Monday, September 03, 2007

Repairing the Leak

Repairing the Leak
Jeremiah 2:4-13
September 2, 2007
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: God accuses all the people of Israel of forsaking Him and turning to “things that do not profit,” like the worship of idols. They turned away from the “fountain of living water” and have constructed cisterns for saving up water themselves. But these cisterns are cracked and can hold no water.

Our lives are cracked cisterns, and we routinely worship other idols. Having just talked about God’s call, how can we stay faithful to that call, and faithful to the God who issues that call?

Sermon Function: To teach listeners that our ability to stay faithful is limited because of our fallen nature. We must look to Jesus Christ as the salve to which we can sustain our call and remain faithful to God.

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We are in week two of a six-week series on the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. For you trivia buffs out there, Jeremiah is in fact the largest book in the bible. Last week, we dealt specifically with the concept of call, using Jeremiah’s call by God to be a prophet as one example of being called into ministry of Jesus Christ. This week, Jeremiah speaks to the nations, revealing God’s prosecution of Israel for its forgetfulness and idolatry, which includes that false idol where we think we can save ourselves.

Listen now to God’s word.

[Read Scripture - Jeremiah 2:4-13]

Introductory Illustration

I will hazard a guess this morning that almost all of you have heard about the horrible situation of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who pled guilty this week to federal charges related to his participation in a dog-fighting ring. He pled guilty and was told that he would receive his sentence later this year. After entering his guilty plea, Vick took to the steps of the courthouse and made a statement to the press. I’d like to read portions of this statement to you now, because it’s largely a good statement and because it also contains a link to today’s reading from Jeremiah.

Here is Michael Vick:

"First, I want to apologize … for all the things that - I've done and that I have allowed to happen … I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and … I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least.

“I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and … what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up.”

“I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.”

“I take full responsibility for my actions. … [N]ot for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I've done.”

“I'm totally responsible, and those things just didn't have to happen. I feel like we all make mistakes. It's just I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things … just can't happen.”

“Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.”

“I'm upset with myself, and … through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that's the right thing to do as of right now.”

“Like I said, for this - for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help … me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so. I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all the young people, young kids that I've let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.”

“Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.”1

Now to me, this sounds like a man who is truly contrite, and concerned about something more than just his multimillion dollar salary or superstar fame. I give him the benefit of the doubt, because he admitted guilt in federal court, and because he took personally responsibility for the crime he committed. He also took responsibility for lying to his teammates and friends.

Vick also committed himself to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ, something, frankly, I hope that I might be able to do, along with you. In general, then, I appreciated Vick’s statement. It is my deep hope that his words were sincere.

While I appreciated Vick’s statement, he is not the object of this sermon. God is. And several things in Vick’s statement that ought to draw attention to our own behavior and the nature of human society. We are a broken people. And both kids and adults frequently look to mega-wealthy superstars as “role models.” I don’t want to dwell on Vick himself, but on some of the things his statement highlights about our culture, including making idols of role models and fame, how persistent sinful behavior can lead to embarrassment and destruction. How can we, with our broken cisterns, find redemption?

Idols and “Role Models”

Although many times we don’t even realize we do it, we are constantly making idols out of things and people, “role models,” to whom we pay homage. I saw a program on one of the “home and garden” cable channels devoted to how much money a couple could get for their house. The process of selling a home is, in the wider scheme of things, a somewhat banal process. People buy and sell homes all the time. But this is a program devoted to elevating a real estate transaction into a life altering struggle of biblical proportions because, you see, if the couple in question can’t get the big bucks they expect, then they won’t be able to “move up” to that next mansion they have their eyes on.

We make idols out of what we “own” or think we own, we make idols out of professional athletes, supermodels, cars, food, addictive substances, booze, and we even make idols out of ourselves. We do this when we start believing all the hype about how we are better people than we really are. We begin to get tempted, as some athletes and politicians are tempted, to think that somehow we become exempt from the consequences of our unrepentant sin. To be clear, here, I’m not just picking on Michael Vick – I’m addressing all of us here who profess to be Christian and who might be tempted to lord it over those who struggle with matters of faith. But Vick himself touches on the idolatry of our culture because he senses that people hold in him high regard for no other reason than his stellar athletic abilities.

Jeremiah writes:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?” (Jer 2:5 NRSV). Going after the worthless things will take us down the road of worthlessness. Goings after what is worthless means that we aren’t good stewards of the precious gift of life we have received from God.

Jeremiah was speaking to “all the families of Israel” in an attempt to refocus their attention to the God that saved them from slavery.

We are called to do the same thing, by rejecting the idols of our culture that keep us from recognizing Almighty God and from hearing how He is calling us into the world He is preparing for the fullness of his coming Kingdom.

Sin and Destruction

I mentioned earlier that we can become wrapped up in our sin to the point where we lose our way. This kind of thing does not just happen to the celebrities in our culture. Frankly, the problem is endemic to our humanity. Sin is a true, multicultural phenomenon. No one is exempt from its temptation. And our refusal to repent and turn away from sin can actually make us, as Jeremiah writes, “worthless.” We know, from the testimony of scripture and the testimony of our own stories that something is awry. In the rebellion of humanity that had is source in Adam and Eve, we are the “people [who] have changed their glory,” their glory, “for something that does not profit” (Jer 2:11 NRSV).

Who does such a crazy thing? We all do. The same temptations that cause one person, for example, to exchange the healthy income and fame associated with extraordinary athletic ability and sell it out to pursue a few extra bucks on the side in cruel sport? Or to risk the wrath of a family in pursuit of cheap, meaningless sexual escapades? Or maybe succumbing to the temptation to cheat “just a little bit” on our income taxes. It seems that human beings have the incessant need to cheapen human life, to commoditize it, to relevatize it in ways that are so seditious that they can become a subtle form of slavery to that which is worthless. It honestly makes no sense, which is one of the reason Paul complained in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Jeremiah’s revelation of God’s words, written thousands of years ago, still rings true today. In our text, the Israelites stand accused of turning against God. Prophets were prophesying by Baal, that ancient idol of the Canaanites. What idols we prophesy by? Is it prosperity? Do-it-yourself redemption? So many things that they are difficult to enumerate. We need only reflect on our own lives for a few moments before the truth of the matter becomes uncomfortable.

“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jer 2:11 NRSV).

Jesus Christ and Redemption

The situation can feel oppressive and hopeless. The situation that Jeremiah addresses in our text, the rebelliousness of Israel, is so severe that all of the heavens are called in as witnesses:

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer 2:12-13 NRSV).

Jeremiah’s wording and the imagery are very rich here. Israel has forsaken the Lord, the very fountain of living water. Instead, the people have hewn cisterns out of the rock to try and save life-giving water themselves. I had the privilege of seeing one ancient cistern on the mountaintop fortress of Masada in Israel. As I recall, the cisterns at Masada were designed to hold tens of thousands of gallons of water. The cisterns, coupled with the large from which occupied the largest portion of the Masada stronghold, were designed to make that place impregnable. Despite all of the preparations, however, Masada did ultimately fall. For Israel and for Jeremiah, the cisterns they have dug out are cracked, useless, and can hold no water.

This is a call to return to the Lord, the very fountain of life. We, too, are called by Christ to do the same thing. Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well? Jesus asks her for a drink of water, and she responds:

“’How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans)”

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water’” (John 4:10 NRSV).

The message of the Gospel this week is very straightforward. We are called to turn away from our dependence on whatever well or cistern we’ve dug for ourselves in which we think we can safely place our trust– maybe it’s that big bank account or 401k, perhaps it’s something else. The reason is this: Eternity is at sake. Faithfulness to God is at stake. The things of this world will pass away. The old maxim “you can’t take it with you” is still in effect!

I am always amused when I read headlines like this one: “Among people who pursue habit or behavior X, the death rate increases by 25%.” What baloney! The last time I checked the death rate, my friends, continues to be 100%. No one is exempt, and that stark fact should inform all of our life decisions, and should heavily influence the degree to which we remain faithful to God’s call to us in Jesus Christ.

Leave those cracked cisterns behind. Don’t fall in the trap of dependence on those earthly things that we leave behind. Cleave to the source of living water – Jesus Christ. Trust in Him, the source of all heavenly treasures.


If I had one bit nit to pick to Michael Vick’s statement, it is this four-word statement: “I will redeem myself.” There’s no need for that, Mr. Vick. Someone already accomplished that task for you and for me and for all of you. The price of Israel’s disobedience at the time Jeremiah was writing, and our own disobedience and idol-mongering, has been paid-in-full. What we need to do is reject sin and cling to the One who calls us into ministry as Head of the Church – the One who calls us to the font of our baptism, and who calls us to eat and drink with him at the table.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Transcription from the Associated Press.