Boy Scout Sunday: The Call of Jeremiah

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church 

Jeremiah 1:4-10

February 7, 2016

 

 

          I want to draw your attention to a quote at the top of the bulletin from Eugene Peterson.  You may know Peterson from The Message translation of Scripture.  In his memoir, The Pastor, he tells of his call to the ministry.  It started in his father’s butcher shop in Montana.  There, he learned important lessons from his father, which he applied to his view of the church once he became a Presbyterian minister.  Peterson envisions the church as a place “where we greet one another in Jesus Christ and where dignity is conferred.”[1]  I like his vision.  It means all of us have a calling to bring about this community.  We lift up one another.  We bestow dignity.

Speaking of calls, we’re looking at the call of Jeremiah in today.  Jeremiah’s call, dated by the kings of Israel, occurred around 627 BC.[2]  This was a turbulent time in history as the Assyrian empire was coming to an end as Babylon and its rivial Egypt gained power. Israel is caught in the middle. Jeremiah’s call is a lot like the call of Moses and Isaiah in that God calls a person to do something that they don’t think they’re capable or worthy of doing.  In his case, he’s young.  He’s probably younger than many of the Boy Scouts here today.   Read Jeremiah 1:4-10.

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Frederick Buechner wrote a lovely book titled Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who. It’s a biographical dictionary with brief yet humorous biographies on most characters from the Bible.  This is how he starts Jeremiah’s entry:

 

The word jeremiad means a doleful and thunderous denunciation, and its derivation is no mystery.  There was nothing in need of denunciation that Jeremiah didn’t denounce.  He denounced the king and the clergy.  He denounced recreational sex and extramarital jamborees.  He denounced the rich for exploiting the poor, and he denounced the poor for deserving no better.  He denounced the way that Israel followed after every new god…

 

He even denounced God for saddling him with the job of trying to reform such a pack of hyenas, degenerate ninnies.  ‘You deceived me,’ he said, shaking his fist.  You are ‘like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail,” and God took it…  But the people didn’t…[3]

 

Jeremiah’s call was a burden. His role was to bring a message of judgment, something never popular.  In Jeremiah’s case, it got him in all kinds of trouble.  He was despised; he was thrown in jail and dropped in a cistern.  Luckily there was no water in cistern, but he couldn’t get out until an Ethiopian took pity on him.[4]  After many of the Israelites were hauled away to Babylon in exile, Jeremiah went with those who sought refuge in Egypt.  Legend has it they got tired of listening to his rant and stoned him to death.[5]  Whoever came up with the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” could have been thinking of Jeremiah’s life.

Think about this.  By our standards, Jeremiah was a failure.  People didn’t heed his voice; they didn’t listen to his warnings.  Instead, they saw to it that Jeremiah was abused.  Why?  Jeremiah was a whistleblower.  You know, whistleblowers are often abused, whether it is in private industry or government.  They are condemned for their lack of loyalty even though their loyalty is often to a higher principle.  Jeremiah highlighted the sin of the people.  They didn’t want to hear it any more than you don’t want to hear it.  But what’s important is that Jeremiah remained faithful to God.  Even though the people didn’t want to hear him, he kept preaching because he knew he had to answer to a higher power.

The reason Jeremiah endured is because he was so sure of his calling by God to be a prophet in a time when Israel struggled.  God’s call came early. Jeremiah is told God knew him all along, even before he was conceived.  He was born to be a prophet.  And his words are still being heard.  2600 years later, Jeremiah is still being read.  Being faithful brings results, but it often takes time for the results to be realized.

There is comfort when you think about God knowing us before we were born, before we were even a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.  This means God has plans for us.  Yes, that includes you scouts!  Few of us are called to be a prophet on the magnitude of Jeremiah (who some suggests was Israel’s greatest prophet), but God does have a plan for our lives.  From Jeremiah, we learn the importance of basing our life on Godly principles.  We ground ourselves not in what we think is important, but what God wants us to do.

However, many of us are like Jeremiah in his response to God’s call.  Or maybe it’s Moses we’re like, who made a similar case as why he shouldn’t be called by God.[6]  Or maybe like Isaiah who wondered if his calling by a holy God was to be his doom as he was a sinner.[7]  We often question God’s motives.  “I don’t know how to speak,” Jeremiah said, “I’m just a kid.”  Have you ever said anything like that?

  • “I don’t know enough to teach Sunday School.”
  • “I don’t know enough about music to join the choir.”
  • “I’m not strong enough to stand up to the troop bully and demand that he treat every boy better.”
  • “I’m too shy or too timid to get involved and to speak up for what’s right.”
  • “I’m too scared to reach out to people who are different from me.”
  • “Who am I to go on a mission trip?”

 

God has granted us all gifts and opportunities to make this world a better place.  It’s just that we also have plenty of excuses.  Understand this!  If God wants us to do something, we will be given the necessary skills.  We need to trust the Lord!

It’s generally thought that Jeremiah, like Samuel,[8] was really young when he was called. God tells the boy Jeremiah he’ll have the necessary words; he just needs to be bold and trust God.  Although Jeremiah is called early in life, it appears he’s an adult by the time God used him in a major way.  His work begins in earnest in 605 BC, twenty years or so after his call.[9]  There’s time to be prepared.

I remember well a dream I had the spring before I began seminary.  I was questioning what I was about to do.  Should I quit a job, sell a house and move to a strange city to go back to school.   During this time I was restless and had some strange dreams.  In one that I remember, I heard a voice and felt sure it was coming from God.  The voice told me to go to seminary and not to worry for I’d know what I was to do when I had finished school.  It answered a concern I had and that voice in that dream gave me the strength to make the break I needed to make and go back to school.

Jeremiah is also told not to be afraid. I’m sure he found himself wondering about this when he sat in a dirty jail cell or was stuck in the mud at the bottom of that cistern.  I am reminded of my childhood hero, Alfred E. Neuman, and his iconic line, “What, me worry?”  In case you don’t remember Neuman, he was a comic character for Mad Magazine.   It is only when we know we’re working on God’s side, even if we fail by human standards, that we can take comfort when told not to worry.  Jesus tells us not to worry about those who can kill the body, but not soul.[10]

After responding to Jeremiah’s excuses, God places a hand on Jeremiah’s mouth, kind of like the seraph touching Isaiah’s mouth with a coal from God’s altar to cleanse it,[11] and tells the prophet that his words are now in Jeremiah’s mouth.  And then Jeremiah is sent out with God’s power to do the work of the Lord.

We’re not told how this call came about.  Unlike Isaiah, Jeremiah doesn’t see God’s throne.  Unlike Moses, he doesn’t have a burning bush.  But somehow he hears God’s call.  Although at first he tries to weasel out of it, he accepts his lot and goes forth to do God’s work.  This comforting, for God’s call isn’t always dramatic.  Sometimes it is more subtle.  Furthermore, like Jeremiah, it’s okay to question God.  Actually, I think it is a part of the discerning process, for as we question we learn and are given encouragement that we’ll need if we find ourselves in the bottom of a cistern.  Hopefully that’s not a literal cistern, but lots of us have been there metaphorically.

What do we learn from Jeremiah’s call?  First, it’s not about us.  It’s about God who calls us to do his work!

What is God calling us to do or to be?  I can’t answer this question for you.  That’s between you and God.  But remember we’re all called to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.  God not only calls us individually but also calls us collectively, as his people, to certain tasks.  I believe our collective call is to live into the vision of the church as illustrated by Eugene Peterson at the top of the bulletin. God’s calling us to create a place void of labeling, a place without gossip and a place where tit-for-tat exchanges are absent.  God’s call is for us to create a safe place for people with questions.  God’s call is for us to create place where dignity is conferred on all people.  Don’t you want to be a part of this journey?  One of the Great Ends of the Church is to exhibit God’s kingdom to the world.[12]  What might we, as individuals, do to live into such a call?  What might we, as the church, do to bring about such a vision?  What can you do to make this world a better place?  Amen.

 

©2016

[1] Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 40.  The full quote:  [A] Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them.  A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged.  It must never be a place where a person is labeled.  It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated.  Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’ name.  A place where dignity is conferred.

[2] Jack R. Lundbom, “Jeremiah,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) Volume III, 686.

[3] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 59-60.  Quote from Jeremiah 15:18

[4] Jeremiah 37:15, 38:6-13,

[5] Beuchner, 61.  Other legends have it that he lived out his days and died peacefully.

[6] Moses challenges God’s call numerous times.  See Exodus 3:11, 3:13, 4:1, and 4:10

[7] Isaiah 6:5

[8] 1 Samuel 3.

[9] Lundbom, III. 687.

[10] Matthew 10:28

[11] Isaiah 6:6

[12] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Order, F-1.0304.


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