Dr. Keith Wagner
Jeremiah the prophet preached to Israel around 600 BC. It was during some of the nation’s most critical times. It included the destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, the temple and the period of exile. There were many political upheavals in the Near East and the nations were in conflict with one another. Assyria was declining and Egypt and Babylon were each trying to dominate the Fertile Crescent. There were many fierce battles and many great cities fell.
At the same time it was a brief period of reform as Josiah tried to restore the faith. The reform removed many of the cults and practices that had dominated society. Unfortunately, many resisted the reform and they continued to believe in other gods. Jeremiah was the prophet of the times who warned his people against abandoning their faith and not trusting in God to be with them.
In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, the people of Israel were dependent on schemes, deals, compromises and alliances. You survived with connections, contracts, and lots of “insider” information. But these provided them with a false sense of security. They were all man-made arrangements in which people put their trust. Jeremiah was warning them that the deals they thought would give them life would only be for the short term.
Along the edge of our back yard is a creek and along the creek are some towering cotton wood trees. One tree is about 5 feet in diameter. It stands about 75 feet high. I would guess it to be 125-150 years old. I have watched that tree withstand thunderstorms, high winds and even a season of drought. Since its root system is constantly supplied by the water flowing in the creek it remains strong. Meanwhile in our front yard are some maple trees that do not get a lot of water. Their limbs are constantly dying and falling off. Their leaves are not as green. My guess is they will not last much longer.
Jeremiah is saying that we need to be like that cotton wood tree along the bank that has a constant supply of water. It can withstand anything nature throws against it. Those who trust in the Lord are blessed because their roots are tapped into the stream of life. “They are not anxious in the year of drought.” God can sustain us through anything. We are blessed because we have confidence in God’s prevailing presence. And it is in that presence that we put our trust.
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God wants us to be like this healthy plant. If I fail to nurture it, it will shrivel up and die. The plant depends on its roots. As long as its roots are watered and the soil is fertile, it will grow. Gary Smalley travels the world doing marriage enrichment seminars. He uses the metaphor of a dying plant to illustrate what happens when a relationship doesn’t have healthy roots.
Relationships require SECURITY. A man and a woman need to feel safe and secure with their partner. That security is maintained with love and especially trust. When that trust is violated, the relationship withers and dies unless it gets help.
Since September 11th, 2001, our country has put a lot of energy and resources into the security of our homeland. We have created security systems which prevent people from carrying harmful weapons aboard our airplanes. But, we have also put practices into place that prevent suspected terrorists from entering the country. Consequently we have established many procedures and policies that act as walls or barriers.
Instead of barriers our relationships need bridges. We need to secure our lives with trust in one another, not walls and fences or systems that enclose us. The same is true for our faith in God. We trust God by remaining open, in touch daily with God and entering frequently through the gates of God’s temple.
Smalley also says that healthy relationships need constant, quality communication. The same is true with our faith. We need to be constantly in dialogue with God, listening to God’s word, studying and reflecting and praying.
The Israelites had reached a point where they put all their trust in man-made security systems. Instead of walls they MADE DEALS with other countries. Their dealings had become their god. All their energy, their loyalty and resources were directed toward the preservation of deals which were self-serving and built on fear rather than faith. Jeremiah was saying that Israel’s constant obsession with playing “Let’s make a deal,” would cause them to dry up and wither away. They were being misled and putting their trust in practices that would ultimately lead to their demise.
One time a parishioner told me about the time he was a soldier in World War 11. During a fierce battle his unit dug in and made fox holes. Bullets were flying and many men were getting killed. They were badly outnumbered and desperately in need of back up troops. While in his foxhole the man prayed to God and said, “If you save me this day I will be in church the rest of my life.” He survived and kept true to his word.
I believe that we are willing to worship God and have faith as long as we get results. But what about the faithful person who gets cancer and dies? What about those who die unexpectedly of a heart attack or car accident? To have roots is not to make deals with God. God is not a wheeler-dealer. To have roots is to keep our faith strong no matter what life brings us. We keep our roots strong by being in dialogue with God every day, not just in the foxholes. God needs our devotion always. When that happens we will have life-long security.
As we listen to the problems in Jeremiah’s day they don’t seem a whole lot different than our own. Nations in the Mid East are still in conflict. People have turned to “terrorism” rather than faith. Even in our own country the nation is split politically. Instead of the temple falling, we had the World Trade Center fall. People seem to have less interest in religion and many turn to “other gods.”
I believe that the “other” god we turn to is FEAR. Fear causes us to withdraw, build fences, keep others out. Fear holds us back, prevents us from taking risks. When we let fear control our lives we become obsessed with ourselves instead of others.
In Miami County a man built a dam on his property so he could pump water in case of a fire. The creek on which he built the dam runs under the road and into his neighbors barn yard. For most of the summer months the dam holds back the water. Therefore the farmer’s livestock have nothing to drink.
When we let fear consume our lives it affects the lives of others. Our roots have become self-serving instead of “other’ serving. To trust in God is not just a passive belief. Trust is acted out by our actions and deeds.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord,” Jeremiah said. Listen closer to the words, “Whose trust is in the Lord.” Trust means to have confidence in, have hope in or believe in. But trust also means to depend on God and not have to fear the outcome.
I believe we live in an age where trust in God is associated with winning, success and self reliance. We invest our time and energy in those things that will produce results and rewards. We call them “blessings.” When a athlete makes the winning touchdown he says, “God has blessed me.” When a person wins the lottery they say, “I have been blessed by God.” Take for example the television program, “Survivor.” It is all based on winning. The winning comes through a process of manipulating the other participants to ensure that you are the one that wins. People are hurt and betrayed in the process. Competition rules, not cooperation.
When Jeremiah said, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,” he wasn’t talking about looking out for number one. Jeremiah was concerned with the whole community. Their survival depended on their ability to work together, maintain strong roots and lives in faith, not fear. We are blessed by trust when our lives are constantly tapped into the life-giving nourishment of God’s love. When that happens, our leaves are “green,” as Jeremiah proclaimed. We never have to worry about drying up. Faith in God will sustain us. No matter what happens, “when the heat comes,” we have nothing to fear.
Jeremiah was preaching to anyone who would listen. Those who took his words to heart made sure their lives had well-watered roots. Those of you who come to worship and are willing to listen to the prophet’s message are watering your roots. Consequently you will be like that tree along the creek that can withstand the storms of life. To be blessed by God doesn’t mean that there won’t be any storms. There will and some of them will be almost too much to bear.
Jeremiah isn’t asking us to be superhuman. He is asking us to be ourselves. When we pretend and build our world with a shaky root system we are setting ourselves up with disillusionment and failure. When we trust God above all man-made systems our lives will be blessed.
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”
Copyright 2004, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.