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A Message for the Church (Jeremiah 8.4-12; St. Luke 19.41-48)

Tenth Sunday after Trinity

“A Message for the Church”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus    

Jeremiah 8.4-12; Luke 19.41-48

21 August 2022



There are only two instances where the Gospels record Jesus weeping. One is at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and the second was on Palm Sunday after Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus wept over God’s city because the people had rejected God’s Messiah. Our Lord wept over Jerusalem for the destruction that would soon come upon her because she did not recognize the time of God’s visitation in Christ. 

Jesus saw the city before him from the Mount of Olives. The most prominent building in it was the temple, the place of God’s presence. David and Solomon had prayed here in Jerusalem. Jeremiah had prophesied here before the Babylonians destroyed it and carried off most of the population into exile for 70 years. Jesus could see what would happen some 37 years later as the Romans would destroy it completely, even leaving the temple in ruins. Why did these things happen? Jesus said,

“ . . . because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Jeremiah is called “the Weeping Prophet” because he shed many tears over the impenitence of God’s people. The book which follows Jeremiah is Lamentations, the five poems expressing grief over the fall of Jerusalem. They are like a eulogy at a funeral mourning a loss. It is a tragic story.

The danger in every age is that people do not repent and come to God’s forgiveness. We see it again in the Letters to the seven Churches in Revelation. Backsliding comes quickly. Jeremiah accused Israel of “perpetual backsliding.” [Jer. 8.5] Israel never seemed to learn her lesson. 

I.  Are You Taking God for Granted?

The Jews had the temple but they had turned it into a den of robbers and thieves. Jeremiah said exactly that. Jesus repeats the accusation because it is true. The sacred things and rituals had become big business for the religious leaders. The extorted the ordinary people with the inflated prices for money exchange and for the animals required for sacrifice. They had profaned the place of God’s gracious presence.

While it’s easy to point to those obvious sins there lies beneath the surface one far more deadly—the lack of repentance. The people would shout, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” It became a slogan of defiance, that is, that they could do anything they wished because they claimed a divine right to do it.

Mark Twain wrote, “Man is the only animal that blushes—or needs to.” [Following the Equator, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar]. One of the strong emotions that makes us blush is guilt. Jeremiah records God pointing out that his chosen people were not ashamed of their sins. They were so perverse that they lost the ability to blush. Instead they were like animals who merely follow instinct rather than reason. 

An article by psychologist Mary C. Lamia says that while blushing exposes a person it is really beneficial. I agree. Blushing, as she points out, is “a reaction to heightened self-consciousness.” It is as when God shines the spotlight of his Law on the sinner and reveals what is wrong and what demands repentance.

We cannot control blushing. It simply happens as a psychological stressor. Blushing happens when we are ashamed and in front of others. The sympathetic nervous system is what governs this reaction, which means that we don’t even think about it. It just happens when we realize that our actions are wrong. Jeremiah accused Israel of having no shame over her sinful actions. Israel committed abominations, that is, they acted obscenely by violating every commandment of God, but they acted like animals who do not have consciences to accuse them. They lost the ability to blush because they no longer recognized right and wrong.

The danger in every age is that we do not take God’s Word seriously. In many ways even God’s people have failed to blush for what they do. Sexual sins populate this category perhaps most of all. A few decades ago most people would have blushed over cohabiting or conceiving children out of wedlock. These days it is par for the course. Few feel any shame over violating God’s commandments. They do exactly what Jeremiah accused God’s people of doing,

Everyone turns to his own course, 

like a horse plunging headlong into battle. [Jer. 8.6]

We have become so desensitized that there is even no shame over homosexuality and all its manifestations. Instead, even corporations and businesses celebrate and promote Pride Month! How hardened we have become! And the prophet Isaiah warns:

Woe to those who call evil good 

and good evil. [Isaiah 5.20]

And the unbelieving world does just that! In fact, many so-called Christian denominations have joined the parade! There are other sins, of course, and greed and theft may still bring some to shame, but there are few sins which cause shame leading to repentance. Even the killing of infants in the womb is celebrated—celebrated! as a great good these days, a right guaranteed even by God himself! God’s accusation against the priests of Jeremiah’s day was that they had not dealt seriously with sin:

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, 

saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ 

when there is no peace. [Jer. 8.11]

Even the priests did not condemn these sins because they were leading the parade of backsliders! They considered themselves wise but were fools. Israel’s wise men would be the first to be taken into captivity. Israel was taken captive to Babylon for 70 years to bring them to repentance. Jesus promised that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans because they did not know the that God himself was among them, visiting them with real peace. Instead, they crucified him. But God’s plan was not thwarted by evil people. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the evil acts.

II. The Time of Our Visitation

Why did it happen? Because they made the Word of God into a lie [Jer. 8.8b]. Jesus lamented that Jerusalem had blinded herself to God’s Word. She did not know that this time was God’s time to make peace through Christ. Their consciences no longer worked.

Peace could no longer be made in the temple made with hands, because that earthly building the exists no more. Today it is covered by a Muslim mosque so no Jewish sacrifices can be made there. Peace with God would be made only when Jesus died on the cross. Then the temple veil was ripped in two and heaven was opened by the blood of the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world [John 1.29]. So it was that Jesus came to His temple to cleanse it, a precursor to the once-for-all cleansing from sin which He would accomplish in the temple of His own body on Good Friday. It is only by means of his body that we enter God’s presence unafraid.

Today is the time of your visitation. It is the time when Christ comes to you. Because of that, each day should be a day of repentance, a confession of all that you have done to offend God. There should be shame for the sins we commit! We should not demonstrate them proudly as did Israel and as do those outside of Christ. There is something positive to be said about blushing or shame. It means that conscience is functioning even if it is weak. 

So many who call themselves Christian no longer have consciences which work. They have silenced them. They no longer want to hear the Word of God which brings their sin to remembrance. Instead they tell themselves that everything is just fine, that God does not judge these sins. The danger for us is that we presume upon the grace of God as did the people of Jeremiah’s day. “I still belong to the Church! I still attend occasionally! If I were to take it seriously, this is the place I would be!” But that is the razor’s edge, my friends. When there is no real repentance that razor will slice you to bits and there will be no remedy. That’s what happened to Israel, twice! It is a danger for us, too.

“The time of your visitation.” “Visitation” [πισκοπή] is an odd word to us. It has to do with divine activity, that is, God is coming to us in Christ. It can be salutary, that is, healthful as we hear in the Preface to the Sacrament—“It is truly meet, right, and salutary . . .” When Christ comes to us in his Word and especially in his body and blood it is a salutary visitation. A good visitation. But there is also that which is unpleasant, unhealthy. That is what happens when God comes in judgment over sin. It happens when those who thought they were getting peace instead get dashed to pieces.

For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you

While it describes the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans it is also a picture of what will do to those who do not repent and ignore the gracious visitation of Christ in Word and Sacrament.

This is a message that that Church needs to hear. The unbelieving world is not the audience; it is aimed at the people who call themselves by God’s Name. It is a message for the Church—for us, for you. God grant us to know the things that make for our peace—repentance and forgiveness. Then receive His visitation in Word and Sacrament, that through Christ’s body and blood you may receive the “peace of God which passes all understanding.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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