It Is Not Easy

Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehukal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’ And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’”

Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”

“He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.”

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

But Ebed-Melek, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”

10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Cushite, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”

11 So Ebed-Melek took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melek the Cushite said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.

Jeremiah 38:1-13 (NIV)

One of my childhood memories is watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I felt a strong connection with Kermit the Frog who was a star on both shows. He sang a song that resonated with some aspects of my life, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

As I read the passage from Jeremiah today, that song came into my mind. Clearly being a prophet, a human messenger for God, was not easy. Many of the prophets recorded in the Bible complain to God about their work at least at some point. People do not always like what God has to say to them. Here we clearly see the idea of killing the messenger when you do not like the message.

There are times when each of us is called by the Lord to be prophets. We are asked to share a message which some may not wish to hear. Our experience may result in rejection and/or isolation. While we may not have to fear the possible loss of our life like Jeremiah did, we may fear losing our status or relationships in our lives.

Yet Jeremiah’s story here does not end in a cistern. Instead, through the voice of a Cushite palace official, God provides a rescue of Jeremiah by changing the king’s heart. Our story will not end either if we face rejection and isolation due to our sharing of God’s message. God will rescue us. Like Kermit, even though it is not easy, we will see that it is what we are meant to be.

Living the Calling

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NIV)

At Christmas time, one of my favorite holiday classics is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart. The message of this movie is important for each of us to hear on a regular basis. Stewart’s character, George Bailey, learns that if he had not lived, the world would be in a much worse situation. His contributions to the world have made positive impacts on many lives within his community. George had a position to fill which benefited individuals, families, and the community as a whole. The additional message from the movie is that when a community joins together, amazing outcomes are possible.

Paul’s message in today’s passage is one which Clarence, the angel, demonstrated to George Bailey in the movie. Paul tells us to live a life which is worthy of our calling, our calling as children of the one God. We achieve this by striving for unity within the Spirit, requiring us to humble ourselves, be patient, and bear with each other. In addition to striving for unity, we are to mature in our faith. Jesus has given us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to aid in our maturing. Third, Paul states that as members of the body of Christ, each of us are to do our part (like George Bailey) to grow and build up the community of faith.

During a time of difficulty and an uncertain future, George Bailey thought the world would be much better if he were no longer alive. There may be times when we have similar thoughts. George learned that these thoughts were wrong. He found that he had a calling in life into which he must live in a worthy way. No one else was given this unique calling. Each of us is the same. We each have a part for which we are chosen in the community. We must use our position to create unity. We must mature in our faith so that we understand our call and community better.

Running Away

Jonah and Me

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the one about Jonah, not because it has a dramatic scene of Jonah being swallowed by a marine animal but because I can relate to running away from God. (If you need to refresh your memory, read the book of Jonah.) You may also have times when you have tried to runaway from God. Spoiler alert—God always wins.

Jonah did not want to do what God had asked him to do. He did not like the people of Nineveh, so he did not want to see them receive a chance to be redeemed. Jonah had become judge and juror, already giving sentence on the stubborn people of Nineveh. When God clearly was going to offer a way for the people to reverse direction and had chosen Jonah to be the herald of this good news, Jonah refused. Jonah knew that God is loving and forgiving. He knew that when the people were offered another chance, they probably would take it and God would forgive their mistakes. This is not the outcome which Jonah wanted, so he chose to run in the other direction to avoid Nineveh.

Maybe some of Jonah’s story resonates with you. I know that it does for me. There have been times when I have chosen to be judge, juror, and sentencer for individuals. Multiple times I have not wanted to do what the Spirit was encouraging and guiding me to do. I have tried to run and hide from God because I resisted what I knew was God’s intention in a specific situation. God has seemed unfair and unreasonable to me. I have my own plans and my own desires which apparently God was not taking into account. There were justified reasons for me saying no to God and I could back those up with reason and good judgment.

The Outcome

Jonah’s story concludes with Jonah eventually going to Nineveh, sharing God’s opportunity for a second chance with the people, and the people reversing their direction which results in God’s forgiveness. Now there is a lot in the story between Jonah’s escape and this conclusion but as I mentioned above, God always wins. The reason for God winning is that God is love and always works for the good of all God’s people (Romans 8:28). God chooses humans to carry out this work. Since God operates differently than us (Isaiah 55:8-9), we often see them in conflict with our personal desires. This is what tripped Jonah up, and what has tripped me up each time.

A variety of reasons are behind my attempts to not go in God’s direction. The one which we see in Jonah’s story is that Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh and did not see them as worthy to receive God’s grace. I hate to admit that I have felt this way about certain individuals at various times in my life. I want to justify these feelings based on how they have acted towards me or others. Other times I have resisted because I am concerned about the perceptions people may have about me. Then exist times when the direction God may be leading does not coincide with my hopes and dreams for my personal outcomes. I have become quite good at justifying all these reasons to head a different direction.

Whenever I embark in a direction different from what God may intend, I find that God will let me set off on my own journey. Times have existed when I even fool myself into believing that I have actually beaten God. I can also convince myself that apparently God has seen the wisdom in the direction I have chosen and is actually blessing my efforts. But, even in the midst of my celebrating, I know the effort is a misguided attempt at exerting my power and control.

Like Jonah, the end result is always the same for me. After taking time to try it “my way,” I end up exactly where God intended me to be from the start and doing the work which God had desired. Again, as the story of Jonah shows, my journey is usually filled with storms, havoc, and panic. I make a mess of the situation. I create more hardship for myself and others then is necessary. Yet God is patient. God waits for me to go through all my attempts and welcomes me back with love when I return (Luke 15:11-32). My running away has ended once again (for now).

What might you be running from? Why are you running? Do not worry, God will let you get your exercise and will be waiting for your return as God sets you back on the right path. There may even be a day when you trust that God has the right idea (Proverbs 3:5).