Everyone knows the song, “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.” I bet you can sing first verse and the chorus, no problem. It’s a very famous song and it’s a fun song. It’s a great song for backyard or otherwise chill parties. Three Dog Night opens their famous song this way:
“Jeremiah was a bullfrog/was a good friend of mine/I never understood a single word he said/but I helped him drink his wine/and he always had some mighty fine wine.”
Then the chorus opens: “Joy to the world, all the boys and girls/joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea/joy to you and me.”
It’s a fun song, it’s about joy, it’s about having a good time, it’s easy to listen to, it makes you tap your feet; it’s just a great song.
But ever wondered about those first words, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog?” Yeah, me too. And I don’t have any answers to how the song ended up with the word bullfrog.
I do, however, know a legend about the song. The legend says that the original lyrics were, “Jeremiah was a prophet/was a good friend of mine” and then continues as usual.
Then, suddenly, that first verse makes sense. People rarely understood the words the prophet Jeremiah used. He was often cryptic and difficult. He also used wine somewhat frequently in prophetic symbols and people would drink the wine he used. Fair to say that it probably could have been classified as good wine.
The first verse makes sense if Jeremiah was a prophet. And then, the chorus breaks out, “joy to the world, all the boys and girls…” Which is exactly what we hear in our scripture this morning: Joy to the world, all the boys and girls, along with wine drinking, dancing, and feasting; a call from God to party!
Let’s hear the scripture for this morning: Jeremiah 31:10-14
It’s party time!
“They shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, the oil, and over the young of the flock of the herd.” This means God will provide in abundance. It also means that they will feast on bread, wine, olive oil, and lamb.
God is saying that it’s time to party, it’s time to let their hair down, it’s time to feast, to drink much wine, and enjoy themselves. Indeed, this scripture opens with, “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations!” It’s a divine invitation to eat, drink, and be merry.
We might be tempted to say, then, that Jeremiah, the prophet, is also a good friend of ours because we’re definitely willing to help him drink his wine. It’s time to party! At God’s invitation!
So, I say, let’s go have a party. And indeed, sometimes I do have a party. Some of you have been to parties with me. We as a church like to throw parties and enjoy each other’s company. And when we do, there’s often wine or other forms of fermented drink. Which, for some of our fellow citizens, is a problem.
Isn’t drinking wine sinful? Wasn’t it the case that wine back in the days of the Bible wasn’t nearly as potent in terms of alcohol content as it is today? Paul says that getting drunk is a sin. Shouldn’t we be avoiding alcohol completely?
When I arrived in Eastman, I was surprised to find out that this is still an argument. No where that I had previously lived still had this fight. I thought that attitudes saying all alcohol, any drinking, is sinful were historical with hardly anyone making such an argument today. But I was wrong.
So if you, like Three Dog Night, helped the prophet Jeremiah drink his wine, and he always had some mighty fine wine, are you sinning?
It’s a relevant question because Jeremiah has a ton to say about sin.
This scripture comes from the part of Jeremiah known as “the book of consolation,” a part of Jeremiah that offers comfort to the people and has moments like this, where there’s a divine call to party. It’s notable because most of the book does not console. Most of the book is not this at all. Most of Jeremiah’s prophecy was doom and gloom.
We could summarize most of Jeremiah this way: you are a sinful people and you’re going to suffer and die.
Your sins have found you out. You have done too much wrong and you’ll be destroyed by the weight of your sin. The consequences of your bad behavior are before you.
This sin is for several reasons. The law clearly states that they are to be primarily concerned with human suffering. But the wealthy and privileged among them, the leaders, are too busy with their lives, consumed with making money and keeping up with the jones’s, to notice the suffering of others.
The law clearly states that they are to welcome the foreigner, the stranger, as one of their own. Instead, the people tend to mistreat and even enslave the foreigner. And, the people are following leaders who encourage them to continue this oppression.
The law clearly states that they are to have no standing army. But the leaders of the people maintain a massive, expensive, army.
The law clearly states they are to share their wealth, redistributing it through the Year of Jubilee and other methods. But the rich hoard their riches and the leaders grow fat and happy off their wealth at the expense of the poor.
The law clearly states all of these things and more but the society is corrupt. The people’s sin isn’t just a matter of individual sins like gluttony; it’s a matter of societal, collective, sins: too, doing nothing about the poor, doing nothing to address oppression, doing nothing to help the foreigner, maintaining a culture of hoarding wealth and resources.
Too much oppression, enslavement, and greed, Jeremiah says: you are a sinful people and you’re going to suffer and die.
And that’s exactly what happened. They suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. The leaders were taken into exile. And many of the people and their leaders died as a result.
So they end up in Babylon, living as prisoners, unhappy, miserable, and by now, repentant. This is not unlike the story of the prodigal son. They’ve lived high on the hog and now they’re in the sty with the hogs, covered in mud and other brown substances, unhappy and now repentant.
They cry out to God for salvation. They are sorry for their sins. They promise to do better.
We, each of us, have known that same cycle; a cycle that goes sin, conviction, guilt, repentance. We sin, we enjoy our sin, something happens and we get convicted of our sin, we wallow in pity and guilt, crying out to God for forgiveness. We’ve all been there. We’ve all known that cycle.
And it leads to wallowing. We can’t believe how sinful we are. Or we can’t believe that we committed that particular sin. We cannot stand the fact that we were able to do something so offensive. For example:
We’ve told big lies that have found us out, leading us to wallow in self-pity.
We’ve been unfaithful to friends and family, leading us to wallow in self-pity.
We’ve been mean and hateful to people we loved, leading us to relationship loss and leading us to wallow in self-pity.
We’ve been full of ourselves, with our egos creating a trail of destruction behind us, leaving us to wallow in self-pity.
We’ve been greedy, cheating in business or on our taxes only to get found out, leaving us to wallow in self-pity
This is only to mention the personal sins. We’re all too aware that greed, lies, oppression, and egos are part of our society, too. Our society has it’s fair share of oppressive behavior, of various -isms that color our relationship with each other. And we’ve all participated in some of that, whether we’ve known it at the time or realized it later.
To us, Jeremiah would say: you’re a sinful people and you’re going to suffer and die.
So, it’s time to confess our sins and get serious about ridding ourselves of that sin.
There’s no reason to sing, “joy to the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me” because there’s no joy to be had. Only sinfulness. Only an awareness of our own sins. Only an effort to become as sinless as possible.
We must focus on our sins. The point of practicing our faith, the point of being a Christian, is to rid ourselves of sin. So says Jeremiah throughout most of his book: you are a sinful people and you are going to suffer and die.
This is where many Christians today live: in a state of focus on their sins. If you listen to Christian radio, consider how many songs talk about sin, especially focusing on how sin has made the singer feel guilty, small, and awful. There’s much wallowing in self-pity on Christian radio.
Consider how many church signs you see that focus on sin: Sin: a short word with a long sentence; God, “I saw that!”; sin is like a credit card, enjoy it now, pay for it later; and others that are too offensive or mean to say from the pulpit.
Consider that sometimes criticism of the Methodist Church says that we don’t talk about sin enough; that we are far too happy as a church, too happy as Methodists, and should be more serious about our sin. Meaning that there isn’t a weekly reminder from this pulpit how sinful we all are and that we’d better repent over and over again or else.
Or else what?
Jeremiah saying to us, “you’re a sinful people and you’re going to suffer and die?”
Just a few verses later in this same chapter, Jeremiah quotes God saying “…I will make a new covenant…it will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors…but this will be the covenant that I will make…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will shall all know me…I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more. God is saying, at the beginning of his rescue of his people from exile, at the beginning of restoring them to right relationship, that he will never again remember their sins and will, instead, forgive and forget. That’s the promise God makes here to his people then and now.
So why are we so insistent on remembering our sins?
We understand that new covenant God speaks of here in Jeremiah 31 to be the one Jesus made when he came to earth, died, and rose again. Every time we have communion, I say the words, “At Jesus’s suffering and death, you [God] took our sin and death and destroyed their power forever.” Sin no longer has power over us. So why are we so focused on how sin binds us, holds us down, destroys us?
The gospel of John says, “if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.” So why do we keep ourselves bound up in guilt and wallowing in self-pity over our sins?
Why are we so insistent on remembering our own sins? Why are we so focused on the sins of others?
There is no reason for any of that. God forgives and then forgets. We are free from the weight of sin.
Sin is an issue. It creates distance in our relationship with God. And our sins can hurt others. We hurt others when we lie or cheat. We hurt others when we participate in systems of oppression. We harm others with our words or our faithlessness. Sin is a problem.
And what is sin? Let’s be clear: sin is not a laundry list of particular things. No one can fully define every sin. That’s because sin is best defined this way: sin is any way we do harm to ourselves or others.
So, to borrow our opening example, is drinking alcohol a sin? No, unless it does harm to ourselves or others.
Is partying a sin? No, unless it does harm to ourselves or others.
Sin is any way we do harm to ourselves or others. That’s not my definition; it’s Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians. The church in Corinth asks him in chapter 9 whether particular actions are sinful, such as eating meat sacrificed to pagan gods. Paul says that the question they should be asking themselves is not whether or not a particular thing is always sinful but, rather, if the thing in question will do harm to themselves or do harm to others.
So rather than focusing on particular things as always sinful or always not sinful, we should be asking if something we want to do: like drinking, like partying or like something we want to say to someone, or some angry retort, or some way we want to treat someone, will do harm to ourselves or to them.
When wondering if something is a sin, we should ask ourselves, “does that something do harm to me? Does it do harm to others?”
And if we do something that does harm to ourselves or does harm to others, we should repent. Before we have communion, we all collectively confess our sins. We need to because confession is good for the soul. It helps us grow closer with God. It shortens the distance in our relationship with God; a distance created by the presence of sin in our lives.
But once we have confessed, once we have repented by realizing our sins and telling God and those we’ve hurt that we’re sorry, it’s time to party.
That’s Jeremiah’s message here. The people are invited, by God, to feast and drink wine and have a good time because they’ve repented of their sins, they’ve told God they’re sorry, and so they are released from their guilt; their wallowing in self-pity.
Three Dog Night got it right. We should befriend Jeremiah. His words help us see our sin and help us confess that sin. Then, when we have done so, we should help him drink his wine singing joy to the world rather than wallow in self-pity as so many Christians seem wont to do.
For there’s joy in the release from sin that Jesus provides. Not release just from guilt and wallowing in self-pity. Release from the fact that sin can define us at all. Sin is not how God sees us. God sees us as a reflection of himself, images of God. God sees us as beloved children, brothers and sisters of his own Son Jesus Christ. God sees us and says, in the words of Psalm 139, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Jesus provides for that. One of the big things that happened on the cross was this: sin no longer defines who we are in God’s eyes.
So why do so many Christians insist on defining themselves by their sin? Why are we so prone to see ourselves first by our sins? To define ourselves by negative thoughts or perfectionism or just by constantly keeping track of what we’re doing wrong? Why do we do that to others? When we do, we put ourselves in that cycle we noted earlier: constantly having to repent and ask for forgiveness? That cycle leaves too many Christians full of guilt and wallowing in self-pity.
Perhaps it leaves too many of us full of guilt and wallowing in self-pity.
God has invited us to a party! After confession and repentance, God says to us, as God says in Jeremiah, come party with me! Your sins are forgiven! It’s time to eat the fatted lamb, enjoy some good crusty bread, and drink my wine.
This morning, after confessing your sins, are you more prone to wallow in self-pity or to party?
Let us be clear. Sin is an issue. Sin should concern us. And we should be doing our best to not sin. It’s part of being human. It’s part of being in relationship with God. Just as we do our best to not harm our spouse or our children or others we love, we should treat God in the same way.
We should do our best to not do things that do harm to ourselves or do harm to others. That’s the definition of sin: things that do harm to ourselves or do harm to others.
But the good news is this: sin, no matter how much we do and no matter what the sin is, does not define who we are in God’s eyes. So neither should it define how we see ourselves or others.
Because God looks at us and says, “Go, and sin no more…I forgive your iniquity and remember your sins no more.”
What sins are you holding on to? What keeps you up at night? What, when you remember it, leaves you racked with guilt?
What causes you to wallow in self-pity.
You are invited this morning to a divine party! Give that up. Confess the sin to God, repent of it by telling God that you’re sorry and making amends to the person or people you’ve hurt. And when you’ve done that, go party! Help Jeremiah drink his wine. Do something to celebrate your freedom from sin: grab a favorite snack, watch a favorite show, go engage in woodworking or a favorite hobby; anything that will cause you to celebrate the freedom that’s found in God’s forgiveness and forgetfulness of your sin.
You are invited to the divine party, the divine joy, of freedom from sin this morning.
God remembers your sins no more. God remembers none of our sins. God welcomes us back with open arms and invites us to party, to help him drink his wine.
That’s reason to sing with Three Dog Night, “joy to the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishies in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me.”
Joy because we are forgiven and God remembers our sins no more.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.