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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Truthtellers, Jesus and Jeremiah      

Lent 2     Jeremiah 26, Luke: 13:31-3

The title of the sermon for today for all those students in grades 5-9 who are taking notes is “Truthtellers for God.”

One thing that is very important in life is to have truthtellers, people who will tell you the truth about yourself, especially people who are willing to tell you the truth about your shadow side, your negative side, your dark side. It is important to have somebody in your life who is willing and courageous enough to tell you the truth about the shape of sin in your life and also the specifics of your sin. Often, truthtellers are family and friends, counselors and co-workers.

Jeremiah was a truthteller for God.

This sermon is a continuation of the sermon that I gave two weeks ago. In the sermon from two weeks ago, I stated that all human beings search for genuine self-esteem or genuine self respect.  Self respect begins with God’s affirmation. God says, “You are a golden crown in the father’s hand. You are the royal diamonds in the diamond necklace. You are my delight and I absolutely delight in you…even though you make mistakes, even thought you are sinfully imperfect, even though you are not perfect in your lives. Hear me, you are the golden crown, the precious jewels, the delight of my life.” God’s affirmation of us is the beginning of self-esteem.

But, God does not delight in the sin in us. God does not delight in the shadow, the sin, the dark side of us. God delights in us, even though we are sinners, but God does not delight in our sins. That is equally true. At the heart of genuine self-esteem is to absorb and hear the criticism of the dark side. A person needs to be able to face one’s immaturities in order to grow past them.

This past week, I have been thinking about the truthtellers in my life, about those people who were willing to tell the truth about me. During the big moments and everyday moments. These truthtellers are usually family and friends, co-workers and counselors. You have your stories and I have mine. Our stories are similar, except for the details.

The first example I want to give from my personal story is my brother Lee. I was in ninth grade. My older brother Lee was in the military. I was alone at home with my parents. Now, it is going to sound a bit defensive right away. That is my Mom and Dad were having problems and so people assumed that was why I was having problems. Ninth grade was not a real good year for me. I got into all kinds of trouble, especially with the math teacher. One day he got really mad at me, and I still can see him throwing that eraser at me with his left hand. I ran out of that room as fast as I could and ran to the principal’s office. I was in big trouble; I mean, really big trouble. Thing were not going well for me at all. Shortly thereafter, my brother came home from the military, and he told me the truth. He told me that he wasn’t going to put up with that crap anymore. Even if my mother and dad had put up with this behavior, he wasn’t going to. Even if my mother and father weren’t going to tell the truth about me, he was. He told me “I was a spoiled brat who was out of control and needed to be reigned in.” I still remember that moment. He was a truthteller and I needed to hear his words to me.

So four or five years pass by, and we come to the next episode.  I was a freshman in college and I had quit the basketball team and the football team. My brother came to see me at college. I remember that conversation well. He said, “Brother, you are a quitter. You quit too soon. You quit the basketball team too soon and the football team too soon. You’re a quitter. ”  The words stung. That hurt. I never forgot it. I vowed to myself that I would never be called a quitter again. He was right. I quit too soon.

Years pass by and I was at Lutheran General Hospital, in Park Ridge, Illinois, and the year was about l966. We as pastors and myself as a student pastor were going through all kinds of therapy. A man by the name of Larry Holst was my supervisor, and he told the truth about me to me. He said that I was  a very self centered person, a selfish person who lived basically for myself, but that I put on a great public front in church and worship services as a cover up for not genuinely caring for people in little ways. He said that I was essentially a selfish person but put up a lot of public bravado to cover it up. I told him that he was dead wrong, that he didn’t like people like me, that he didn’t like extroverts like me because he himself was an introvert, that he was prejudiced against people like me. I nervously tried to dismiss him but I sensed that he might be right. 

Time passed again. It was five years later and I was working at Central Lutheran Church in Eugene, Oregon, and Phil Natwick was my senior pastor.  I was the assistant pastor. We had worked with each other for about three years, and one day he called me into his office for a conversation. As I recall, he told me that I was basically a selfish and self-centered person but that I put on a pastoral persona that covered it all up. I told him that he was dead wrong, that he didn’t like my kind of personality because he was different than I was. I left his office, but what he said had a familiar ring to it. So I decided to look at my past notes from Lutheran General Hospital because my supervisor had said similar things about me five years before. I remember looking up my notes and saying to myself, “My, my, my, Holst said the same thing about me.” It was truly a moment of revelation for me, and I remember it well.

Time passed again. It was 1971 and I was up at a hotel in Seattle, Washington, with other young pastors who had graduated from the seminary three years prior.  My good friend, Rollie Martinson, was there with me that night at the Hamlin Hotel. The two of us friends talked through the whole night. I told him about those painful conversations from years ago, the one with Holst at Lutheran General Hospital and the one with Natwick in Eugene. Rollie listened to me for many hours and he finally built up his courage and  said, “Ed, I am your best friend. What they said? Those things are true.

Somewhere along the line, you have to come to grips with the truth about yourself or your life will be shattered. Your life is not going to be the kind of life it was intended to be. You have to come to grips with who you are and make the necessary changes, or it won’t work with you. It is important that we have truthtellers who tell you the truth about ourselves.

Years pass by and many of you become married. I have discovered that spouses are often truthtellers. In fact, my wife and I have become professionals at being truthtellers to one another. There are no holds barred. We tell the truth to each other, that most other people would not the courage to speak such things. Parents often are called to be truthtellers to their children and the reverse is also often true. Children can be truthtellers to their parents.

This sermon for today is the second half of the sermon from two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, during the sermon from Isaiah, I reminded us of God’s word,  “You are a golden crown of beauty in the Father’s hand. You are like royal diamonds on his fingers. You are my delight for I delight in you. Even though you are a sinful imperfect person, you need to hear that world clearly: I the Lord God delight in you. … But the second half of the journey to genuine self esteem is this. Equally important is to hear from our family or friends, co-workers or counselors, when they finally have the courage to be truthtellers. To tell the shape of sin in your life. And to give very specific examples of the shape of sin in your life. It is only then that we begin to “mend our ways and change” as the prophet Jeremiah says and thereby protect our lives from being shattered.

It is with that introduction that we approach the Old Testament lesson for today. Jeremiah was a truthteller. He was the one who was willing to tell the king, the nation and the people to truth about themselves and the consequences when they wouldn’t change their lives.

I must first begin by telling you a few things about Jeremiah. First, he lived 2600 years ago. That is a long time ago. He was a prophet from 627 BC to 587 BC. We have exact dates when we discuss Jeremiah.  There were nations who were mad at each other. There was Egypt, Israel and Babylon. Today, Babylon is Iraq. Those nations fight today and those same nations fought 2600 years ago. The second thing that I want to tell you about Jeremiah is that he lived in the capital city of Jerusalem. He was born in Anathoth, a little burg outside of Jerusalem. As a little child, he lived in a little town, but then as an adult, he moved to the big city, the capital city, of Jerusalem. The third thing I want to tell you about Jeremiah is that he was a single person. The Bible is very clear that he never got married. He never had wives; he never had children; he never had grandchildren. He was a single person. I mention this today because so often in the life of the church the local congregation is filled with married people. Sometime, there seems to be a pressure within the church to become married. It needs to be clearly said that the great spiritual people of the church were single. Jesus of Nazareth. The Apostle Paul. And Jeremiah. I would like to remind you that you do not need to be married to be a whole human being. You don’t need to be married to be fully spiritual. You do not need to be married to fulfill a fullness of love in your life. Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and Jeremiah all experienced the fullness of life and the fullness of love. The fourth thing about Jeremiah. He was a prophet for forty years. That means that he listened to God. The Spirit of God was inside of him in a special way. A famous line of the first and greatest prophet, Samuel, was, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” Jeremiah was a great listener to God and therefore he was a very religious man. The fifth thing I want to say about Jeremiah was that he was a prophet for the last forty years of the nations history.  The nation of Israel existed from 1000 to 600 BC; that is, there had been four hundred years of decline from King David, and they got down to the last forty years of their nation. When the nation was crummy. When the nation was decaying inside. When the nation was disgusting, awful. When the people were starving and actually eating their own children for food. This nation was a moral basket case. Jeremiah was at the end of the nation’s life.

Jeremiah said. This is the text for today. “This capital is going to be totally destroyed. This city is going to be totally wiped out. There will not be one living person left in this city. I am telling you the truth. I am telling you the truth and you do not want to hear it. You don’t want to hear it, but I am telling you the truth from God. The capital city will be destroyed. This nation will be destroyed. … I tell you the truth about your sins. You don’t care about justice. You don’t care one whit for the poor children living in our nation. You do nothing for the orphans. You don’t do a thing for the poor children of our society, and you don’t care for the widows either. And you don’t treat the foreigners in our midst any better. The way you treat the poor immigrants of our nation is absolutely terrible, just because they have the wrong color of skin, the wrong language, and the wrong religion. You don’t give a rip about poor people, the orphans, the widows,  or the strangers and immigrants in our society. … All you are concerned about are your won material possessions. All you are concerned about is your own welfare. All you are concerned about are your “power and riches in a world.”  … Another thing about you is that you worship idols. You actually sacrifice your children to keep your idols. … What really gauls me about you is that you go to church and you call that being religious. … I am telling you the truth about your sinful life. I am telling you very specific things about your life. If you don’t change these things, I guarantee you, this city and nation is going to be smashed and shattered. This temple is going to be shattered. I am telling you the truth.”

What was their reaction? Do you think that they liked that? Do you think that Jeremiah was a well-liked individual, a Mr. Popular with the priests and people? It was just the opposite. The text for today says, “Let’s kill the guy.”… If you read other passages in Jeremiah, you find other reactions from the people.  They said, “Jeremiah, you are really exaggerating. You are really exaggerating about the widows, the orphans, the strangers in our society.”  And besides, everybody else is doing it. Their third reaction was to laugh at him. They started to laugh at him, ridicule him, and make jokes of him. It was very clever: rather than focus the blame on themselves, they ridiculed him. The next thing they did was that the people tried to punish him. They threw him down into a well. They threw him down into a well that had been dried up. The last thing they tried to do to him was kill him. That was the reaction of God’s good people.

The key is this: you get rid of the truthteller, you get rid of the truth they are telling you.

That’s what Jeremiah was all about.

What does all of this have to do with you and me? A lot. 

We all need the benefit of having truthtellers in our lives, those people who are willing to tell us the truth about the shape of sin in our lives. Not only the general sin, that we are sinners, but these prophets get very specific. They get specific about the things that need to be changed in your lives.

Throughout our whole lives, we need to be corrected a lot. Yes, we all know that we need to be corrected as two year olds and three year olds and four and five. We all agree that we need to be corrected, but it is not only in our early childhood but throughout all of our lives. When we are ten. When we are fifteen. When I was fifteen, my brother said to me, and it was true. When I was twenty-five years old, my brother said to me, and it was true. When I was thirty-five years old, my co-worker spoke honestly with me and it was true. When I was forty-five years old, my wife spoke truthfully to me and when I was fifty five years old, a couple of friends spoke honestly with me and it was true. When he was seventy-five years old, my brother spoke honestly with my father and said, “Dad, you can’t do that to mother any more. You have to change, Dad, or you are going to shatter your own life, Mother’s life, and all of our lives. Dad you must change.” My father was seventy-five. I discovered that throughout one’s whole life, you need to have truth tellers.

And usually, what is our reaction? When people come and tell us the truth about the sin side, the dark side of our lives? We deny it. We claim that what is being spoken is an exaggeration. Those things are not true. We deny it. And then we defend it. We give all kinds of reasons and justifications for our behavior. We defend the reasons why I acted that way. The next thing we do is ridicule. We make fun of those people who say such things. We belittle them and say that they are stupid. And then we punish. We get mad, angry. We shout and scream and throw an adult tantrum and call that person names in order to punish them. And then the last thing we do is to try to eliminate them, not physically but emotionally. We avoid them. Move away. Not talk to them. Cut off the relationship. We avoid the truthteller

Or, we listen to what the truthteller is saying, absorb it into ourselves, and begin to make the necessary changes. In other words, we begin to become a mature human being. A mature human being has healthy self-respect, an having healthy self respect means to incorporate wise suggestions of others into our personalities and behaviors.

Did you hear the sermon from two weeks ago? The Bible through Isaiah said, “You are the golden crown in the father’s hands; you are the royal diamonds on the fingers; you are given a new name and my new name for you is “My Delight” because I delight in you, even when you are sinful. We all need to hear this message: that God delights in us.

But we also need to hear the sermon for today. Because if we do not the negative behaviors and qualities of our personality, our lives can be shattered.

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