Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Jeremiah 17:5-10 Cursed or Blessed?

There is a book, Silent, by Shusaku Endo, in which there is a character, Kichijiro, who continually confesses to being a Christian but then continually betrays Christians either for reward or to save himself. He does this several times. Each time, however, he finds forgiveness in a priest who befriends him.

I am sure there are many of you who have felt the sting of betrayal. I am sure there are many of you who have had your trust dashed by those whom you put that trust in. I am sure it is possible that you have been taken advantage of by someone more than once.

There is a saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” If this is true then I have been shamed many times in life. Most of the time when I have had my trust betrayed it is because I trusted others more than I trusted God. I made a decision based on human wants and desires without seeking discernment from the Holy Spirit before I acted. I made the wrong choice.

Jeremiah tells us, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” To be cursed means that nothing good can come about. To be cursed is to be doomed to failure.

The reality is if we put our moral and spiritual lives in trust of our own abilities or in the abilities of others we will end up in trouble. Why, because as Jeremiah speaks for God, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The human heart is deceitful. The heart, in our poetic understanding, is the place of love, commitment, trust, of life, and of hope.

So, how can the heart be deceitful (the Hebrew word carries the meaning of being like a steep, curving, treacherous road)? How is it deceitful? It is deceitful because we are susceptible to illusions and deceptions in our hearts due to our finite limitation and our desire to run our own lives, to be our own gods.

It also says the heart is sick (incurable). What does this mean? It means we human beings have a propensity of questioning God. It means when we put our trust in humanity (our own or others) we tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Just think back on your own life. How many times have your desires, your wants, led you to make a bad decision, a painful choice? The enemy of humanity knows the weaknesses of our hearts very well and is more than willing to use them to tempt us and enslave us.

Augustine, the brilliant Christian philosopher/theologian said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You (that is rest in God).” Augustine knew this from his own experience, and we should know this as well. The human heart is full of longings. We want to be loved. We want to succeed. We want to be happy. The problem is that it is easy to look in all the wrong places and settle for a lie rather than God’s love.

God has given us the ability to make our own choices, but there is a downside to this ability. The downside is that we can make the wrong choice.

How many choices do we make that work against our relationship with God? Do we know? Do we even care? Sometimes choices are not easy to make. Sometimes our.

Jeremiah speaks of choosing who we should trust in our life, who we should decide to follow. Jeremiah puts life’s most important choice into context. Hear these words and reflect upon them. Blessed is the person whose delight is in God’s guidance. The word blessed comes from a Hebrew word meaning fortunate. It expresses the idea of being favored by God.

God says he will intercede and guide a person to that which is best in life. But note the word blessed is followed by actions avoided before it gets to the delight it brings. These actions avoided are brought clearly into the picture as we look at the passage that offers the other choice.

And what causes this choice to ensure a negative choice? It is to depend on humanity to be our Savior. It is to believe that we can trust our natural nature to work to our benefit. What a corrupt heart sees as a benefit can in reality be a curse.

The enemy wants us to believe a lie. The enemy wants us to believe somehow, we can overcome death and suffering on our own. The enemy wants us to believe we can be self-dependent and believe in our own strength and we do not need to love God. These false beliefs can and will push us into a pit of regret and sorrow.

The Hebrew word for “understand” is a word that means to enter into a relationship, of being part of what that which you are aware. In other words, being completely vulnerable. We cannot do this on our own because of our moral and spiritual deficiencies. Again, I believe you know how easy it is to deceive ourselves. I hope you know how hard it is too honest with ourselves. (Speaking to men, because I am one, we know how easy it is for us to put off seeing a doctor when we need to do so. We can easily self-deceive to our own detriment) So, what do we do?

Verse 10 gives us the answer. God searches the heart. Please note this is not a matter of checking our lives, not a matter of checking our works, but our hearts. If God can check our hearts, we should be most grateful and accepting because God knows our hearts better than we do. God cares more about us than we do about ourselves.

To be blessed is to discover the happiness of being spiritually healthy. We can be like trees along a stream. We can have deep roots to protect us from the storms. We can have the light and the depth of God’s word nourish us. We can grow more aware of our perspectives and perceptions and have God change our hearts to see the good and find the satisfaction that the enemy would keep from us. This is part of God’s rewarding us. This opens up a path to a much better life regardless of our circumstances and situations.

There is a verse that has become popular. The verse also is found in the writings of Jeremiah. This verse says, For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jer. 29:11 NRS) This is what God offers. What does “being cursed” offer except for a dark, contentious, failure of life. The choice is ours.