9th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 11) LSB #644
Text – Jeremiah 23:2
…“You have scattered my flock & have driven them away, & you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds,” declares the Lord.
ATTENDING TO EVIL
For many people Baptism is simply a warm & fuzzy occasion. It’s cute & it’s happy & by all appearances it doesn’t seem as if anything earth-shaking or monumental is going on. So the questions may catch us off guard & be somewhat unnerving! “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?”
In any serious context, talk of the devil tends to make us uncomfortable. There’s something inherently disturbing about the idea of a creature more powerful than us who is out to destroy us. That’s true whether people say they believe in him or not. Putting ones head in the sand is a typical human response when confronted with matters we cannot control.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator of heaven & earth makes clear that He will not stick His head in the sand. We can be tempted to wonder if He is, because evil is at work, & obvious, all around us. That the Lord is patient does not mean He is indifferent to the suffering of His people. Yet, because of our sinful nature, it often takes suffering to turn us back to God.
Those are complicated thoughts to handle because our ways are not God’s ways. This is how St. Peter expressed it:
This is my 2nd letter to you, dear friends, & in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking & refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago & what our Lord & Savior commanded through your apostles.
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth & following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”
They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of His command, & He brought the earth out from the water & surrounded it with water. Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens & earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, & a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, & the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, & the earth & everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy & godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God & hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, & the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens & new earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure & blameless in His sight.
And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him – speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, & those who are ignorant & unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.
You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people & lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace & knowledge of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to Him, both now & forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3 NLT)
It’s a long quotation, yet the opening lines of the chapter pretty much describe life in America today. We have plenty of scoffers & mocking going on regarding the Christian faith. Peter also makes a good point concerning people who deny the worldwide flood, or God as Creator. They deliberately forget those teachings. This 2nd letter of Peter was written to describe God’s grace during the trials of false teaching. That’s the same issue Jeremiah was writing about in the sermon text. False teaching & false shepherds harm the flock of God. On the Day of Judgment the ungodly people will be destroyed so they can no longer afflict God’s children.
Then Peter makes the point that most directly ties in with the words of Jeremiah: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.” (2 Peter 3:9-10a NLT)
A way that sin is so very evident in our lives is the lack of patience we see in the human race. We just do not grasp the concept of eternity nor how to relate to it. Although God’s Word clearly teaches that Baptism saves, human beings can see no instant effect. We cannot see when a person’s heart crosses the line from unbelief to faith.
Every moment of every day, our Father in heaven is attending to evil, but we seldom see instant results & we have no patience for trusting that God’s will is being done. So pastors try to shepherd the flock the way they see fit, thus earning God’s word of judgment: “You have scattered my flock & have driven them away, & you have not attended to them.” (23:2a ESV)
Because they also have no patience for trusting that God’s will is being done, the sheep go astray looking for water & greener pastures without their shepherd. Since sheep & shepherd alike cannot see immediate effects, & once it becomes clear that we have no ultimate control over the events of our lives, we’re tempted to ignore religion altogether – head stuck in the sand.
The teaching of evolution instead God as Creator is nothing more than a vain attempt to wrest control of life from God. Adam & Eve attempted the same by eating the forbidden fruit. Part of the struggle in learning to be patient, especially when others make a mess of things, is learning that God is in control & ultimately He is being patient for our sake. “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9c NLT) Not all shepherds have that goal in mind, & I can testify from experience – it is difficult to be patient with the sheep!
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was sent to save the world, not to condemn it. All the shepherds following in His footsteps have the same mandate: “Shepherd the sheep to safety.” In Jeremiah’s day, the shepherds had not been attending to the salvation of God’s flock, so the Lord declared: “Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds.”
Truth matters! Truth is life because Jesus is the truth! Satan is the father of lies & all of them proceed from him. Salvation proceeds alone from our heavenly Father’s throne. In order to provide eternal safety for His children He must attend to evil. Yet, He also desires that everyone be saved. The tension between those two extremes is beyond what we can fathom.
It should highlight that we need the grace & mercy of God above all things. Renouncing the Devil & all his works & all his ways is impossible for us were it not for the mercy & grace & love of Jesus Christ.
Do you remember this line from the Gospel reading? “When [Jesus] went ashore He saw a great crowd, & He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34 ESV) Sheep get into enough trouble of their own. Pastors who lead their people astray will be held accountable by God.
Yet, in my thinking, I’m tempted to eliminate evil as soon as it causes trouble in my life, or in the lives of those I love. Underlying that line of thinking, however, is the idea that I am good. I won’t be eliminated if God were to instantly destroy evil. That is a classic case of faulty thinking. It is good that God does not instantly eradicate evil or every one of us would be gone.
Instead, God chooses patience as He waits for us to recognize that choice that He made to
save us. Our heavenly Father chooses patience as He waits for us to trust in the choice He made to save us; to trust in the Son He sent to save us. In the days of Jeremiah God was prophesying that He would bring back a remnant of believers from the Babylonian captivity.
Then He would shape the course of history so that it came to pass that Yahweh established His Messianic kingdom on earth. From the root of Jesse’s lineage sprung forth a Branch called Jesus. Evil will finally be dealt with permanently once the time of mercy & grace has run its course. ’Til then, evil will afflict us in this life. Know that God is working through it.
A perfect example of that is the death of someone we love. Death & evil are practically interchangeable effects of sin. Here’s part of a prayer that we use to bring God’s grace into our lives during a funeral service:
“Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe in & find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, & the life everlasting. We give You thanks that by Christ’s death He destroyed the power of death, & by His resurrection He opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. In the name of our risen Savior we pray. Amen.”
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is His new creation by water & the Word. From heaven He came & sought her to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, & for her life He died. Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One, & mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O blessed heavenly chorus! Lord, save us by Your grace that we, like saints before us, may see You face to face. Amen. LSB 644:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet