Sermon Ideas For Jeremiah 1:4-10 Part 1
In the history of the church, the call of Jeremiah has served as a paradigm of the call of all Christians. It is not just the idiosyncratic story of an ancient prophet dealing with a unique situation of national catastrophe; It is also the narrative lens through which we glimpse the outlines of a typical pattern of God's interaction with human beings. All Christians, not just Old Testament prophets, are called to a divine work. The story of Jeremiah is the story of all of us.
In this interaction with Jeremiah, God is identified in a distinctive way. God is the One who plans, speaks, and commands. This God is a purposeful agent, with intentions and goals, not a passive unmoved mover drawing humans as the object of their desires. God is not a static presence to be contemplated and enjoyed but is rather an active force to be obeyed. Of course, the text does not stipulate how God's agency in individual lives, human history, and the natural world is to be conceptualized or even recognized; that is a task for subsequent theology to pursue with prayerful humility and analytic rigor. But the agenda is clear: Attempts, however tentative, must be made to discern the workings of God.
The passage's portrayal of the nature and purpose of human life follows from this understanding of God the powerful actor. Humans are not fulfilled by dissolving their identities in cosmic oneness, nor by the contemplation of mystery, nor by immersion in the rhythms of nature. Rather, ultimate fulfillment comes through responding to God's initiative. Satisfaction comes through service. These verses invite us to construe our lives as God's instruments, wielded by the divine hand to promote God's purposes in the world. Of course, few are called to be prophets who proclaim the message of judgment and hope at critical junctures in salvation history. But all individuals have a role in God's providential activity, and our hearts will be restless until we can view our lives as part of God's grand design.
Jeremiah's call also provides the contours of a paradigm of the interaction of divine and human agency. The drama revolves around the contrast of God's providential power and human frailty. Most importantly, the initiative in this episode lies clearly with God. God's purpose for Jeremiah's life predates Jeremiah's response; in fact, it predates Jeremiah's birth. Jeremiah did not include the career of prophet among his vocational ambitions. Announcing the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and declaring this calamity to be God's judgment upon Judah was not Jeremiah's idea. Far from initiating the action, Jeremiah initially balks at God's call, poised to resist. But God's intentions override human reluctance. God is the central agent in the story of Jeremiah's life. Even the power politics of the ancient Near East are interpreted as the results of the divine initiative. This recurrent biblical pattern suggests that our life stories are not generated by ourselves ex nihilo. We are not the authors of the contexts, possibilities, and responsibilities in which we find ourselves. Without speculating about the mode of divine action, the text invites us to see our situations as the work of God's judgment and grace.
Contrary to human expectations, God's purpose is accomplished through human weakness. God does not seek out the most powerful and talented children of Abraham. Jeremiah was not selected for his oratorical gifts; Jeremiah had not received accolades in a homiletics competition. Jeremiah was not chosen for his skills in political and social analysis nor for the sensitivity and acuity of his social conscience. In fact, Jeremiah was just a lowly boy, unused to public speaking. This same pattern is true for all of us. Our ability to be God's instruments is not based on our own talents or accomplishments. The possibility of serving God is itself a gift from God. The life of service should not be seen as an opportunity for self-congratulation.
This portrayal of God's strength operating through human weakness reveals something crucial concerning the nature of God's dealings with humanity. If God overwhelmed us with a display of might, we would be impressed by God's potency but miss the engaging humility of God's love. Just as God's words were proclaimed by an inarticulate youth, so God's redemptive love was made known through a Galilean carpenter. The raw power of God would frighten us, but God's strength in the form of weakness moves our hearts. The weakness of God is consistently stronger than the strength of humanity, and the folly of God is proven to be wiser than human calculations.
Lee Barrett Presbyterian School of Christian Education