First Mennonite Church
June 5, 2022
Responding to God’s Call
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
When we read what God tells Jeremiah about the time he was still in gestation, we wonder if Jeremiah’s mom had any inkling of what God was doing with her unborn child. As for you, what do you know about your birth, or of your childhood? What stories did your parents tell you about when you were a baby or young child? Until recently, Lilian and I had the tradition of telling our children on their birthday the things about them when they were born or when they were babies. Emmanuel did not cry the first couple nights even when he was hungry. 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. We have two notebooks where we have in writing the funny things Jasmine and Madeleine said when they were young. 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, not only to Israel, but to the nations. A prophet who would call the people to turn away from their evil ways. He would be the prophet who would challenge and silence the false prophets. He would be the one through whom God would speak truth to power. And he would be the prophet who would accompany the Judah 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 a potter destroys a faulty clay pot because it cannot be repaired, so will the Lord break the nation 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, by doing so he indicated that God was going to bring back his exiled people to their homeland (Chap. 32). 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. 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 to 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 dreamed of 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 others 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! God does not buy Jeremiah’s attempts to dodge the troubling work of his calling. God responds, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
God won’t take no for an answer. First, because God never makes mistakes. Second, it is because God does not call the strong because of their strength. God does not call anyone 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. Third, when God calls, who can resist? God does not negotiate. He did not negotiate with Jeremiah. God did not lessen Jeremiah’s task after his complaint. God did not try to convince Jeremiah that everything will go smooth. God simply 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.” Notice that God did not tell Jeremiah he had nothing to worry about. On the contrary, God told Jeremiah that when trouble would arise, God will be present and will deliver him. God’s calling is never easy. But God also promises to be present when we most need him.
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 Jeremiah’s amazing prophetic ministry in the coming weeks. The extent of Jeremiah’s writings, both in the book that bears his name and the book of Lamentation, they 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 or poignant as Jeremiah’s. Yet, our calling is just as clear as it was for him. We are here before the Lord, not by accident nor purely out of our own good nature. 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 forces we need to guard against from distracting or completely throwing us off course from following Christ. Yet, the first and greatest challenge we all have is the internal one. The greatest challenge we have in accepting God’s call is to believe that fulfilling the call depends entirely on our abilities. Let me assure you my brothers and sisters, the One who called you or is calling you today knows you, even before you were born. The One who has called you or is calling you has not and will never abandon you when difficulty comes in fulfilling your call. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” God is also telling you and me.
So, I want to take this opportunity to tell you something that might clarify the reason you are here today. First, God is reminding us that our call to follow Christ is not accidental. Although, I do not thoroughly believe in predestination, I do believe that when God gave us life, he desired for each of us to come to know him through Christ. He desired that we would come to him freely and joyfully upon knowing his love, as demonstrated in Christ. Secondly, God is also reminding us that serving him is not an easy task. The noble call of a prophet does not mean there would not be any opposition. The noble and unmerited privilege we have of bearing the name of Christ also comes with high cost. We are called to be a light in this world of darkness. We live at a time where anger, selfishness, pride, hunger for power, indifference and all the unredeemed nature of the human heart prevails. You and I have been called to show God’s redeeming power of love, generosity, humility, and the spirit of servanthood, care and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit. However, both our own flesh will put resistance to this call as well as the forces that would go against the light of Christ in us.
Now, let me share with you a more specific calling there is. Since April this year, we were left with the need for a new church board member and a representative/advocate to one of the Mennonite agencies we relate—Everence. Everence is the Mennonite agency that works with finances and which administers a church sharing fund. (Take a look at announcement on the bulletin board at the entrance for more information)
Also today, the church secretary we have had for many, many years, printed her last worship service bulletin. Again, thank you so much Elaine. Besides the need for a new secretary for the church board, we also need someone to print the weekly bulletins. Next week we will not need one because we will meet at the park.
For each of these posts we need church members, but if you are still not a baptized church member and want to become one. I will be offering new believers catechism soon, after which participants can get baptized. Pray about these needs we have and maybe you will hear God’s voice calling you.
So, once again, let us hear the word of God to Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
So . . .
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.” Amen!