Tuesday of Pentecost 10 – Jeremiah 23:16-29

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

18 For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
    to see and to hear his word,
    or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
19 Behold, the storm of the Lord!
    Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
    it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
20 The anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he has executed and accomplished
    the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.

21 “I did not send the prophets,
    yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
    yet they prophesied.
22 But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds.

23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

In 1847, the same year the LCMS was founded, a group of well-respected Viennese doctors faced down one of their colleagues, Ignaz Semmelweis. The women on their maternity ward were dying at an alarming rate and he had just figured out that it was their fault. The doctors were not adequately washing their hands after conducting autopsies of women who had died of infections. This was transmitting the infection to otherwise healthy women.

The Viennese doctors banded together and rejected Semmelweis’s conclusions, unwilling to accept the idea that they, the doctors, were the reason all those women had died. He did not respond well their stubborn self-interest, was eventually fired, and finally ended up in a mental asylum where, ironically, he died of sepsis, the same affliction which was killing the women on the ward.

Over 2600 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah must have felt a little like Semmelweis. The whole prophetic profession in ancient Jerusalem was not listening to God but telling people what they wanted to hear. It would result in the deaths of thousands. Again and again, Jeremiah had tried to warn people that God’s wrath was about to be poured out on the city for its sins, but they insisted that all would be well. This passage is giving Jeremiah and us an insight into our human rejection of God’s Truth and its consequences. Jeremiah was vindicated by history when the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Semmelweis was vindicated when we figured out germ theory and could pinpoint exactly what microbes were doing. The doctors of Vienna who rejected and destroyed him are vilified today as unscientific and narrow-minded cretins.

Christians of every generation need to ask what God is saying to us which we are not hearing because we love this world and fear for our comfortable lives. Jesus has called us to radical discipleship and sacrifice for the kingdom, not La-Z-Boy recliners and kitchens stocked with the latest ergonomic kitchen gadgets. His word is a hammer that smashes the rocks to pieces. What Word of God are we not listening to today? What consequences will fall on our heads for that sinful deafness?

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