Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jeremiah.17.5-8; Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; February 13, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 5Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6he is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. he shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8he is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8 (ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If you have ever been to court or been in a courtroom you have seen it happen. You have seen it on television, in one of a hundred dramatic courtroom episodes of courtroom drama. You have read it in newspaper and magazines: Laws are introduced by senators and made by legislators. But the law is applied in the courtroom. It is in the courtroom that verdicts are handed down and sentences given. Where justice in handed out. It is in the courtroom where the law is visible. That is where the law is used to judge people.
But in this text, Jeremiah says that God judges people, too. Jeremiah gives us a courtroom scene. God has laws and expectations of people. And based on those expectations he pronounces judgment. God’s verdict is either “Cursed” or “Blessed.” Only those two. The picture Jeremiah paints for us is bi-polar, only cursed or blessed, nothing in between. That is the verdict that was being handed down to God’s people through the prophet. It was as if they were all standing there before God in his courtroom.
It is no different for us. Jeremiah is talking to God’s people right now, right down through time, written in God’s word. God is still handing down a verdict to us. It is a frightening picture, too. You and me standing in God’s court room awaiting God’s verdict over us. God’s law is visible there. God’s standards are judging God’s people. So, what will the verdict be in your case? Are declared cursed or blessed?
Jeremiah lays out the case. “You can tell,” says Jeremiah, “because God pronounces his verdict of ‘Cursed’ or ‘Blessed’ under certain conditions. If this is happening, he says, then you are cursed; if that is happening, you are blessed.” So, which is which in your life?
You know that is just the thing with the God’s law. Since God is perfect, that is what he demands. We do not think it is fair because we can never live up to perfect, ever. We want to say that God only expects us to do the best we can, and that is good enough. But it is clear here: Trust in “man” or depend on “flesh” for strength and you are be cursed. Trust in man that is: depend on government, or your employer, your friends, or your spouse for the things you need in life, and you are cursed. Trust in your own ingenuity, your own strength, your own ideas, be self-reliant and you are cursed. Do these just once or many times, and you are cursed. And that is defiantly not what we want to hear. Especially here in the US where we applaud the virtue of being a self-made man, against all odds living up to his potential. But God says that if our attention, our hearts, our minds, our focus is not on him, always, we are cursed. Listen to it in the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. Always, God first, above everything else. If not, we are cursed.
Just look at Jeremiah’s description of people who live with their focus not on God: he is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. he shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Shrubs alone in the desert. People having no real strength and living fruitless empty lives. Even if good comes they cannot see it because they are on the brink of death.
You and me, no matter how good we are, no matter how much we try, so very often our lives are just like that. Struggling just to get ahead, to pay the bills, feed the family, survive the next round of covid requirements. Depending on everything but God for everything. Living out there alone in the desert hoping for rain and rest that never seems to come. Actually, missing the good that comes because we are just too busy or too self-absorbed. To say it in a word: Cursed.
God pronounces his verdict on the blessed ones, too. Everything is different for them. They rely in him. He is where they find the strength they need in the day of trouble. Trees planted by the streams of water, never have to look for water, it’s always right there with them. Their roots are in contact with it all the time. No drought or trouble phases that kind of a tree. When I lived in Nebraska, we had irrigated farmland. The farmer gives water when it is needed. Iowa is mostly dryland farming. The crops depend on the rain when it comes. Nebraska for plants is the life of the blessed. According to Jeremiah, God has transplanted the blessed plants into a new place out of the dry desert, right near the streams of water. God does this though the Holy Spirit, his Word and Water. 3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7 (ESV)
That’s being transplanted from the old into the new. God’s word and water… Baptism… Its water applied that brings the blessed one into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship of faith in what he has done. Listen again, to what’s out in the desert: foolishness, malice, envy, hate, and foolishness. But through water and the word, God brings goodness, loving kindness, renewal, and the assurance of eternal life. That’s exactly what it means to be blessed.
Well, that’s you and me, isn’t it? We are believers in Christ. We are blessed, not because we uprooted ourselves from the desert, but because God transplanted us. Jesus won the right for us to be right there by the irrigation. Jesus was always totally reliant on the Father for his direction and strength. Jesus was always focused on the Father’s will for people. Jesus who lived perfectly in every way, kept every one of God’s laws, from the first commandment through the tenth, and every other one. Every part of the law that we break every day, Jesus kept every day and in every way. He did it, where we fail.
Jesus alone deserved the blessing of God. But he was cursed, there on the cross when the Father turned away from him and allowed him to suffer and die. For him, it was being left alone in the desert, there was no rescue for Jesus on the cross. It’s not just that he was left alone there either. It’s not just that he himself was cursed. Jesus was cursed in your place. He was cursed in my place. All things that we should have received because of our “hearts are turned away from the Lord” were placed on Jesus. He received the curse of an entire world of sinful people. That curse brought him to death and the grave.
Jesus dealt with our curse by his suffering and death, and he deals with our blessing by his resurrection. Just as his death is our death, so also is his resurrection ours. That’s the transplanting. he was dead, now he is alive. We were dead, now we are alive. The water from the font makes it so. God’s promises to us at the font make it so. Baptism connects us to Jesus in death and in new life. 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 (ESV)
Transplanted by the steams of water. Living in the blessing of God, instead of the curse.
Now when Jeremiah talks about bearing fruit, he says it never ends. It doesn’t cease. So, the fruit is there in your transplanted life. It’s that “walking in newness of life” that we just mentioned. You see, it’s a package deal. New life – bearing fruit. Every day you do what you do, as a transplanted tree. God uses your life to help the people around you. Parents raise their children and teach them. Through you, factories supply what people need to make a living, and farms produce what people need to eat, children learn what they need to learn, cars continue on the road, homes are heated, property is bought and sold. All of that is fruit, and it is a part of living your new life. There are other types of fruit, too. Caring for friends and relatives and even strangers who need help. Hospital visits, meals and so many other things. They are good things done, not to earn our blessings from God, but because we have been blessed by him.
And there is one more kind of fruit I want to mention. Out there, still living in the desert, are people who need to be transplanted or people who have forgotten what it means to know Jesus. Their hearts are turned away from him or turning away. It is not hard to find them; in fact, I have a list of members of this congregation who have not been here in years. In some cases, they are friends of yours, in some cases, relatives. Nobody is asking you to pound on stranger’s doors. Just be a friend and look for an opportunity to point them to Jesus again, look for a way for them to return to the life-giving water found here in God’s Word and Sacraments.
I asked earlier whether you were blessed or cursed. And the answer is clearly, blessed. Through faith in Jesus, through God’s Word and Sacraments you are that tree that is never thirsty. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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