Sermon: Preparing for Spiritual Climate Change
Scripture: Jeremiah 17:5-10
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date: February 17, 2019
Our text this morning comes from the Old Testament book and prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet because his words were often laced with sadness or pain; he was not known for being the upbeat prophet you invite to parties; on the contrary, people saw Jeremiah come towards their village and they would get all anxious and squirrelly because they thought he was coming to go all wrath of God on them or something.
Our passage today comes from Jeremiah 17 where there are clusters of sayings that stand on their own. At first glance, they appear to be like psalms or pieces of wisdom literature. Today we will be focusing upon verses 5-10. As you hear the text today, take a moment and note how its structured. First there is a curse. Second, there is a blessing. Third, there is a reminder about whose we really are to begin with. Our text today has many similarities to Psalm 1 and I encourage you to read that later when you go home today. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
5 Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
9 The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
10 I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings
Climate change. Some people scoff at the idea while others are raising alarm as to consequences. This Friday there was an article posted whose headline read,Florida is drowning. Condos are still being built. Can’t humans see the writing on the wall?In an article in the Miami Heraldthis past summer, it posted a study conducted by NOAA and others that predicts a 6 1/2 feet of sea rise by the end of the century for the Sunshine State. I’m no scientist but these type of articles make me sit up and reflect a bit. Even if you are a climate change denier, you have to admit that weather patterns across our country and the world are different. The hot seems to get hotter, the wet gets wetter, the cold gets colder and storms get nastier. Like our nation’s politics, even the weather has lost its ability for moderation! What scientists are trying to convey is that each of us has a personal stake and responsibility on how our environmental future pans out.
Our text today is talking about climate change, spiritual climate change. It juxtaposes two environmental conditions and the types of fruit that is produced with each one. The prophet is trying to convey that each of us has a personal stake and responsibility on how our own spiritual environmental future pans out. On one hand, we can choose to be scrub bush in the desert. On the other hand, we can choose to transplant ourselves next to living streams of water nourished by God.
If you have ever driven out west in the Dakotas and Montana, you have seen tumbleweeds that roll along the arid land. Some of them are small softball-sized pieces that float across the road while others have been rolling and gathering up girth and are the size of beach balls! You go and hit one of those doing 75 mph in your car and you feel it! This is what Jeremiah is describing in today’s text. Jeremiah is telling the people Israel that if you continue to place your trust and confidence in man-made things and contrivances, you are going to end up like a rootless scrub bush in salt-laden barren land that gets blown about the place like a tumbleweed that moves hither and yon based on the winds.
You see, the problem the Jews were facing is that they took their eyes and loyalty off God and committed their gaze and allegiance to kings instead. Whereas at one time God was their sole leader, the people of Israel complained that they wanted a king like all the other nations and so they got one. Eventually, the unified nation was split into two nations with two sets of disagreeable kings and God was sidelined. When the kings were not working out for them, the people began making idols of gods that they thought would deliver them from the messes the kings got the nations into; it all spiraled from bad to worse.
This is a good spot to simply ask ourselves what the idols we have personally constructed in our lives to get us through the days?Maybe it’s the pursuit of a title or a job. Perhaps it’s the address of our home. Then again, are we so in love and worship our money that we are tightfisted towards God? What’s your idol? Addiction to alcohol, sex, power or even just plain old laziness and apathy? Our text today invites you and me to assess our spiritual environment. Are we rootless tumbleweeds driven about by our own whims that dry up when drought comes? Or, are we aware of spiritual climate change and choose to do something about it?
Jeremiah tells us that we can either be a dry scrub bush or we can be what? A tree transplanted by streams of water. What are the obvious differences between a tree and a tumbleweed? First, there are roots and there is a sense of groundedness. Second, there is longevity and a chance for maturity to develop. Third, there is strength and resiliency.
Why would anyone choose to be a tumbleweed-type of Christian?Tumbleweed Christ-followers are ones who flit from one fellowship to the next without making a commitment to become part of sustaining community. Tumbleweed Christ-followers don’t put their spiritual roots down and as a result, they are not able to mature. They are too busy soaking up what they think they want and confuse it with what they really need. They want a spiritual sugar-rush to feel good but what they need is to drink from the draught of pure spiritual milk. Tumbleweed Christ-followers, because they are rootless, are easily blown about to the next spiritual fad or personality. Their trust in God crumbles when faced with suffering, doubt, and life’s hard realities.
One of the reasons I love this scripture text is because it’s brutally honest. It affirms that trees planted by the water of life in Christ will endure heat waves that will come with cultural and spiritual climate change because their roots snake deeply into the soil of God’s rich goodness and their leaves will stay green. It affirms that even though we are planted next to the fountain of life, the events of our world will make us feel as though we are going through a drought at times; and yet the promise is that in the midst of our drought as a result of our rootedness in God, we will still bear fruit that in turn nourishes others.
Have you ever wondered if you’re going through a spiritual heatwave or drought? Here are some signs you might be. You don’t want to be around a community of the faithful who are there to support you and pull away from those who can help you the most. You do not want to join and make a commitment to become a part of a community which is akin to saying, “I do not want to put down spiritual roots and would rather be a tumbleweed.” You are critical with and of others in the church and present and point out only problems instead of winsome solutions. You develop a judgmental spirit towards those who see and interpret ideas different from you because you know that you are indeed right! You might be in a spiritual drought when you become overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness that nothing you do makes a difference.
So beloved, how do you and I prepare for spiritual climate change where the drought and heat are more intense and the storms are becoming more intense? Jeremiah gives us the answer.
First, we choose to quit being tumbleweeds and transplant ourselves to a spot of spiritual soil that is fed by the verdant springs of the Living God. Second, we intentionally, willfully shoot our roots down searching for spiritual nourishment and nurture, growth and maturity. Finally, produce fruit of the Spirit from your tree to nourish those around you.
Transplant ourselves to good soil.
Intentionally shoot our roots down looking for nourishment.
Produce fruit of the Spirit for other’s behalf in God’s name. This is how we prepare for spiritual climate change, beloved. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Florida is drowning. Condos are still being built. Can’t humans see the writing on the wall?People tend to respond to immediate threats and financial consequences – and Florida’s coastal real estate may be on the cusp of delivering that harsh wake-up call, by Megan Mayhew Bergman, Fri 15 Feb 2019, accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/15/florida-climate-change-coastal-real-estate-rising-seas.
Florida has more to lose with sea rise than anywhere else in the U.S., new study says, by Alex Harris, June 18, 2018, updated, October 3, 2018, The Miami Herald, accessed at https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article213092454.html.