Whether you first heard it when it had soared on US music charts, released in early January 1963 as the song that made Little Peggy March the youngest female singer with a number one hit at age fifteen.
Or, you're a fan of the Andre Rieu and full orchestra version from much later.
Or, perhaps you first heard it when Whoopi Goldberg leading a chorus of nuns, sang it in the wildly funny 1992 comedy movie Sister Act.
I Will Follow Him has become a sensational and inspiring hit for many.
I Love him, I love him, I love him
And where he goes, I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow.
I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go
There isn't an ocean too deep
A mountain so high it can keep me away
It's a song that moves us not only because of the upbeat and catchy tune but perhaps more so because of the message but imagine if it were actually true that we would follow him wherever he may go, wherever he leads us. It's a hard challenge for us and, as we know, for those who went before us.
That's the consideration that the readings ask us to discern this weekend, first, from the prophet Jeremiah and then from the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes.
In Jeremiah, chapter 17, God convicts the Jews of the sin of idolatry by the notorious evidence of the fact and condemns them to captivity for it.
Jeremiah 17:1: the sin of Judah is [written/engraved] with a [pen/stylus/chisel] of iron, and with the point of a diamond:
it is graven upon the [table/tablet] of their heart, [i.e., hearts hard as stone] and upon the horns of your altars;
Judah's sin is engraved as it were with a chisel of iron and a diamond point. And that chiseling is pictured as being done upon tablets.
The Lord draws our minds when he mentions chiseling words on tablets to the Ten Commandments. Remember, God wrote them on two stone tablets.
So, the point is that God wants to bring back to Judah's remembrance this event of the writing of his Law on these tablets of stone. He's reminding them, and us, of the responsibilities we have under God's Law – the Commandments.
That metaphor says something about the people's hearts, doesn't it? Their hearts are like tablets of stone. They have stony and hard hearts – with no room for God nor one another. How about our hearts?
Judah's heart is hard, very hard, in the time of Jeremiah. But a future time is coming when God will give them new hearts under the New Covenant. Sin is currently written on those hard hearts of theirs, but God's own Law will be written on their hearts under the New Covenant. Judah's sin is practically irreversible.
And part of what makes it that way is the fact that not only do they sin, but worse, they pass down their sin from generation to generation, passing on bad habits, even sins to their children, instead of the opposite – passing on the good.
They not only commit idolatry themselves, but they actually teach their children to commit idolatry. That's what the reference to the altars and groves means – idolatrous and pagan practices.
Now, because we're all sinners and born that way, if we are raised in a neutral environment, we'll go wrong. Even children raised in a godly environment can go astray. But when children are raised and taught to turn from God and commit idolatry, what then? What hope does such a child have of ever being influenced toward the Lord? Not much.
And so, because of the irreversible nature of Judah's sin that's only made more permanent by generational unfaithfulness, God tells Judah that he's going to need to send them out of the land he gave to them – exiled – kind of "a divine time out."
Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings and seeks his strength in the flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert, who stands in lava, waste salt, and empty earth.
So, turning from God and trusting instead in human strength and wisdom receives a curse from the Lord. It always has, and it always will.
And the poetic description of the bush declares to us that even when things are going well as a result of trusting in human strength and wisdom – and sometimes that happens, right? Sometimes turning from God actually works!
Well, even when that happens, the Scriptures tell us that we'll be like a bush, yes. But a bush in the desert. Where there's no rain ever! Rain might fall elsewhere – but we're not going to see and profit from it. We'll be like that bush in a salty, arid, dry environment. Not growing and healthy and strong. Weak and spindly and suffering.
But there's a more excellent way! God will bless us if we drop our trust in human strength and wisdom and instead trust in him.
Blessed is the man that trusts in the LORD and whose [hope/confidence] the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat comes.
You will get everything you need if you truly trust in the Lord.
Idolatry looks completely different today from what it once was. Whereas there was a time when idols were inanimate figures and statues, today, they can come in various forms. Idolatry is an issue of the heart and can thus only be broken by a transformation of the heart.
Idols are anything that takes God's place in giving us fulfillment, satisfaction, security, or significance. Many of the things that people have idolized -- both past and present -- are not necessarily bad things but good things that take bad positions in our priorities.
While there are surely many for a practical reflection, I offer here five modern-day things that we find it hard to admit are actually taking over our lives:
Work. While there is nothing wrong with work, it can be dangerous when it drives our decision-making to the point of completely ignoring God's ways and desires, or we put it before things that are equally or more deserving of our time.
Success. God wants us to be successful, but He does not desire success to take His place in our hearts.
Phones. Or tablets or whatever we carry around with us and can't stop checking every five minutes. If we're giving our electronic device more time and attention than our loved ones, something's wrong.
Image. In the age of Facebook and Instagram, we can be obsessed with projecting the image of the perfect life, perfect relationship, perfect kids, perfect holidays, perfect friendship group. Christian faith is about the joy found in God, more than in ourselves or the things of this world.
Materialism. This is a prevalent problem, most especially with younger generations with all the peer pressure, but that's not to say that older generations are free from it either.
We know the limits of material things, and we can instead find lasting joy in the Lord. Let's listen again to Little Peggy or Whoopi and let’s work this week to truly make this our song [MUSIC: I Will Follow Him].
February 13, 2022
Photo credits: EVERETT COLLECTION