Lessons From The Road - Week Two: What Breaks The Heart of God

Today I will continue the short sermon series I wanted to preach when I returned from my summer-long sabbatical entitled, "Lessons from the Road."  

As I mentioned last week, I did a tremendous amount of traveling over the past several months, crisscrossing the United States with trips out West into New Mexico, Colorado, and all through the South.  

I saw some incredible things as I made my way across our country.  And I got to thinking about something as I traveled.  

Our country is filled with beauty and wonder--touched by the miraculous, if I might be so bold.  It can make your heart sing to experience it.  

Let me show you some of what I saw.  

But every so often, as I was traveling, I would be reminded that there's another side to our world ---by billboards on the side of the highway, cable news in the atrium of hotels, and even the very few things that slid through to me on my phone or through friends.  


These are things that we can't ignore---even though most of the time we try.  

I  have to admit, I thought more than once while I was traveling this summer that I wished I could just retreat from the world, and never have to see, hear or acknowledge the pain and the suffering, the anger and hatred, the violence and division all around me. 

Our Scripture today is one of those passages where you have to swallow hard before you say, "This is the word of the Lord."  Come to think of it, there's a lot of those passages in the Bible, aren't there? 

We're going to be hearing from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah today as part of our lectionary teaching.  Jeremiah was known as the "Weeping Prophet" because of the way his heart broke over the needless destruction, wanton injustice and terrible tragedies that he witnessed. 

And we're going to be asking two challenging questions: 

1.  What breaks the heart of God?  

This is going to require some unpacking and we'll do that as we go. 

2. Why don't our hearts break over the same thing? 

The answer to this question comes down to our own ability to resist the desire to retreat from the ways our world is not as it should be. 

And here's what I want us to focus on today, the one thing that I want you to hold on to throughout this entire sermon and beyond:  

True salvation comes when our heart breaks for what breaks the heart of God. 

Let's go to our text for today: 

Jeremiah 8:18 - 19:1

8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

8:19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?" ("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?")

8:20 "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."

8:21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

That's pretty uplifting, right?  I mean we could just end the service right now, and walk out of here fired up and ready to charge Hell with a squirt gun!  

I get it.  It's hard to read passages of Scripture like this, but honestly sometimes we need to so we don't get in the habit of looking away when we see suffering, retreating when the world is just wrong. 

I know that you all heard some sermons from Jeremiah this summer, so I'm not going to go into a ton of details about the historical context, but a thumbnail sketch might serve us well here. 

Jeremiah was a witness to the fall of Jersualem to the Babylonians in 587 when King Nebuchadnezzar sacked the city, burned most of it to the ground, and destroyed the Temple. 

Jeremiah had been preaching and pleading with the leaders of his day to do everything they could to avoid conflict with Babylon, to rely on God's faithfulness, to steer clear of alliances with untrustworthy leaders, to act with justice toward the people, to keep their best interests at heart. 

But like most political leaders, the leaders of Jeremiah's day had one thing on their minds, retaining power at all costs, even to the point where Jeremiah's prophecies of destruction came true. 

So Jeremiah is standing in the midst of a ruined city, and because his connection to God is so intimate his heart breaks over and over again at what could have been, and what actually happened.  

He sees the results of the folly of Judah's leaders, and the people who had turned away from God---seeking their safety and security in military alliances, weapons of war, unbridled nationalism. 

His world is out of joint and so at last he wishes to detach, to flee, to retreat so he doesn't have to take in the suffering any more.  

But then God speaks---what is called an "oracle" of the Lord.  We don't know exactly how Jeremiah hears the word of God, but it comes to him in the middle of his sorrow and he knows that the voice he is hearing in his heart is not his own. 

This is the first line of that oracle from Jeremiah chapter 9: 

“See, I will refine and test them,
    for what else can I do
    because of the sin of my people?

Have you ever had that happen?  When you just knew that whatever it was that you were thinking or hearing in your head at the moment could not have come from anywhere else but the Divine Whisperer in your ear?

The key words in God's oracle to Jeremiah are translated "refine" and "test" which speak to God's desire to take the evil that had occurred to God's people because of their own pride and bad choices, and turn it into something new and restorative. 

This is what God does time and again if we are willing to see it and receive it.  We go off and do our thing, we willfully turn away from the ways of peace, mercy, justice and love, and God takes the wreckage we leave behind and fashions something new out of it. 

But then we get this: 

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises fidelity,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

So, let me pause for a second, and take us back to our original question: What breaks the heart of God?  

God's heart is broken when we reject God's kingdom in favor of the kingdoms of this world.  

God's heart breaks when we deny the image of God within ourselves and others, when we act in ways that de-humanize and destroy.  

God's heart breaks when we refuse to live into the unbelievable grace and love of God that leads us to become the people we were meant to be. 

God's heart breaks when we despoil the earth, oppress the poor, resort to violence, hatred and idolatry.  

But what we see in the texts from the oracle in chapter 9 is that God doesn't withdraw when God's heart breaks, according to the prophet--and neither should we.  

So how do we respond to the brokenness around us?  God offers us a guide which we find right here in the oracle of Jeremiah: 

Fidelity—faithfulness to our calling to be instruments of peace 
Justice—“rightness” doing what we can to make the world as God wills it
Integrity—living congruently, internalizing grace, hope and love—then living it

We cannot turn away from the brokenness of our world.  We might want to.  God knows we want to.  But God doesn't withdraw from the brokenness and neither should we. 

I spent a week at a Benedictine monastery in Big Sur, CA last month, which was perhaps one of the most impactful weeks of my life. 

I confirmed that I do not want to live my life as a monk.  The food is bad, you have to wear strange robes when you're doing public stuff, and there's the whole celibacy thing, which would never work for me, just saying. 

So I had these ideas about monks that were turned upside down after spending some time with them.  

I had this notion that these were people who withdrew from the world, disconnected from everything, so to speak.  They spent their time praying, meditating, and kind of living this peaceful, unworried life away from the struggles of life. 

But the fact of the matter is, the monks kind of know what's going on in the world. 

They have wifi. 

They also have a lot of time on their hands to read, to think, to meditate, and to stay engaged with a world that needs to know there's truth, beauty and love to be found. 

So they create art. 

They write books. 

They welcome others into the rhythms of their life. 

And in a hundred different ways, they help show that the pain and suffering of this world can be transformed if we turn toward it with loving gazes, and open hearts no matter how difficult that is to do. 

These monks could easily cut themselves completely off, but they don't because they know that God doesn't, and that Jesus didn't, and they want to be the kinds of people who believe in salvation rather than isolation. 

I left that monastery thinking to myself--"If a monk in a monastery high on a mountain above the ocean can be engaged in healing the brokenness of the world... I sure as hell can." 

You and I have so many opportunities to be engaged in our world.  To hold both the beauty and the ugliness and show that through faithfulness, justice and integrity that even the worst the world has to offer can be transformed. 

God's heart breaks so much for the world that God became one of us in order to rescue all of us.  

True salvation comes when our heart breaks for what breaks the heart of God. 


Popular posts from this blog

Rapha & Yada - "Be Still & Know": Reimagined

Wuv... True Wuv...

The Lord Needs It: Lessons From A Donkey