Jeremiah 1:4-14 (NIV) – Scripture Text Follows Sermon
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – January 31, 2016
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
“The word of the Lord came to me…”
“The Lord said to me…”
“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me …”
“The word of the Lord came to me again …”
We just read all of these statements in our reading from Jeremiah, but how do we know it’s the word of God?
I mean … Is it really?
Jeremiah SAYS it is. But how do we KNOW?
How did his PEOPLE know?
How do WE know if God is speaking to US? How do we know it’s even GOD and not just some concoction of our own minds and hearts?
What about people who CHANNEL different spiritual entities? Is that what the prophets were doing?
I don’t know.
I know that, like some of you, I listen to many voices from different parts of the world and different parts of a theological spectrum … some Christian … some not.
And just like when I’m talking with somebody right here in the flesh, so to speak, I can tell if what they are saying resonates with me or not. Does it make sense? Does it leave me hopeful and optimistic about the future? Is what that person is saying in keeping with my values and my worldview? How do others, whom I trust, interpret the things that I’m hearing or reading?
I think it must have been the same in Biblical times when these prophets that we’re reading about in The Story were alive. Elijah, Amos, Hosea … ALL those guys. And over time, some of those prophets and their messages really resonated with the Hebrew people – and later on, they resonated with Jesus and his followers.
Jeremiah is one of those guys.
Jeremiah, Yirməyāhū, was the son of a Kohen, a Jewish priest. He started his ministry about 600 years before Jesus. (For us that would be like someone living in the 1500’s compared with us today.) He is credited with having written the Book of Jeremiah, but also with writing 1 Kings, 2 Kings and the Book of Lamentations.[i] Prolific guy. His influence is felt throughout the Hebrew Scripture, and, as you know by now, he wasn’t the CHEERIEST of speakers … his messages were often hard to hear, and he has become known as “the weeping prophet.”
When the nation of Israel was divided after Solomon, the northern kingdom (which was known by the name Israel – makes it complicated, I know) fell and Jeremiah (along with Isaiah who lived about 100 years before Jeremiah) lived in the SOUTHERN kingdom, known as Judah.
Now, we tend to be familiar with Isaiah. We read a lot of what he wrote … especially around Christmas. And Jesus quoted him a lot. (Well, actually, there were probably 3 people – or more – who wrote under the name of Isaiah … but I digress.) 😀
Isaiah and Jeremiah are very different in their writings:[ii]
Jeremiah, coming 100 years after Isaiah, was familiar and … well, let’s say comfortable with the reality of prophets being chosen by God and hearing divine revelation through them. And when God called him … as we heard in today’s reading … he wanted nothing to do with being a prophet. “Uh-uh … not me!!!” That was Jeremiah. A reluctant speaker for God.
But God just wouldn’t give up. I’m mean, God’s God … why SHOULD God give up? God’s gonna win no matter what. And sure enough, Jeremiah finally caved in and said, “Ok … what d’you want me to say?”
Today we’re focusing less on WHAT Jeremiah said than on the fact that God DOES speak through people. Did then … Does now. But NOW we tend to not THINK of those messages in terms of prophetic voices. And sometimes I wonder if we are MISSING the Word of God by NOT considering someone a prophet.
When I was preparing for ordained ministry, I served for a time as the chaplain in the Psych ward of Strong Hospital (at the University of Rochester) … what many of us know as “R Wing” because for years that was its designation. The wings of the hospital were all lettered and the Psych wing was “R.”
Anyway, there were a few people in there who felt they were modern day prophets. And there were one or two who thought they were Jesus or Moses, as well. It was easy for me … for all of us on staff really … to say that they weren’t and that they were living in some delusion of their mental illness. But I’m one who happens to believe that the Holy Spirit can work through anyone it chooses to … and I have to tell you that those were some of the most theologically profound conversations I’ve ever had.
How do we know it’s the word of the Lord?
How do we know if someone is a prophet or not?
How do YOU know when someone is telling you something True (with aa CAPITAL “T”)?
I think it goes back to what we were saying a few minutes ago:
- Does it RESONATE with you or not?
- Does it make sense?
- Does it leave you hopeful and optimist about the future?
- Is what that person is saying in keeping with your values and your worldview – which, in OUR case, we get from Jesus and HIS teachings?
- How do others, whom you trust, interpret the things that you’re hearing or reading?
There’s a lot for us to listen to in the world right now.
And some people pass themselves OFF as prophets when they outline their vision of the future. But the fact remains for me … that if their message does NOT hold up in terms of the teachings of Jesus. If they do NOT hold out the VALUES of inclusiveness and mutual respect … if they do NOT convey messages of optimism and hope … if they try and SEPARATE religion and daily life, then they are FALSE prophets because all of those things are contrary to what Jesus taught us.
Jesus is the FILTER by which we determine if someone is CREDIBLE … if someone is TRUSTWORTHY … if someone’s voice is PROPHETIC.
But here’s the kicker … God can work through false prophets, too … just like God worked through the people in the Psych ward. Through them, God can show us a BETTER way. God can use the negative, cynical, divisive message to point out what we DON’T want … to remind us of who we are NOT.
And … lest you think I’m going to let any of you off the hook … God can work through US, too.
WE are the Jeremiahs of our day. And most of us are just as reluctant as Jeremiah was to be put in that position. WE keep coming up with excuses, too, but God says to each one of us, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). Think about that for a minute.
Before. We. Were. Born.
God LOVED us.
God CHOSE us.
And God is STILL loving and choosing us today.
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb, Deborah. Before you were born I set you apart.”
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb, __________. Before you were born I set you apart.”
The message that God puts on our heart is that of JESUS … because we were grafted ON to him. The message we have to share with this hurting and hopeless, cynical and angry world is that Love Wins … EVERY TIME. Love wins because God is love and NOTHING is greater than God. So … nothing can win EXCEPT God …
If God wins … if LOVE wins … then there can be no fear because “Perfect love casteth out all fear” (1 John 4:18).
The world NEEDS this message. WE need this message.
And it needs people who believe it enough to dare to LIVE it and SAY it.
And guess what … that’s us!
That’s our JOB.
That’s our CALLING.
That’s our COMMAND from Jesus. We read it in Ephesians 5:1-2 … Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us (KJV).
Or as the Living Bible puts it: 5 Follow God’s example in everything you do just as a much loved child imitates his father. 2 Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice for you. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him.
We cannot be silent about God’s love and grace. We cannot be silent about the hope and the Light. And when people HEAR those messages, they will know beyond a shadow of a doubt … Oh yes … it’s really God speaking through them.
And what more could we ever want said about our lives???
Jeremiah 1:4-19 New International Version (NIV)
The Call of Jeremiah
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
11 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching[b] to see that my word is fulfilled.”
13 The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.”
14 The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.
[i] “Lamentations”, The Anchor Bible, commentary by Delbert R. Hillers, 1972, pp.XIX-XXIV.