Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Based on: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 The Call of Jeremiah: “But, I am only a boy”
Opening Prayer: Dear God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we express in response to your word for us from scripture, may all of it (offered in silence or aloud) be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.
When I think about the story of Jeremiah’s conversation with God about God’s plan for his life, the image of a teeter-totter or see-saw comes to mind.
On the one end of the teeter-totter there’s God and on the other end, there’s Jeremiah, a boy of some uncertain age, somewhere between kindergarten and high school graduation.
As their conversation unfolds, I imagine the God of scripture, the God of all Creation, God, the essence of the whole of the Cosmos as the weightier or heavier one of the two. Therefore, this God, the God of my imagination seems to have the most power in the dynamic.
Not only is my God closer to the ground than Jeremiah, my God is also more in control of the see-saw’s momentum.
By contrast, I think of Jeremiah as the lightweight or the less weighty one in the conversation.
Hence, I imagine Jeremiah as a boy of some indeterminate age as scripture describes him) and I imagine him sitting up much higher up on the see-saw, ultimately the more vulnerable and less powerful of the two.
In my version of the reading, I hear God speaking to Jeremiah from the more solid position in the relationship (or the teeter-totter if you will) as God calls out:
“Hey, Jeremiah! I’ve been wanting to tell you what great plans I’ve had in store for your life for a very long time.
In fact, your life’s plan has been on my mind from before you were conceived in your mother’s womb.
Are you ready to hear the plan?
And, then, as in all riveting conversations, my eye is drawn to Jeremiah, perched as he is on the top end of the see-saw.
I can see his developing Adam’s apple as he gulps and I can even imagine him jiggling on his end of the see-saw a little to bring some equilibrium.
Or maybe Jeremiah is just hanging on tight with his growing legs dangling on each side.
In response to God’s bold confidence in him, I imagine Jeremiah saying something like: “Uh, thanks for that vote of confidence in my abilities, God, but you know, even though I am the son of a priest, I am still only a young boy.”
This is how I imagine this first conversation about call and commissioning unfolding between God and Jeremiah, biblical prophet exemplar.
Living as he did some 600 years before Jesus walked the earth, Jeremiah was born into a time of chaos and uncertainty further shaped by national instability, shifting political allegiances, and the impending threat of the Babylonian invasion.
This is the backdrop of our story as we come upon this opening conversation between God and Jeremiah in the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah.
And so the conversation between the two continues.
In response to Jeremiah’s protestations of being too young to assume the yoke of a life of prophecy, one that will cause him unending heartache and marginalization and in response to Jeremiah’s excuse of not even being able to imagine what the language of prophecy might look like, God tells him this:
“That’s all right, son, I will tell you who to talk with and what to say, right down to the very words that will come out of your mouth. I will be with you each and every step of the way.”
And with that kind of promise, I imagine God swiftly re-arranging the dynamic of the teeter-totter bringing it into perfect balance so that the two can connect.
As connect they do with these words from our text painting a very evocative portrait of what happens next: “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth” and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
Then, with not a moment’s hesitation, God continues on to tell him this:
“See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy, and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Though we will pick up the threads of the conversation between God and Jeremiah in the coming weeks, for today, this is the point where our reading ends and our ongoing reflection begins.
This cycle of call, resistance, assurance, and sending is as familiar to us as numerous other stories from scripture-stories involving other key biblical figures whose first impulse is to resist God’s call. For example, Jeremiah’s call reminds me of those stories of call we have in our canon of a young Moses, a young Samuel, and a young David. Then there are the less resistant ones-Isaiah, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus himself.
Perhaps the story of Jeremiah’s call as a young boy also calls to mind for you what we talked about earlier in our learning time this morning.
Perhaps Jeremiah’s story reminds you of other stories of amazing young people called into ministries of prophecy, teaching, and healing.
People like Malala Yousafzai or Craig Kielburger, or even the many young athletes like Canadian swimmer, Penny Oleksiak competing at the Olympics at Rio these last couple of weeks.
Or, perhaps these stories remind you of our own varied and various calls from God at various pivotal times in our lives.
Perhaps they recall our own resistance to such calls; and then our own experiences of being nudged, nurtured, cajoled, or sometimes even pushed into ordered and lay ministry roles alike or into other forms of serving God far beyond the walls of the church.
For the last few weeks, we have been focusing on the roll call of our faith ancestors, a parade of a sort of those who went before as enumerated in the Letter to the Hebrews, one of the early church communities known to have been struggling at length with faithful living in a hostile environment.
Faithful living might not feel so very dangerous for us sitting here as it was for that second generation whose attempts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus or for many Christians around the world who live in great peril because of religious differences.
The good news for today?
I believe, we too, as a church family and a liberal theological denomination struggle to live faithfully in the midst of consumerism and apathy, we too can derive meaning and benefit from hearing God’s promises in scripture.
Whether through the stories from the book of Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or from the Psalms, God reminds us again and again:
“Do not be afraid, for I am always with you.”
Does God have a plan for our engagement with our faith?
Does God have a plan for our response to God’s call for our personal lives and our life as the church here and now?
I most certainly hope so!
So, my final thought for today is this: The next time God invites you into meaningful conversation, think of Jeremiah and his excuses, bring your well polished expectations:
Expect to feel challenged!
Expect to feel frightened!
Expect to resist and expect to be invited again and again and again.
But also, don’t get lost in the scary expectations.
Scripture tells us we can also expect to feel encouraged and loved and supported.
How do I know this to be so?
I know that God knows where we live.
I know that wherever two or more of us gather so also is God.
And for that I am most grateful!
I am most grateful to be called into partnership with a God who has known us from before we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs.
I am most grateful that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses encouraging us to run the race with perseverance.
As we anticipate responding to the blessing of being the church in this community in in the wider world, let us hear God’s good news for our lives this day, we heard read earlier this morning in the Letter to the Hebrews:
“Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe…”
May it be so, amen.