September 22, 2019
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; 1 Timothy 2:1
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Weeping with God and Praying for People
In today’s epistle lesson from 1 Timothy, the disciple Paul proclaims that “God our Savior desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3-4). This is the mission statement of all Christian Churches. But before he gives us this mission statement, Paul urged us first to lift up “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for everyone” (v. 1). In short, we should pray first if we want to lead people on the path of salvation
The main task of a pastor is to pray for his or her people. The Pastor is both God’s servant and his congregation’s servant. Thus through prayer, the pastor belongs to both sides (God and people). Likewise, the church is also the mediator between God and the world in the sense that we have the Gospel from Christ, which must be spoken to the world. We have to mediate between God and people in prayer for the people’s transformation and God’s mercy on them.
God is Weeping with Us
In the Old Testament, we find a great mediator between God and the people of Israel. His name is Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached from about 628 BC to 586 BC (about 2600 years ago) in Jerusalem. During that time, Babylon took control of Jerusalem. Babylon began taking Jews as captives to Babylon as early as 605 BC. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. In this passage, the people of Israel were in big trouble. The land of Judah and all who lived in it now faced terrible destruction by their enemy, Babylonia. Amid this national disaster, Jeremiah prayed for God’s salvation for his people.
This Scripture begins with one’s grief. “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick” (v. 18). Who is saying this word; who is in grief in this message? Is it Jeremiah’s voice or God’s voice? This passage doesn’t give us clear information to determine whether the speaker was Jeremiah or God. Jeremiah’s overwhelming sadness is hard to distinguish from God’s grief over what was happening to the people of Israel. In other words, God in Jeremiah was weeping or Jeremiah, with God in his heart, was weeping for the people in the impending doom.
When I meditated on this passage, I was drawn to the prophet’s compassion for suffering people. Confronting this terrible situation, he didn’t look for his own safety. He was only weeping for the people in pain and suffering: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (v. 1). Because of his compassionate tears for his people, Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet in the Old Testament.
Jeremiah is a prophet of God and also a prophet of Israel. How do you define the role of prophets? Today’s scripture answers the question: a prophet is a mediator between God and people. In light of our Christian faith, he is the model of Jesus Christ, the church, and Christians called to bring God’s salvation to a troubled world. When we are in trouble, we often ask, “Where is God when tragedy happens to us?” Through Jeremiah’s mediating action, we can answer the question. “Through his churches and his servants, God is here with people and even weeping with people too.”
Jeremiah didn’t need to intervene for others. Why did he feel so sad for others? He was a faithful prophet who didn’t need to worry about the sins of others; their future was their fault, not his. However, he had deep pity on their trouble and even took their suffering as his own.
We love God; that’s why we are here in the church to worship and praise the Lord. But have we been in places of sadness for the sake of others? Do we want to get involved in trouble for the sake of others? The secular culture of today often advises us to stay away from those who are in trouble, need, crimes, or sins. Otherwise, we might get in trouble with them too.
We, God’s children, must not think like this. In Jesus’ teaching, there is no mention of “staying away from people.” If we are God’s servants or prophets of this day, our concern must be out in the troubled world as much as we care about maintaining our church and growing more members and ministries. We must realize that God is not only praised in our church, but he is also outside weeping with people in pain and suffering. Where there is suffering, there is God’s grief. Therefore, we as God’s servants must be with people, weeping with them as we take their pains and sufferings as ours.
Jeremiah questions in his grief, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (v. 22). His lament over the people of Israel can be read for our lament for the church of this day. The world has been wounded and broken in all kinds of human terrors and natural disasters. But as long as there is a balm, and as long as there are physicians in our communities, people can always have the ability to recover their broken and wounded lives. Where can people find this spiritual medicine? We, the church, are called to be the spiritual balm and the spiritual physicians always available to people.
The Cross of Jesus Christ
How can we have a compassionate heart like Jeremiah weeping for his people? How can we act like Jesus Christ in our communities? Can we weep with people and help them find hope in life?
I want to turn your attention to the cross, the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross belongs to people as the symbol of human weakness. It also belongs to God as the symbol of God’s grace and love. It is the symbol of a mediation between God and humanity. Jesus Christ carried this cross and was hanged on it. On the cross, he prayed to God for his people, “Father, forgive them.” That’s why he could become “one mediator between God and humankind” (v. 5).
When we live by the principle of the cross, we can give ourselves as mediators who carry out God’s peace and reconciliation to those who are in trouble. When we pray for people as Jesus Christ prayed for us, we can become God’s tears and God’s hands. We can weep with people and help them receive God’s healing and saving grace. Amen.