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The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 3 September 2023
A Sermon on Jeremiah 15:15-21 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Jeremiah 15:15-21 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

O LORD, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
know that for your sake I bear reproach.
16 Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the company of revelers,
nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
for you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?
19 Therefore thus says the LORD:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
20 And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the LORD.
21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Lonely Messenger

Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah the priest (1:1), had his whole life planned for him from birth. The son of a priest would become a priest. He would marry from within the priestly tribe and doubtless the parents would make a good match for their children. Jeremiah’s father was likely the same Hilkiah, who presented the book of the law found in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8) and presented to young King Josiah of Judah, the great reformer who would famously throw off the Assyrian yoke of oppression with its nasty idol worship, centralize the worship of the LORD in the Jerusa-lem Temple, and restore the Passover celebration (2 Kings 23:25).

Doubtless Jeremiah was raised in a home that was passionate about keeping the Sinai covenant that the LORD had made with His people by grace. Out of a pious home that took seriously the 613 commandments, Jeremiah could see the crowds of Judahites who did not. God called him away from the safety of the priestly life to be His messenger. This was what Jeremiah was born for. His call would be lonely, because the crowds wanted an easier word…not the hard Word.

It is a lonely life to speak God’s hard Word when the world wants an easy word. In fact, the eas-iest thing of all is to fit in wherever you are. This world loves a chameleon, who just wants to blend in and be safe. Even some churches claiming to be Bible churches are indistinguishable from the world around them. Wannabe rockers find a steady church gig, and rock star preachers dress cool to be one of the crowd. The cross and altar disappear behind emotional entertainers.

From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Baptism makes Christians, and daily repentance is the prac-tice of daily dying with Christ. Apostolic teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers (the ordered worship inherited from the Temple). This is how a truly biblical church operates. But few want to hear God’s hard Word, because the LORD God refuses to be anything other than only. We are to fear, love, and trust only Him! Only not first!

Jeremiah thought it would be cool to be a prophet until even his own family wanted him dead. He loved God’s Word and was inhabited by the Holy Spirit, but Jeremiah wondered if God even knew how lonely he felt as he spoke God’s call to repentance that no one wanted to hear. But it was worse than that, because God’s Word was judgment: They were going to lose it all. Jeremiah is in the Bible, because the hard Word he spoke came true. They lost Temple, king, and the land. So, dying churches are not necessarily shrinking. Dying churches want easy, cross-less words.

The Torturous Turning

In the first half of today’s reading, Jeremiah’s loneliness has turned to self-pity, whining, and angry accusation against God. That’s the great temptation for messengers when people don’t want to hear the whole counsel of God: No before Yes, Law before Gospel. Naïve new pastors often become disillusioned when people don’t respond to the Word of God with wild abandon. Many quit. Others confuse gathering a crowd with faithfulness to God. We do well to note again that successful marketing is not what happened in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Only 3,000 began a life of repentance, were baptized, and continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. The real successful marketers were the priests who drew 150,000 – 165,000 (five times the normal population) to come to Jerusalem to offer sacri-fices.

God’s hard Word to Jeremiah was to return to Him and not to turn to the disapproving, itchy-eared crowds. So, God’s Word is always, first and foremost, to the lonely messenger. Any preacher who fails to be daily convicted by God’s hard Word against idolatry has no business speaking to anyone else. Jeremiah like Elijah wanted to call down fire from heaven on his ene-mies, but God sent down fire on Jeremiah that he might become like a fortified wall of bronze.

When the LORD God is only, His messengers understand they have an audience of One. James warns: “Not many of you should aspire to be teachers for you will be judged more strictly” (3:1). So, God removed the wicked and the ruthless first from the land, and, then, God removed Jere-miah to Egypt some five years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. We see that Jeremiah kept on repenting, kept on turning to the One who promised to save and deliver him.

The LORD’s hand was on Jeremiah already when he was being formed in his mother’s womb. The LORD chose Jeremiah, poured out His Spirit on Jeremiah, kept on calling Jeremiah when the prophet would gladly have given up, and the LORD strengthened Jeremiah like a fortified wall of bronze in the face of militant opposition to the Word of God by chameleon preachers.

But it is not Jeremiah’s turning that is Good News. The Gospel is not: Be like Jeremiah. No, the really torturous turning is always by the LORD God, who became flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, in order to live the obedient life none of us can live and to die on the cross the innocent death that none of us can die. Every sin of yours and mine was placed on His loneliest shoulders. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. On Him was laid the iniquity of us all. God turns to us with sacrificial love on the cross: that we might return to Him and live as His!

Intimacy with God

Having grown up worshiping weekly in two and sometimes three different churches (Lutheran, Baptist, and Roman Catholic), I came to find it curious how infrequently, if ever, some received the true Body and most precious Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This despite the clear command of Jesus. Listen! There is no more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ than to receive His True Body and most precious Blood at least weekly. Luke says in Acts 2:46, they were daily receiving the breaking of the bread in the homes. It wasn’t just potluck (Luke 24:35). Rather, those who had been baptized into His saving death and glorious resurrection were doing exactly what their LORD commanded (1 Corinthians 11:23-26): they were receiving Him often for the forgiveness of sins. If you are baptized, do you hasten often to Him?

When Jeremiah stopped having a pity party, whining, and angrily accusing God of forgetting him, he repented. Be clear about this and don’t get it wrong. His turning and returning was not something Jeremiah did as if he just sucked it up and put on his big boy pants. No, the Spirit of the Living God inhabited Jeremiah. He heard the Word from outside like when Peter heard that his fear of the cross of Jesus was not being on God’s side (Matthew 16:23). It was like when the Lord Jesus pulled doubting Peter from sinking down and lifted him to new trust (Matthew 14:30-31). It was like when Peter realized there was no place else to go but with Jesus, who alone is the Word of eternal life (John 6:68-69). Yes, when he was old, Peter went to his own death at the hands of those who foolishly thought they could silence the Word of God (John 21:18-19). NO!

Dear sisters and brothers, in Holy Baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in which He dwells in us (Romans 6:3-4). We practice our Baptism by daily renouncing the devil, his works, and his ways (Romans 8:12-17). The Spirit of God has been poured out upon us and now we are the LORD Jesus’ witnesses. Very few are called to be pastors, but all of us are called to be witnesses to our LORD’s saving death and glorious resurrection (Acts 1:8). The LORD still wants us to be only His, purchased on Calvary’s cross not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious Blood and His innocent suffering and death (1 Peter 1:13-21).

Listen! Today, in this community of God’s children, we don’t just hear about Jesus; we don’t just sing about Jesus; we don’t just talk to Jesus and say how much we love Jesus. We receive Jesus, and we do so week after week in the most intimate way of all. We have intimacy with the Triune God by eating and drinking at His altar. True worship is not about the preacher, musicians, or people. It’s not about what we feel as if God’s Word were dependent on what we feel or think. It’s about Who speaks to the preacher and the people struggling to be faithful in a rebel-lious, dying world. Today, the LORD Jesus comes to us in His Holy Supper to call us to ongoing repentance by daily returning to His Father’s waiting arms. Yes, the Spirit of the Living God is calling us daily from death to real life that goes on forever. For even though our bodies must die, yet shall we go on living in and with Christ and then be raised bodily from the dead on the last day!

Jeremiah called many to repentance, but most didn’t listen and so, they had to receive the logical consequences of fearing, loving, and trusting other gods. Sadly, too many keep on looking to fill the God-shaped hole in their souls that only God can fill. Our LORD Jesus’ call to repentance is a call out of the culture of death around us where far too many of the most vulnerable of all are still being killed in the womb and the most confused and depressed among us are offered easy words that only steal, kill, and destroy. When you, a baptized child of God, receive Jesus at the altar, you are no longer alone. He comes in the Holy Communion to restore you and me, yes, to renew our joy in Him. God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are not private treasure to be hoarded. Our Lord Jesus gives us His gifts that we may be His witnesses for the life of the world.

Come, be restored today to the life your heavenly Father wants you to have. Receive His life!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Communion: Restores


“Grant to us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 620).


Jeremiah 15:16 “… your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”

St. Jerome [4th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “The saint does not look for rest but for tribulation…In this world I desire nothing but tribulation that I may have happiness and repose in the next. That is why he says, “I now bear with bitterness, that afterwards I may have all sweet-ness.’” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Jeremiah, 121).

Jeremiah 15:18 “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”

St. Athanasius the Great [Early 4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Now the so-called gods of the Greeks, unworthy of the name, are faithful neither in their essence nor in their promises, be-cause they are not everywhere. The local deities amount to nothing over the course of time and un-dergo a natural extinction…his Son is ‘faithful,’ being ever the same and unchanging, deceiving neither in his essence nor in his promise…” (122).

Jeremiah 15:19 ““If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Consider to what a dignity one exalts himself who esteems others’ salvation to be of great importance. Such a person is imitating God as far as lies within the power of humankind… What could equal that? This is greater than all good deeds. This is the peak of all virtue” (123).

Jeremiah 15:19 “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth..”

St. John Chrysostom: “Let us catch them, then, by our mode of life; and by these souls let us build up the church, and of these let us amass our wealth …A great good it is, I grant, to have pity on the poor, but it is nothing equal to removing them from error” (123).

Jeremiah 15:19 “They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.”

St. Jerome: “For I have made you like a bronze and impregnable wall, so that you can withstand all the strength of your adversaries. Moreover, you have me as a helper, and I will liberate you from the hand of the most evil (or pestilent), and I will redeem you with my blood (or with the presence of my help).’ May we consider just how great a reward the speech of the teacher will have if it is able to liberate from error and to rescue from among the number of sinners!” (123).


1. Do I trust that the Lord who is faithful will bring me through every battle with the evil one?


The Ten Commandments


The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s Small Catechism).


• Pray for every unbaptized child, teen, and adult you know and for parents of children, too.

• Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

• Listen quietly each day this week to God’s first commandment and Luther’s explanation. As you begin and end each day, listen for the still small voice of the Lord calling you away from idols.

• Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s. New Sunday School classes for all ages begin this Sunday morning. The Crossways Bible Study resumes this week with Unit 51 (of 60) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 10 a.m. Newcomers and visitors welcome.

• Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments to change our hearts and minds and, then, our behaviors.

• Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily lectionary readings are on p.184 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 14 Pentecost).

• Read next week’s preaching text (Ezekiel 33:7-11). Reflect on the ways in which the very intimate presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion strengthens and encour-ages you as you speak God’s Truth to those who cling tenaciously to sin and evil.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”