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02.03.19 No Excuse Jeremiah 1:4-10 Sermon Summary

by on February 4, 2019

Some of the most dramatic times God speaks to humans in the Bible are in the “call narratives” of the prophets. Jeremiah’s is an example. But even today people say that God has “called” them. When people tell me God “spoke” to them, they usually also describe it as the Spirit “moving” them to do something. They’re not referring to an audible voice.

Often the sense of “call” grows over time. We rarely realize God’s call in the moment. It isn’t until later, when we’ve entered into God’s call, or even when we’ve completed it, that we say with strong conviction, “God called me.”

I believe this is what we see in most of the call narratives from the prophets. Obviously these accounts are not written in real time. It’s after the prophet has performed his ministry that the community preserves his utterances in text. If this is true of the prophets in the Bible, it might also be true of you.

If God’s calling upon us doesn’t include a voice, how does it begin? God’s calling in your life can begin when you . . .

  • notice something: No one else seems to care, but something catches your attention
  • have particular insight: You see a solution or a perspective that no one else does
  • have trouble in your spirit: Something isn’t sitting right with you
  • experience a disturbance or disruption: An unchosen event has interrupted your plan
  • have a hunch, intuition, or sense: Something slowly or suddenly enters your consciousness
  • have a premonition or fear: The first words of divine messengers in Scripture is almost always, “Do not be afraid.”

If you want to hear God’s call in your life, pay attention to these things when they occur. And you can also give attention to them. Open space in your life for them. Spend time in quiet, meditative prayer. Go for a walk. Pull out the earbuds and leave the phone in another room.

Jeremiah said he heard God’s call. We’re told he made excuses not to follow. He’s not the first to try. Moses said he wasn’t eloquent enough. Isaiah said he was too sinful. Jeremiah says he isn’t ready. “You can’t be calling me,” he says, “I’m just a boy!”

Commentaries tell us that he’s not referring to being young but rather that he’s merely an apprentice. God’s response is to reframe Jeremiahs’ excuse. “You may feel like you’re not ready,” God says, “but I have been with you longer than you know. I’ve been watching you from the beginning. I knew you before you knew me. I envisioned this calling before you asked. I created you for this. You’re ready now.”

This is one of the main points of Ephesians. God “chose us before the foundation of the world” and “destined us for adoption” the opening chapter asserts. Then Ephesians 2:10 concludes, “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” When you sense God’s calling, however it begins for you, the timing is right. God has prepared you to hear this call.

Whenever I feel apprehension about God’s call (which is most of the time) I try to remember this truth. I remind myself that God has delivered me this far and didn’t do so only to abandon me now. It doesn’t take the anxiety away, but it does allow me to keep listening.

To understand why Jeremiah made excuses, it helps to know his context. He lived at critical juncture in the history of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The north had long been conquered by Assyria, but that rule was beginning to crumble. In Judah, King Josiah was leading a rebellion and a religious renewal by emphasizing the Mosaic Covenant. Moses taught that obedience to the law leads to blessing.

But things didn’t evolve the way they hoped. Josiah was killed in battle and both the rebellion and the renewal stalled. Babylon was ascending and would soon take over for Assyria and actually conquer Judah. During this time Jeremiah was called to be a prophet.

Prophets tell the truth (not the future), and the truth in this case wasn’t popular. They see what’s going on, and may see what’s coming, but the horizon of the future about which they speak is near to them. Jeremiah saw what was coming. He saw Assyria’s threats as God’s judgment. He believed Josiah’s reforms were the right way forward but then they collapsed. Then he saw the rise of Babylon.

Jeremiah was nervous to be a prophet in these times, and we can relate. Telling the truth can be hard. But just like God has been with us in the past, God remains with us to deliver us. In Jeremiah’s call narrative, God says, “Do not be afraid of the nations, for I am with you to deliver you.”

Salvation is a matter of God’s presence. It isn’t a protective hedge or rescue operation, but solidarity. God’s calling does not ensure success, but promises God’s delight in our faithfulness. Jeremiah’s prophecies did not prevent Babylon from invading Jerusalem, destroying the Temple, or deporting the people. But he experienced God sustaining him as he spoke the unpopular truth. Being afraid was no excuse.

I bet Jesus thought a lot about Jeremiah. Jesus’ message wasn’t popular either. “God saves you,” Jesus preached, “not through religious righteousness or political power.” Instead, salvation looks like love, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. “If you want to see salvation, look to me,” he said. “If you want to experience salvation, follow me.”

Jesus probably thought about Jeremiah as he told the truth to his disciples that he would be betrayed and crucified, but God would be with him despite the lack of success. Jeremiah was probably on Jesus’ mind when he broke the bread and poured the cup on the night of his betrayal. Jesus probably thought of Jeremiah when he was fulfilling his call, when he was speaking as a prophet, and when he was failing as the Messiah on the Cross.

Only after it was all over do we discover that Jeremiah was also thinking about Jesus. For even though it took another 600 years, God did save the world as Jeremiah prophesied, when Christ resurrected from the dead.

And now there is no excuse we can to offer when God calls us. For with the Spirit of Resurrection we too can speak the truth, live in the light, and fulfill our calling. May we recognize God’s calling and begin to live into it, and realize someday with conviction that God has indeed spoken to us in Christ.

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