I just can’t ignore it anymore. I didn’t make it all that far, it’s true; I’m weak. But I must confess: each week as we’ve thought about this Lenten theme “Crushed”, in my brain, I’ve been thinking, “Crushed it…” Are you familiar with that slang phrase, where we say somebody’s “crushing it”? The literal definition of the word “crush” is negative: to destroy with force to the point of injury—and that’s in our theme for Lent—the guilt of sins crushes and our Savior was crushed in our place. But “crushing it” has an extremely positive connotation. We use it when someone is doing their job particularly well, or exceeding all of their goals—with a fist-pump and hoping for applause we say, “Crushed it!”
And this week I’m thinking about it because, in our first reading, God’s people Israel weren’t exceeding the goals, they weren’t doing particularly well. They were going to be crushed by the momentous choices they were making – choices to turn aside from God’s ways and ignore his voices. For their greed, adultery, idolatry, false teachers and following false teachings, there would be devastating destruction on Jerusalem: siege and death and war and 70 years of exile in a foreign land; and it would happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime – their lifetimes. And Jeremiah was calling them to turn back to the Lord. Literally, v.13, “Now therefore make good your ways and your deeds and hear/keep/obey the voice of the LORD your God.”
Our ways made good under the voice of the Lord; that would be “crushing it”. But how to? Well, first, we need to take care to speak what’s true.
Jeremiah was a prophet with a message to give. And, Israel of old, it turns out, would have been very comfortable in 2022. Even then people were unwilling to hear anything that indicted them of wrong and they were tempted to label anything that would do so as “wrong-think”. Same today; no different. There is this one difference though… Truth is, you aren’t Jeremiah. You’re not a prophet. You aren’t called to make radical proclamations from God in a temple square and do strange things by his command so that people will see them. But…the truth is…you are called in real life settings to do things that this world might think strange and to say things people will find difficult. For instance…
- I am a pastor – I am called to behave in such a way that I will not shame the Lord Jesus Christ in your minds, and to speak what God has commanded in his Word publicly and faithfully to you. That is not your call…
- You are a church member – called to hear God’s Word from a pastor and to speak up if that Word is misrepresented or false practices prevail…
- You are a mom – called to behave in a way that lets your children know that God’s ways are beautiful and fitting and sometimes to say to your own child, “That is not God’s way…do not do that…”
- You are a friend – called to be faithful and kind so that your friend knows those concepts and esteems them highly and sometimes to say to your friend, “That’s not good for you, spiritually… Can I show you a better way?”
- You are a citizen – called to exercise the responsibilities given to you and to respect those who exercise theirs even when you disagree with them and sometimes to say, “This kind of activity is not healthy for our society,” or “This is just plain wrong.”
- You are an employee – called to be faithful and honest and hardworking so that your boss sees that difference in you and asks why… that you might have the opportunity to say, “Well…this is what God loves and so this is what I do… Can I tell you more?”
You aren’t Jeremiah. But you are ones called to live according to God’s good ways and to speak what’s true – his voice through you. You must take care to do and speak wherever you are called.
Do you feel as though you’re always “crushing it” as far as having good ways that speak the truth? Even in your own small circle? I doubt it. In fact, I’m guessing that you’re much like this Israel and Jeremiah situation where certain calculations are always going on. From Israel & Jeremiah this morning, in order to truly “crush it”, we find we also need to reject deadly calculations.
Jeremiah the prophet had been careful to speak what was true: destruction coming for Jerusalem. And Israel – its priests and prophets and people – what did they have to say? “You must die!” (26:9) Now, they had excuses for their line of thinking. They argued that God had made Israel and Jerusalem – and how dare anyone prophesy its destruction. Except God had done so long before and over and over again. Deuteronomy 28, for instance: essentially, “If you obey my commands…” he had said, then God would bless them abundantly; but if they would not follow his good ways and listen to his voice then, “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.” (Dt 28:20) But over and over again, through prophet after prophet (as Jesus even said in the gospel about Jerusalem) …to listen, to hear they were not willing.
This section of Jeremiah brings two things into view: 1) Israel and its leaders (most of them) had no time for any word that didn’t completely affirm their lives and their choices – anyone speaking such a word had to die! 2) Jeremiah now had to contend with death too – do I keep saying these words from God and die or just stop and maybe live…?
It reminds me of the concept of being “canceled”. Are you familiar with that? More and more lately it happens when anyone speaks something that’s outside of the prevailing opinions – then they’ll cancel you. You’ll be banned from Twitter. YouTube will shut down your channel. Comcast won’t broadcast your TV show. They’ll shut you out of life… The claim is that you’re morally reprehensible for this choice or that belief and you won’t even be allowed to put out your point of view. They might not kill you, but they’ll make like you’re dead anyway – of no value or effect, with no reach in the world.
Doesn’t that kind of thing play in to how well you speak what’s true where you’re called to? There’s lots to hear and it’s not easy to hear stuff that I don’t like, no matter who I am.
- And God, in his Word, indicts us for when we know what God says is good, but instead worship what feels good to us… We love what is comfortable, and we choose it even if God says it’s “bad”. It’s rather generally true: just as your children don’t always listen and your friend doesn’t take your spiritual counsel, you sometimes don’t listen either.
- God, in his Word, indicts us for when we know what God says is good but say nothing about it when the opportunity comes… We love our own lives or the relationships we have with certain people so much that we won’t say things that might ruin what we’ve come to enjoy.
Jeremiah and Israel in their little courtroom moment, bring us to the core of the problem – because of our fears that what we love will die if we follow God’s ways or because of our fears that, if we follow/tell of God’s ways, we might die (really or socially or financially or…) – we begin to calculate. Maybe we remove ourselves from this place of the Word or take away its place in our hearts/lives. Or we make it so that we don’t have to speak it – we hide it when the opportunity arises or we flee the places where opportunity is. We say, essentially, “Lord, you’re canceled! Your Word must die!”
As our theme this week says, that’s really just a shortcut to glory – glory feelings for ourselves. Jeremiah pointedly says that it’s actually the path to destruction. Ironically, fending off anything that feels “deadly” to my comfort turns out to be a terrible calculation – one that leads to everlasting death in hell. So Jeremiah says, “Make good your ways and obey God’s voice.” Which is basically the call to turn from wickedness and sin and turn to the Lord – to repent.
If you’re of a more mature vintage, you may remember words from this passage in the King James Version went like this: make good your ways and obey the Lord; “and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.” God will repent? Come again? In the literal meaning of that word, yes – God will “turn away from” the wrath he has pronounced. If you make good your ways and obey his voice. Well, that’s depressingly been the problem thus far, hasn’t it? I have some real troubles listening, obeying, and being good. I’ve run after the shortcuts to glory. I’m not “crushing it”, I am “crushed”. Why ever should God turn away from judgment?
Blessedly, “repent” in its “turning away” from something implies turning toward something. In the season of Lent, we’re doing this each week. We’re looking at our need for repentance because of sins. But we’re also turning toward our Lord Jesus. Look again at what we find this week. The Pharisees confront Jesus, “Herod wants to kill you.” But Jesus doesn’t leave. He goes about God’s business, walking God’s ways, being God’s voice in the world. “I will keep on preaching [etc., until] I reach my goal.” He was determined. No shortcuts until sin and death were crushed. Achieved how? In Jerusalem, he would be crushed under God’s justice. Jesus knew that he must die. And as Jesus never turned away from his goal, and finally made payment for sins in his death, God was able to turn away the destruction our sins deserve.
In Lent particularly, we gather to observe Jesus so that we understand how it is possible to “make good your ways and your deeds and hear/keep/obey the voice of the LORD your God.” I like how Martin Luther put it in a sermon on Matthew 5 – about keeping God’s law. To the one who feels their failure, who is crushed by inability:
“God says: I will change you… and though you are not so perfect as Christ, as indeed thou should be, I shall nevertheless have my Son’s life and perfection cover [yours]… True comfort…does not rest on our ability, but on the fact that we have a gracious God, who forgives our sins; on the fact that we believe in Christ and not in our own worthiness…on the fact that whenever we fall short we should always place our hope and trust in Christ.”
You could say that God spoke through his Son, his Word, his Voice and made our ways good…
Calling believers to God’s ways, lives of love and holiness, that’s exactly what St. Paul said today: Jesus has taken everything under his control by his saving life, death, and resurrection. So that you and I, forgiven of our sins and free of crushing guilts, might make the right calculations about death: that even if we lose all we love in this life or finally die we will be transformed into the kind of gloriousness Jesus himself has – perfection, achievement, victory. Because Jesus never took the shortcut, because he was not afraid to die, you can freely live: “[standing] firm in the Lord;” trusting in his strength, committing your lives into his hands like Jeremiah did and, finally, following Christ’s determined example like Jeremiah and taking care to speak what’s true – God’s Word – in all you say and do.
By Christ’s perfect work, walking unafraid in his good ways, hearing God’s voice in his Word and speaking it yourselves, may God bless you to never be crushed, but always to be “crushing it” in Christ Jesus. Amen.