Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kindler, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church in Canada today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Canadian Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance. O Church of Canada, ready to watch your popularity plummet?

(You can listen to the audio of the full sermon at http://www.churchcloud.com/calvary-baptist-cobourg/)

Judge for Yourself (and Isaiah 5:3-4)

Though Isaiah’s poem is not over, the love song of Isaiah 5 has come crashing to a halt. Instead of finding ourselves in a recording studio we find ourselves in a courtroom as God speaks up:

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
(Isaiah 5:3,4 NRSV)

God could have done nothing more for His people, all Isaiah’s original hearers could do would be to agree with a verdict in favour of God.

Many people make judgements about God; “God is dead. God does not exist. God has failed me. God does not matter!” But what if we stood before the judgement seat of Christ and God were to ask us to make a discerned judgement with a question much like that posed to Jerusalem and Judah in Isaiah’s prophecy: “What more could I have done for you that I have not already done?” And what might we say as begin to contemplate what God has done? Here are a few ideas:

You have created the earth and placed and nurtured it in such a way to sustain life – You have given us the sun and the moon – You have given us sight and sound and touch and smell – You have given us incredible vistas – You have given us beauty to behold – You have implanted creativity in us – You have given us curiosity and discovery – You have placed in our world so much to discover – You have given us intelligence – You have given us communication – You have given us free will – You have given us gravity to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground – You have given us encouragement to lift our spirits – You have given us air to breathe and water to swim in and move upon – You have given us incredible variety – You have given us incredible consistency – You have given us relationships – You have given us family and procreation and intimacy – You have given us a conscience – You have given us revelation of Yourself, Your will, Your love – You have given us guidance – You have given us Your Word – You have given us grace, Your blood and body on the cross – You have given us the possibility and opportunity to receive eternal life and communion with You – You have given us the opportunity to receive Your Holy Spirit – You have given us the right to be called children of God – You have opened the door to Your Church, to brothers and sisters in Christ – You have given us the possibility of becoming more like You . . .

. . .of course I am only scratching the surface. For us to go deeper in our knowledge of all God has done we would need advanced degrees in all the sciences and all the arts. Some are going to say that there are naturalistic explanations for all that we would discover in such an education, but if we affirm that God’s fingerprint will not be found in it, does that speak about God’s willingness to reveal Himself, or our desire to find Him?

What more could God have done for us that He has not already done? Ready to judge for yourself?

A Love Song Gone Wrong (in Isaiah 5)

If tidbits were Timbits then this Sermon tidbit would be a foot across! So I have decided to break it into two and share the tibit in bits today. So here is the first of two tidbitbits –

Imagine a man starts to write a song for his wife:

She left her home town for me,
She left her own dreams for me,
Would leave all in a single heart-beat,
Yes, she gave up so much,
So I could feel such,
Love kept and played on repeat,

So far, so good if you like Country . . .next stanza:

She has given me her time,
For me mountains did climb,
With a love that truly is neat,
Can love in a man stir,
love worthy of her?
That’ll make up for his stinky feet.

Upon moving to the chorus, the writer of the song realises he has a problem, and I’m not referring to his feet. The lack of a band to perform the song, and a recording contract to record it are not the problem either. These are rather blessings. No the problem is this: in thinking about the love his wife has for him, it becomes apparent that he has not measured up in his love for his wife. She has loved him and cared for him. He has been a fool.

Isaiah 5 starts out as a beautiful love song:

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
(Isaiah 5:1,2a NRSV)

In a very few lines the song has conveyed an incredible depth and commitment of love through the imagery of a vine. For a vine-grower to plant a vineyard properly, it could take up to three years as the ground is prepared, as the vines mature, and as proper defences against animals and thieves are built up. The beloved has invested a lot into this relationship. However the song goes on and goes wrong quickly:

he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
(Isaiah 5:2b NRSV)

One possible translation of ‘wild grapes’ is ‘stinky grapes,’ that is, not only are these grapes not worth eating, you don’t even want to be near them! The song writer realises that the vineyard has not been worthy of farmer. Since the vine grower is God, and the vineyard is His people (see v7) the song writer realises that though the love of God is deep and persistent, His people have not measured up at all. The song writer started out to sing a love song, but ended up with a lament.

Do we ever in our hymns to and about our Lord find ourselves tripping over the words? In our experience of worship, do we also experience our sinfulness? When we sing words like “To God be the glory, great things he has done” do we find our minds and hearts seared with the great things we have undone or left undone? If that has never happened to you then perhaps a) the greatness of God and the greatness of His love has not hit home, or b) the depth of your sin has not hit home, or c) your love for Him really is as great as His love is for you. I don’t know about you, but in my experience it is never c.

How might a love song between you and our Lord play out?