The prophet Jeremiah is describing two types of people… He says there are some people who turn their hearts away from God. They ignore God. They act like God doesn’t exist. They don’t go to church to worship God. They don’t pray or talk to God. They don’t read the bible or pay attention to how God is telling them to live.
Jeremiah says that these people are like shrubs in the desert, while God is like water. Since they have turned away from God, it’s like they are shrubs in the desert. They live in a place where there is no water — no rain, no rivers — and they are slowly drying up.
Jeremiah says that there are other people who don’t turn their hearts away from God. These people trust in God. They pay attention to God, because they believe in God and love God. They come to church and worship God. They pray and talk to God. They read the bible and pay attention to how God is telling them to live.
Jeremiah says that these people are like trees planted beside the water. (Remember, God is the water.) They send out their roots, and the water helps them to grow and get stronger. They don’t worry about the hot sun, cause they’ve got lots of water. They don’t worry about drought, because the river never dries up. And they produce fruit.
Jeremiah’s message is that we should not turn away from God. We should trust God, and get the benefit of God’s help — like we’re trees drinking up the water of God.
Do you know what it means to trust someone? It means that you can rely on them. It means that you don’t worry that they’re going to forget about you, or suddenly do something mean to you.
Trust walk — Let’s explore a little what it’s like to trust someone. Do any of you trust me enough to be a volunteer for me today? We’re going to do a trust walk. I’m going to put this blindfold on you, and then I’m going to lead you on a little walk. You’re going to need to trust me. Trust that I’m not going to let you bang into any furniture… trust that I’m not going to abandon you somewhere.
[Walk down the aisle, part way, and back.]
Now, that was pretty smooth sailing, wasn’t it? I bet that you probably could have done that on your own! Maybe you don’t need me after all.
[Could try it without a guide.]
But what if the journey became more difficult?
[Set up some obstacles of other people down the aisle, or try going up the steps and down again.]
Sometimes things are going pretty smoothly in our lives, and we start to think that maybe we don’t really need God and God’s help. We seem to be doing fine on our own, so we stop paying attention to God, we stop reading the bible, we stop praying, we stop coming to worship. But Jeremiah reminds us that we should trust in God and rely on God, even when things are going well. Then, when the challenges come, we won’t be all alone. We will have God’s help to navigate through all the obstacles. That is good news for us!
I have noticed that it can be very difficult for people today to admit that they need help. Whether you’re a kid in school who’s being picked on by a bully, or a teen who is struggling with algebra. Whether you’re a young person who’s new marriage is hanging by a thread, or another who is desperately trying to prove her ability in the business world. Whether you’re a parent going deeper and deeper into debt to pay the bills and keep up your family’s standard of living, or an older person intent on maintaining independence, while your physical limitations become greater and greater each day.
Our society, or our parents, or our school systems — or maybe just human nature — has taught us to highly value independence and self-sufficiency, so-much-so that we are often unwilling or unable to ask for or accept help when we need it. We keep thinking that if we can just muddle through for a little bit longer, we’ll make it. We’ll get stronger. We’ll get smarter. We’ll figure it out, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and we will succeed.
It’s as if we are those trees from the metaphor of Jeremiah. The sun and the heat are making our lives difficult. We’re getting dried out and the rain just doesn’t come. But despite the dangerous situation that we’re in, we are determined to manage it on our own.
A tree that’s planted beside water would never fail to send out its roots to the nearby stream. A tree would take advantage of the abundance that was available so close by. While we humans are sometimes too proud, or too embarassed, or too stubborn to ask for some help either from our friends, our faith communities, or our even our God. Somehow, it’s easier for us to be the people who do the helping than to be the ones who are helped. It feels better to us to be the ones who do the rescuing, rather than to let someone else save us.
That wasn’t the case for many of the people that Jesus met during his ministry. He brought good news to those who were poor. He proclaimed release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind. He gave an opportunity for the oppressed to go free — and pretty much everyone he met was happy to receive his help, whether it was to heal them, counsel them, share a meal with them, or to forgive their sins.
So many people in Jesus’ day were able to receive blessing from him because they knew and they were ready to admit that they needed it. While we, relatively affluent, accomplished Canadians of the early 21st century, often have more difficulty admitting that we don’t quite have it all together.
Critics of Christianity today can often be heard to say that our faith is like a crutch — a myth created to help weak people make it through life — while those who are strong don’t need it. This kind of comment encourages people to try to be strong — to try to be self-sufficient — to try not to rely too much on anyone outside of themselves — certainly not to rely too much on a higher power for help or hope or forgiveness.
And, you know, it can work pretty well a lot of the time. Many people can live for many years without too much trouble, especially if (like many North Americans) they start out with a fair amount of privilege and opportunity. They get a good education and a good career started. They marry a nice partner, buy a nice house in a nice neighbourhood, and have a couple of nice kids. Life is grand. Everyone is healthy. They have fulfilling work, lots of hobbies to keep them occupied, and great family holidays. Perhaps they even go to church once in a while
— because that’s a nice thing to do, at least at Christmas — not because they really need to.
But one day, something is going to happen that they won’t be able to handle on their own. It’ll be the kind of thing that happens to everyone at one time or another. It’ll be an illness, or a death, a financial catastrophe, or a relationship one. There can’t be the perfect amount of rain and cool temperatures every year, and eventually the heat and the sun will be too much for the tree that has no other source of nourishment.
The psalmist and the prophet both encourage their listeners to let themselves be planted beside the water — whether things are difficult right now and you need God’s help, or whether everything is going well. Planting ourselves will mean making a commitment to worship God, to pray, to read God’s word, and listen for God’s guidance in our lives. The worst thing we can do is to decide in the good times that we can manage on our own. The worst mistake we can make is to determine that we don’t need God.
They say that there are no atheists in foxholes. When we get really scared. When we finally know that we can’t save ourselves, we all eventually turn to look for God’s help. But woe to the person (as Jesus would say) — who finds himself in a foxhole-type situation and doesn’t know how to pray. Woe to the person who doesn’t have the promises of scripture to sustain her when everything else in her life falls apart. Woe to the person who thought they had it all, that they didn’t need to know God — but now they do.
Being in ministry gives me the opportunity on a regular basis to join with people at various points on their life journeys. This week, for example, I spent some time with some of our young people at Kids Klub. I heard about Valentine’s celebrations at school, school dances, basketball tournaments – happy moments, and frustrations in their young lives.
I also did some marriage preparation work with a young couple who are planning to marry this summer. I heard about their plans both for the wedding and for the marriage — things they are excited about, and things in their relationship that they know they will need to work on.
Finally, I listened to and prayed and talked with patients and families in crisis in the hospital.
I felt their pain and their worry. I joined with them in remembering and giving thanks for their lives together, for all the good times. And dared with them to hope for the future, while placing our faith in God to determine what the outcome of all this would be.
Being a minister this week (and other weeks, as well) has given me a sense of the ups and downs that people experience through life. And it also reminds me of the many times that I have heard people in those difficult moments wondering aloud… “I don’t know how I could ever have made it through this if I didn’t have my faith.” Or the question I’ve been asked on a number of occasions… “What do people do in situations like this if they don’t believe in God?”
And it’s not only that the community of faith rallies around to offer support and help during family crises, it’s something more than that. It’s that the person who believes in God, and knows God, and trusts God has a source of sustaining help that no insurance policy or human friend can provide. It doesn’t make those difficult experiences easy, by any means, but it does seem to make an amazing difference.
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh…
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.”
May God grant us the courage and humility to acknowledge our need for God, both now and when the challenges of life come. May we continually turn our hearts towards God and trust in God for help and hope and guidance through the ups and downs of our lives. Amen.