For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
-Romans 12:4-5

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

There is No Cure

Jeremiah chapter 8
      There has been a lot of information in the news lately about health issues.  We’ve heard the stories over the last several weeks of the Ebola crisis in Africa.  According to the BBC as of  October 23rd,” 4,922 people had been reported as having died from the disease in five countries; Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the United States. A further death has been reported in Mali. The total number of reported cases is in excess of 10,000.”  (  A few weeks ago, our neighbor Emmanuel, who is from Liberia, came over to see us and we asked about his family back in Liberia and what they were experiencing.  He told us his family had a distant member who had died of Ebola but no one else had been affected.  But he did tell us that the medical system in Liberia was breaking down.  People were afraid to seek treatment for anything for fear they would be exposed to Ebola.  Medical personnel were afraid of catching the disease.  Whole families were being wiped out in some cases.  It’s a very dire situation in his home country.
This is not the first outbreak of Ebola.  The disease was first identified in 1976 but this is the deadliest outbreak there has ever been.  One of the things that is so scary about Ebola is that there is no cure.  If it’s caught early enough it can be treated and people may be able to recover if symptoms are managed.  But there is no cure.
There has also been news of a young woman who has been diagnosed with brain cancer and had chosen to die on Nov. 1 .  Like Ebola, her disease has no cure.  Unlike the thousands in Africa, she does have access to medicine that can help alleviate some of her symptoms and she doesn’t have to worry about her doctors being afraid to treat her or the entire medical system breaking down on her.  But she will still die.  Some things have no cure.
 In the passage we are looking at today in Jeremiah, God asks the question,  “Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (v. 22)  Jeremiah prophesied to the people of Judah and these people were suffering from an incurable disease.  Like many facing ebola in Africa today, there was no physician to care for them and no medicine to cure them.  If we read through the whole of chapter 8 we see that the Lord declares that war is coming and the people of Judah will not win it.  They will be overrun.  The graves of the kings, prophets and priests will be desecrated and their bones scattered on the ground.  The crops will fail.  The people who survive the war will wish for death rather than life in the land where they will be banished.  There will be no peace, only terror.
Why is this happening?  Well God asks the same thing. In verses 4-6 he says to Jeremiah  “‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again?  When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?  Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?  Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?
They cling tightly to their lies and will not turn around.   I listen to their conversations
and don’t hear a word of truth.  Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?  Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”?  No! All are running down the path of sin
as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle!”  The people were sinning, refusing to repent or change their ways.
The people of Judah were not living according to the covenant they had made with Yahweh.  They were not keeping the laws He had given them and that they had promised to keep.  They were worshiping other gods, even sacrificing their children to them, something that God said He had never commanded nor had it ever entered His mind to do.  They were participating in practices that were totally detestable to God.  They were going the wrong way, heading down a path of self-destruction and refusing to turn around.  God asks the question – When people discover they are on the wrong road, don’t they turn around?  Don’t they change direction?  Don’t they go back and figure out where the right road is?  Why do these people refuse to turn back?  It makes no sense.
Vandy told me once that he was going somewhere and he had his GPS on but it was telling him a way to go that he didn’t want to go.  Sometimes a GPS will give you the more convoluted way to go.  So he went the way he thought was best.  For a while the GPS kept telling him to turn around when possible.  But he ignored it for so long that it finally just shut up and stopped giving him directions altogether.  That’s what’s about to happen to Judah in the book of Jeremiah.  They have ignored God for so long, going down their own path of self-destruction, that He’s about to stop giving them directions altogether.  He’s going to remove His protection from them, they will be overrun by their enemies, the land will be destroyed, people will be slaughtered, and those who survive will go into exile.  There will be no more nation of Judah.  There will be no cure for them.
God says in verse 2 of this chapter that his people have loved, served, followed, consulted and worshiped other gods.  They put some effort into this.  They changed their lifestyles and devoted themselves to these other gods.  It wasn’t just a casual thing.  They reoriented their lives around idol worship.  It influenced how they thought, their decision making, what they gave priority to, how they spent their money, everything.  Earlier in the book of Jeremiah God compares the people of Judah to an unfaithful wife, who leaves her husband to go after someone else.  Judah is the unfaithful spouse who leaves God to pursue relationships with other gods.  She’s so enamored of these idols that she ends up doing things that God never dreamed of and things for which there is no cure without a complete return to Yahweh.  Reading this places before us the question, what are we orienting our lives around?  What influences our decision making, our prioritizing, how we spend our money and our time?  Is it our relationship with Jesus Christ and the message of His gospel or does something else have a bigger influence over us?  Have we gotten on the wrong road and don’t realize it? 
Chapter 8 of Jeremiah is God’s lament over Judah.  In the class we’ve had the last few weeks on scriptures of lament, we’ve learned that Biblical laments contain several elements including a complaint about what is wrong and then a petition, where the person tells God what they want him to do about their complaint.  In chapter 8 God is the one with the complaint.  His people are going the wrong way.  They are not being faithful to Him but are worshiping other gods.  They say they have the law of God but they don’t know what His law requires of them because their scribes and priests have taught them lies.  They’ve handled God’s laws falsely and corrupted it, telling the people what they want to hear rather than telling them the truth.  The people are greedy and everyone practices deceit.  They are willing to commit any act of violence if it means they will gain from it.  They keep saying peace, peace but there is no peace.  That word peace is “shalom” which means wholeness, soundness, completeness, health in relationships including a sound and healthy covenant relationship with God.  There is none of that in Judah.  But the people refuse to acknowledge the truth of where they are in relation to God and so there is no cure for them.
There are some things that don’t mix well.  Oil and water is a combination that doesn’t mix well.  When I was a kid, I used to have to do the dishes and would have to be reminded not to pour the used cooking oil down the kitchen drain because it wouldn’t wash away.  It would just sit in the drain and clog it up and then the water couldn’t pass through.  Greed and deceit are things that don’t mix well with shalom.  Shalom is like springs of living water.  Shalom brings life.  It flows through relationships among individuals, families, communities, and between humanity and God.  It brings refreshing, creativity, harmony and life.  But greed and deceit will block it.  They will clog the drain. Walls will come up.  Misunderstandings will happen.  People will get hurt.  Someone will be victimized.  Life will be cut off and destruction will be the result.  Wars come about because of greed and deceit.  Families have been destroyed, businesses have been destroyed, and peoples’ futures have been destroyed because of greed and deceit.  Think of the financial scandals that have hit this country in the last several years and how much economic stagnation has happened in different parts of the world because of greed and deceit.  How much development has not taken place around the world, and how much creativity has been stifled because of greed and deceit?  They are like cancerous tumors that must be removed in order for life to continue.  Without their removal, there is no cure. 
The people of Judah have a serious wound, something that will kill them if not treated properly, but they are just putting a bandaid on it.  God says in verse 11 “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.”  As a parent or as anyone who has taken care of young children, we know that any hurt must be tended to.  It might take a wet paper towel, a piece of ice, a kiss, a bandaid, but every hurt must be acknowledged and tended to.  Our young children demand this.  I’m going to tell a cute story about Marcela.  When she was maybe 3 years old, she came to church one day with Pastor Leonard and she was down in the basement over at the old church playing and I was down there as well doing something.  Somehow she hurt her finger I think it was and she got very upset and was about to cry. Pastor Leonard was upstairs or outside at the time and I was trying to soothe her so I asked her if she wanted me to put some Mommy medicine on it.  She said yes, so I kissed her finger.  She waited a minute and then she said “It’s not working!”  I was like “Well it works for Bethannie!”  Obviously I wasn’t treating her wound seriously enough!  But Judah in this passage, isn’t as smart as our young children are.  Judah is suffering a serious wound, but rather than demand treatment, she is content to just put a bandaid on it and let it continue to bleed, and just ignore it.   Judah isn’t even taking the time to acknowledge there is a wound.  There is no cure when we refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the wound or even to take the time to examine it.
In verse 14 the people of Judah speak.  They ask, “why are we just sitting around? We’ve been waiting for peace but it’s not coming.  Instead God has doomed us to perish and so we should go into our fortified cities.”  What are they looking for in their fortified cities?  Do they think that death will be more comfortable there?  They seem to be seeking some measure of control over their death and destruction.  But there is none.  Death and destruction is going to happen.  Their only real recourse is to repent, to get off the wrong road they are on and seek for the right one, to head in a new direction.  But they refuse. They put their trust in their fortified cities rather than in God. And so there is no cure.
In verse 19 God says “listen to the cry of my people from a land far away:  Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?”  God is saying that the people will be taken into exile and they will then cry out where is the Lord.  He’s like a parent watching a child who’s heading for trouble, knowing that heartbreak is ahead of them, knowing they are going to go through pain, and knowing there is nothing He can do to stop it because they are refusing to listen and turn around.  God mourns over the people of Judah in these verses, giving voice to His deep pain at their rejection of him.  He’s the husband whose wife has been unfaithful with multiple partners, even though He has loved Judah and given her a good home and provided abundantly for her.  In verse 21 God says, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed:  I mourn and horror grips me.”  God will not come out of this unscathed.  He is wounded by the wounds of His people.  He suffers with them.  God is the one who asks the question “Is there no balm in Gilead:  Is there no physician there?  Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”  God is in mourning and he cries out “why.” 
One of my favorite movies is “Steel Magnolias” about a group of Southern women who are friends.  One of the women has a daughter who dies of complications of diabetes.  There is a scene near the end of the movie as the women are leaving the daughter’s grave after the funeral and they tell her mother how well she’s holding up and they are seeking to comfort her.  But then the mother, Ma’Lynne, breaks down and she starts crying and screaming and she says she wants to know why this happened.  She should have gone first, not her daughter.  She’s hurt and she’s incredibly angry and she lets it all out to her friends, saying she just wants to hit something.  That’s what God is doing in this passage.  He’s hurt and He’s angry and He’s letting it out.  We didn’t read further than chapter 8 today but God’s lament continues into chapter 9 where He says “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!  I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.”  God realizes that His people will not repent.  They will not change.  There is no cure for them and He mourns deeply for them. 
There are some things for which there is no cure, things like cancer and ebola.  These things can be treated and sometimes people can recover, although there is no guarantee.  But treatment must be sought.  Care must be taken.  The sickness must be acknowledged and treated seriously.  But there are other things that are just as deadly as ebola – greed, hatred, racism, ignorance, a love of self and an individualism that devalues others, a focus on achievement and advancement that leaves no room for God, a refusal to examine our spiritual lives and repent of sin.  Without recognizing the presence of such things and without treating them seriously as the spirit killers that they are, there is no cure. 
What is God mourning for today?  What is causing Him to grieve and cry and scream today?  Isn’t it the same as it was in Jeremiah’s day?  The people are going the wrong way, headed for destruction and refusing to turn around.  We only have to look around us to see that things are not the way they should be.  Shalom is missing.  We don’t have wholeness and health in our world.  There are so many instances of injustice taking place.  Violence and war is all around.  People are greedy for more without considering who suffers as a consequence of that.  People regularly practice deceit, spinning things any which way to sway the way others think.  But there is a balm in Gilead and there is a physician to treat our wounds if we will seek treatment.  We are told in Isaiah 53 that Christ himself took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace – shalom – was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (v.5)  There is hope for our world.  There is healing possible. 
As the people of God, we need to seek healing for ourselves on a regular basis.  We need to be examining our own lives for signs of spiritual sickness and be seeking healing from Jesus Christ.  But we also need to be joining Christ in intercession for our world.  We need to be crying and raging over the things He is crying and raging about.  We need to be praying for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done so that our world can be healed and people can have shalom. 

As we close this morning I invite you to join me in a prayer found in our blue hymnals, #803. The worship team can join me now. This coming Tuesday is election day in Pennsylvania. We are electing people whose decisions will affect our lives and could possibly affect lives all over the world.  It’s important that we each pray about the decisions we will make as we vote.  But we also need to pray for God’s Spirit to be moving around the world to draw people to Himself, the source of life.  There are several prayer requests mentioned in the bulletin about different situations in the world where God’s intervention is needed.  There is a cure for the problems in our world, but there is no cure if people don’t seek it.  As we pray this prayer together, let us be mindful of our need to continue to pray for the healing of our world and that people will seek healing for their spiritual sickness.