It's Like Fire
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | June 25, 2023
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Read Jeremiah 20:7 – 13
Our second reading this morning comes from the book of Jeremiah… the prophet who was known as “The Weeping Prophet.” And given what we know about the times he was living in back then, who can blame Jeremiah for weeping.
In fact, looking at the times we are living in right now, who could blame any of us for weeping? Just this past week, I was once again taken aback and almost brought to tears by the lack of compassion that people seem to have for one another.
In the wake of the tragic implosion on the Titan submersible on its way to see the site of the Titanic, there was no shortage of comments and memes on social media criticizing the people who were on board that submersible for being rich and doing something deemed to be wasteful… basically implying it was their own fault for getting killed because they had made the choice to go on an adventure.
I became so frustrated and disgusted by these posts, that I could not help myself and I put my own post on Facebook which read:
How quickly we forget that OUR choices were responsible for the nails in His hands and His feet. ALL of our choices drove the nails that held Jesus up on that cross. It does not matter whether we are rich, poor, black, white, male, female, nonbinary, old, young, or whatever way we choose to define ourselves… we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Even as we sit in our seats of judgment, we are quick to ask God to shower us with His grace and mercy. How about we share some of that with others? After all that is what Jesus would do.
I guess you could say I was having my own Jeremiah moment… because the more I thought about the careless comments and thoughtless taunts people were posting about people who had DIED… not to mention that they were posting things in a public forum where their loved ones could potentially see these extremely hurtful words and pictures… I could not help myself and like Jeremiah, I thought, IT’S LIKE FIRE… and I simply could not hold it in… I had to let it out.
And so, this morning, for just a little while, I want to take a closer look at this reading from Jeremiah and reflect on the subject: IT’S LIKE FIRE.
At the time I was preparing the bulletin for this week’s service, I looked at the Lectionary texts and pondered which one to use as the basis for the sermon. Now, there are some weeks when the text almost seems to pick itself…
Those are typically the weeks that I come to the realization that the message was really meant for me… and this was one of those weeks.
With your indulgence for just a few moments, I would like to share a little bit of the backstory that brought me here to Ledgewood Christian Church and why this particular passage of scripture from Jeremiah resonates so much for me.
I apologize if you have heard the story before, but IT’S LIKE FIRE and I feel compelled to tell it once again…
Some of you may know that I ran from the call to ministry for about ten years before finally saying “Yes” back in 2001… Although I was not exactly sure what I was saying “Yes” to at the time, I did not think I was saying “Yes” to becoming a pastor by any stretch of the imagination.
Even through the majority of my four years in seminary, I kept saying I was prepared to do “something” in ministry… but pastoring was definitely not that “something” I was thinking about at the time.
Then as time went on and the days got closer to graduation, there was this sense of something smoldering inside of me and I began to think that maybe… just maybe… pastoring a church was not the worst thing in the world that I could do.
And so, after graduation in 2006 and my ordination in 2007 (which was actually sixteen years ago yesterday), I put my hat in the ring so to speak. And then nothing… for almost seven years… there were a few nibbles here and there… but nothing actually came to fruition.
And just when I threw up my hands in desperation and said, “I quit,” I got the call from our Regional Minister at the time saying that he wanted to submit my name to a church I had never heard of… out in a town I had never heard of… and I literally shrugged and said, “Sure go ahead.”
But in my heart, I figured it was going to be just like every other time… except it wasn’t just like every other time… because here I stand almost ten years after that phone call…
Now, since coming to Ledgewood back in January 2014, I have preached literally hundreds of sermons on a variety of subjects and themes. And over the course of time, there have been some weeks when events happening in the world have taken me to a point where I felt like I just had to say something… even at the risk of offending someone in the congregation… because IT’S LIKE FIRE and I just could not hold it in any longer… particularly when it comes to gun violence and other social justice issues… suffice it to say, it is in those moments that I can truly relate to Jeremiah.
Now just to give us a bit of context, Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry lasted from 627 BC to 586 BC… a period of roughly 40 years that stretched over the administrations of five different kings… ultimately leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Israelites’ exile in Babylon.
Now to say that those 40 years that Jeremiah ministered were FAR from easy would be a gross understatement. He had been thrown into prison, put into a cistern, and taken to Egypt against his will. Not only that, he was rejected by basically everyone to whom he tried to share God’s message of repentance… family, friends, and strangers alike.
By the world’s standards, Jeremiah was an abject failure…
But by God’s standards… the only standards that truly matter by the way… Jeremiah was a success. Because in spite of all the difficulties he encountered, Jeremiah remained obedient to God’s call on his life. He continued to proclaim the word of God, encouraging the Israelites to repent and turn their hearts back to God. It was a truly noble calling and he fulfilled his duties admirably.
That is not to say, however, that Jeremiah did not have his moments.
In fact, as we look at verses 7 and 8 of today’s text as they appear in the Message Paraphrase, we read:
Rather bold words for someone to say to God… but who among us has not had at least one of those moments when we have railed against God and blamed Him for our dire circumstances… wondering if He has forgotten all about us… whether it is in the face of the loss of loved ones… financial setbacks… or physical or mental health challenges.
If we are being completely honest, we have probably all had moments when we wanted to cry out, “Oh, woe is me…” or “Oh, why me?”
But thankfully, because God is gracious and merciful… He does not let our cries of anguish impact His great love for us… our questions and our uncertainties do not disturb or deter God…
Just look at the Psalmist David who had a habit of asking God a whole lot of questions… he was famous for asking things like, “How long, Lord?” and “Why, Lord?” and yet, he will forever be known as a man after God’s own heart.
If anything, it is those moments of emotional distress that have the ability to draw us even closer to God… as God reveals more and more of His unfailing love for us in the midst of our hardships and challenges…
It gets to the point that even when we think we want to just throw up our hands and walk away from it all… “No more Search and Call for me, thank you very much…”
That is the exact moment when we find ourselves responding like Jeremiah did in verse 9 of the text… “But if I say, ‘Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!’ The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!”
In other words, IT’S LIKE FIRE shut up in my bones and I just have to let it out!
In the Life Lesson section that accompanies Jeremiah (18 – 20) in the Inspirational Bible, there is a passage taken from the book, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life by Charles Swindoll, that speaks to this very situation. He writes:
At those times I’m tempted to say what the prophet said: I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name… (20:9a).
“That’s it! I’m tossing in my collar. No more sermons or devotionals for this preacher. Secular job here I come!” But right about the time I start to jump I experience what Jeremiah admitted:
… Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it (20:9b).
Directly sent from God is this surge of hope, this cleansing fire of confidence, this renewed sense of determination swelling up within me. (Taken from The Inspirational Bible, 1995, p. 870-871).
In essence, just when all hope seems lost, God will fill our spirits with hope that sends shockwaves through our system… so much so that we just have to tell somebody… anybody who will listen.
And that really is the crux of the message that I want to leave us with today… that as the people of God, we may be mocked and ridiculed like Jeremiah was back in his day… but that does not negate the importance of the message of hope that we are called to share with anybody and everybody.
And please take note, I did say the message of hope that WE are called to share… because spreading the Good News is not a task reserved for just the pastor or even the elders and deacons…
Jesus’ Great Commission to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) may have originally been given to His disciples who were shut up in that upper room… but it is still just as relevant for each of us today.
As we look at what is happening in the world around us, it seems fair to say, people need to hear about and get to know Jesus now more than ever before.
Living out Jesus’ command that we, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. [and to] ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37, 39) is something that we all need to take to heart.
Our lives are meant to be centered on spreading love… love for God and love for the people of God…
And yet it seems like so many people are focused on doing just the opposite… spewing hate and animosity toward other people.
It may sound rather cliché but back in 1992, in the wake of violent protests in Los Angeles, CA that were sparked after the acquittal of four police officers who had been filmed beating him… Rodney King said something so simple yet truly profound, “Can’t we all just get along?”
It is a question that plagues us still in the midst of a world that feels more divided than ever… “Can’t we all just get along?”
If it is not already, that needs to be our mission as the church, the body of believers… finding opportunities for us to come together to look for ways that we can all get along… so that we can live as Christ gave His life for us to live… “so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
That is the message that ought to feel like fire shut up in our bones… that message that we can no longer keep to ourselves… that Christ gave His life for ALL of us… so that we may live as one… now and for all eternity.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul offered these words of encouragement to them:
Divisions, factions, alliances, allegiances, partisanship… none of those words are used in the Scriptures to describe how God intended for His people to live.
In fact, just the opposite is true. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:
And in his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote (reading from the Message):
Let’s face it, because of God’s great love for us… we have been given a precious gift… the opportunity and the privilege to live a life in common… sharing the love of Christ wherever we go with everyone we meet… letting our lives become a living witness and testimony of the goodness of God… setting ourselves apart to bring glory to God in all that we say and do.
That is a privilege that should never be taken for granted… to be able to tell a dying world about a Living Savior who is Christ the Lord… to share that Good News that bears repeating today and every day because it really is just LIKE FIRE.
Hymn of Discipleship: Take My Life (v. 1, 4, 5) #609