Sermon Ideas For Jeremiah 1:4-10 Part 3
Jeremiah's complaint to the Lord about his calling is classic Moses protested that he didn't know how to speak, too, even though he couldn't offer the youth and inexperience excuse that Jeremiah does. But the Lord had anointed lads before; and second-born, and eleventh-born, and quite simply whoever has the "right stuff" at the time for the particular task which the Lord has in mind.
The picture that paints a thousand words about Jeremiah is not one about his calling; for there subsequent events could only be clumsily foreshadowed. The classic is Rembrandt's1, the 1630 oil with his father as model, when all the heartaches and disappointments of messages unheeded and warnings ignored heap upon the old man's head as he laments not only the fall of Jerusalem, but the failure of his very conviction. And yet, his sense of calling, like Jonah's, was not to experience the glory of witnessing his prophecies come true, but to suffer the ignominy of being right about what would have happened if...
History has not been kind to the memory of Jeremiah; his very name has become a synonym for pessimist, and the word "jeremiad" now means a lamenting, mournful speech or opinion.2 But his contribution to scripture is too important to ignore, even as resident curmudgeon. It is Michaelangelo's rendition of a pensive, discouraged Jeremiah that recalls Mark Twain's epitaph: "A cynic is nothing but a disappointed idealist."
In the Sistine Chapel frieze, Michelangelo portrays Jeremiah brooding over the tragedy of Jerusalem's destruction, and perhaps of the seeming futility of his own witness. He sits with head bowed, his mouth covered by his hand; pondering, sorrowful, contemplative. He is a tired and dejected man, so unlike the winsome youth of this passage, lips afire with furious energy.
But hovering behind the wizened Jeremiah are the two Muses of every veteran ministry: The beaten-down personna on the left, with downcast eyes and defeated countenance, representing the urge to give up; to succumb to the despair of defeat, and the cynicism born of failure to convince. But the figure on the right seems animated by resolution. She wears a robe and hood as if pre paring for a long journey. She symbolizes the hope for the future, and determination to persevere on the pilgrimage of faith, because steadfastness and faithfulness are what God is about, and what a prophet of any era is called to be.
For all the burned-out Jeremiahs out there, too far removed from halting, innocent, youth, this poem's for you:
"These Are Not Lost"
The look of sympathy; the gentle word Spoken so low that only angels heard; The secret act of pure self-sacrifice, Unseen by men>, but marked by angels' eyes; These are not lost. The silent tears that fall at dead of night Over soiled robes that once were pure and white; The prayers that rise like incense from the soul, Longing for Christ to make it clean and whole; These are not lost. The happy dreams that gladdened all our youth, When dreams had less of self and more of truth; The childhood's faith, so tranquil and so sweet, Which sat like Mary at the Master's feet; These are not lost. The kindly plans devised for others' good, So seldom guessed, so little understood, The quiet steadfast love that strove to win Some wanderer from the ways of sin; These are not lost. Not lost, O Lord! for in Thy city bright Our eyes shall see the past by clearer light, And things long hidden from our gaze below Thou wilt reveal, and we shall surely know They are not lost.3
Ron Salfen Hartsville, Pennsylvania
1. The painting hangs at The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem (Rachleff, Owen S., Exploring the Bible, Abbeville Press, New York,) p. 215. 2. Ibid, p. 216. 3. The picture appears in Abrams, Harry N., The Law and the Prophets (Abrams Actbooks), New York, p. 343. The poem's author is unknown, but is quoted by Cynthia Pearl Maus in The Old Testament and The Fine Arts, (New York, Harper & Row, 1954), p. 641.