Tear Down and Build Up

The Narrative Lectionary this week points us to Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Jeremiah 7:1-11. The Gospel text is Matthew 21:12-13. These are the last texts before Advent, which begins next week. 

The book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, contains so many vivid texts and the one from the first chapter is one of those.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The calling of Jeremiah tells us that he is uniquely qualified to be the prophet during this sad time in Judah’s history. It’s going to be a tough job, but Jeremiah is being empowered by a strong God. Nine times God affirms His role in Jeremiah’s life, beginning with prenatal awareness:

  • I formed you in the womb
  • I knew you
  • I consecrated you
  • I appointed you a prophet to the nations
  • I send you
  • I command you what to speak
  • I deliver you 
  • I put my words in your mouth
  • I appoint you over nations and kingdoms

In some ways, but maybe not exactly the same ways, God is doing those things in the life of Christians today. I see this expressed in the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In Christ we are (formed, known, elect- under his authority), what we are to do (go to all the world and preach the gospel), trust that God will be with us (I am with you always), as we teach, baptize, and teach (everything I have commanded you). I don’t know if the preacher can make that work in the sermon but it is interesting to me. It’s not our designated Gospel text and would probably be a distraction from the Jeremiah text. 

A Holy God commissioned Jeremiah to go in anointed power to speak Divine words  to both tear down and build up.  And in chapter 7 that’s exactly what he does.

Jeremiah 7:1-11

Jeremiah is sent to the gate of the temple with a strong word from the Lord. They are coming to the temple to worship, but there’s something wrong. God is asking them to amend or reform their ways (vs 3) and let him dwell with them in the temple. Evidently God was not dwelling with them because of their duplicity that was demonstrated by repeating “This is the temple of the Lord” (vs 4). Just saying those words doesn’t make it true. Just as today using religious language like church, sanctuary, altar, and communion doesn’t mean that the rest of our lives are ignored. We easily segment our religious / secular lives. But notice here that God is not interested in a religion that ONLY takes place at the temple. To amend their ways means…

  • Act justly with one another (shades of Micah 6)
  • Do not oppress the alien, the orphan, nor the widow (James echoes these themes in James 1:27)
  • Do not shed innocent blood
  • Do not run after other gods (to your own hurt)

If they will amend their ways then the promise that God made to the ancients remains in place forever. But that’s looking doubtful as the list in the next few verses demonstrates they have a long way to go. In spite of coming to the temple with words of worship their lives every day are corrupted with actions such as…

  • Stealing
  • Murder
  • Adultery
  • Swearing falsely
  • Offering to Baal
  • Chasing after unknown gods

And after all of that they come to the temple and declare that they are safe because they came to worship. God notes that then they go back to doing all those things yet again. Instead of his house being a house of worship it’s a house of robbers (This phrase ‘house of robbers’ or ‘den of thieves’ is part of the Gospel text selected for today).  God affirms He is watching. 

God is watching us as well. What does He see? Duplicitous living? Does He see us saying we are Christians and worshiping at the altar in our churches on Sunday but living as if He did not exist Monday – Saturday? Even more, does the world see this and disrespect it as much as God does?

Our text ends there but a few other verses are intriguing and might make it into the sermon. 

Jeremiah 7:13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. (When God called Jeremiah, however, he answered.)

Jeremiah 7:16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. (You know you’ve gone a long way down the wrong road when God instructs the prophet not to pray for you.)

There are several things the preacher could focus on in these texts. One truth is to notice the humble receptive heart of Jeremiah in chapter one. The focus there is totally on God but Jeremiah does manage to express his childlike doubts about his ability, only to be built up by the Lord’s promises (1:6-7).

That receptive heart is contrasted entirely with the self-deceived worshipers at the temple who say all the right things and do all the wrong things. I doubt any of us could say we are entirely innocent of such. It’s a call to repentance .. a call to amend our ways with the Lord … and don’t bother trying to hide anything, He is watching. Implicit in the call to repentance is the acceptance God demonstrates toward us. But don’t ignore that while this hypocrisy is in control, He’s not living in the house. (James 2:14).

The appointment of Jeremiah is to “uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). In our own lives there are some things that need to be destroyed, and some things that need to be built up. Did we ignore those things as we walked into God’s house today?

As we pray and think and contemplate these passages this week, God will surely point us in the direction we need to go for our churches. 

Jeremiah had a strong message for a wandering people. He could never claim to be a successful prophet in terms of responses. He got none that we know of. He didn’t spark revival, he didn’t influence a king, and he didn’t change anyone’s mind. But he did obey God and that was enough for God.

You’re invited to join in the conversation about the Narrative Lectionary texts each week and look through the resources provided at my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians