>Let me begin by saying that I am aware how far behind I have fallen in posting my sermons.  For that reason, you’re about to be hit with a binge of sermon posts over the next few days.  I have really let this blog fall to the wayside for a while, but with the baseball season winding down, I won’t be working on BLB as much, so I’ll be able to focus a little more attention here over the next several months.  That being said, let the blogging binge begin (how’s that for alliteration!).

The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, August 29, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is Jeremiah 2:4-13.

As an avid baseball fan, I tend to pay close attention to what is going on in the baseball world right around July 31st each year.  July 31st is the last day that a team can trade a player without having to go through a difficult-to-understand waiver process.  There is usually a lot of rumors and action in the weeks leading up to that date.  But one thing that is never guaranteed in a trade is success.  There is rarely just one reason why a trade takes place, but typically, one team is looking to improve its roster and does so by giving up something in order to improve as a team.  However, this doesn’t always work out in the sports world.  I looked up some of the worst trades of all time this week.  So stay with me for a few minutes, and you’ll start to see how this applies to today’s reading.

Perhaps the first one that you would expect me to bring up came in 1964 when the Chicago Cubs traded a young outfielder by the name of Lou Brock and two others to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ernie Broglio and two other players.  Broglio ended up winning just 10 games in his 2.5 seasons with the Cubs while the trade kick-started Lou Brock’s Hall of Fame Career.
Now, to be fair to the Cub fans (see, I’m not completely unreasonable), how about 1992?  The White Sox traded Sammy Sosa and Ken Patterson to the Cubs for George Bell.  Bell, acquired for his power, only hit 38 home runs in two seasons for the White Sox, while Sosa went on to hit 545 of his career home runs with the Cubs.

Or, how about 1971?  The New York Mets traded pitcher Nolan Ryan and three other players to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi.  Nolan Ryan only had 5 of his 22 seasons under his belt at the time, and would go on to win 138 games for the Angels and become the all time strikeout leader.  Fregosi, a six-time All Star when the trade happened, never did anything worth noting for the rest of his career and only played 146 games for the Mets.

Finally, in what is widely considered to be the worse trade of all time, in 1920, a year after he set the single season home run mark at 29, the Boston Red Sox didn’t want to pay a man by the name of George Herman Ruth $20,000 for the 1921 season, so they traded him to the New York Yankees for $125,000.  George Ruth, better known as Babe, simply went on to establish himself as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.  Now, to the question that you’ve been pondering in your mind for the last couple of minutes – what in the world does this have to do with Jeremiah 2?

What we read today is one of the first messages that the Lord has for the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah.  The language that is used in this passage suggests that God is putting the people of Israel on trial.  It begins by recounting how the Lord has been faithful to the people of Israel, but then turns into an accusation with the heavens serving as a witness against the Israelites.

The oracle begins by the Lord speaking to the ancestors of the people.  He says, “What fault did your ancestors find with me that caused them to go far from me and seek after worthless things?”  The problem for the Israelites really began long before the current audience was ever even born.  The people of Israel sought after the idols of foreign nations.  These idols, or “worthless things,” drew their attention away from the Lord, who brought them out of centuries of slavery in Egypt and kept them safe during their 40-year journey in the wilderness.  The Lord reminds the people that their ancestors would have died in the wilderness without His provision, and that He was the one who brought them into a land of plenty.

And, yet, in spite of the safety and provision that they received from the Lord, the people of Israel defiled the land that was given to them.  How did they do that?  By chasing after these “worthless things.”  The Hebrew word translated as “worthless” here can also be used to signify a breath or vapor.  In other words, it is something with no substance whatsoever.  What is worse in all of this is that their desire to chase after these things that had no substance caused them to become worthless as well.

There are things in our lives that we chase after, but if we stop and really look at them, they are of no value whatsoever.  You hear about people who are so obsessed with consumption, but they are never satisfied.  They are always looking for the next best thing.  They are never happy with what they have.  We are those people at times in our lives.  We chase after things that don’t have any meaning, and wonder why we are not satisfied with our lives.  If we allow our lives to become an endless pursuit of worthless things, then our lives have indeed become worthless in comparison to the greater purposes that God has for us.

Do you ever stop to reflect on what it is that God has done in your life?  Do you ever stop to give thanks for what it is that He is doing?  Perhaps the best deterrent to leading a worthless life is to remember what it is that the Lord has done.  The people of Israel were supposed to celebrate the Passover on an annual basis.  The Passover was a festival to remind the people what God had done in bringing them up out of slavery in Egypt.  

It is entirely possible that the people of Israel failed to remember the Passover annually, as there is no real mention of it as we go through the historical books in the Old Testament.  We do know that during the reign of Josiah, the Book of the Law was found in the Temple, which can only mean that at some point it was lost.  The people simply forgot their purpose.  They forgot what it was that God had done for them, and as a result, they chased after things that had absolutely no chance to fulfill their spiritual needs.

The blame for this falling away from the Lord certainly falls on the leadership because they were the ones who were charged to lead the people in the ways of the Lord.  We certainly see that in verse 8.  The priests, the rulers, and even some of the self-proclaimed prophets failed in their task to lead the people in the worship of the one true God.  In fact, they led the people in the opposite direction, and here is where we come back to the worst trades of all time.

As a part of the accusation against the people of Israel, in verse 11, the Lords says, “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?”  The very notion that the people of this time would exchange their gods for the gods of another country was simply ridiculous.  The Babylonians never decided to abandon their gods in favor of the gods of the Assyrians.  No nation would ever trade their gods for the gods of their neighbors.  

Now, in a polytheistic society, a society that worships multiple gods, adding to the gods that you already prayed to would not be unheard of, but to totally abandon your gods in favor of the gods of a neighboring nation would have been ridiculous.  But that is exactly what the people of Israel did.

I wish I could remember where I heard this, but a while back, I heard a report that claimed the Israelites were not really monotheists – that is, people who only worshipped one God.  And I couldn’t help but think about how ridiculous this report was.  Because isn’t that what the entire Old Testament is about?  The struggle of the people to remain faithful to the Lord?  Every time we read the prophets, we see the same message – put away your false idols and return to the Lord.  Stop worshipping the worthless images of your neighbors and turn your focus to Yahweh.  

Anybody that has taken the time to read the Old Testament knows that the people of Israel struggled in their attempts to focus all of their worship on the Lord, and not worship the idols of their neighbors.  The question is not “Were they polytheists?” but “How long will they continue to worship false idols?”  How long will they continue to chase after things that have no real purpose in this life?

In verse 11, God says that the people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.  The word for “glory” is the Hebrew word kabod.  In the Bible, kabod refers to the glory of God, an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals His majesty to humanity.  The kabod of God is described as a “consuming fire.”  It is something that man cannot bear see and still live; it is too overwhelming for humanity.  It can be compared to a high-voltage electrical line.  When we come into contact with it, it is too much for our bodies to handle.

Yet, the people of Israel have exchanged the kabod of the Lord for something that does not profit.  In keeping with the electrical analogy, it would be like us exchanging a power grid for a dead battery.  It is inconceivable that we would give up something so incredible, and yet, we do it all the time.  In response to this, God speaks to the heavens and tells them to be appalled, be shocked by the actions of the people.

Why would the people of Israel give up something so magnificent for something so fleeting and empty?  Why do we?  Why do we enter into this journey of faith that we call the Christian life, only to turn our backs on it when we fail to open our eyes to what God is doing?  

When we stop reflecting on what God has done in our lives, we run the risk of doing exactly what the Israelites are accused of doing here in Jeremiah 2 – giving up on glory of God for the passing interests of this world.  It’s a bad trade, and here’s the difference between this trade and the baseball trades that I mentioned at the beginning of this morning’s message: in baseball, you don’t always know when something is a bad trade.  You don’t know what players have yet to peak in their careers.  You don’t know what players are past their prime and have nothing left to give.  But when it comes to the glory of God versus the vapors that this world has to offer, you know that it’s a bad trade.

At the end of the passage, God says that the people have committed two evils.  One, they’ve forsaken the living water, and two, they dug cisterns for themselves.  Now, that imagery may not mean as much to many of us in this day and age, but when you look at it in its original context, it is very significant.

In agricultural society of the day, water came from three sources.  First, it came from stream or some other source where the water was moving.  This was the best source of water.  The second option was a well where you could get ground water.  The final source would have been a cistern, which was a pit cut into rock and plastered to prevent seepage.  A cistern is the worst of all possible options.  You had to continually patch up the cracks, or the water would seep out and all you would have left is sludge and mosquito larvae that looked like dancing rice.

What God is saying is that the people have turned their backs on the living water, on the Lord, and have opted for sludge-filled cisterns.  It is a horrible trade.  The Red Sox losing Babe Ruth has nothing on this type of trade.  So, how do we live the Christian life?  One day at a time.  Always pushing forward towards the best that God has to offer.  Never turning away for the vapors, for the things that don’t last, for the things that will never satisfy.

There are pursuits in today’s world that pull us away from the Lord.  Pursuits of wealth, power, fame, pleasure.  These are cracked cisterns compared to what we have in Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  Jesus is the living water.  To follow him means that we will never thirst again.  We give him our faults, our failures and our emptiness and in return, we receive life eternal in the presence of the Almighty God.  Now, that is a good trade.