forbidden him to marry. What future was there for children born into a world that was falling apart? What future was there for children of an outcast?

With the exception of Josiah, all the kings of Judah hated Jeremiah. They tried silencing him by the usual methods - bullying him, beating him, placing him in stocks, shutting him away in prison - but nothing worked. Jeremiah kept on speaking the word of God, standing in front of them like a bronze wall that could not be breached, just as the Lord said.

One day a scroll containing the prophecies of Jeremiah was delivered to King Jehoiakim while he was sifting in his winter apartment warming himself in front of a burning firepot. Jehoiakim leaned back lazily in his easy chair and ordered his official to read it to him. After a few columns were read, the king leaned forward with a scribe's knife in his hand and sliced off a portion of the scroll, throwing it into the firepot. Then his official resumed reading. After each section was read to the king, he cut it off, consigning it to the fire until the entire scroll was burned up. Like a spoiled child covering his ears to the voice of an angry parent, Jehoiakim refused to listen to the chastening words of our heavenly Father. Instead, he ordered Jeremiah's arrest. For his part the prophet simply dictated another scroll while in hiding from the king's men.

At times Jeremiah had grown so weary of the struggle that he tried to stop teaching and prophesying. But each time he kept silent, the words became like a fire shut up in his bones Exhausted from the struggle of holding them in, he thundered on: "Flee for safety, people of Benjamin) Flee from Jerusalem) Sound the trumpet. I will destroy the Daughter of Sion, so beautiful and delicate. Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression. As a well pours out its water, so she pours out her wickedness. Take warning, 0 Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land so desolate so no one can live in it."

The succession of kings who ruled were consistently warned that Babylon would attack Jerusalem and burn it to the ground, they consistently had him thrown behind bars. Now, lying in the darkness of his cell, Jeremiah heard a lock turning in the door. Shielding his eyes from the sudden onslaught of light, he squinted at the man who stood at the opening. "Come with me," the guard ordered. "Zedekiah wishes to meet with you privately."

Zedekiah greeted Jeremiah as he walked through the door to his private apartment. The king carefully studied his prisoner, noting the tall, narrow build covered by a filthy robe. Straggly gray hair and beard framed a deeply lined face, out of which stared eyes calm and sane as those of any man. Holding a handkerchief to his nose to ward off the horrifying stench, the king inquired of Jeremiah, "Did he," Zedekiah wondered, "have a word from the Lord, perhaps a softer, more acceptable message than the one he delivered before his long imprisonment?"

The old man stood straight as a rod and then spoke slowly, deliberately, as though addressing someone whose hearing had been permanently damaged: "I do have a word for the king. You will be handed over to the king of Babylon. If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. But if you do not surrender, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from their hands."

This was not the word Zedekiah had been hoping to hear. Stubborn as many of the kings who preceded him, he ignored the warning, refusing to surrender Jerusalem to its enemies.

When the Babylonians finally broke through the city wall, Zedekiah, and his soldiers fled under the cover of darkness, but they were soon captured on the plains of Jericho. Then Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, made him watch as one by one his own sons were slaughtered along with all the nobles of Judah.

Zedekiah closed his eyes, bracing himself for the sword that would end his life. But death was too great a mercy for him. Instead Nebuchadnezzar had his eyes gouged out and then bound him with bronze shackles to take him captive to Babylon, where he would have ample time to recall the scene he just witnessed.

After that, Nebuchadnezzar burned Jerusalem to the ground, taking many of its citizens captive. As Jeremiah had foreseen forty years earlier, Babylon had been that boiling pot, tilting away from the north, which had finally boiled over and destroyed the kingdom of Judah. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, too, found himself in chains, lined up with others about to be transported to Babylon. But the commander of the guard spotted and recognized him as the prophet who foretold Jerusalem's destruction. Speaking kindly, he reassured him, saying "Today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon if you like and I will look after you, but if you do not want to, then do not come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please."

Then the imperial guard gave him provisions and a present and let him go and Jeremiah chose to remain among his own people.

Although it is often true that Jeremiah is considered a prophet of doom, a man who warned God's people of the grievous consequences of their sin, yet it would not have been possible for him to thunder on about impending judgment if he had despaired of the possibility that Judah might actually repent and be saved. Surely it was hope that kept him going.

This hope was made tangible during Babylon's sustained siege of Jerusalem. One day Jeremiah heard the Lord telling him that one of his cousins would soon ask him to buy a field belonging to him. But why, he must have wondered, should he waste precious silver purchasing property that was about to be overrun by a foreign invader? Before he had time to puzzle out the answer, he saw his cousin approaching. Sure enough, the man was selling his field and wanted Jeremiah to buy it. So Jeremiah did.

As the prophet tried to make sense of this impractical business transaction, God spoke again, telling him, "I will surely gather my people from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them" Jeremiah 32: 37.40. Jeremiah's hope was based on the convincing knowledge that nothing is ever too hard for God, not even restoring the fortunes of a people whose future seems utterly wrecked. So, like a good contrarian investor, he ignored conventional wisdom and bought the field. His purchase proved valuable for the Lord eventually brought many of his people back to Jerusalem, a people chastened, purified, corrected and eager once again to live in the land of promise.

How many people think they are not prepared perhaps too young too insecure or ill-prepared to do something God called them to do? The prayer of Jeremiah, accusatory, honest, self-pitying, reveals his experience of serving the Lord and his relationship with God. He was honest in his prayers)

The book of Jeremiah is filled with beautiful poetry, striking phrases and powerful symbolisms. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Jeremiah often uses symbolic actions, to drive home the seriousness of his prophetic message.

Jeremiah did not sit down every week to determine what he would preach about. Neither did he spice up his preaching and waste time with humorous stories in hopes of warming up his audience. He simply spoke the word of the Lord as it came to him. Over and over, he kept on speaking it, even though the people hated him for telling them the unpleasant truth, thinking his words too harsh and never realizing it was the harshness of their own lives, exposed as they were to an acceptance of sin in their life.

The prophetic warnings of Jeremiah make no sense outside the larger context of God's love, outside the bigger picture of his overall intentions. As we read the story of Jeremiah we need to remember that God's judgment Is always tempered by his mercy. How merciful would it have been after all, if God allowed these people to stray so far from him that they might never find their way back? How good would it be if our God in our own circumstances allows us to stray and wander and detour our pilgrimage to heaven and then not be able to find ourselves back to the path of security? Through Jeremiah God called the people He loved, pleading with them begging them to repent, revealing his heart through the words of the prophet.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, 0 Virgin Israel" Jeremiah 31: 3, 4.

"The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.... 'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people" Jeremiah 31: 31, 33.

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