I used Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26 for my sermon this morning.
Jeremiah was depressing and gloomy, not great company at party. Claiming that he spoke for God, he bluntly told the people to stop what they were doing because it was against the ways of God and then went on to tell them that unless they heeded God’s words, calamity would ensue.
An example. God told Jeremiah to tell the people, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;at the time when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, (8:11-12)
Jeremiah warned the people of an impending invasion. He warned the king, too. He did that over and over again. No one listened. His vision came true. Jerusalem fell and the long exile in Babylon began.
In this morning’s reading Jeremiah made clear that placing our trust in humankind over trusting in God is not going to sustain us. Doing this is not living. It is barely hanging on to life. That life is without fulfillment and reward. It is life full of struggle and pain. It is a parched life, dry and arid with nothing that is life-giving. In contrast, when we place our trust in God, we will be like a tree planted by water. Jeremiah’s words echoed the psalmist, who wrote in Psalm 1:3, “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” By placing our trust in God, we not only will live, we will flourish. We will bear fruit to sustain ourselves and the community in which we dwell. We will find fulfillment in our lives.
However, placing our trust in God does not mean our lives will not be without hardship. It does mean, though, that when we face hardships and struggles, we will be better able to endure and to survive until the struggle is over.
So, where do we place our trust?
That was Jesus’ implicit question. We’re probably more familiar with the Beatitudes from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. This morning we hear Luke’s Beatitudes, also known as the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus addressed the crowd in which there were Jews and Gentiles as well as the disciples.
Unlike Matthew’s version, Luke included woes. The sharp words in both the Sermon on the Plain and Jeremiah are not comforting. Rather, they sound unduly condemning.
The woes, though, were a warning to everyone that day. Jesus told them, “Though you may be rich, that’s all you can expect. Though you may be content now, that’s only temporary. Though you are joyous and happy now, you will suffer and grieve.” And then the kicker, “though there are people who will laud you, that’s what people did to the charlatans who came before.”
They should be a warning to us as well. Life is ever-changing. Yes, we can anticipate. We can predict. But we can’t be guaranteed. A dry cleaner taught me that back in the 1980s when I lived in Brooklyn. I think this took place on a Friday in November. Riding the subway to work in midtown Manhattan, a passenger looking very sick suddenly threw up – on me.
When I got out of the subway I went to a dry cleaner a block or so from the office. Its sign read “Same-day service.” I left the coat and said, “So I can get this back at 5:00? Do you guarantee that?” The guy in typical New York style, “I can’t guarantee that.” I looked at him, “That’s what the sign says.” He said, “I can’t guarantee it. Something can happen. What if the building falls down or a fire breaks out?” We talked for a bit more. I left the coat and was able to pick it up to wear home at the end of the day.
As nutsy as that story sounds, the guy was right. We can plan and, generally, more often than not our plans come through. But what if they don’t?
I’ve served a lot of people in my ministry whose plans fell apart. I think of some of the people who told me how they became homeless. Some of them had good jobs. One owned his own business. Another was a chemist. I think of people who I’ve seen in line to get food from a food pantry, especially people in their 60s and 70s. I remember seeing one of my former parishioners waiting for food. I doubt that five years before she could have imagined waiting that Saturday morning. I’ve met people who had to give up their jobs because they had to care for a parent with a long term illness. And what about people who are addicted to opioids because their pain meds were over-prescribed?
I doubt anyone chooses to live under bridge or has plans to live in an emergency homeless shelter. I doubt anyone prefers to go from food pantry to food pantry to stand in line for their week’s food. I doubt anyone asked for her parent to be so sick that it required her to quit work to become the parent’s caregiver. I doubt anyone who had an injury intended to become addicted.
Jesus told people that day that though you may be poor, you can still find a blessing. Though you are hungry, you will be satisfied. Though you mourn and grieve, that passes and joy and happiness will return.
Those are also temporary, which is cold comfort when you’re suffering. But Jeremiah reminded us that by leaning upon God, not humankind, when heat comes and a drought persists, we will not be anxious. We will find grace. We will continue to bear fruit, albeit perhaps not as abundantly, but enough to feed ourselves and a few people around us. When we lean upon God during our suffering, suffering is redemptive. Leaning on God keeps us from making decisions which will cause more harm and hurt. Furthermore, our redemption comes from the lessons we learned in our suffering about ourselves and about life itself.
To live in God is to live by the Spirit. To live in God is to live knowing that we exist for the world and not the world exists for us. To live in God is to find touches of grace in the maelstrom of calamity. To live in God is to find light in the darkest night. To live in God is to have gratitude when there is nothing. Living in God means to live generously, to appreciate beauty, to laugh heartily, to live humbly, to have hope. Living in God is to trust the teachings of Jesus to guide our lives. That’s faith. The late William Sloan Coffin wrote, “If faith puts us on the road, hope keeps us there.”
The crowd who came to Jesus that day needed hope in the midst of crushing Roman oppression. He told them that their lot would pass. At the same time he warned them not to become complacent when things are going well because that too will pass.
The lessons from that day are our same lessons today. Lean on God as Jeremiah warned. Only then will we come to know life that nourishes us daily, that bears fruit for our lives and the people around us, and that enables us to endure suffering because we never lose sight of hope.
 William Sloan Coffin. Credo. Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY. 2004 Page 18.