“Desperate and Calling for Help”Dr. Gerald L. Borchert, Jeremiah 20:7–13; Psalm 69:7–10, 16–18; Matthew 10:24–39. June 21, 2020—Year A: Third Sunday after Pentecost
Have you ever felt a sense of despair?
Have you ever thought that everyone, even your closest friends, had seemingly turned against you?
Have you ever wondered—when you were trying to do God’s will—why everything went haywire?
Have you ever considered that even God may have abandoned you?
Have you ever pled that the Lord would just show the divine face and help you understand the power of evil?
Have you ever questioned whether you could do anything right in God’s sight?
Have you ever regarded yourself as an utter failure even when you were trying to do what is right? Have you ever been ready to give up?
Well, you should know that you are not alone in your feelings of bewilderment and rejection.
Indeed, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament had similar feelings when he endured extremely harsh experiences.
We may well regard Jeremiah as one of the most profound voices in our Bibles since he is the one who promised the people that when they would be in exile God’s intention was actually for their good and not evil.
If the people would seek him with their whole hearts, he told them that God would clearly restore their fortunes (29:11–14).
He is the same prophet who proclaimed the coming of a new era and a new covenant—a text which is the longest Old Testament quotation in the New Testament so it certainly should testify to the stature of his prophetic voice (Heb 8:8–12). He promised that God’s will or law would be within them, that even in their rejection they could still become the Lord’s people, and that God would no longer remember their sins (31:31–34).
But those wonderful promises are not the whole story of Jeremiah. He was perhaps the most rejected and vilified of all God’s early prophets because he was true to his calling and faithful in proclaiming the coming of the exile. He did what the Lord required of him but the cost to his own life was horrendous. He was taunted, beaten, imprisoned (even stuck into a damp cistern) and he finally was carried off into Egypt against his will.
If you have any doubts about his depression, please listen again to some of Jeremiah’s words in chapter 20:
“O Lord, you have seduced me.” Yes, that is exactly what his Hebrew lament means in verse 7. And, as he continued, he moaned that he had become the subject of laughter and mockery from everyone. Indeed, he felt that when he tried to speak a word for God, it left his mouth like a thunder bolt of condemnation (20:8).
So, it is little wonder he believed that people were whispering behind his back and he was certain his friends were denouncing him openly (20:10). Indeed, he cursed the day of his birth (20:14) and even questioned why he was ever born (20:18).
Those feelings do not paint a lovely fairy-tale picture of being a messenger for God, do they? To be God’s servant does not mean that everything will end happily in this earthly life.
Living a God centered life can be costly because self-centered living is the general pattern of humanity. Jeremiah’s life is not one that advertisers on Madison Avenue today would likely adopt as a poster person.
But as Christians, we should recognize that sometimes it is very tough to be God’s person in the place where you live, where you go to school, where you work or sometimes even where you seek to worship. Jeremiah’s words remind us that life can be very difficult, even when we are struggling to be authentic and serve God.
These reflections then lead us to consider the second text for today. It is Psalm 69—a psalm that begins with the gripping words, “Save me, O God.” These words immediately catch our attention because we are led to wonder what was going on in such a writer’s life that would cause him to plead so forcefully for God’s help.
As far as this psalm is concerned, many have speculated on its context and some have sought to link it to David. As a result, they have been led to search through the stories of David’s life in the hope of finding a specific cause for his anguish.
But I should quickly remind you that although a number of the psalms undoubtedly go back to David, the Psalter is actually a collection of psalms written by various people. And contrary to such the previous view, a number of biblical scholars have argued quite forcefully that this psalm sounds more like Jeremiah.
So, I would say that whoever may have been the author and whatever may have been the circumstance that led to its writing, the psalm reflects a sense of deep desperation which thankfully can serve anyone of us who might be in the midst of a life crisis.
Yet it is quite clear that some of the verses in this psalm have an additional significance because they have been viewed as having major messianic implications. Indeed, the psalm may even have been a favorite song of the earthly Jesus, particularly since John, in writing his gospel, employs several of its verses to pen his stellar portrait of our Lord.
The following verses from this psalm: “my throat is parched” (v.3) and “they gave me vinegar to drink” (v. 21) are reminders of the suffering of Jesus in John19:28-29 (cf. also Matt 27:34).
Then “[they] hate me without a cause” (v.4) is reflected in John 15:25 and “the zeal for your house has consumed me” (v. 9) is undoubtedly the backdrop for John’s note in 2:17.
Each of these texts remind us vividly that our Lord was sent as God’s special emissary and that while Jesus embodied in himself the authentic message of new life, he was maliciously despised and rejected by those he came to save.
So, we should not be surprised that this psalm has powerful implications for all of us who follow Jesus. We who have a sense of being overwhelmed and feel that the “waters” of rejection, pain and hatred “have risen around” us may easily become “exhausted from weeping” and “feel that [we] are drowning” while we have been earnestly “waiting for God’s help” (69:1–3).
Moreover, enduring rejection, especially from our relatives who treat our commitments to the Lord with insults, clearly can be devastating experiences (69:6–8) and, as the psalmist indicates, those who openly ridicule our sacred acts of worship and obedience to our Lord can greatly intensify both our pain and grief (69:10–12).
But the poet beautifully models for us the way of dealing with these reproaches by reminding us that God’s unfailing love will uphold us and will be the cornerstone of our prayers and petitions (69:13–18).
Accordingly, while the inner struggle may seem for us to be a long and painful wrestling match and an unnerving reality test, by the end of the psalm we are assured that our petitions to God for the saving help of the Almighty (69:29) will be rewarded and we will be able to praise and honor God (69:30) because “the Lord hears the cries of the needy” (69:33).
Well, with these thoughts in mind, dear Christian friends, may I ask: Do you think that such experiences of rejection are to be viewed as rare or unusual? The answer to that question is contained in the sobering words of Matthew 10:24–42.
In this final passage which demands our attention today, I imagine the situation as being one in which Jesus focused his attention squarely on his followers, set his eyes directly on them and with a knife-like voice announced: “Disciples are not greater than their teacher!” (10:24).
Just ponder that statement for a moment. They must have sensed that something more was coming. What was he talking about? I think it could have been a little unsettling. Yes, probably a bit scary!
Then Jesus reminded them that the religious leaders had compared him to the Prince of Demons. Wow! If they understood even a mere half of what those words could imply, it would have been like a spear was penetrating their hearts. And, yes, I need to tell you it did mean that if they followed him, they would likely meet the onslaught of evil and people might even refer to them as agents of the Devil! (10:25).
But that was not the end of the enlightenment Jesus had for them. Next he told them that ultimately nothing would be hidden that would not be uncovered and that they would be part of God’s unveiling process (10:26–27). What in the world did that mean? It certainly did not seem to be a very inviting idea. What do you think?
Then came the bomb shell from Jesus! He told them that they should not fear about being killed! They knew that Jesus said shocking things but do you think they were prepared for such a conversation? They probably wondered how they got to that subject anyway.
But let’s pause and ask: Would you be ready to talk about being killed or dying for Jesus? I suspect that today most people would slough off anyone who talked like that. But Jesus was exceedingly serious at this point because he was thinking about what was coming for them and he wanted them to be prepared for facing rejection and persecution. Many of them would actually be killed.
Yet they needed to know, as Jeremiah prophesied, that God intended good for them and not evil (Jer 29:11). They needed to understand that they were more than mere living bodies. Their spirits were tied to the living God and they were far more precious to God than little sparrows which could be purchased for a small sum of money.
Indeed, they should recognize that God would certainly be with them because the Lord knew even the number of hairs on his people’s head (Matt 10:28–31). And to make absolutely clear what he meant; Jesus punctuated his point by telling them that all those who acknowledge him before others in the world could be sure that he will acknowledge them “before [his] Father who is in heaven.” But the reverse also applies to those who deny him. They will likewise be treated appropriately in God’s judgment (10: 32–33).
Jesus then closed his brief seminar by alerting them to the harsh reality of the mission that lay before them. Life for them in the service of Jesus would not be easy. If they thought that their message concerning Jesus would be widely accepted, they were in for a big surprise.
While the message of Jesus may be about peace under the lordship of Christ, the usual pattern of humans is very narcissistic. It can be summed up in the statement that “Life is all about me!” Clearly, human self-centeredness is the major problem in our world. It was the problem with Adam and Eve and it is the problem of every human being who has not found the answer to life in Jesus.
But if people turn to Christ and his transforming power, their new-found pattern of humility may well be rejected by those who in our narcissistic, “me first” generation as being distasteful. Yet let me remind you that the “me first” doctrine ultimately results in bitterness, hate and conflict.
Instead, we must reject the narcissistic way and discover the way of Jesus—which is to love God who helps us to love others. That is the real key to building authentic families and communities. This key Jesus summed up in the very simple statement of giving “a cup of cold water to one of the least” (10:42).
Unfortunately, we humans, with our “me centered wills” usually think such a way can never really work because it is not profitable for us. Yet those Christians who seek to be authentic and are and not squeezed into following the self-centered patterns of this world know that the world’s view leads in the direction of chaos. Instead, the way of Jesus will be the route to authenticity and hope.
So, I would ask you the simple question: which pattern will you choose when you leave the church and go into the world? That is the question that only you can answer!
Now before we leave our service, there is one other issue which demands our attention today. It also deals with the feelings of despair and rejection but it focuses on the ways of this “me-centered” generation and it concerns the vexing issue of the coronavirus—an issue which is currently causing fear and anxiety among countless people in our world.
We humans are not divine. We are very mortal and indeed vulnerable. We bleed when we are hurt; we become sick when we are infected; and we can die when we cannot breathe or when our heart stops pumping. As humans we struggle to keep living in the midst of the fearful circumstances of life.
It is, therefore, quite understandable why many people may suffer from anxieties and traumas at the mere mention of this current uncontrollable virus that has been mushrooming among the nations of the world. Many of us would do almost anything to avoid becoming infected and we would flee any contact with others who might endanger us. Now being careful to protect ourselves and not to put ourselves in harm’s way is a very wise pattern of behavior. Moreover, to follow the directions of health officials in order to stay healthy is a very prudent procedure.
But we may be tempted in caring for ourselves to forget the weak and poor among us and neglect to care and support the needy. To be Christ-like means to be concerned for the least of those among us and to remember that we must not abandon those who require major assistance in such difficult times.
In such circumstances we are forcefully reminded of our own mortality and that fears can easily be stoked by some who are concerned about themselves and care little for others. But those who are fearful need to experience the loving and calming message of the Lord Jesus.
We, who know the presence of Christ in our lives, are called to remind those who are fearful that the Spirit of Christ is as near to them as their breath. Our calming presence among those fearful ones can impact their lives and can reduce their anxieties. Such behavior is part of what Jesus meant when he called us to give “a cup of cold water.”
Sharing the wonderful stories of the grace-filled Jesus with those who are torn and fearful can provide for them a way of encountering the comfort and consolation that comes only from the eternal God. Our Lord desires to walk with those who are fearful and ease their great anxieties. And we can be God’s instruments of grace.
Please remember that it is in times when people feel undone and fearful that you as God’s servants can be the gracious voice of God in bringing to them comfort and hope. Do not neglect your mission to these helpless ones. Instead, bring our Lord’s words and his love to them because God can work through you in these difficult days.
Friends, there may be people who sit nearby your seats in our worship services and people we call neighbors who live near to you that may be going through periods of great doubt, fear and difficulty and who need Christ’s love today.
You could be God’s special agent for binging that love, hope and peace to them. In this time of crisis in our world will you answer the Lord’s gentle touch on your shoulder and willingly help someone who may be fearful and in need?
I realize that you also may fear that they could reject your concern. But please do not fear because God will be with you and the Lord will bless you even if some humans despise your kindness. Just venture out of your comfort zone and see what God will do with you. Will you venture for Christ?
About the writer: Gerald L. Borchert
Senior Professor at Carson-Newman University (TN); Former Trustee, Emeritus Professor & Thesis Director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (FL) was a Canadian lawyer who holds an honors Ph.D. from Princeton in New Testament and did post-doctoral work in Jerusalem, Cambridge, Hamburg, Duke, Boston and San Francisco.
He has taught at many schools throughout the world and been the dean of two American theological seminaries. A translator for the New Living Translation, he has penned over 200 articles and over 30 books including commentaries on John, Revelation, Galatians and Thessalonians as well as other works on Jesus, Assurance and Warning, Worship, Evangelism, Counseling, etc., and two Guides to visiting the Bible lands.
Among his most recent works are Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2016) and Christ and Chaos: Biblical Keys to Ethical Questions (Macon, GA: Nurturing Faith, Inc., 2020).
He is married to Doris Ann Cox, a retired seminary Professor of Christian Education and Ministry Supervision; the father of two sons: Mark and Tim (both of whom are ordained ministers and the focus for his latest book); two professional daughters-in-law; and four grandchildren.
Psalms 86:1-10, 16-17
Psalms 69:7-10, 16-18
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
We Know That Christ Is Raised
Baptized in Water
Jesus Calls Us Ore the Tumult
Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said
Children of the Heavenly Father
Nearer My God to Thee
It Is Well with My Soul
Where He Leads Me
It Is Well with My Soul — Tom Fettke
You Must Be Ready — John Horman
There Is A Balm in Gilead — Dawson
On Eagles Wings
Christ Is Alive — Hal Hopson
His Eye Is on the Sparrow
On Eagles Wings
There Is A Balm in Gilead
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus