First Mennonite Church
September 6, 2015
O Boy, What an Excuse!
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Humanly speaking, could it be possible that Jeremiah’s mom knew what God was doing with her unborn baby while she was pregnant? What do you know about your birth, or of your childhood days? What stories did your mom or dad tell you about when you were a baby or young child? At home, Lilian and I have the tradition that on each birthday of our children, we tell them the stories of them when they were born and when they were “little.” Emmanuel did not cry at night when he was hungry for the first three nights. We had to wake him up to be nursed. Jasmine was a little “round ball” and a screamer when she was born. Madeleine came with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and she was purple/black and had to be put into an incubator for a couple of hours. Our children love to hear their stories over and over each birthday.
Jeremiah’s relationship with God began even before he was born. So, obviously, this relationship was not initiated by Jeremiah. It was initiated in the heart of God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God said to Jeremiah. God’s penetrating words in the short sentence, “I knew you” could have been terrifying or comforting to Jeremiah. This knowledge of God about Jeremiah was not while he was still inside his mother’s womb during the gestation period, but God said, “Even before you were formed.” Whether God was speaking of a philosophical knowledge or literal knowledge is beside the point. What mattered to God and particularly to Jeremiah was that God had gotten hold of Jeremiah’s entire life, from the very beginning to its very end. God had a plan for Jeremiah’s life. God’s calling to Jeremiah was not to be a priest, as had been for his ancestors. Jeremiah was given a higher calling. He was being called to be a prophet of God. A prophet who would call Israel’s leaders to turn away from their evil ways. He would be the prophet who would challenge and silence the false prophets. He would be the prophet who were to accompany the people of God into exile.
On several occasions Jeremiah’s life became a living message, both of hope and of judgment. He wept bitterly when Israel would not listen to the voice of God. Jeremiah acted out a message of judgment by buying a clay jar and breaking it before the eyes of the people. He told them that just as the potter crushes a faulty clay pot because it cannot be repaired, so will the Lord break the nations and Jerusalem (Chap.19). At another time, Jeremiah would get the word of the Lord at the shop of the potter (Chap. 18). At other times Jeremiah acted out God’s message of hope for his people. He bought a piece of land which was on the brink of desolation, yet indicating that God was going to bring back his exiled people to their homeland (Chap. 32). But the call to Jeremiah to be a prophet was not only for Israel but for the nations. And what God put in his “plate” was not an easy task. He was being sent “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, but also to build and to plant.”
Jeremiah grew up in a family saturated with God-talk. His father and his ancestors were all priests. Therefore, on the day he heard the voice of Yahweh, Jeremiah might have not been surprised. Upon being called to be a prophet, the image of Moses might have popped up in the mind of Jeremiah. Moses, too, was a prophet who uprooted, destroyed, and tore down the power of Egypt. Moses build the house of Israel and planted it on the Promised Land. Jeremiah understood very clearly the reason why God was calling him. God was giving him a very difficult task at a critical time in the life of Judah.
Judah was experiencing all kinds of trouble. False prophets had been giving false assurances in light of imminent threats both from the Egyptian pharaoh and from the Babylonian invading army. There was great confusion and the people were getting desperate. Jeremiah understood the implications of his calling. But Jeremiah also knew right away how to answer God and avoid the call. “Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am just a young boy,” Jeremiah responded to God. Jeremiah might have envisioned becoming a common priest at the most. However when God called him and spelled out the mission for his calling, Jeremiah immediately realized how incapable he was. He was just a young boy who could hardly express himself.
God called men and women along the pages of the Bible. He called Adam, Abraham, Moses, Esther, Isaiah, Paul, and all those great men and women we read about in the Bible. Also, many of them responded with excuses at the time of their calling. Moses said he had a terrible speech impediment. Isaiah said he was an awful sinner. Gideon said he was an insignificant young man among his own people. Yet the deeds of all these mighty men and women are the inspiring stories of faith we now find in the Bible. Were their tasks easy? No. Were their assignments without pain or discomfort? No. Were they promised self-promotion and grandeur? No. Everything they did demanded sacrifices. Everything they did was done with the conviction that God had called them to do it, even when other could not understand or see it that way.
Jeremiah said, “O Sovereign Lord, I am just a boy. I cannot even express myself well.” Oh boy, what a terrible excuse that was! First because God never fails. God does not make mistakes when he does something. That is because God does not call the strong because of their strength. God does not call based on human abilities to carry out his work. God calls because he is the one who empowers and enables the weak and the untrained. Secondly, when God calls, who can resist him? God does not negotiate. He did not negotiate with Jeremiah. God did not lessen his task. God did not try to convince Jeremiah with logical explanations of why, and how. God simple reiterated his call and said, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “I have put my words in your mouth.”
From that day on, Jeremiah’s life was dedicated to the Lord. We will continue to explore his amazing prophetic ministry in the coming weeks. But just by seeing the extent of his writings, both in the book that bears his name and the book of Lamentation reveal how important of a ministry Jeremiah had. Within his writing are the most beautiful words of hope and consolation we can find in the Bible. Also within his writing are razor-sharp words of judgment. Jeremiah surrendered his life to the God who called him.
It is likely that neither your or my calling by God was as dramatic as Jeremiah’s. Yet, our calling is just as clear as it was for him. We are here before the Lord, not by accident or because of our desire. We are here today because God has a plan for our lives. Today, God is calling us to serve him at a very difficult time in the world. There are all kinds of challenges. There are all kinds of human problems. There are all kinds of external challenges to our Christian life. Yet the first and greatest challenge we all have is the internal one. When we allow the situations we are in to determine how we will answer the call of God, it is likely that we will begin by giving all kinds of excuses.
When God calls us deepen our relationship with him, we might reason that we cannot pray without ceasing because we have to focus on the road we are driving. We cannot dedicate time to pray in the morning because we go to bed late at night. We cannot go to prayer meetings because we are so tired after a long day of work. We are too busy during the day and extremely tired at the end of it. And we pray, “Lord you know how tired I am. Amen.” It’s a prayer and yet it is an excuse.
When the Lord tells us to speak about him, we are ready to say that we do not understand much of the Bible. Yet, if we do not make enough effort, the only day we touch our Bible is on Sunday morning.
When God calls us to give, we present our list of priorities we want first. And besides that, God know so well we should be wise with the use of our money. “Money is tight these days,” is the reasoning today.
Jeremiah’s excuse was, “Oh Lord, you know I am just a boy. I cannot speak! But God showed him it was a very poor excuse. You will go when and wherever I send you and you will speak the words I give to speak. Do not be afraid for I will be with you and will rescue you.”
God is calling us. Let us not look at ourselves in light of our brokenness or inadequacies. Let us allow God to build us up and to empower us to put forward steps of faith, trusting that he will provide what we need to fulfill his calling. Amen!