The prophet Jeremiah speaks to America, if America would only listen. He was speaking to Jerusalem about two and a half millennia ago. Yet his words also fit us as a nation.
In Jerusalem, Jeremiah was told to go seeking for a man who does justice and seeks truth, that the Lord would pardon the city for the sake of that man. It is as if Jerusalem has become as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah, when God said that He would pardon those cities for the sake of just five righteous people.
In America, how many righteous people are there? Instead of justice and truth, people are concerned with personal advantage. Even the people who are considered good will cut corners or slip a little money under the table if they think it is justified. Everybody does it, we say, as if that makes it right.
Are we honest and truthful? We call ourselves patriotic, yet we so easily break laws. The speed limit is considered to be friendly advice. This is so common that people are looked down upon if they actually obey. Rebellion is celebrated. Not honoring authorities, but ridiculing them, is the cultural norm.
The Lord sends troubles to turn us back to Him. He gives us heavy loads so that our knees will bend before Him. Yet, as Jeremiah says, we refuse to take correction. We have refused to repent.
This is not only the people out there. It is not only those wicked people in our country who ruin it for the rest of us upstanding citizens. We in the Church have been as guilty as any.
Our lives are full of sin, yet we so easily feel no anguish of soul over them. Why should we, we say? Christ died for me. I don’t need to worry about guilt. But our whole life is supposed to be one of repentance. We are not supposed to shrug at sin as if it’s no big deal.
So Church attendance goes up and down, when repentant sheep should crowd the pews every Sunday. Private Confession goes largely unattended by most of us, although not a week goes by that we do not have a giant load of sin that could be confessed.
Do we refuse to take correction? When the Scriptures and the Confessions speak against our traditions, do we hold to our traditions for dear life? We think it is a virtue that we are conservative, meaning that we uphold what has been going on for a generation or two in the Church. But a fair number of those are based neither on the Scriptures nor our Lutheran heritage, but are borrowed from other church bodies that teach differently. When shown that this is so, do we take correction, or cling to what feels right?
The Jews had generations of upbringing in false traditions. They had generations of Baals and Ashtaroths and high places and moral laxity. But when God tried to call them back, few heeded. Few received His correction.
So God sends discipline. Lions and wolves and leopards stalk the faithful. For us in America, we have mostly been comfortable. No obvious lions are visible to us. But the wolves slink stealthily behind their prey. The leopard gets very close, unseen, silent, before it pounces. We have subtle dangers, and predators that have been let loose. The pressure of friends to give up church; jobs that lead us away from worship; family ties that get in the way; encouragement to follow our heart; and so forth and so on – so many invisible leopards stalking, grabbing a straggler here, eating a lost one there.
Are we warned? Do we receive correction? Or do we go on, business as usual?
Repent, and cling tighter to Christ. Seek His forgiveness eagerly, hungrily.
Do I even need to speak of the sexual immorality of our culture that finds its ways into our lives? We well-fed Americans, so blessed by God in our land of luxury, have so many options as to how we shall commit adultery. Our men are largely lusty stallions, as Jeremiah says, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife. The over-sexuality of almost every aspect of our lives permeates our hearts, at times, as well. Sexual desire is so easy, but dismissed as acceptable by many.
Yet all the while America goes on, business as usual, saying, “God will do nothing. No disaster will come upon us.” They fear no consequences for their sins, and too often we are carried along by the same spirit.
Unfortunately, people are helped along by a multitude of false prophets. Empty winds who have no word in them is what Jeremiah says about them. But even in this, we are tempted to be, and often are, open and accepting of different teachers, whatever their false doctrine may be. In the same way, we are too often tolerant of the immorality of our culture around us.
So repent. Turn away from your sins, and eagerly seek the forgiveness of Christ. Accept correction, and be better by it.
To such as cling to Christ, there is good news. Although great punishment is coming, and perhaps is at the door even now, God will not make a full end. He will not sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous. You are in Christ. You are His true vine branches. He shall not strip you away with the false branches who make a show of being Christians yet are not.
You are the remnant of the Church. So many have gone away, making their religion only an empty shell. But you have the true substance. You have Christ the Vine. In Him is life and strength and vitality forever. Although you may have to share the consequences of sin in this fallen world for a time, He will not make a full end of you. You are in Christ, so you are forever.
This is not because your sins are less than other people’s sins. But your sins are not counted against you. Because you trust in the sacrifice of Christ for you, He does not see your sins.
Disaster is coming. Disaster will surely come. It may come upon this nation, or it may come upon the entire earth at once. Regardless, you shall be snatched out of the fire. You shall not fall eternally. For you are the repentant ones, those who have not forsaken the Lord your God, because by His gracious Spirit He has held onto you as His own. So you hold tightly to Him by faith. Therefore you shall not perish, but have eternal life.
In His Name who alone is your salvation and life, Christ the Vine. Amen.
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