Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday, February 13th, 2022
The Lessons: Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26
The Text: Jeremiah 17:5-10
The Topic: Trusting in the Lord as wisdom for life
In ancient China, people wanted protection from barbarian hordes from the North. So the Great Wall of China was built: thirty feet high, eighteen feet thick, and more than fifteen hundred miles long.
The Chinese goal was to build an absolutely impenetrable defense – too high to climb over, too thick to break down, and too long to go around. The people trusted this wall to keep them safe. But during the first hundred years of the wall’s existence, China was successfully invaded three times.
It wasn’t the wall’s fault. During all three invasions, the barbaric hordes never climbed over the wall, broke it down, or went around it; they simply bribed a gatekeeper and then marched in through an open door. The purpose of the wall failed because of a breakdown in values.
– James Emery White: You Can Experience a Purposeful Life (Word, 2000)
Such a wall was unable to keep out determined invaders, and a nation’s efforts to protect itself failed.
THE WISDOM SAYINGS OF JEREMIAH 17:5-10
In Jeremiah 17:5-10, we encounter wisdom sayings which indicate the curse on the person who trusts in his own ability and strength or those of other human beings, and the blessing on the person who trusts in the Lord and hopes in him. In the same passage, the Lord also diagnoses the human heart, which is a Biblical term for the human intellect, emotion and will. The Lord’s diagnosis is that the heart is deceitful, desperately wicked, and cannot be known by human beings, but only by the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9-10), who recompenses everyone according to his deeds (Jer.17:10). It is appropriate, then, that a little later, the prophet cries out for himself and for the people of Judah, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise” (Jer.7:14). The Lord is the only one who can save and heal the deceitful and desperately wicked heart.
THE CONTEXT OF THESE WISDOM SAYINGS
These wisdom sayings about those who trust in themselves or others and those who trust in the Lord follow God’s assessment of Judah’s sin of idolatry and rebellion from God, and his sentence of exile for the people of Judah (Jer. 17:1-4). Though God has pronounced the verdict of guilty and the ensuring sentence of exile to a foreign land, he shifts the perspective from the nation to the individual, and these sayings remind everyone of the choice before him: trust in man, or trust in God.
The Lord pronounces a curse on everyone that trusts in man or in his own strength and material resources, and whose heart departs from the Lord (Jer.17:5). Then the Lord compares such a person to “heath in the desert” (Jer. 17:6a, KJV), or it could be juniper (NEB, REB), tamarisk (LXX), or a shrub (NRSV). All these types of plant would be parched and withered in the desert. Such a person is blind, not being able to see when good comes, just as plants in a desert don’t know when the next rain shower will be. A salty waste, where no plants can grow, an arid and uninhabited wilderness is a picture of the spiritual state of the person who lives life trusting in himself and man’s strength and resources instead of in God.
By contrast, the person who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is, is blessed (Jer.17:7). The picture of the blessed man who trusts in the Lord is a tree – note, not a shrub – planted next to the water, which spreads her roots to extract the moisture from the riverbed. Such a person is not blind to when the good comes, but does not fear when the scorching heat comes, nor is anxious in a year of drought, but is like a tree with green leaves, continually yielding good fruit.
The choice, then, is which of these two will we be? Are we those who trust in ourselves, in others, in human resources and achievements, or do we trust in the Lord and make him our hope?
Th final two verses are really a warning. People may think that they trust the Lord and are living life trusting the Lord, but what’s really going on deep in their minds? Still waters run deep, the English proverb goes. In the first half of Jeremiah 17:9, God gives the diagnosis of the human heart (intellect, emotion and will). It is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer.17:9a, KJV). The second part of the verse asks the question who can know the human heart. The answer to this question is given in verse ten. The Lord knows the heart, and he searches it, and “tries the reins” (KJV)/ “examines the mind” (NIV). In some cases, a husband, or a wife after many years of smooth sailing in their marriage, suddenly leaves his or her spouse for someone else, and the spouse never saw it coming. Deep in the heart of the other, there was a deceit, and wickedness that was not discerned. What is the answer? All of us, in all our relationships, and in all our doings must turn to the Lord for discernment and trust the revelation that He gives us. In this context, there is a prayer in the Family Prayer section of our Prayer Book that reflects this trust in the Lord that we should have:
O GOD, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(p.595, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
TRUST IN THE LORD
This prayer was composed by William Bright and was based on Psalm 25:8, which reads, “Them that are meek shall he guide in judgment; * and such as are gentle, them shall he learn his way.” (p.370, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). Trusting in the Lord leads to many blessings, and it produces meekness and teachability. These qualities help us receive and obey God’s wisdom and guidance for our lives.
Now trusting in the Lord does not apply only to the beginning of our Christian life, but also to its entire course. We all must learn to trust God in many ways, and to rely on him for all the guidance that we need throughout our lives.
Our trust in the Lord is essential for our spiritual growth and productivity in God’s kingdom. Do you trust in God, and is the Lord your hope in all aspects of your life?
 Quoted on p.466, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.