Preaching Jeremiah 1:4-10
Sometimes people are honest enough to tell me their objections to the Bible. They will quickly add that they know the Bible is important, but it doesn't seem to speak to them. Written at another time in another culture, it is hard for us to see ourselves in the stories that we hear on Sunday mornings.
In this morning's scripture we hear of "the call" of Jeremiah to speak the word of the Lord in Josiah's reign (627 BC). Again it seems these words to an ancient Hebrew prophet have little to do with our time or circumstance. But let's look more closely, and let us see Jeremiah this morning not only as a prophet, for not all of us have been called to be prophets, but let us see Jeremiah as a believer, who is called to be a witness. How can we see ourselves in that picture? A believer, yes, but sometimes we are not comfortable with just going through the motions. We believe there must be more.
Someone said to me this week, "I just wish I knew what I was suppose to do with my life." Someone else said a short time ago, "Wouldn't it be nice if God spoke to me the way God seems to speak to other people?" God does speak. If God is to speak to us, does it mean it must be in ecstatic visions? It was so with Moses, and it was true with Isaiah and Ezekiel. Yet, there are other ways in which the living Lord says "I have a purpose for you." Counter to what some of us have experienced this week, life is not sound and fury signifying nothing. You are called with a purpose. God spoke not in a fiery vision but in a conversation to people like Samuel, Amos and Jeremiah. Hear again what God says to Jeremiah and what I believe God is saying to us. God says, "I formed you." It was long before you drew breath that God formed you in your mother's womb. Here we have the same word that is used in Genesis 2:7, the Creation account, where God makes humankind from the dust of the earth. You are formed by God. That means that you and I are created in the image of God. Imago Dei--Created in the image of God--I. D.--our identity is formed. When you are oppressed with feelings of worthlessness, remember you are a person of worth created in God's image. Before we disparage any person or denigrate any group, the word comes again to us: "They, too, are created in God's image."
I had a friend who dealt with teenagers in deep trouble. He had an inelegant sign in the place where he worked, but it spoke volumes about being created in the image of God. It said, "God don't make no junk." I apologize to all grammarians, but I suggest that we need to hear it and hear it again. In this scripture God says to Jeremiah, I formed you. God says, I knew you, and "knew" does not mean just a meeting or an acquaintanceship. It literally means loving approval. The truth is that we not only are created in God's image, but it is good. There are people here, within the
greater community, and around this world who hunger for loving approval. We, too, get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, because we try to find that loving approval in ways that will not last or satisfy. Yet the word comes not to Jeremiah alone but to us, "Before you were born, I consecrated you." It means that God has set us apart as witnesses. It is not only prophets and priests who have been called to be witnesses. What you do with your life is as important as any other person that God has created.
Hear the call of God to you: You have been set apart for an important task. Your life is important. "I have anointed you." God is speaking to Jeremiah who was a prophet. We may not all be called to be prophets, but we are all called to be witnesses. The word "prophet" means "one who announces." Whether you have the specific gift of "prophet" or not, you are a witness of God's grace called to be an announcer of good news.
We are all announcing something. We are announcing gloom and doom or those painful episodes of the past that have not been healed for us. Despite our personal and corporate pain, we can announce the glad tidings of the gospel: You're valuable, you're created in the image of God, Christ died for you and has a place for you in His kingdom. How do we respond? How did Jeremiah respond? He said, "Well, ah, wait a minute, Lord, I ah, I ah, I ah, don't speak so well." That's when he said, "I'm inept." When we hear this call, it corresponds to the deepest desires of our heart, yet we say, I'm inept. We say, if you give me a little more training, then maybe I'll be your witness in the place where I work; then maybe I can speak a word against racial injustice in my community, but not yet. Jeremiah says he's a child. We say "I'm too young." "I'm too old." "I'm single." "I have a family." There's always a reason, yet God's call is not burden but possibility. Admitting our limitations does not disqualify us to be witnesses; it is a part of being qualified. In our weakness, we find God's strength.
What is it then that Jeremiah fears when he is called? (Who said anything about fear?) God cuts to the heart of the matter, "Do not be afraid of these..." (v. 8, NRSV). If you read the book of Jeremiah, it's clear. There were people who made him a laughing stock. There were people who mocked him all day long. Isn't it natural to be afraid of the faces that would reject him, ridicule him, count him as not acceptable? (Who said anything about faces?) Hold on to your prejudices, this is a place where the King James version gives us a more haunting picture than the NRSV: "Be not afraid of their faces." The preacher would do well to get in touch with his or her own gallery of faces that keep us from being a witness. We are afraid of the faces in the crowd, our peers; faces from the past. If this is true for us, don't we have a link with those to whom we preach? It is in the conclusion of verse eight that we and our hearers have hope as we seek to be witnesses. "...I am with you to deliver you says the Lord."
Gary D. Stratman Springfield, Missouri