People of God's
a sermon based on Jeremiah 1:4-10
by Rev. Frank Schaefer
What we have just listened to is one of the most powerful calling stories preserved in
the Judeo-Christian tradition. It has resonated with believers throughout the centuries,
not only because in it we find signs of hope for a higher purpose in an otherwise ordinary
human life, but also because it reflects our frail human response and God's empowerment.
We can identify with Jeremiah's words, " Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am
__________ ." You may fill in the blank for your own weakness. God has heard all of
the human choices to fill in this blank:
Abraham was too old.
Miriam was a gossip.
Jacob was a liar.
Elijah was burned out.
First David's armor didn't fit, then he had an affair, and had someone killed.
Solomon was too rich.
Isaiah had unclean lips.
Of, course, we just heard that Jeremiah was too young.
Jonah didn't like the job (evangelizing those Assyrians).
Amos's only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning.
Naomi was a widow.
Peter was afraid of death.
Thomas was from Missouri (the "show me" state)
Paul was a murderer.
Mark was rejected by Paul.
Timothy had ulcers.
Lazarus was dead.
Martha was a worry-wart.
...or so they claimed, before God's Spirit empowered them to rise to the occasion and
become some of the greatest heroes of our faith.
Let's zoom into this interesting conversation between God and Jeremiah. The first thing
that jumps out is how much God is--or wants to be--a part of this boy's ordinary human
life: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I
consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Perhaps you and I listen to this conversation and God's words begin to vibrate in our
soul; a spark of hope is fanned that God may not just speaking to a boy some 2500 years
ago; but somehow God is also speaking to . . . me. Somehow. In some mysterious, yet so
very powerful way we may hear God whisper to us, and if we don't, we wish we would.
Not much else would matter if we knew that our life makes sense in the grand scheme of
things; that, ultimately, my life matters; that, somehow, I have been destined to live in
this time, in this space, in this body, to make a difference. If God said these words to
me, my attitude would certainly change. My struggles and my frustrations would seem more
bearable. Hardships, temptations, failures, and losses would loose their sting.
As much as we wish we could, we cannot claim these words for ourselves. Jeremiah's
calling account may inspire us, may make us hopeful, yet we have to hear God speak to us
personally. God calls different people to different minstries, yet they are all ministries
of the Spirit. There are many gifts and graces, yet there is one Lord and one body of
believers. Many of us have experienced God's calling in our own personal encounter with
God; and some of us may be on the brink of hearing God's voice. God often uses the
testimonies of others--Jeremiah's included--to plant a seed in people's hearts that in
God's time will germinate, grow, and blossom.
Most of us who have experienced God's call may understand Jeramiah's response: "I
am just a boy." I can understand--and even appreciate--Jeremiah's reaction. As
comforting and powerful God's words of calling are, they also place a tremendous weight on
a "mere mortal's" shoulders. God's call is never trivial, it always appears to
be a tall task. Jeremiah's response was very human--very realistic. How can one measure up
to such a "transcendent" job description of being God's mouthpiece?
And yet, God seems to expect us to rise to the occasion. Perhaps it is true that when
God calls, God also equips. If God knew us and even appointed us for a certain ministry
even before we were born, then God should know what he is doing. Perhaps we should give
God the benefit of the doubt and trust that God placed into us whatever it takes to get
the job done--even though we may not even know these qualities ourselves yet.
There was a time in my life when I thought of myself as the worst Christian around.
Just like any other Christian, I couldn't go a single day without sinning and failing in
some measure. I thought to be able to please God--to attain salvation. I had to be
perfect, I had to work hard and avoid all pitfalls. Never could do it! I remember
thinking: I don't even want a crown of glory, I don't even want a great big mansion in
heaven--all I want is to get into heaven; I'd be perfectly happy with a bandana and shack.
This all changed when I had a Jeremiah experience about 12 years ago, when God made a
claim on my life. It was then that I first understood that God really loves me totally and
completely. It was then that I realized that I might as well stop disliking myself, or
thinking lowly of myself. I realized that God accepts me as I am, with all my
mistakes--and in spite of them God still believes in me. So, I might as well do my best to
accept myself similarly.
Even to this day, contemplating these insights, I find peace, joy, freedom and
strength. Called to help rather than driven to fear, I am free to go work and create and
do and serve others in the strength of the knowledge that God loves me unconditionally and
that he has destined my life from the beginning of time.
There are many paralyzed Christians who struggle with low self-esteem. Wonderful,
talented, and Jeremia-like people who listen to that destructive voice inside: "look
what kind of Christian you are. Look at all your faults. What good could you ever do? You
are lucky if you can squeeze by heaven's gates..."
As God wanted Jeremiah to know, God wants to let you and me know: "I love you the
way you are. Even before you were born I knew your name. You are mine! You don't need to
work frantically in order to prove that you deserve to exist on this planet. You don't
need to own "beautiful" things or be a "beautiful" person. You just
need to be yourself, I know you're doing the best you can. I will never ask of you to be
someone you are not, or to do better than your potential allows."
Allow God's Spirit to encourage you and to breathe hope into you on this Sunday
morning. If you cannot hear God's word for yourself at this point in your life, at least
open yourself up for the possibility that God has an eternal claim, a divinely charted
destiny on your life as well. Open yourself up, allow yourself to be vulnerable to God's
personal word and calling to you. I believe from the bottom of my heart that all of us are
people of destiny--people of God's destiny. Amen!