Jeremiah was a Bullfrog…or a prophet

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 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. 

If Jeremiah was a prophet, that first verse makes sense. People rarely understood the words of the biblical prophet Jeremiah. 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

Scripture

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 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 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. 

An invitation that extends to us. 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 individuals might 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 Christians, is a problem. 

Because some Christians wonder to themselves, isn’t drinking wine sinful? Wasn’t it the case, they sometimes say, that wine back in the days of the Bible wasn’t nearly as potent in terms of alcohol content as it is today? Shouldn’t we be avoiding alcohol completely? And then, isn’t partying itself prone to create sinfulness? What are we to make of this?

So if we, like Three Dog Night, helped the prophet Jeremiah drink his wine, and he always had some mighty fine wine, are we sinning? If we went to this big party mentioned here in Jeremiah, are we sinning?

It’s a relevant question because Jeremiah has a ton to say about sin throughout the book that bears his name.

This scripture comes from the part of Jeremiah known as “the book of consolation,” a small section 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 like our scripture for today 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. 

Maybe that’s why the song says, “I never understood a single word he said.” Perhaps, they didn’t want to! You are a sinful people and you’re going to suffer and die isn’t easy to swallow!

Jeremiah spends much of his prophecy telling the people 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. 

The sin Jeremiah references is for several reasons. First, 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 also 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 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.

Too much sin, 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, convicted, and repentant. 

They cry out to God for salvation. They are sorry for their sins. They promise to do better. 

I wonder if that sounds familiar? 

We, each of us, have known that same cycle; a cycle that goes sin, conviction, guilt, repentance. We sin, we enjoy our sin, the Holy Spirit comes 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 tends to lead 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 love, 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 or in other ways, only to get found out, leaving us to wallow in self-pity.

This is only to mention the personal sins. We’re also 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 so, we’re very aware of our sins. We’re very aware of how they have impacted others and ourselves. And perhaps, that has left us feeling some or significant guilt. 

This is where many Christians today live: in a state of focus on their sins. Consider how many church signs you see that focus on sin. For example: 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 the reputation Christianity tends to have that we’re focused on sin. Think of all the churches that seem intent on condemning as much sin as possible, whether individually or, increasingly lately, the sins of our society. 

Consider that sometimes criticism of The United 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?”

Actually, no. 

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. It’s a promise fulfilled by Jesus Christ: our sins are forgiven and not held against us; they are forgotten. 

So why are we so insistent on remembering our sins?

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. We are free from the weight of sin.

No doubt, and let me be clear this morning, 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 societal corruption. We harm others with our words or our faithlessness. And then sin can also do harm to ourselves. We harm our bodies with gluttony, for example. Sin is a problem. 

And what is sin? 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 or our relationship with God. 

So, to borrow our opening example, is drinking alcohol a sin? No, unless it does harm to ourselves or others or our relationship with God. Is partying a sin? No, unless it does harm to ourselves or others or our relationship with God. 

Sin is any way we do harm to ourselves or others or our relationship with God. 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 or to their relationship with God. 

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. Their sins are forgiven and forgotten. 

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.

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. 

God looks at us and says, just as he did to the woman at the well, “Go, and sin no more…I forgive your iniquity and remember your sins no more.” 

This morning, consider: 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 up your guilt to God. Whatever sin you’re holding onto, God is not; if we have confessed and repented, God has forgiven and forgotten. God wants to set you free. Be free today. 

You are invited to the divine party, the divine joy, of freedom from sin this morning.

God remembers our 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 set free. 

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

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