The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah (that was the first year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon), which the prophet Jeremiah spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.And though the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear when they said, ‘Turn now, everyone of you, from your evil way and wicked doings, and you will remain upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your ancestors from of old and for ever; do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.’ Yet you did not listen to me, says the Lord, and so you have provoked me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.
They are the same people who have been in a marriage or a significant relationship for too long. In their eyes and in their mannerisms, there are no signs of affection or intimacy. Rarely is there an indication of any kind of excitement or passion about the other person and the life they share together. Never will you see in them signs of being truly in love, committed to cherishing and nurturing and fully communicating with their partner.
Or they’re the same people who have been in one profession for too long. They are short on creativity. Short on energy. Short on meaningful contributions. On the other hand, they are long on coffee breaks. Long on complaints and doubts. Long on daydreaming and idle gossip.
In our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, in our friend circles, and out in the community, we see people every day who are stuck in the same rut. Their persistence, in the sense that they stick with something for a long time, is undeniable. But it’s not necessarily admirable. If anything, we feel sympathy for people who are spinning their wheels because we know they can’t find the imagination or the energy to work themselves out of their daily boredom and head in a different direction. And there’s often little anyone else can do about it.
More troubling still are the times when we look in the mirror and the stuck in a rut, burned out, bored person is staring back at us. Sometimes in life we have nowhere else to direct our pity because we’re too busy taking pity on ourselves…
But every so often, we see someone come along in life who embodies exactly the opposite. Like the prophet Jeremiah. According to this morning’s Scripture lesson, for twenty-three years, Jeremiah woke up every single morning and listened to the word of God. Eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five days in a row. And every single morning for twenty-three years, Jeremiah went out and spoke God’s word to the people of Israel. Eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five days in a row.
Jeremiah was dedicated to his craft. But do you know how the people of Israel responded? They didn’t care at all. For twenty-three years in a row, they slept in. Hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks. Closed their ears, changed the subject and totally ignored Jeremiah. That’s right…eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five days straight of lazing around doing nothing…
If Jeremiah’s daily routine sounds like a tough way to live for twenty-three years, it was. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah appears to be the poster child for burnout. Over those more than two decades Jeremiah was imprisoned and rejected. Time and again he was insulted and abused. And it never got any easier. Jeremiah wrestled with long stretches of discouragement and spent long periods of time in agony and despair. More than a few times, Jeremiah contemplated quitting and walking away.
But there was one crucial thing Jeremiah had going for him. In the beginning, he didn’t resolve to stubbornly stick out his prophetic calling for twenty-three years. Instead, Jeremiah simply resolved to wake up with the sun every day. And every single morning he resolved that the day belonged to God and not to the people around him.
As a result, Jeremiah never woke up overcome with a sense of frustration and rejection. He woke up with the sun ready to greet God one more time. Although he had every reason to steel himself at the beginning of each day, he didn’t rise from sleep anticipating another round of humiliation at the hands of the people who heard him preach. He rose from sleep in order to spend time in prayer and meditation with God…
The people we admire most in life for their persistence are not people who look down the road and dread the things that lie ahead of them. The people we admire in life for their persistence are the people who take each day as it comes, living in the present and greeting each new moment as an opportunity…a series of possibilities ripe with hope.
Jeremiah was a persistent prophet. In fact, he lived persistence. He was tenacious. Perhaps even hard headed. And God blessed him with the kind of stamina and inner resources most of us only dream about. Yes, Jeremiah did the same thing with this life for a whole bunch of years in a row. But he never got stuck in a rut spinning his wheels. Because he was committed to a holy purpose and a God in whom he believed.
As a result, when you read through the Book of Jeremiah, you can look hard…but it’s difficult to find any signs that Jeremiah had to drag himself through the muck of boredom or pull himself out of his own wallowing self-pity in order to face another day. After twenty-three years of preaching God’s word to a bunch of indifferent people in Israel, all Biblical indications tell us that Jeremiah was more alive in spirit and in imagination than he was in the earlier days of his youth…
There are lessons to be learned from the prophet Jeremiah. Both through what he preached and by the way he lived his life. Particularly since you and I show many of the signs and characteristics that the people of Israel showed centuries showed centuries ago. Too often in our lives we are frantically busy, rushing here and there in a desperate attempt to find something that satisfies us. And too often, we are controlled by our appetites and our impulses, going through our days without commitment and purpose and a sense of continuity.
But Jeremiah preaches to us the same thing he told the people of Israel long ago. “You are men and women and youth and children with an innate capacity for faithfulness!” “Why don’t you start living like it?” Then, just to prove his point, Jeremiah went out and practiced what he preached. He rose early in the morning to listen to God. And he spent time in solitude and prayer, preparing with God for whatever the day held in store…
The mark of a particular kind of genius in life is the ability to return again and again to the same task. The same job. The same marriage. The same relationship. The same profession. And bring to that task every day a relentless imagination, a creative sense of curiosity and wonder, and a passionate wellspring of energy and commitment.
St. Augustine, one of the foremost and noted theologians in the history of the Christian church, wrote fifteen full length commentaries on the Book of Genesis in the Bible alone. Augustine wrote fifteen commentaries on the first book in the Bible because he never felt as though he understood the foundational principles of God’s interactions with human beings. And he felt driven to continue going back to the first questions the Bible ever inspired.
Ludwig Von Beethoven composed sixteen string quartets because he was never fully satisfied with what he had done. The form of the quartet challenged and intrigued him, but perfection was something he never felt he attained. A lot of people who know music, including some here in this sanctuary, probably share the opinion that Beethoven was brilliant with his string quartets, creating masterpieces capable of stirring the soul for an eternity. But Beethoven was never content. So he persisted, day after day bringing fresh, creative energy to each new composition.
And the prophet Jeremiah. For twenty-three years. Eight thousand three hundred and ninety-five days. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. And every day Jeremiah made a commitment to live life according to God’s purposes. Whether the people of Israel decided to listen to him or not.
God speaks to each one of us persistently every day as well. And God tells us that there is only one thing truly necessary. Focus on a larger purpose. Rely on creative imagination and faithfulness and commit to the daily task of Christian living.
There is only today in which to do what we need to do. So let us wake up ready to live the way God calls us to live. Then let us go out into the world committed to do what God asks us to do…again and again and again…persistently. Amen.