Third Sunday After Pentecost
June 20-21, 2020
“The Rest Of The Story”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know the hymn, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord!”? It is the hymn of submission, yielding to God, letting Him take over your life. You’ve tried to do things your way and finally, after repeated failures, you let God in. “Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the potter, I am the clay! Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”
When this city still had the Rocky Mountain News I remember seeing a picture taken of the ordination of a Roman Catholic Priest at the Basilica in downtown Denver. The Priest was taking his Vows of Obedience and was laying toward the altar, fully prostrate. Surrender, submission, obedience to God. “Have Thine own way…”
There are times when we have broken the sixth commandment and let our body do whatever it wants to do sexually, or have become a bitter and vengeful person and are filled with hate and are breaking the fifth commandment. There are times when our tongue is dirty or spiteful and we want to hurt others with our words or want to say words that are vile. When we live in these ways we are saying we don’t care what God’s ways are.
But God gives us a conscience and breaks our stubbornness and sometimes, in tears, we lower the head and cry out, “I surrender”. “Lord, I need you.” What a good outcome. I like lives and stories that have good endings. The submission of our will to God’s will is always a good ending.
But today this sermon is about the rest of the story. Sometimes such a nicely decorated package is not the story of our lives. Sometimes it takes a most difficult route to get to the right end. The one who tells us this is Jeremiah and his battle with God. Jeremiah 20 is a great section of Scripture. It’s real and it’s painful. No sugar coating here. In this passage we don’t find a person who has giant teeth, a big smile, and immune to our pain, speaking the platitude, “Don’t be sad, God loves you.” Jeremiah believes that God duped him, betrayed him, lied to him and let him down. Jeremiah is certain that God didn’t keep His word and Jeremiah has turned bitter.
You want to hear from a guy who didn’t hold anything back in his conversation with God? Well, here it is, “O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” Later he continues his rant, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child has been born to you – a son!’…Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:7-8, 14-15, 18)
He was a disciple of God, a prophet of God and the words he spoke as God’s prophet brought him a physical beating and an ongoing ridicule from his neighbors who did not appreciate what he said and the changes he called for.
There is a website called expastors.com. There are a bunch of our clergy types, once with great ambitions, who got burned out, forced out or gave up. They have left public ministry. Jeremiah could have written on that website. “O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.” Jeremiah is a long way from “Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!” Maybe you are too.
It is not easy being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, you would think that it should be easier. Paul tells us how difficult it may be, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:15-16) In the Gospel reading from Matthew for today Jesus tells His followers, “All men will hate you because of me”, and “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub [Prince of demons, Lord of the flies, that is, Satan], how much more the members of his household! (Matthew 10:22a, 25b)
When you have trouble with someone you talk to them, right? Or, you should talk to them. It is the same way with God. He is real, He isn’t made up. So, you talk to Him – maybe just like Jeremiah did. The rest of the story is that we can hold an honest conversation with God. Though Jeremiah speaks about his struggles with God and the thought that God tricked him into being a prophet and he shares his distain with living one more day, there is a rest of the story for Jeremiah that is very hopeful. If you have been where Jeremiah was, or if you are there right now, look at the rest of the story.
Jeremiah lived with faith in God and praise for Him. Who would have thought that such faith and adoration could still rest in his soul? He speaks, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten…Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” (Jeremiah 20:11,13) The rest of the story is this – “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31b-32)
After Jesus, in Matthew 10, tells those who were going to be His about the hatred they would experience and the rejection they would face, He goes on to tell them the rest of the story – the account of God’s strength in their life. Jesus says, “So do not be afraid of them.” (Matthew 10:26a) God’s personal care to them, and us, is promised, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
You can trust Jesus. You can. It really is the only good way that the rest of the story can end. Without faith in Jesus you become the author of your story and the story is miserably incomplete. One more thing – Jeremiah was tempted to just shut up and say nothing more about God. Speaking for God and about God had gotten him into trouble. But the rest of the story, for him and us, is one of a holy compulsion. Listen to his words, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’” (Jeremiah 20:9) In the New Testament, a different Jeremiah, St. Paul, says, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16)
There is a holy compulsion to this life, this story that we have. Even if we get angry with God, even if we feel that He didn’t do what we expected Him to do, His message of true life, new life, real forgiveness, living as a person of Christ’s resurrection, takes hold. Woe to me if I don’t speak about it and live it and praise God for being a child of this new life in the resurrection of Jesus.
It may take us a long time, maybe it is an ongoing battle, and it may be hard to get to the point of praying “Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!” But what a good place to be in life and what a good place to find ourselves at the end of life. We live in a real faith in a real God, we join in a spirited praise and we have a holy compulsion to live and speak His word.
With God’s truth in your life, live out wonderfully the rest of your story. Amen!!