The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 22, 2019
A young man was the only child of a rich woman. His mother loved him so much that she made a will that left all her wealth to him upon her death.
The man fell in love with a beautiful young woman. He was so infatuated with her that he could not see her evil heart underneath her lovely exterior. When she learned about the will, she told him she’d only marry him if he murdered his mother and he inherited all that money. He was so crazy in love, he did what she asked.
At his mother’s funeral, as her casket was lowered into the ground, he rushed over to throw one last flower into her grave. In his haste, he tripped, fell hard and badly skinned his knee. There then arose from the grave a voice, the voice of his mother crying: “Honey, are you all right? Can I kiss it and make it feel better?”
That made-up story gives us a true picture of a reality: the reality of God’s everlasting concern for us. Though we do Him wrong and hurt Him, He still hurts over our being hurt, even when our hurt is due to our own wrongdoing.
God had sent the prophet Jeremiah to His people to plead with them to repent of their evil ways and thereby escape the disaster they were bringing down upon their heads. For four decades, Jeremiah urged them to turn their lives around, but they would not listen. They only grew worse in behavior and turned on Jeremiah, saying terrible things about him and throwing him in jail.
Today’s scripture is what is called a lament: that is, an aching song of sorrow and grief. This lament bewails, “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.”
There is no question that this is a lament full of pain. The only question is whose pain it is. Is it Jeremiah’s or is it God’s? Or is it both of theirs together? The words “says the Lord” both proceed and follow the lament. In addition, we know from other scripture that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. Would not God the Father be the same? Would not the heart of our heavenly Father be on the line in how it goes with us?
Moreover, were not Jeremiah and God so close and so united in shared concern, that Jeremiah would feel what God feels? Would they not both be broken-hearted over the people’s foolishly and needlessly hurting themselves and damaging their prospects for life? We hurt ourselves whenever we turn from our God, the source of all good, and defy His way, the way that leads to life at its best.
God loves us so much that He suffers when we suffer – especially when we could be experiencing great joy and peace if only we trusted that He loves us still and aches to bless us with comfort, hope and strength.
Now, it is God’s will that those of us who do trust that He cares that much and perseveres in loving concern that much, would make it our purpose to care as much as He and to persevere in love as much as He – even for those who give us every reason to turn away. We are to join Him in loving others back into health, righteousness, and freedom from the bad choices that hurt them.
Let me tell you a story I once heard about a man named Wheeler. Wheeler had to come to terms with the alcoholism of a beloved relative, whose pain he eventually felt in his own heart and whom he finally embraced with a love like God’s.
As a child, Wheeler had adored his Uncle Peach, given how fun he could be; but, once Wheeler became a teenager, he realized that Uncle Peach was drunk more often than not, and that his alcohol-induced bad behavior hurt everyone and everything around him.
So Wheeler decided to put Uncle Peach out of his life, and urged his mother to do the same. But she shook her head No, reminded Wheeler that Uncle Peach is her brother, and said, “Blood is thicker than water…and thicker than liquor too.”
Wheeler went off to university and law school. He then returned to his hometown to open up his law practice and to start a family with his new bride.
One night Wheeler was awakened out of a deep sleep by a call from a clerk in a hotel a town over. He asked Wheeler if he would come get his Uncle Peach – who had gotten violently drunk and trashed his room. Wheeler cursed under his breath but took a train to go pick up Uncle Peach, not for Peach’s sake, but for his mother’s.
He found Uncle Peach a disheveled mess and stinking with vomit, in a room he’d torn apart and whose furniture he’d broken. Wheeler gave Peach some coffee, cleaned him up and put him on a train with him to return to their hometown. During the ride Peach kept throwing up on the two of them. At one point, an angry Wheeler hissed, “I wish you’d puke your guts out, and die.”
A startled Peach gasped and fell back into his train seat, quaking and pale, staring in horror at his nephew. He cried out in a tone of despair, “Wheeler! You can’t mean that!”
The look of pain in the old man’s eyes drained all the hatred out of Wheeler and his heart melted at the pitiful sight of Peach. He suddenly saw him as his mother always had – a poor, weak, hurt man, doubly hurt because he knows he is poor, weak, hurt…and hurtful to those he cares about. Studying Peach, Wheeler’s heart broke over what Peach has done to himself – and suddenly the only thing Wheeler wanted to do is to bring this broken man some comfort and hope. He wrapped his arm around his shoulders sticky with vomit and despite the smell patted him as if he were a child. “No,” Wheeler said with quiet conviction, “I didn’t mean what I said.”
When they arrived at their hometown, Wheeler decided not to go home to his new beautiful bride but to spend the night with his decrepit Uncle Peach. After putting him to bed, Wheeler laid down beside him. Through the night, he heard him moan with the onset of a vicious hangover and felt him shake with the tremors of an alcoholic.
Finally, Wheeler himself fell asleep, his hand resting gently on Peach’s – and in a dream Wheeler walked in a meadow with his hand in the warm, kind hand of God.
May God give us a heart like His own, a heart that moves us to come close to comfort even the worst of us, a heart that keeps hurting until they quit hurting, a heart full of the love that is the only hope any of us ever has.