9th Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2018
“I Made it Through the Reign”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the first lesson that was previously read from the prophet Jeremiah.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
This is a story that my fellow non-snow-bird Floridians will understand. I was driving back from Orlando recently and I approached Sarasota around that 3:00 PM time frame. Everyone who spends their summer in Sarasota knows what happens around that time every day this time of the year. I could see the dark, nasty clouds to the south rolling towards Sarasota and about the time I got to University Parkway, it was like someone ripped a hole in the sky: constant lightning, booming thunder, and an onslaught of rain that can only be described as “torrential” battered all of us unfortunate enough to be on I-75 when it hit. It took almost 20 minutes to get to Bee Ridge Road, which is normally about a 5 minute drive. It was some of the worst driving conditions I have seen in almost 40 years behind the wheel. I couldn’t exit I-75 fast enough.
When I think about making that awful drive through the rain, I remember a popular song from 1980 performed by Barry Manilow, “I Made it Through the Rain.” It’s a song about a guy who made it through more than the dampness of being caught outside in a rain storm. The “hero” of the song persevered through dark and lonely days, and was able to make it through the “rain” or the troubles and hassles of life with the help of others who also endured.
Well, today as we reflect on the lesson from Jeremiah 23, we can also remember that song title “I Made it Through the Rain,” but change “R-A-I-N” to “R-E-I-G-N.” The prophet Jeremiah lived at a time when there was poor leadership among the people – REAL poor leadership – and God through Jeremiah had some very serious and harsh words for those in positions of leadership. On the flip side, He also has something to say for those on the other end of the reign of a poor leader – to the harassed and helpless flock under the leader’s care. God promised the flock that there would be rest; they would be rescued from the reign of hapless shepherds and given the safety and peace that they need.
Jeremiah lived at one of the most difficult and trying periods for the Israelites. He was a prophet during the divided kingdom – a kingdom that was only ½ a kingdom since the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been smashed by the Assyrian empire. But even before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, the Israelites experienced some pretty terrible reigns from some pretty terrible kings or shepherds. A simple of reading of 1 and 2 Kings reveals a hit list of kings who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord:” Nadab, Baasha, Zimri, Hoshea, Joram, Jehoahaz, Jeroboam, Omri, Ahab, and Manasseh, all who were particularly naughty. These kings were awful; they reigned contrary to the will of God. Jeremiah proclaimed, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (verse 1).
Yet, God does not say that the sheep will rise up and overthrow or impeach the shepherd. He doesn’t shout “#Resist”! No, He desires that we keep the Fourth Commandment. But then, what do we do about those who abuse power? We resist unlawful government; we obey lawful government. Above all, we obey God, not man (Acts 5:9), and rather than rise up, we trust that it is God who bestows punishment on the shepherds for what they have done. “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD (verse 2). That is exactly what God did. When His judgment came, it was complete; “torrential” you might say. King Zedekiah, the illegitimate king of Judah, was raining a horrible reign down on the citizens of Judah when God used the Babylonians to come and take both a now-blinded Zedekiah and the flock away into exile. It looked like all was lost. The City of David…gone. Temple…gone. The Davidic line from which the promised Messiah was to come…that looked like it was gone also.
However, this was not the end. For God also promised through Jeremiah, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture…I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified” (verses 3-4). Just as the evil shepherds had scattered the flock, God promised He would intervene and restore the good remnant. How? “I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land” (verse 5). God only needs a branch, a shoot, a stump, to bring about the oak of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3).
That is exactly what God did. God’s people were restored. The exile of the Israelites from Jerusalem – the City of David – lasted from 586 BC until 538 BC or only 48 years. The people returned to Jerusalem and eventually rebuilt the temple and the city wall. And the restoration didn’t end there.
Into the restored kingdom, Jesus Christ, the Lord Our Righteousness, came just as had been foretold, to bring restoration and healing for His people. Sinful people needed more than homes, a temple, and city walls. All people need to be restored in our relationship with our sinless and holy God, and that is what Jesus did. He took all of our sins, all of our disobedience, all of our uncleanness and our lack of righteousness, and took it upon Himself and allowed it to be nailed to the cross. Because of Christ and His righteousness which is given to us, we have forgiveness of our sins, the promise of salvation, and the hope of eternal life even amid torrential rainfall.
Is the world around us a peaceful, perfect place? No. Are we free from bad leaders and poor shepherds? No. But has the Lord Our Righteousness lived and died for us? Yes. By His death and resurrection, do we have the forgiveness of sins, the peace that only God provides, and the promise of eternal rest and restoration in heaven? Absolutely. We may have to put up with a little rain from time to time and feel uncomfortable and unpleasant, but that’s is nothing when compared with the glories yet to be revealed to us when the Good Shepherd calls us to dwell eternally safe in the house of the Lord forever, for then we will have truly made it through the rain.
It’s good to be back home with you, despite the rain. Amen.