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“Jeremiah Was Not a Bullfrog”

A sermon by Sid Burgess for Edgewood PC, Birmingham, AL
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Back in the 1970’s two different rock bands hit pay dirt with a song which begins, “Jeremiah was a bull frog.” It has to have been a really popular song to have penetrated my “deaf-to-popular-culture” ears. With the help of the internet, I have come up with the lyrics:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog
He was a good friend of mine
I never understood a single word he said
But I helped him drink his wine . . . .

Three Dog Night and Creedence Clearwater Revival notwithstanding, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog. The original Jeremiah was a Hebrew prophet. For centuries he has been known as the “weeping prophet,” as he agonized over the terrible fate the Jewish people. This makes the typo found at LyricsDownload.com all the more interesting. That site has the words of the first verse as

Jeremiah was a bullfrog, he was good friend of mine.
I never understood a single word he said
but I helped him drink his whine (w h i n e)

How very, very sad! More appropriate for today’s celebration of “Deep and Wide” are the happy words of the chorus:

Sing it Joy to the world...
all the boys and girls now ,
joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
and joy to you and me.

Jeremiah was not a bullfrog, but in today’s passage he remembers being a tadpole: I was “only a boy” he says, when God first called him to serve as God’s spokesperson. It was a time of turmoil and upheaval in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its political and religious center. Young Jeremiah wasted no time in choosing sides but when the end came there were no winners among the Jewish people,  just losers.

Jeremiah’s long life—his career covered some 40 years. . . .His long life serves as a “symbol of both the nation (of Israel’s) demise and its restoration.”

What happens to (Jeremiah) will happen to the people. He remains unmarried and bears no children as a sign of the end of life in the land. He is arrested, imprisoned, and left in a cistern to die, narrowly escaping with his life. Like his compatriots, he loses everything, but he survives.1

Next week we will read about Jeremiah’s purchase of a plot of what appears to be worthless land to symbolize God’s promise of restoration and renewal for the nation. Professor Kathleen O’Connor writes, “Even though the community does not listen to (Jeremiah), the people gain hope from the stories about his fidelity as he copes with suffering.”2

In today’s passage from chapter 1, Jeremiah is called as a prophet to the nations—nations, plural. The call in the womb indicates that Jeremiah is no self-appointed messenger of God. As Jeremiah sees it, he has no choice but to speak for God. It was not then, and it surely is not now a popular calling. Perhaps that is where songwriter Hoyt Axton, who wrote the popular “Jeremiah” song, gets it right. The principle value of bullfrogs today is found in the biology lab, where they are popular dissection subjects. Prophets, then as now, are either completely ignored or deftly dissected.

Consider the case of former vice president Al Gore. He may hold a Nobel Peace Prize for warning the world of the impending danger of global warming, but I doubt we could find anyone who thinks he has a political future--certainly not in his native Tennessee.

But then again, the issue of global warming is not going away. Case in point, some say, is the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan—20 million persons affected. The United Nations calls it “the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history.” In addition, floods and mudslides in China have killed more than 1,100 people this year, and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions. Our hot summer is nothing to compare with the heat wave in Russia, where morgues in Moscow are overflowing and wildfires are raging in the countryside. And, in the North Atlantic, a giant iceberg—four times the size of Manhattan Island— has broken free from Greenland.

Respected scientists say it is impossible to attribute any one of these particular weather events to global warming alone. But there is “clear evidence” of an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

Could it be that God is at it again? As in the days of Jeremiah, an angry God “plucking up” and “pulling down”—pronouncing judgment on humankind for failure to “keep and to till” God’s good creation, for failure to provide for world’s poor and needy, for resorting to violence and bloodshed.

Some may say that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” but I do not believe for one minute that the God of justice, mercy, and love would cause innocent people in Pakistan, one of the poorest nations on the earth, to suffer for sins of all humanity.

So, if not busy causing misery, what is God doing these days? After all, it is the church’s calling—a calling no less demanding than of a Hebrew prophet—to discern, to figure out, what God is doing in the world and join God in this work.

Rather than “plucking up and pulling down” I think we are far more likely to find God is at work “building up and planting.” The God who suffered with Jesus on the Cross is surely at one with those who are suffering unspeakable hardship in Pakistan. Surely the God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in the wake of terrible devastations around the world—at work to bring about new life.

You have often heard m quote theses words from our Presbyterian Church “Declaration of Faith:”

In our time we see only broken and scattered signs that the renewal of all things is under way. We do not yet see the end of cruelty and suffering in the world, the church, or our own lives. But we see Jesus as Lord. As he stands at the center of our history, we are confident he will stand at its end. He will judge all people and nations. Evil will be condemned and rooted out of God's good creation. There will be no more tears or pain. All things will be made new. The fellowship of human beings with God and each other will be perfected.

This is the work the Church can be confident God is doing—the work of planting and building up. This is the work to which God is calling us. This is the work we have already begun in Pakistan through Presbyterian Disaster Relief, funded through our annual Easter Sunday, One Great Hour of Sharing offering. We are working with our ecumenical partners on the ground to distribute essential aid to families and to deliver critical relief to people affected by this crisis.

Inside your worship folder you will find information from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (www.pcusa.org/pda) telling us how we can help. We can give more—the bulletin insert gives details. We can act—stay informed even when the news media focuses elsewhere. We can pray. Pray for those who have lost family or livelihood, those who cannot yet return home, and those who are working tirelessly to provide rescue, humanitarian aid, and spiritual and psychological support. Having done our small part to “help the suffering, and support the weak,” we can sing:

Joy to the world...
all the boys and girls now ,
joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
and joy to you and me.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us
is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or imagine,
to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Ephesians 3:20, 21

1 O’Connor, Kathleen, “Jeremiah Introduction,” THE NEW INTERPRTER’S STUDY BIBLE, p. 1052.
2 Ibid.