Strange Stories of Scripture – The Story of the Hidden Underwear

Jeremiah 13:1-11

Last week we met the prophet Elisha and we spoke about the word of God coming as blessing and curse.  Tonight, we meet the prophet Jeremiah….and his underwear.

In our story, Jeremiah does a symbolic act.  Nobody knows that Jeremiah does this.  He doesn’t tell anyone.  He is simply following God’s instruction.  The Lord tells Jeremiah to go and buy some underwear, and to wear it.  After doing so, Jeremiah hears the Lord a second time, telling him to take that underwear down to the riverbed and hide it among the rocks.  Then after a long time has past, God tells Jeremiah to go and find that underwear.  And what does Jeremiah find? That the underwear is ruined.  Good for nothing.

This is a symbolic act.  God is saying something through these actions of Jeremiah.  And we know the need for symbolic act.  Sometimes words just won’t do, right?  What speaks louder than words? Actions.  We perform symbolic acts because they communicate something when we just can’t find the word.  We use symbolic actions all the time, and we often use them in our relationships.  Because relationships need more than words.  Sometimes instead of continuing to apologize until you are blue in the face, you just need to bring home some flowers.  Sometimes the only way to tell your friend how much they mean to you is to throw them a surprise birthday party.

But sometimes we use symbolic action not to heal or grow our relationships, but to show how broken they are.  A friend of mine got married, and right from the start things weren’t going well for them.  They were fighting a lot and just not getting along.  One day, he came into class, and he was no longer wearing his wedding ring.  It was a symbolic act, a sign, reflecting how bad their relationship had begun to break down.

And that is what is happening in our story.  Did you catch that? This strange act of Jeremiah at the request of God is a sign of the relationship between God and God’s people – that it has broken down.  Listen again to what God says, “Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own will and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen.”

Can you hear the pain in those words?  The people of God used to be like a loincloth, clinging to God’s body.  That is an image of intimacy.  Underwear is an intimate thing. Who do you let see your underwear – probably only the people or person you are closest with.  It is the piece of clothing closest to your body.  The people of God were wrapped around God’s body.  But now, God says, “They don’t listen to me.  They follow their own ways and have begun to worship other gods.  And so they are like a ruined loincloth that no longer clings to the body.  I made them so that they might be my people.  But they just don’t hear my voice anymore.”

These are the words of a broken-hearted God, like a parent or family member, who has tried and tried to get through to a loved one, but they just wouldn’t listen. They relationship is broken.  It isn’t what it used to be.

And so notice that Jeremiah the prophet doesn’t simply speak about the fractured relationship between God and God’s people, he embodies it.  It is his action, not his words, with this loincloth that embodies the tension within this relationship.  The prophet doesn’t simply speak the word of God; the prophet lives the word of God.  In fact, when Jeremiah is called to be a prophet, God places the word of God in his mouth. He eats it.  He takes it into his body.  You are what you eat.  He embodies the word of God.  This God of ours is embodied in the world, through the prophets.

Have you ever seen some one embody something?  Like Jeremiah, might there be people in our lives who embody a word from God.  Perhaps it doesn’t come from what they say but from what they do?

By bringing over hotdish to your neighbor whose husband just died, or to the congregation member that just had a baby, or helping a family start a farm, could that action, that event be a prophetic embodied word of God?  A word that says, “You matter to us.  And you are not alone in this.”  I think so.  But sometimes maybe the embodied word of God isn’t always such a positive thing.

I have already shared this with some of you, but on Saturday night, I witnessed something I had never seen before.  Lauren and I were sitting outside with a friend when all of a sudden, our neighbor, her boyfriend and her teenage son come busting out of the house in a scuffle.  We couldn’t tell what was going on.  At first it seemed like the parents were hurting their boy, but it became clear that they were simply trying to restrain him.  He was out of control – swearing, kicking, hitting.  It took these two full-grown adults lying on top of him to keep him restrained until the police came.  Once he was handcuffed, he just sat there on the lawn.  Not saying anything to anyone.  Not moving.  Eventually, he was taken away by ambulance to the hospital. Most people would say, “That kid’s got a problem and needs help.”  But I happen to know that his home life isn’t great, and in fact seems like a pretty difficult place to live.  Could it be that what we witnessed was an embodied act reflecting the tension in the relationships at home?  Could it be that it isn’t that this young man has a problem and needs help, but that the whole family has problem and needs help?  Imagine for a moment someone that you know who might be considered a “problem child.”  What happens most in our culture is we send that child to the doctor or to counseling to get fixed.  But some have suggested a child acting out could be a symptom of a larger family problem.  Which means maybe the whole family needs to go to counseling.  I cannot help but wonder if that violent outburst on Saturday wasn’t an embodied prophetic word from God trying to reveal the brokenness of their family and their need for help.

Last week, the word of God came as blessing and curse.  This week with Jeremiah, the word of God comes not as speech but as action.  Embodied action.  The prophet lives out the story of God in their body, in their action and in their life.  So, are there any prophets in your life? AMEN

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