Sermon Ideas For Jeremiah 1:4-10 Part 2
"...For I am only a youth." (Jer 1:7) Who among us when confronted with the challenge to do something that seems beyond our capability and experience, that appears on the face of it to be hopeless, who among us has not looked for some reason to be excused? It was no different with Jeremiah. When he heard what he believed to be the voice of the Lord say to him: "...before you were born...I appointed you a prophet to the nations," he seemed to hear another voice that reminded him of his own inadequacies. In this moment of egocentric defensiveness he scrambled for an excuse to get him off the hook and protect him from danger (Jer 1:5).
What are we to make of this little vignette about the call of Jeremiah, and what does this story have to do with the lives of many modern people who could not imagine that they might ever be appointed to be a prophet to the nations?
A number of years ago I attended a worship service in a small church in Oxford, England. The preacher that day focused his sermon on the symbolic significance of the dove released by Noah from the ark in order to determine if it was safe to venture forth. The preacher talked about the dove and about other places in the Bible where we hear about doves and what these doves symbolized. The sermon had been prepared with obvious thought and care. In one sense it was interesting, I suppose, in the same way that some artifact from a lost civilization is interesting. There was only one problem. At the end of the sermon I did not have the slightest idea of what all of this had to do with my life or with the world in which I was trying to live.
The preacher who chooses to focus on the Old Testament lesson for today may leave the congregation with a similar problem. The text recalls the way in which Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, his feelings in response to that call and the task that he is given to do. If the pastor in preparing the sermon presents this text simply as an account of Jeremiah's call then the real point of the text will have been lost.
In order to avoid this pitfall the preacher should step back from this text and ask two questions: Whose story is this? What does this story have to do with my story?
Whose story is this? Who is the main "player" in this drama? At first glance it would appear that this is Jeremiah's story. On the surface this is true. But the major player is not Jeremiah but God. Jeremiah is merely reporting how God's action has intersected with the story of his life. The point being made is not about what Jeremiah did or did not do, but about what God did, has done, and will do. Thus, this passage provides a clue to the way God does things and what is likely to happen when we begin to listen to the deep inner wisdom within us that the Bible sometimes calls "the still small voice." The story of the "call" of Jeremiah recalls a God who breaks into our lives, and invites us to be the best that we can be and to represent his love and justice in this world that has been entrusted to us. It is this recognition that will enable the preacher to break this story out of its historical prison and connect it with the many stories being lived by the listeners.
But before the preacher can do this, it will first be helpful to wonder what may have been going on in the life of this young man, Jeremiah. No hint is given to what Jeremiah was doing or where he was when this "call" came to him, but the reference to his youthfulness provides a clue to what he was wrestling with within himself. The youthful Jeremiah was probably wrestling with what the behavioral scientists today would call identity. "Who am I? What will be the purpose and mission of my life? Will I have the energy and capability to do what I need to do?" It is probably safe to assume that Jeremiah was struggling with such questions. Normally such a struggle is a rather introverted activity, unless anxiety drives the individual to run hither and yon asking others to provide direction. Jeremiah may well have done this with no satisfactory result, and then the only thing left to do was to sit with himself--to venture into the inner country of his introversion and listen for some still small voice that could provide a clue to the perplexing problem of identify.
And perhaps this is precisely where the connection can be made. Perhaps this passage reminds all of us that in the epiphanal moments of life when God breaks into our awareness in some strange and unexpected way we will hear a voice from our deep inner wisdom that tells us again that we all have been created in his image and put in the world to represent his love and justice in this world that has been entrusted to us--to be prophets to the nations--to mediate the grace of God. Perhaps we can hear in Jeremiah's "excuse" a word that reminds us of all the excuses we offer to avoid our authentic calling and our true identity. And the good news in this special memory of a youth named Jeremiah is that this God who calls us can also empower and equip us to be who we are and to live lives that are consistent with the identity that has been given to us in our creation and again in our baptism.
Hugh L. Eichelberger Charleston, South Carolina