Jeremiah 17:5–10 (NIV)
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
Lord, may Your Word be living water to our hearts. For Christ's sake, Amen.
A young couple moved into a new flat. As a housewarming present they were given a potted shrub. They put it in the lounge room of their flat, by a window. They had little furniture so the potted shrub was a real feature of the room.
The shrub was watered each week. But, then the furniture began to arrive. The Shrub ended up behind a large comfortable couch. The Shrub was forgotten as the widescreen TV, Blue Ray, and surround sound system was installed.
The shrub shriveled and died. The comfortable couch was enjoyed, lounged upon. The wide screen TV was worshipped and the sound system listened to intently. The Shrub needed water but didn't get any.
This lounge room’s potted shrub is a bit like the shrub mentioned by God - planted in a desert. It had been planted with good intentions of it growing, being nurtured and cared for.
But it was planted in the wrong place – it received no moisture and therefore there was no growth.
Many people today are planted in the world with good intentions. But they're planted in a wilderness - a spiritual wilderness. Many are reliant on others, yet unnoticed - they dry up, they burn up. Are you burning up?
They make friends only to find that when they need these friends - the friends aren’t there. The cares and the worries of the world take over.
It's like a nation that makes a treaty only to find that the treaty is meaningless when the pressures on. Some of you may remember the treaty Nazi Germany had with the Soviet Union at the beginning of WWII. It was not kept - Hitler invaded Russian territory on the 22nd June, 1941.
When friends are needed they're not available to help and betrayal takes place. When we are lonely, that’s the time when people, churches and nations struggle, wither and die.
It's like the man in Jesus' story in Luke 12 who put his trust in his wealth. He built bigger warehouses. But, he wasn’t able to use what he’d trusted in because as God said to him in Luke 12:20–21 (ESV) 20 …, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
It's the same as when we trust in our own knowledge – when we don’t listen to the advice of others - especially when we don’t listen to the advice of God.
If a person thinks he or she knows everything – they don’t usually listen when someone tells them something important.
The one who doesn’t listen when they’re told there are cracks in their house walls, ignores the warnings, then one day, finds their house falling around their ears.
Susan Carlos wrote in Daily Readings From Spiritual Classics, “All attempts at self improvement, even if successful, will result in just that and no more: an improved self. God offers not an improved self, but a new self: alive to God, alive to righteousness.” (p.21)
The shrub planted in the desert, that is, the person who ignores God’s Son, Jesus Christ, ends up withering in hell. The person who doesn't seek his or her growth in God's Word also ends up dying.
God says through Jeremiah that this person, who does not trust God alone is cursed. Being cursed by God is an O.T. euphemism for being "dead".
The curse is God's denunciation of sin - God's judgement. The curse is active in that the consequence of sin is death. Romans 6:23 (ESV) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we rely on other people - or even ourselves - before relying on God, then the only possible consequence is death.
It's a bit like relying on luck not to get caught speeding in your car. Drive fast past a speed camera – the consequence will be a ticket in mail and the punishment of a fine. There is no escape from the consequence.
But God doesn’t want us to be cursed. He doesn’t want us to die. We're not shrubs planted in the desert. If we neglect God though, if we focus on lotteries, gurus, politicians, Church councils, and not God's Word, then we are planted in the desert.
We're in a spiritual wasteland if we expect an institution, anyone or anything apart from Jesus to save us. It's Jesus who saves!
If we at St Matthew, for example, look to the LCANZ district to solve our financial problems, or we look for a particular trend in worship to fill our empty pews on Sundays, we're deceiving ourselves.
God says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
God also says: "Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, who's trust is the Lord."
When we look to God for help, strength, and guidance, then we will see the blessings God has given to us freely and in abundance.
The tree planted on the banks of the stream always has a supply of water - even when the stream appears dry from the burning sun and drought. Roots reach out under the surface of the stream bed to moisture. Along an apparently dry river bed one will find green trees.
When drought comes, a shrub near a river bed will not wither and die. This shrub continues to survive, to grow and to bear fruit.
We as individuals go through tough times – we may struggle - but we grow through being rooted in the Water of Life – Jesus Christ -rooted in the promises given to us in the water and Word of Baptism and the body and blood of Christ.
Jesus, Himself has been through the drought on the cross – He was thirsty, - His life withered, He died. But, the power of God's Word raised Him - restored Him and He promises us the same at St Matthew.
St Matthew congregation is in drought times. We're struggling to meet our budget. Our pews/seats aren't full.
You may be distracted from what God is saying by thoughts of what you’re going to do later today, or thoughts of those family members who aren’t with you here. It’s easy become despondent when we take our eyes off Jesus.
We could seek handouts and subsidies to meet the financial targets, we could seek charismatic leadership, more “with it” – dynamic worship as possible answers to the woes of our small congregation.
We could trust in these things; mere mortal and things of the flesh. But God calls us through the prophet Jeremiah to trust Him. …blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.
We are a church - baptised in the Word - planted in the stream of Living Water.
The Word of God is the Word which Jesus says is the water of life for the thirsting soul. We may be parched but we have this living water to keep us alive and growing, healthy and vibrant. The Psalmist says Psalm 1:1–3 (NIV)
1 Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
The heat has come - yet God keeps us together and blessed - keeps us surviving – more than that – growing!
Focussing on finance, dwelling on depletion, brings us to our knees. Relying on ourselves or others - mortal flesh is hopeless. Relying on God, now that's a different matter!
Each one of us needs to rely on the Lord. Planted by the stream of Living Water stretching your roots to living water, to the source of life, Jesus, the Christ, to be like a tree on bank of stream. So, let God’s Holy Spirit re-plant you by the Living Water.
Jesus has been in the desert for us. He’s borne heat and He now shelters us in His Word and Sacraments to bring us before God bearing the fruit He has called us to produce.
So, rely on Jesus and Him alone. He'll guide you to stretch out your roots for sustenance and life in His Word. Take up the opportunities He presents to you in the Divine Service, in personal devotion, home group and Lenten Bible studies.
If you don’t have a devotion book, pick one up (there’s some on the table in the hall) and use the devotional resources on the back of your worship bulleting each week, seek the living Word here in the Divine Service and grow together trusting in God - His Son, Jesus, and His Holy Spirit for deliverance from the heat of the day.
Lord God, let us grow in you and thrive in the safety of Your love, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.