Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Preached Sunday, August 22, 2010
When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta with a group from my of faculty and students. Our purpose was to retrace the roots of Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to gain insights into his work in civil rights. We saw many of the historic sites and revisited historic speeches and sermons. We learned that Dr. King was not only the son of a preacher, but the grandson of a preacher and the great grandson of a preacher. I was surprised to find out that Dr. King made a vow that he would definitely NOT follow in the footsteps of his family and even though he went to graduate school at Boston University – as far away as possible from his roots, he couldn’t avoid God’s call. God needed him and on his return to the South, he moved into a parsonage and began to serve a church in Montgomery, Alabama. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Bible is full of the most astounding, incredible, powerful demonstrations of God’s involvement in this world. But perhaps the most amazing miracle that Scripture reveals to its readers is not that God created everything in the cosmos, or that God brought a tremendous flood to the earth, or that God helped the Hebrews escape from Pharaoh, or that God rescued Israel through feats of supernatural power. No, even more remarkable than all these occurrences is an overwhelming, indeed daunting, realization that all of Scripture reveals “The Lord needs you!”
This is the word that came to Jeremiah about 2500 years ago. Jeremiah: I need you. It is just as hard today as it was then to think about God needing anything or anybody to get things done, and yet God goes to great lengths to get people like Jeremiah – people like us involved in the working out of the salvation of the world.
It’s no wonder that when Jeremiah hears God’s call – when he hears it and really understands what that call means, he cries out to God.
Ah, Lord God!!
What more could he say? You can imagine it said in ever so many ways:
Shocked: Disappointed: Exasperated: With humor:
Have you ever considered that Jeremiah was grieving? To be sure, he not only gave the excuse of his age as a reason against his ability to carry out the call, but more importantly – he was lamenting because he was sure he wasn’t up to the task. Oh God – it’s too bad that I’m so young and as yet am not useful to you. Ah, Lord – I’m sorry that I haven’t had enough experience to be helpful in this situation. Dear God, I wish I knew more so that I could really be effective for your cause.
Jeremiah – the man who thought he wouldn’t be able to find words to speak – found exactly the right words to evoke a response from God. Jeremiah was “up front” about his limitations –he grieved over his inability to speak, and God responded with the compassion we would expect from a loving God – Don’t be afraid. I will take care of you.
It’s important to notice here that God’s response doesn’t let Jeremiah off the hook. That’s theone consistent thing about God throughout Scripture. That behavior continued in Jesus, God’s Son as he called and encouraged his disciples.
” Don’t tell me you only have 5 loaves and 2 fish. Just start feeding the people.”
“You’ll see Don’t worry about where you’re going to find clothes to wear and food to eat. Just start looking after the needs of those around you. The rest will come together.”
“Don’t be afraid when you don’t see me any more. I’m sending you my Spirit to look after you and to strengthen you.”
God heard Jeremiah’s concerns and promised to provide him exactly what he needed to do the work God needed him to do.
“Don’t be afraid,” God said, “for I am with you.”
“Don’t worry about your lack of experience,” God told him. “I’m giving you my words to speak.”
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, we will see this pattern repeat. God will ask difficult things of Jeremiah. Jeremiah will lament, anticipating first and then actually experiencing much personal pain. Yet even in the midst of his lamenting, God never let Jeremiah out of his work, and it was really hard work. Jeremiah had to speak God’s truth and be called a liar by the best and brightest in his community. Friends and even family members rejected what Jeremiah presented as God’s heartfelt desires. He was laughed at by strangers, ridiculed by leaders, taunted by colleagues. He struggled with physical ailments perhaps brought on by the stress of the work he was called to do and he poured all his grief out in prayers and songs of lament. And God never, ever abandoned him. And God never, ever let Jeremiah off the hook. The Lord called and there was no escaping that call. And Jeremiah went. But he never ever went alone.
These days, it seems there is every day more and more resistance to responding to the call to do God’s work. In order for us to maintain the lifestyles we have created for ourselves, more and more of our time is filled with carpools, stressful jobs, attention to the health and well-being of loved ones in our inner circle. For many, God’s call is answered if we can do it “on the way” to some other task. For example, I can bring bottled water to church because I picked it up while I was shopping for my family. But I wonder if I would have been as willing to participate if I had been required to drive an hour out of my way to pick up a particular brand of water, purchased at a particular store. Ah, Lord God, I’m sorry I can’t bring water for the homeless. I’m new in Phoenix and I just don’t know my way around here! Maybe when I’ve been here a while longer, I’ll be able to help out more. I’m so sorry!!
I suspect that each one of us here has lamented at one time or another about our inability to carry out a much needed ministry. Every time we talk about how guilty we feel because we weren’t able to take care of something, every time we say how much we regret that we weren’t available, every time we lay out our laundry list of “if onlies” we are in resistance mode. And even though we may not have had a face-to-face encounter with God, there’s no denying that we are a called people. Each one of us has been chosen by God, formed for God’s purposes. To be sure, the work God has put before us is not easy. It requires much of us – personal sacrifices will need to be made. But God promises us deliverance, God promises us salvation, God promises us hope – the same deliverance and salvation and hope we are to bring to others. We have been given unique gifts from the Holy Spirit and that same Spirit is the one who will bless us with the necessary strength, the appropriate words, the right timing so that we can do what God has called us to do.
Ministry in today’s world is not for the faint-of-heart. Following God is every bit as challenging and dangerous now as it was in Jeremiah’s day! But if we learn nothing from Jeremiah and the many prophets God called through the ages, the promise of God’s presence and strength are not to be underestimated. God’s work is sure to push us beyond our comfort zones – beyond what we think our hearts, minds and even our bodies can sustain. God’s work is sure to put us in embarrassing, even impossible situations. And while God does not promise that we will be successful and God never promises that we will feel strong enough, smart enough, healthy enough to do the work, Thanks be to God that we don’t have to rely on our own strength, our own knowledge, our own energy to live into our call.
Because God has promised to be there for us. God has promised to protect and deliver. And God will never leave us floundering, flustered and grieving over our inabilities to do the work.
Some of us will be called to plant and to build. God will give us the strength to do whatever it takes. Others will be called to uproot and destroy. God will give us the necessary courage. Some of us will be called to take God’s good news to friends and neighbors near and far. God’s Spirit will teach us what to do and tell us what to say. As God touched Jeremiah’s mouth, we can trust that our lives will be touched with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can serve whenever and wherever and however God needs us. Amen.