Mark Twain once quipped, “A self-made man is like a self-laid egg.” I like that. None of us create ourselves.
Eugene Peterson, a wonderful pastor and scholar who has recently passed away, wrote, “We are known before we know … We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a life already provided for us. We arrive in a complex of relationships with other wills and destinies that are already in full operation before we are introduced. If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by Another. And this other is God.”
Our life is not just our own; it is one small part of a great story of redemption. We are not to live our lives just for ourselves, but to be a part of this great wave of history, where all of creation enters into the Realm of God: a Realm of compassion and justice.
The book of Jeremiah starts with God speaking to a boy. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
And Jeremiah responds, “Hey! I’m just a kid. I have no idea how to do the things you’re asking of me! No one will listen to me!” He can’t see beyond the horizon of his own self-limitations; he feels inadequate and ill-prepared.
God’s response to Jeremiah’s protest is two-fold: 1) I am with you; and 2) I will give you the words to speak. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Jeremiah is called to a task bigger than himself, but the good news is that it is not his task alone to complete.
It is God’s mission, and God will provide him the words to speak. Even more to the point, God will be with him in the midst of the struggle.
“I appoint you to be a prophet to the nations.” That’s who Jeremiah is created to be, the very structure of his bones, his place in the great wave of history.
And then God goes on and touches Jeremiah’s lips, and says, “Now I have put My words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant…. So gird up your loins. Stand up and tell the nation everything that I command you, and do not back down.
This is who he was created to be. This was his calling. But what does he do with it?
Before and breathe, or a thought or a desire come out of us, God creates us. And God puts in our hearts what is expected of us, what is our place in the great wave of history.Now, what are we to do with it?
We know, don’t we? The prophet Micah puts it short and simple: “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) We know what we are called to do. Now what do we do with it?
We know about loving my neighbor as ourselves.
We know we are to strive for justice in the face of an elite group of “haves” and a mass of “have-nots.”
We know we are to strive for peace in a nation that depends on war to get its way.
We know we are to respect the dignity of every person so there will no longer be prejudice against other races or orientations, against the poor and vulnerable.
We know that we have made a covenant with God. Deep down in our hearts, like Jeremiah, we know what is right. But if we seriously live out God’s call to us, what will happen to us? Do we ever wonder? Every mature Christian must realize that it is not only Jeremiah that endures this predicament; each of us must feel the tension between preserving our own comfort and security and obeying God’s will.
Today, our country is being fueled today by fear. Security is so important that 61% of us approve of torturing prisoners under some circumstances. Small children are imprisoned in inhuman conditions, because those of us who have comfort and security are afraid of those at our borders who have neither of those things.Where is God in our fear? Where is the calling to the Realm of God?
Jeremiah knows this tension. He is been called to ministry greater than himself, a purpose grand and holy that has very little to do with his own safety, security and comfort. And he feels a fire in his belly so consuming that he is compelled to obey. And, despite his common sense, he does obey.
“Thus says the Lord!” he cries, for God has put the words in his mouth.
“Thus says the Lord!” he says to his people and his nation: “The Lord your God is jealous for you. God called you to be a chosen people but you have perverted God’s ways. You say, “in God we trust” but you rely on the stock market, and the wall, and the security officers, and you chase after the gods of this world. Repent of your ways, for your ways do not honor God.” (Jer. 3)
No one wants to hear that they are idolaters who trust their bonds and pensions more than they trust God.
No one wants to hear that their security comes at the hands of unjustly imprisoning and exploiting others.
No one wants to hear that God is displeased with them after they have created a society that works very well
for themselves, if not for their neighbor. Nobody wants to hear it. And they make the life of the person who speaks the truth miserable.
Later, after a life of calling judgment upon the nations and being mocked and beaten and called a traitor because of it, Jeremiah strikes out at God and says, “You raped me.” (Jeremiah 20:7) (That’s the actual word scripture uses. Our translations of Jeremiah say, “You enticed me” or “You seduced me”- but the actual word is much more violent.) “You have raped me. You have overpowered me and forced me into my calling,” it says. And Jeremiah tells God that he’s giving it up, that he’s not going to prophesy against the nations any more. He just wants a quiet, secure, peaceful, happy life. Is that so much to ask??? And he throws in the towel… but in turning his back on God, he turns his back on himself. His spirit breaks as he denies who he is, and where God has placed him in the great wave of history.
“In this lament, Jeremiah speaks of a fearful part of life with God that we’d rather not think about –
the fact that God’s call on our lives may cost us everything that we hold dear. Jesus speaks of the same uncomfortable truth: ‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:39). But even at this low point, years into his ministry, Jeremiah realizes the truth of the promise God gave to him right at the beginning of this ministry:God will not abandon him; he is not alone. The God who will not let him off the hook is also the God who will not let him go.” (Kathryn M. Schifferdecker)
And in the end, through the struggle and fear and conflict, Jeremiah finds- we find- that when we give up our lives to follow God’s call, we live the life most worth living. We live what we were created to be and do, and we become most truly ourselves.
For our life is not just our own; we are one small part of a great story that started far before we were born.
And we must not live our lives just for ourselves, for we are a part of God’s great wave of redemption.
In the Name of the One who never has, and never will let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Prof. Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, workingpreacher.org for Aug. 25, 2019; Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, 2nd edition, InterVarsity Press, 2009, pg. 39. Rev. Richard T. Hawkins, 2005-12-18 sermon
JEREMIAH 1:4-10, 17
These are the words of Jeremiah, the prophet of God, called before he was yet a man,
to speak forth the powerful word of God:
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah Lord God! I don’t know how to speak, for I am only a boy!”
But the Lord said to me, “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.
Then the Lord put out a hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put My words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant….
…Now you, gird up your loins. Stand up and tell the nation everything that I command you, and do not back down.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.