Sermon for 13th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 16)

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
The Lord said to Jeremiah, "I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations." I answered, "Sovereign Lord, I don't know how to speak; I am too young." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!" Then the Lord reached out, touched my lips, and said to me, "Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak.

Why me? I can’t…?

It begins with a phone call. Through this phone call we learn that a close friend or neighbour or relative has met with tragedy. It's one of those calls that leaves us numb all over as we slowly hang up the receiver and then pass on the news to the rest of the family.

Our immediate reaction to the news we have just heard is a desire to reach out to that person. We want to be there with him or her. We want to say something, do something, anything that will help.

But then it hits us, and we say to ourselves: "What can I do? I have no special skills, no special training for dealing with this kind of situation".
As a friend, as a Christian, we want to do something. Yet when it comes to matters of how our faith might be able to speak to the grief and pain of a dear friend, we’re stuck for words. So while we truly want to do something of value, we feel incapable of it, and perhaps more often than not, we end up doing nothing at all.

May be we'll send a greeting card, or we'll pay a visit and talk about the weather, about the kids, about the cricket. But we're careful to avoid talking about what really matters: their burden, their pain, their grief. For though we might want to speak about these, and even though we may want to give them comfort from God's Word, we are hesitant, afraid. And when the visit is over, when we leave the bedside, we feel a tinge of guilt down inside. We wanted to touch the pain, the hurt, the grief - we wanted to speak about it - but we couldn't bring ourselves to do it.

It would be a rare Christian who has not choked when called on to do something that is way outside of our comfort zone. Every person who has ever been involved in helping and comforting people, in speaking God's Word to people, in doing something for someone that is out of the ordinary, is faced with those kinds of feelings. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Such feelings are not unique to us or to our generation. Today in the Scriptures we meet someone who felt very much the same way. We are given a description of the call of God to Jeremiah to be a prophet, and I don’t think we could call Jeremiah’s immediate response an enthusiastic one by any stretch of the imagination.

Jeremiah grew up in a small town near Jerusalem. We don’t know exactly how old he was but he is described as a ‘youth’ – someone in their teens. I’m sure he was a typical teenage lad. Everyone knew Jeremiah simply as Hilkiah’s lad, just another kid from the village, but God had other plans for Jeremiah. Not in his wildest dreams did he ever think that God would intervene in his life in such a way that things would never be the same again.

God said to Jeremiah, "Before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations." We know from his writings that Jeremiah knew his scriptures very well. He would have known how God called Moses who was much wiser and older than Jeremiah when he was called by God to be a prophet for God and look how difficult it was for Moses. And besides he would never put himself in the same category as the mighty leader and prophet, Moses, as God seemed to be suggesting. Jeremiah’s response - "Thank you God for the thought, but no thanks. I’m just a kid, who would listen to me. I wouldn’t know what to say and how to say it. I’m flattered that you thought of me, God, but you’d better pick someone far better qualified for a job like that".

Does that kind of response sound familiar? We may not put it just like that, but don’t we express the same ideas when we are called on to do something that is right outside of our comfort zone thinking that we don’t have the right skills to do something like that? It’s not that we don’t want to – we might say –but there are other people far better able to do something like that.

But God isn’t giving Jeremiah a choice here. He doesn’t say, "Hey Jeremiah, how would like to be a prophet – my messenger – and tell my people some stuff they won’t want to hear"? God doesn’t back down on what he wanted Jeremiah to do. "Don’t call yourself a lad, you are my prophet.

You see what has happened here. God doesn’t see Jeremiah as a boy from some obscure little village. He gives him a new identity – not a lad but a prophet.

God has given us a new identity. He views us in a special way and urges us to see ourselves not just as some insignificant person but as ‘royal priests and a holy nation’, ‘God's chosen and special people’ ‘chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God’ to use the words of Peter’s first letter.

Jesus claimed us as his special people at our baptism. He called us to be chosen people through the Bible. He has involved us in his saving plan; He has given us a new identity, as well as a new responsibility. And so just as Jeremiah was called to be his prophet, he calls us to be his disciples in the world and among the people we have daily contact. God is serious when he calls anyone to do something for him – Moses, Gideon, Amos, Isaiah and the 12 disciples found this out. I think Jeremiah had good grounds on which to back out of God's plan for him – after all who would ask a boy to do a man’s job – but God saw things differently.

So far, so good. Talking about Jeremiah having a new identity when he was called to be a prophet and the new responsibilities that went along with it, and noticing the parallel that exists with our call as baptised members of God's family and the new identity and new responsibility that it entails, all sounds very nice. But let’s get real.
When that phone rings, and we hear of someone in distress, or grief, or pain, we're faced with the question of whether we can or cannot bring a word of grace and healing, and comfort to that person.
When we are challenged to consider being involved in some kind of service to other people and it just doesn’t suit us (so we think), that’s when all this gets just a bit too hard.

And like Jeremiah we find ourselves backing off. That's normal. When the going gets tough, who doesn't want to find the easy way out? In fact, some of the times when God would have us speak are often some of the most difficult situations, those are the circumstances that we could possibly lose sleep over. It really is safer and easier to do nothing.

Again and again in the Bible we find people who were hesitant to take up God's challenges speak out when they were given the opportunity. Each time we hear Moses, or Jeremiah, or Jonah try to back out of God's plan for them we realise that our fears are no different and not unusual. When overwhelmed by the responsibility that we are facing, we suddenly face fears of inadequacy. We don't know what to do, what we will say, how we will cope in the situation. We feel we would much rather leave it to someone else and so we begin to make excuses.

However, in spite of how we feel about our feelings of inadequacy God does not relent and allow us to be ruled by our fears and conviction that someone else is much better suited then we are. When we look at the stories of each of these men, we find that God dealt with their feelings of inadequacy and their protests. He came to Jeremiah with words of reassurance: "Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!" Not only that, Jeremiah had the added sensation of God touching his lips, placing into them the very words he was to speak, the words of judgement and grace. God said: "Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak."

God makes the same promises to those whom he calls in the 21st century. We too are part of his saving plan.
We have been brought into his church,
we have been made Jesus' disciples,
we have been baptised and been made a part of Jesus' life, death and resurrection,
that means we are part of his saving plan for the world,
and he will help us in our times of hesitancy. Like Jeremiah we can be full of excuses and objections and ask ‘why me’.

But God's words to objecting Jeremiah ring in our ears, "Do not be afraid.... I will be with you..." And so assured with those words we can take the risk and step out in reaching to that neighbour in pain, that friend who would appreciate some guidance and help. Why should we feel paralyzed by what we perceive as a lack of competence, our not knowing just the right words? Who are we to judge the effect that the Word of God has in the lives of other people even when it comes from our own lips?

And remember we stand forgiven for those things that we lack, and we're assured that his grace will multiply our efforts when all we can offer is an embrace, a halting prayer, a few simple words in the Lord's name. It may seem that what we have to offer was so plain, simple and even inadequate, but be assured by someone who has experienced this over and over again - God has a marvellous way of using our seemingly inadequate efforts for bring about some good.

It's good to remember that the disciples Jesus chose were "nobodies" - they didn't have any special qualifications of holiness, or wisdom, or training, or potential. They were just ordinary men, who went about ordinary jobs. It is the grace of God that makes a person a follower of Jesus. And they trusted simply in the power of Jesus' word. Though they had been taught by Jesus personally, they didn't rely on their own abilities. They had been called and so they acted and spoke God's Word to the best of their ability and trusted the Holy Spirit would somehow use their efforts to bless others.

So when the phone rings and we hear the news which none of us wants to hear and we wonder what we could possibly do, remember Jeremiah!
When you know of someone who needs to hear an encouraging or a guiding or comforting Word and you hesitate, remember Jeremiah!
Remember Jeremiah who said: "Sovereign Lord, I don't know how to speak; I am too young."
Remember God's response reassuring Jeremiah,
"Do not be afraid... I will be with you".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th August 2007

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