First Mennonite Church
July 3, 2022
Speaking Worthy Word
Text: Jeremiah 15:15-21
Words, words, words. Words convey ideas. Words reveal what is in the heart and mind of people. Words have power, both to build and to destroy. Words spoken cannot be retrieved. Words are everywhere. We hear them from those who live in the chambers of power and from those who scream on the streets. Some speak eloquently and although you might have to take what they say with a “grain of salt,” others you cannot, even with a “spoonful of sugar.” People empty their minds with words over words in Facebook and other social media platforms. The air is polluted with words; thus, the sound of words is deafening in our world today.
As a prophet, Jeremiah was given a task that involved speech and words. Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry consisted in building up with words, but also of tearing down with words. He had no choice, but to speak the words Yahweh put in his mouth.
In chapter 15, we see Jeremiah is having a very difficult moment in his life. Jeremiah is panting, exhausted, and ready to explode, not only because the message is difficult to deliver, but also because of the personal consequences it is bringing on him. His call has proven to be beyond his capacity endure. Thus, he pleads: Lord, you understand;
remember me and care for me.
Avenge me on my persecutors.
When God called Jeremiah, God promised he would deliver the prophet when his life is in danger. However, at this time in Jeremiahs ministry, he feels God has come short of his promise. So, the prophet pleads with God to remember him, to spare his life, and to vindicate him. Jeremiah wants God to confirm the rightness of his words to those who violently oppose his ministry. So, he prays: “In your forbearance, in your “longsuffering” and patience, Lord, please do not take me away, but consider my suffering for the sake of your name.”
The prophet then reminds God about the excitement Jeremian had when he first became a servant of the word.
When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.
According to a Barna study, about 38 per cent of pastors seriously considered quitting ministry shortly after the pandemic. And it is expected that percentage will only increase due the worsening toxicity and polarization of society and the social unrest that it all stirs. The church is a microcosm of its social context, therefore, every issue that is of concern or that is affecting society is likely to be reflected among those who fill the pews of the church.
The other day, I was reading an article about pastoral burnout. The author of the article tells of the excitement he had upon finishing his seminary studies. He was looking forward to entering the pastorate. He was joyful and confident in God’s calling to study God’s word and to preach it. After many years in ministry and as churches began to reopen after the pandemic, however, he could not take anymore the stress of doing ministry. He was physically and emotionally drained. Remaining faithful to God, he said, often felt like standing alone because God’s word does not fit in any side of the divide.
That was exactly what Jeremiah was experiencing. Receiving God’s word was joyous and delightful at first. Speaking on behalf of Yahweh and bearing the name of Elohim Sabah (God of the Armies) was indeed an excellent honor and privilege Jeremiah had. But because of the message Jeremiah had to proclaim, he was being excluded when people were merry making. Jeremiah was left to sit alone and became friendless because of the task God had given him.
So, he continued his lament before God.
Why is my pain unending
and my wound grievous and incurable?
On the one hand, Jeremiah lamented the consequences of his calling, on the other, he could not abandon it either. God’s hand was on Jeremiah; thus, he had no option, except to empty his heart before God.
Lament is the result of a tridimensional sense of pain. There is the inner pain, like the sense of abandonment and despair in the lamentor. There is also the external source of pain, and this can be like of those who undergo, long periods of illness. There is also the spiritual source of pain, and that can be a spiritual crisis the person might experience. There might be guilt before God or deep questioning as to whether there is some unknown reason for their suffering. Lament before God usually happens when people realize that they have done everything right and still yet they are suffering.
But then, Jeremiah accuses God of being the opposite he said he is. God had said he is the “fountain of living water” (2:31), but Jeremiah tells God that he is “a deceitful brook/stream.” God has become to Jeremiah like a wadi, a ravine in the wilderness that gives signs of hope to the tired and thirsty traveler, only to find it is nothing, but a dry sandy riverbed.
As we see, God does not rebuke Jeremiah for accusing God. God does not defend himself either. Instead, what God tells Jeremiah is a word not only for the prophet but for anyone who is under the compulsion of God to do what is right in the world. And that includes you and me.
“If you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman.
This word of God to Jeremiah is a word for all of us. Anytime it creeps in our heart that God is not doing what he is supposed to do for us, we should come back to God—repent. In such circumstances, the Spirit of God might be calling us to search our heart and see where we might be failing God. God never abandons us. God is always there seeking our wellbeing, although not always according to our own perspective. God always desire to use us for his cause—to be his spokesperson. However, the choice is ours. If we choose to utter worthless words, we will neither be restored by God. Earlier in this book, God accuses Judah of “following worthless idols only to become worthless themselves” (2:5). So, here, Jeremiah was given the option: to speak worthy words or to speak worthless words. The whole world would become Jeremiah’s friends if he chooses to speak worthless words. Jeremiah’s troubles would come to an end if he chooses not to speak the words of Yahweh. However, if Jeremiah chooses to continue speaking worthy words, God will restore him and will use him as his spokesperson.
What kind of words we want to speak this week? We will not face opposition if we choose to speak the language of the world. In fact, the world will love us. But if we want God’s calling upon us to be powerful, if we would like to be used by the Lord, we need to speak the word God puts in our heart. We will be of great service to the Lord if we exercise caution of what comes out of our mouth. We will be doing the world a great favor if the words we speak among our friends or those we post online are indeed worthy words.
Let me close with the words of Pual in Ephesians 4:29, 30:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Amen!