Another wonderful message “The Kingdom’s Fall” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 17 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
The Kingdoms' Fall
2 Chronicles 36:11-16
First United Methodist Church, August 13, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
This morning we are more than half way through our journey in The Story, and about 4 weeks away from reading and studying the New Testament together. (I say that as a word of encouragement).
This has been a long journey these 17 weeks, and sometimes a difficult one, as we have witnessed the actions of God's people and God's response to those actions. Sometimes we couldn't understand how the people turned away and forgot all that God had done for them so quickly—so easily—and then there were other times when we placed ourselves in their shoes and wondered if God wasn't too hard on them…when we wondered if they couldn't have been shown more grace/more mercy. But, wherever we might be with that, I think that perhaps our major take-home in our study so far, is the recognition of how badly the world needed a savior. The good news for us is that's what is ahead for us in our reading…because that's who we've been given—a Savior. And we can thank God every day for the giving of Jesus.
So hold on, because that time is coming… Still, we know that even when we get there, when we start studying the Gospels, that it's not always going to be easy there, either. Because life is this mixture of good and wonderful and blessed, and hard and challenging and not-sure-if-you-can-make-it-through kinds of times. Maybe it is the tough times that make the mercy and grace that we experience in the better times so good…
So hold on…have hope. There's something good ahead.
Our reading this week comes from Chapter 17 of The Story. If you're doing your best to pair scripture with The Story reading, the last couple of weeks have been particularly difficult. Frazee moves pretty freely between the main story, which we read beginning in 2 Kings 21 through to the end of that book, with additional writing that helps to flesh it out from 2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. If you want to know specifically where a section comes from, you can Google the first few words of a passage and it will tell you where in scripture you can find it. But other than that—I'll tell you the same thing I've been trying to tell myself: Just relax. Take it in. Breathe. The Story is written in chronological order, but the Bible isn't ordered that way. And besides that, there's no test at the end. You don't have to worry about who is the son of who and the order of the Kings in either Judah or Israel. Just read: allow the mystery, allow the questions, and listen for the word of God and what God might be saying to you (and to all of us) today.
Last week, the Kingdom of Israel fell and the people were deported—carried off to Assyria where they were assimilated into the culture, and free to worship the pagan gods that they were so persistent in following. They became the lost tribes of Israel, free to choose an identity of their own making.
The nation of Judah remained, though certainly not as strong as they once were or might have been. Upon Hezekiah's death, who was a good and faithful king, his son Manasseh took the throne, and he was not faithful to God, and seemed to work hard at reversing everything that his father had done in erasing idolatry from the nation.
We have seen this over and over throughout Israel's history with their kings—one is good and faithful, and then the next one isn't. There is this continual back and forth movement between faithfulness and neglect or complete abandonment of the ways of God. To complicate things further, there are imperial powers on the outside—first the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians—pressing in...threatening…ready to turn their world even more upside down.
Yet God continues to send prophets. 2 Chronicles tells us that God still had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. And finally, because God's messengers were mocked—ignored!—the wrath of the Lord was aroused and there was no remedy (pg. 241, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
No remedy. That's never something we want to hear. Ever: whether we're talking about your vehicle that will no longer go forward when you put it into gear, or what can be done after your medical test results come back. No remedy: there's nothing that can be done.
This is one of those times when I'm thankful for my faith. For God. For Jesus. Because there are people around us who think that they're alone during those times. I'm not talking so much about the time when my car won't go forward after I put it into gear, but I'm talking about those times when life goes bad. When something unexpected happens. When your wife tells you that she doesn't love you anymore and that she's leaving. And it just came out of nowhere. When your child is really sick and you can't fix it. When something happens and you can't turn back time. When the test result tells you that there is no remedy. I'm thankful for my faith because I know that God can see the big picture. I know there's something beyond this, beyond here and now. And I know that when my life is falling apart, there's still hope. With God, you and I (and our world) are never without hope.
We're never without hope.
Perhaps you've heard this scripture from Jeremiah (29:11): For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Keep in mind, before this made its way onto a graduation card, God is speaking directly to the people through the prophet. Here's the plan:
This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place (Jeremiah 29:10).
My preference would be to work in shorter time-frames than that. We'd kind of like to know now whether that person is the one, whether we're supposed to take that job or not, if we should move…you know, we'd like more immediate results.
But, we already know that God's timing isn't ours…and yet it's a comfort to know—that with God, we're never without hope.
Here's what God knew about Israel and what God knows about you and me: What you love will change the way you live, but how you live will never change the way you're loved.
The Israelites forgot their first love. They had done much evil in the eyes of God. Like the modern day philosopher Johnny Lee, they were "looking for love in all the wrong places."
But though the people had forgotten God, God hadn't forgotten them. How they lived wouldn't change the way they're loved, and God wanted them back. Still. God had said to them through Jeremiah, "I will fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place." God's not into payback. God is working on their way back. God is going to bring them home.
We're introduced to Jeremiah in this way: "The word of the Lord came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations" (pg. 237, Jeremiah 1:4-5).
Jeremiah's assignment was to preach to the people even though they weren't going to listen. They hadn't listened before. They still weren't listening. What a task! Jeremiah's response? I don't know how to speak; I am too young.
If our superintendent would have come to me last year and said—I'm sending you to Plymouth. They're a pretty challenging group. They've been known to throw things at their preacher in the middle of a sermon, and a good half of them bring their pillows to worship. The other half won't be able to hear you over their snoring. I think I would have said something like, uh…I'm not sure what to say to them, that they'll listen. I don't have the experience to know how to deal with that.
But God assures Jeremiah, I will put my words in your mouth (pg. 238; Jeremiah 1:9).
So, there stands Jeremiah in Jerusalem. He is left behind to declare, "You're not without hope, God is with you, and God will bring you back home."
Just like you and I, Jeremiah would sometimes have to remind himself of this hope. He wrote in Lamentations:
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness (pg. 244; Lamentations 3:21-23)
It's a beautiful picture, and yet sometimes it can be hard to take in…to believe. God is just and yet fully compassionate. I've heard the question—"Is God the God of wrath that we read about in the OT or the God of mercy that we see in the NT?" And the answer is "yes." God is no pushover, and has expectations and desires for us, for the way we live and interact with one another in our world. While at the same time, God loves us so much, that God keeps coming to us, reaching out to us, seeking to redeem us. That's the fullness of God. God is just and God is merciful.
Can we believe it? Accept it for ourselves?
Here's another word from Jeremiah: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (pg. 238, Jeremiah 2:11-13).
Some of us are pretty tired. Worn out from digging our own cisterns. Love, career, money, pleasure, shopping, eating. (Pick your pleasure) Even good things can become modern day idolatry if it displaces God from the throne of our lives. Family, our children. Good things can become an image of God things. The problem with the cisterns we dig ourselves is that we have to keep filling them because they can't hold water. We get what we think we need at the moment, but it doesn't satisfy. It can be exhausting, but it's the best the world has to offer.
But God has more. Remember how Jesus meets the woman at a well in Samaria. She's dug her own cisterns and has gone from relationship to relationship. He offers her something better. He says something like Jeremiah said: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water" (John 4:13-15).
Perhaps we've tried the best water this world has to offer, but have come up thirsty and unsatisfied. Jesus offers water from the well that never runs dry.
That's good news for us, isn't it? It gives us hope. And the people of Israel have been given hope, as well. Everything has fallen apart. Israel falls to the Assyrians and the people are led away. Judah falls to the Babylonians and the people are led away. But God will bring them back home. And from out of their midst, God will raise up the Messiah. God keeps God's promises. Thanks be to God. Amen.