No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses
August 25, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 12:49-56
Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face? You know what I mean. How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date? Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something? Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it. But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff? And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses? Of course, he does.
And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet. Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do. Jeremiah wasn’t stupid. He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.
But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses. God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid. Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses. God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid.
Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.
Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right. He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him. But that wasn’t just because he was young. The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem. Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences.
In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years. Holy cow! Can you imagine the relief that she felt? Can you imagine the joy? And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy? Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her? And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day.
But Jesus has a different answer.
Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God. Yes, God has rules. Yes, we are expected to obey them. But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God. Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God. Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest. But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work. Freedom is not work. Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work. These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings. Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly. As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.
So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently? How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah? The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God. Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses. Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy. It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him. When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.
And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God. How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us? We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given. We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart. Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God. We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God. We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…
…to have the heart of God.
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