Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Wow! Wow! Wow! As we say in my house, holy moly macaroni head! Meet Jeremiah, everyone. He is one of the major prophets of Israel- and after God calls him as a boy, well, probably a teen or young adult, his ministry lasts upwards of 60 years- impressive! The book of Jeremiah is narrated by the prophet himself- and so we get a very intimate look, not just at what he did, but how he felt along the way. It makes this book unique- it's not often that we get an up close and personal play by play, or in Jeremiahs case, blow by blow, account of someone in ministry. Be forewarned. Jeremiah does not fit the ideal that we may have swimming around in our heads of what a prophet might look like. While we may have visions of receiving a call from God, gathering ourselves with God's help, donning our red cape and tights, and placing our hands on our hips and setting our jaw to the horizon ahead, Jeremiah, well... frankly has trouble with the whole idea.
But you can't help but like him- first, he's a little nuts- also a prerequisite I believe for any true prophet of God. He's creative-and gusty- chutzpah, our Jewish friends would say- which again, is necessary in any ministry! "He also used props and tried to illustrate what he was saying through object lessons- throwing and smashing clay pots, and walking around naked, and stuff. He's a passionate, and persistent, and obedient to what God tells him to do, but he also whines, and broods, and complains almost incessantly to God.
The words of God comes to him when "he is a lad"- young. Jeremiah comes from one of the tribes of Israel that has already been noticing there is trouble in the nation, the leadership of the country has become corrupt- they've stopped looking to God for direction and have focused instead on wealth, greed, and power. This is something Jeremiah would have heard discussed his whole life, at synagogue, at temple, and at the dinner table. And this is important because when God calls him, it is to something that Jeremiah already sees needs fixing- his call resonates within him, it's something he is already passionate about.
When I did vocational counseling in another life, helping people discover what their call might be, I would ask them to start by talking about what they were already doing. What were they involved in. What did they feel passion talking about, or participating in. What brings them energy? It's a good starting point, because more often than not, our call comes out of a place of familiarity. God uses everything about us and equips us with everything we need to do the ministry God calls us to. More on that later- back to Jeremiah.
Like most people who thinks they may had heard "the word of the Lord" Jeremiah comes up with an excuse why God must be mistaken; and like most of us, he goes with the obvious . I'm not qualified, or in Jeremiah's words: "I'm only a kid!" And God isn't so coddling here... no warm fuzzy, "now honey, come on, it will be ok..." instead God says: "Don't tell me you're just a kid, you'll do what I tell you, go where I tell you! In other words, 'Who created who here?' Before I formed you in the womb I knew you- before you were born I dedicated you, I appointed you a Prophet to the nations!" I knew you, I dedicated you, I appointed you. 'Nough said!
And it's funny God is so adamant- because like Jeremiah, many of us want to be coaxed into our call, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God truly is calling us- we wait for sign after sign, we wait for affirmations from our family (which rarely ever come, by the way) or our friends (sometimes even more rare) or our church or even a more concrete feeling within our own spirit! - we are often reluctant to step out in faith and claim that God could be calling us. And with good reason! As more than one of you mentioned after last week's sermon, "the thought of God calling me is scary." But remember also, being obedient to God's call brings and inner peace unlike any other.
For our friend Jeremiah, the inner peace of obedience was enough to trump any fears he may have had after that- and trust me, he had fears. Who wouldn't? Can you imagine a beardless teenager walking around prophesying to the nations?
But after the "I knew you dedicated you, appointed you," speech, God must have seen the look on Jeremiah's face, because the nurturer God takes over: Don't be afraid of of them, says God, and she reaches out her big holy hand and touches Jeremiah on the lips. At least that's what it felt like to Jeremiah. And God steps back and says, "There- now I've put the words in your mouth. Today I appoint you..."
And while Jeremiah's call was specific to him, God also will put words in our mouths, specific to what God has called us to. I can't tell you the number of times this has happened to me- when I feel at a loss of what to do next, or can not think of anything to comfort someone, or counsel someone, or even a Sunday Morning sermon, and when I stop trying to come up with my own stuff, God's word that he has put in my mouth, are suddenly freed to come out.
In Jeremiah's case, God asks him a question in order to help Jeremiah define his call- simply, "what do you see?" and Jeremiah responds, and God says, "Yes, Jeremiah that's right- now what else do you see?" And Jeremiah responds again, and out of that response, Jeremiah begins to understand his call.
And we talked about this during advent when we began discussing going outside the backyard and into the neighborhood- the first thing we do is Look! What do you see? Where and what are the things God might be showing you? Who needs help? Why do some things stand out or bring up passion or compassion in your spirit? And our initial response could be something very simple to God's question, what do you see? And when we respond, God affirms- yes, that's right. And then God invites us to look closer: "Now what do you see?" And by looking closer we can see not just the situation, but the circumstance that caused that situation, and what will happen if someone doesn't do something- and it will more often than not, prompt something in us that calls us to action.
And it doesn't have to be as large an action as Jeremiah speaking to the nations. You could "look" and see a candy wrapper on the street, and maybe used paper napkin, or plastic bottle. And God says, what do you see? And you say, "I see a candy wrapper, a used paper napkin and a plastic bottle." And God calls you to look deeper- "now what do you see?" What comes next my friends, could be your call. From those three pieces of trash on the ground, you might notice that there are not enough trash cans on main St. Perhaps there are no recycling containers. Perhaps you may realize that the reason people toss trash on the ground is an apathy about the environment, or perhaps that we live in a disposable society. You may be spurred to take a look at big water companies, or the sugar industry, or lobby restaurants on main st to use cloth napkins that can be reused. Perhaps you will address the high consumption of sugar and nutrition in children. Do you see where I'm going?
And Like Jeremiah, how you decide to respond is already within you. He was already passionate about the corruption in government, so when God tells him to look, and then look deeper, his response comes from that place within him that is already smoldering- it just needed the prompting of God to ignite it.
Then, armed with the promise that God had put the words in his mouth, Jeremiah began his ministry.
One final note about Jeremiah. You may think, being a Prophet of God, that he did really well, and was always well received and people took him seriously and changed their ways. Much to his chagrin, he was not very good at all at what he was called to... he messed up a lot. People didn't take him seriously for the better part of his ministry- in fact, the opposite was true. The leaders and the people, his own family thought he was off his nut. It got so bad for a while that Jeremiah actually wished he had never been born- he even stopped doing ministry and just kept quiet. But that didn't help- in Jeremiah's words, he developed a fire in the belly- God's words burned within him so that he needed to let them out.
I guess it's one of the reasons I like him so much- he is so very human- we want a life where we can receive honor and that people will think highly of us, and give us accolades, and we can walk around with our shoulders back and everyone in the neighborhood whispers as we walk by, "oh, he is so wonderful- or, "my, isn't she good?" And while there is always a chance that will happen, most of the time people who are doing God's work are known as pot stirrers, or activists, or a thorn in someone's side. There is an old Amy Grant song called I have decided- where she talks about living as a disciple, a called person, a believer, and she says in one stanza :When the world begins to see you change, Don't expect them to applaud.
None of us like to be told we are doing anything wrong. None of us want to be shown the error of our ways, much less those in powerful positions. And yes, when people see you taking on this new life of ministry, in whatever form it takes, they will most definitely say something! Ask anyone in here that has been called to anything! You? What?
And listen, most of the time that isn't malicious. It's just that we have a tendency to put each other in boxes- with labels- and opinions- and judgments about each other, even our friends and most of all our family members. Of course Jeremiah's family thought he was nuts! Of course your family and friends will gasp and ask you over and over if you're sure, or tell you that you must be having a mid life crisis, or a mental breakdown or whatever... when someone does something out of our box of expectation for them, that is difficult for us to swallow... so be gracious. that doesn't come from a malicious place- just surprise.
And while this may not be very motivational for the future prophets among us, take heart- when God called Jeremiah, and when God calls each of us, God's promise is that God will Go with us, God will take care of us- God will strengthen and embolden us. And I for my part (says God) to jeremiah I have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
My friends this is no less true for each one of us. We are protected, we have the power to do whatever God calls us to, God is with us, wherever we go. So we are free to bring the message of God in all of its glory!
However, we don't bring simply a message of calling people out- or talking about what's wrong in a situation and how we, with God's help, can right it- our messages, strong though they may be, are laced, wrapped and spoken in and with the love of God. Pastor Jen read us the passage from Corinthians- and most of the time we take that as a wedding scripture, or we look at love in that passage as a warm shchmaltzy, in love feeling- but the love of God is as much about justice and fairness and healing and reconciliation as it is the soft feeling of caring or being cared for. As much as Jeremiah spoke of repentance and doom and calamity for the people should they not change their ways, he also brought a message of God's message of hope and healing- that God's covenant is everlasting and unbreakable- that God's word is written on the people's hearts, that there will be a future of God's people...
SO what is it that God might be callling you to? Today during our time of response, i invite you to look once again, within. What are the words you are longing or needing to hear from God.