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"The god of open options"

Jeremiah 26:8-15

Rev. Alan Taylor

Lent 2, series C
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Feb 24, 2013 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The city of Jerusalem has a long and tumultuous history, dating back some 3,000 years or so before Christ.  The Hebrew origin of the name is a bit uncertain, but, many scholars see it as coming from two words meaning "the foundation of peace."  If that is, in fact, the origin of the name Jerusalem, it is, to say the least, a bit ironic, since the city has known very little peace throughout its long history.  Over the years it has been ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks and even British troops.

Still, as you well know, Jerusalem has a special affinity to the Jews.  God had Solomon build the first Temple there.  It was there, in the Temple, behind the curtain that set the holy of holies apart from the rest of the Temple, atop the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, between the two cherubim, that God said He would meet with His people.  The Temple was then, to the Jews, the place where God dwelt and visited them.  Thus, Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, was a sacred and holy place. 

Consequently, to speak against Jerusalem was to speak against the place where God dwelt.  You can see why the people went into a tirade when Jesus, though He spoke of His own body, said, "I will destroy this Temple and build it again in three days." 

The Jews, though they were chosen by God to proclaim His Word and to protect and defend it, mistakenly thought of themselves as above rebuke.  In other words, as God's chosen people, they thought they were right with God no matter what they did or didn't do to honor their relationship with Him.  In the course of their history they worshipped and served other gods, not openly and blatantly, of course, but, as a matter of the choices they made in life. 

Jeremiah was given the dubious task of warning Israel about her waywardness and God's impending judgment.  He preached his message of warning right up to the time of the Fall of the Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple.  He called Israel to repentance, but, she wouldn't listen.  Instead, the people set their sights on him, the messenger who dared to speak against Jerusalem. "'This man (they said) deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.'" Jeremiah ultimately fled to Egypt and nothing is known of what happened to him there.

Israel had Jerusalem, her Holy City.  As Americans, one of our our most valued possessions, one of the things that we will fight to defend, is our freedom.  It is a National treasure and an "inalienable right."  For many Americans it is sacrosanct, God's gift to the American people.  That being the case, dare I say anything against our freedom and our use or abuse of it? 

In a recent article in Christianity Today, an author wrote the following.  "During a recent Starbucks visit, I stood behind a customer who ordered a decaf grande sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte with extra foam and the milk heated to 140 degrees.  As I stood in line, I actually started to think, maybe I want 140-degree coffee too.  Maybe, I thought to myself, my choice of milk temperature up to this point has been catastrophically naive.  Suddenly, his choices made me unhappier about my own.  I began to covet.  I wasn't sure what I wanted anymore.  I became anxious and indecisive.  I wasn't sure I was ready to commit—either to my kind of coffee or to his.  Was this really freedom of choice, or, was it slavery to it?"

The point is, the author says, we worship the god of "open options."  Commitment, it would seem, is a far too permanent a thing for our liking.  And the problem is, the god of open options is killing us.  He kills our relationships, because he tells us it's better not to become too involved.  He kills our service to others because he tells us it might be better to keep our weekends to ourselves.  He kills our giving because he tells us these are uncertain financial times and you never know when you might need that money.  He kills our joy in Christ because he tells us it's better not to be thought of as too spiritual.  And, perhaps most strikingly, he kills our commitment to the truth and to orthodox Christian teaching because he tells us that no one church can actually be right when it comes to the Bible.

Lord Macaulay, the brilliant historian, made this prophecy about America many years ago: He said, "Your republic will be pillaged and destroyed just as ancient Greece and Rome … but the one to destroy your nation will be the citizens of your own country, the products of your own civilization." 

Freedom is a gift from God, a gift fought for by brave men and women down through the ages.  Freedom though, ought to afford us the right and the privilege to do the "right thing," not to do "nothing."  As it turns out, a by-product of the god of "open options" is "apathy."  In many ways we, as a people, suffer from the same disease that afflicted Israel.  When times are good, when there aren't any immediate dangers to our person, or, to our way of life, we turn away from God and we don't see anything as immediately urgent, not even our repentance.  God, in a sense, becomes a National hero to us, rather than a living, personal being who demands our devotion and our commitment.  Grace is cheapened and God weeps for our Nation, not as a new Israel, mind you, but as a blessed people who have used God's blessing as a license for evil.

"Mend your ways and your deeds (the prophet says), and obey the voice of the Lord your God."  When we repent of apathy, the fruit of that repentance is action.  You and I are called to engage our culture with the truth of God's Word and with the love of Christ.  Freedom is a good thing!  But, even as Jesus has set us free "from" something, namely sin and death, He has also set us free "to" something, namely commitment to the truth, and commitment to one another and to our neighbor. 

In the Gospel reading for the this morning Jesus laments over Jerusalem because she refuses Him, the source of her hope and life.  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken.  And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"

As Jesus longed for Jerusalem, so He longs for you.  Hands pierced on the cross are held open wide to embrace you with love and forgiveness and to shelter you from sin and death.  Even as God so loved you "that He gave His only-begotten Son (for you)," so He calls you to forsake the god of "open options" and to commit to Him in such a way that this Nation and your neighbor are blessed immeasurably by your action.

On August 20, 1778, from his field camp at White Plains, George Washington wrote the following.  "There never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States, and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God, who is alone able to protect them."  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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