Jeremiah 1:4-10 CEB
The Lord’s word came to me:
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I made you a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
because I’m only a child.”
The Lord responded,
“Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
Where I send you, you must go;
what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them,
because I’m with you to rescue you,”
declares the Lord.
Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
touched my mouth, and said to me,
“I’m putting my words in your mouth.
This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
to dig up and pull down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.”
At the end of the day, most of us want to belong. We want to be the kind of normal everyday people that are welcomed by the community around us. We do not often want to stand out, especially not in an unwelcome way that causes us not to fit in with everyone else. Prophets do not have this luxury, often their work puts them at odds with living a normal life. They speak uncomfortable words to those in power, and they call people’s attention back to the things that most would rather just ignore. People do not like their normal lives interrupted, so prophets often end up hounded, beaten, slandered, imprisoned, exiled, denounced, and too often, killed. Since this world and God’s kingdom are not yet in alignment, following a call from God puts a prophet at odds with the world, and it is the kind of life that no one would choose or endure without God’s constant presence. Luckily for us, God’s own people, these verses from Jeremiah this morning remind us that God is always with us, equipping us for the faith journey ahead.
While at first the words, “‘Before I created you in the womb I knew you,’” sound so reassuring, these are the last words that Jeremiah wants to hear. Even though he doesn’t want the job, Jeremiah ends up one of the major prophets of the Old Testament, speaking hard truths to a people faced with destruction by a foreign power and exile to foreign lands. He undergoes a lot of hard times, earning the moniker “the Weeping Prophet.” Jeremiah in fact would later die in exile in Egypt, disliked by many of his own people. For now, though, he is a child and God has called him. God even tells Jeremiah that extensive research has been done: experts consulted, data poured over, and Jeremiah carefully examined to decide that he is the one to do the important work of being a prophet. God did not choose through some random lottery, instead picking the right person to fill the position of prophet.
Understandably, Jeremiah is not too keen on becoming a prophet, doubting whether he really has what it takes to do this. Like many called to this kind of work, he raises an objection: “‘Ah, Lord God,’ [Jeremiah says], ‘I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.’” Likewise, Gideon, the Old Testament judge, raised similar objections when God called him, saying “‘With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel [for my] clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household’” (Judges 6:15 CEB). Before even Gideon, Moses tells God that he cannot lead his people out of Egypt for he could not speak well. Our objections to God’s call can be the things we tell ourselves and as well those things others say about us. With Jeremiah, I could see many telling him that he cannot be a prophet because he is too young, too unskilled, and too weak to serve. With each objection to God’s call, the Lord responds the same way, by saying I am with you. In Jeremiah’s case, God even tells him not to worry about those people and things that would stand in the way of his call because “‘I’m with you to rescue you.’” For those called to God’s work, there is such a temptation to be distracted by all those things and people that tell us we can’t do it. God cuts in to say, you focus on the goal, on what I have called you to do, and I will handle the opposition.
God gives Jeremiah his reassurance, and then, God gives the prophet his commissioning, and what a commission it is! You can see why Jeremiah would be so unpopular! The Lord tells him, “‘This very day I appoint you over nations and empires, to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.’” God has called Jeremiah to prophesy God’s truth, one that cannot help but confront the world’s truths. You see, God’s commitment to showing us the way to live righteous lives, aimed at worshipping God in all that we do and serving the least among us has not changed since even before the days of the prophets. Any attempt to speak this truth is not welcomed because the world is not in step with God’s kingdom fully, but God continues to call people to do the work of bringing it ever closer. To do this, prophets must trust what they see, to trust what they are called to do. Often, the news, media outlets, social media, and even our own biases crowd us with different short-term visions, causing us to doubt our way. If God calls us to fight poverty or end hunger, these thousand lying tongues tell us that poverty is just a necessary if unpleasant reality and to feed everyone is an unrealistic pipe dream. They say these things because human eyes cannot see beyond the horizon of our lives. Prophets are given long-term visions of a world where these kinds of obstacles have been pulled down and demolished so that something else can be planted. To follow the call is to trust what we see, namely what is given to us by God to see, a vision from one who has eternity in view.
At the end of the day, not everyone is called to prophesy, to this hard work of confronting and challenging the places and parts of ourselves and this world that are out of sync with God. At the same time, I cannot imagine any Christian living a normal and everyday life as that would mean walking in sync with the world. While not all of us are prophets, we are all called to something, and this call comes from God, meaning that we have all the same support that prophets have from our Lord. The key takeaway from Jeremiah this morning is captured in John Wesley’s last words in this life, “best thing of all, God is with us.” God is with us, so that we and this world may ultimately be in step with God. God walks with us in our called work of bringing heaven and earth in sync, as God knew and knows us well enough to say with certainty that we are perfect for the job. God will be with us every step of the way, answering the challenges and obstacles on our journey. Finally, we, in turn, need to stand by our vision, which God has shown us, having the courage to trust in God’s call. While we may not all be prophets, we do all have God with us on the journey, and our divine guide, if we are willing to follow, will lead us out of the normal everyday to the heavenly kingdom places where what the prophets have planted grows. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman