The Prophet’s Words – August 25, 2013 – Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10

I recently read a book about a minister from Texas. She was a young minister about 28 years old. She was serving a small congregation in Texas that had hired her right out of college. They promised to pay off
her student loans if she went to seminary. She had been out of seminary for 3 years and serving as their minister for about 6 years.

The congregation was middle or upper-middle class. They were proud of themselves and worried about their Sunday morning show. She had become disgruntled with their focus on Sunday mornings and ignoring their opportunities for ministry in the community. She had just finished a sermon series on giving to the poor. She feared it had fallen on deaf ears.

In a bold move, strongly convicted by her commitment to serving the poor,
she sold all their plates and crosses used at the Table for communion.
She sold their table service and gave the money to the poor. The church Board was upset about her selling the gold set, but would forgive it.
They figured they’d still have their silver set, but she sold the silver set, too. The congregation was left with cheap baskets and trays from Walmart to serve communion and collect their offering.

She, as a prophet, tried to challenge her congregation to be as committed to the Gospel on Monday through Saturday as they were on Sunday mornings.
This type of commitment to serve the poor against worship Sunday morning
was the same type of conviction Jeremiah had when God called him to be a prophet.

The book about the prophet Jeremiah begins with the story of his call
to speak the word of God. Jeremiah protests his calling citing his young age. God has never allowed age to stand in the way of fulfilling the Lord’s purpose. “God regularly seeks young people for divine work, including, Jacob, Joseph, Miriam, Gideon, Joshua, Samuel, David, Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego, Mary, Jarius’ daughter, and Timothy.”
Jeremiah was about 24 years old when God called him to prophesy.

Regardless of his age, God had prepared Jeremiah for ministry through his family’s faith. Jeremiah came from a family of priests. In the Jewish history, all priests came from the tribe of Levi; though not all Levites were priests. The family he came from was sent away from Jerusalem during the time of King Solomon’s reign because they strongly opposed the Kingdom’s indulgence. The family thought the Kingdom was more committed to economic and military pride than to God’s call to take care of the poor and widows. Their conviction and their outspoken condemnation of the Kingdom ran deep in the familial line. With this family’s background, Jeremiah’s call to preach was to “make public what he already felt in his heart.”

Jeremiah preached at a time when the people of God were in a time of transition. The Kingdom of Israel had already split into 2 nations; one which was more prone to pleasing God and one that was less than pleasing to God. At the time, the throne changed hands rather quickly. Some kings served a year or 2 while others served 40 years. Jeremiah served during the reign of 5 kings, beginning with King Josiah who reigned 40 years, a sign of his devotion to God. Josiah’s reign was noted for his religious reform bringing the Jews’ cultic practices to be in line with the Biblical commands of God so the Kingdom of Judah experienced a time of peace under Josiah’s reign.

Babylon had also taken over the Assyrian empire and King Nebuchadnezzar ruled in Babylon. Israel had already fallen to the hand of the Babylonian army and Judah had become a sovereign nation state of the empire. Late in Jeremiah’s ministry, he saw Judah surrender to Babylon and many were taken into Exile. After the Judah surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar, he placed a king on the throne who would serve his purposes. In this environment, Jeremiah’s task will not be easy.

We know the Biblical themes of God’s love, mercy, and comfort. In the Psalm read today during the Call to Worship, we heard the Psalmist’s description of God as his refuge and strong fortress. We have all experienced God in these ways, especially His love and mercy through Jesus Christ. We don’t follow those thoughts through to recognize that God calls us to be the ones who speak words of love, forgive others, are the outstretched arms that provide a comforting hug.

While much of the work of serving God is showing God’s love and mercy, not all of God’s work is easy. That is what Jeremiah is leery of. Jeremiah has heard of other prophets or seen their work. He knows that being a prophet of God is a thankless job. It too often leads to prophets being shunned or being threatened with physical harm. The Lord recognizes this fear within Jeremiah and comforts him saying, “Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you” (v. 8).

God goes on to commission Jeremiah to specific work describing it with 6 verbs which express the difficulty of that work. His calling is to dig up, pull down, destroy, demolish, build and plant (v. 10). His work is more about destruction than building with words that will condemn practices in an attempt to encourage right practices and honorable actions. As he is reluctant to answer his call, he remains reluctant throughout his ministry with good reason. During his lifetime, Jeremiah was imprisoned and mocked. He endured physical pain and near death. But, always, God rescued him. Before Jeremiah could complain, God said again, “go.” As much as he protested his work, he ultimately named God’s word “a burning fire shut up in my bones” (v. 20:9).

A mentor once told me that it is important to share my call to ministry with a congregation, because it helps the church understand who I am and what I perceive my work to be. As I reflected on my calling this week, I find many parallels to Jeremiah’s calling, perhaps my reluctance or perhaps the fire within me to preach. I might also compare my call story to the story’s of Moses and Jonah.

When I was 24, I was taking college classes in the evening and working full time. I was required to take a Scriptures class because I was at a private Catholic school which required 2 religion classes of all students. For my Scriptures class, the required text book was a Bible. I didn’t have one, so I bought the suggested Bible. I read the requirements for class. I wasn’t a Christian, so I sold it to another student thinking I’d never have the need for a Bible again. Now, I have lots of Bibles!

A year later I became a Christian. One of the first Christian books I read was The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Warren talked about the importance of baptism so I got baptized. He also talked about the importance of discovering God’s purpose for your life, so I began to pray. I first thought God would call me to serve in a soup kitchen across from the church where I attended. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I studied the Scriptures about spiritual gifts.

I told my pastor that I thought I was being called to spiritual counseling. Well, she looked like a deer in headlights. She knew what that meant, but I had no clue. She told me to finish my bachelor’s degree then we’d talk more about counseling. I took a couple spiritual gifts inventories and they all came out with the same results. I had the gifts of shepherding and administration. I was beginning to understand why she was so shocked that I had discovered a calling so early in my Christian faith.

I began to explore what fulfilling this calling would require and lead to. I looked at how to become a spiritual counselor. I discovered that becoming a spiritual counselor would require me going to seminary. I looked into seminary and found that that is where pastors go to prepare for ministry. Then, I got the deer in headlights look.

I was not having any of that! I continued praying thinking I was hearing God wrong. I thought maybe I was being called to be a pastor’s wife though my boyfriend at the time had no intention of becoming a pastor. In hindsight, I can’t image why a self-proclaimed feminist would think being a full-time sidekick would be a fitting ministry.

So, I continued to pray. I told God that all Jewish priests in the Bible came from the Levites so there was a familial calling. I prayed to God that there was no calling in my family of pastors or priests so I thought I was free from the calling. A little while later, my aunt who knew I was thinking about going to seminary gave me some things that she thought I might like to have. They were from my great uncle who was a priest. What! Really! She gave me a cross of his and 2 photo albums of pictures from when he was in seminary. She told me a little about his ministry. Well, God got me. My attempt to escape the calling had failed.

Still, I wasn’t ready to answer the calling. I told God I wasn’t ready, wasn’t right for the job, and wasn’t doing it. God used that same aunt again to nudge me along. I received a care package from her with a bunch of little things from a trip she took. Included in the box was a gold charm of a whale’s tail. Immediately, I thought of the story of Jonah. Fine! “I give in,” I told God. The last thing I wanted to do was experience the contemporary equivalent of spending 3 days in the belly of a fish.
I was really quite sad about answering the call. I had finally gotten on my feet standing on my own. I had finally gotten my dream job and loved the people I worked with. I wasn’t ready to give up my life. I reluctantly moved ahead with seminary. This required a great sacrifice of me. I quit my job, left my friends, and moved 6 hours away from everything and everyone I knew.

I went to seminary still thinking I was going to be a spiritual counselor. The last thing I thought was that God was calling me to be a pastor to a church. While in seminary, the counseling thing didn’t seem to be panning out. The more classes I took the more I thought I was being led in a different direction, especially the Bible classes. I loved studying the Bible. For awhile, I thought maybe I would teach the Bible at a college or seminary so I started thinking about a PhD program. That didn’t seem to be panning out either.

So, I served a church as a youth pastor. That didn’t go well at all. I very quickly discovered I was not called to be a youth pastor. Then, I protested serving a church that would require me to preach every Sunday and finally landed a gig serving as the outreach minister of a large congregation. I loved that. I spent the following summer serving at Global Ministries and loved that.

After serving in outreach ministries, I thought I was being called to serve as an associate minister. Though, I knew that there are very few associate positions that didn’t include youth work. I took my first ministry out of seminary as an associate pastor that included youth ministry. That definitely was not my calling. I loved spending time with youth, but I didn’t enjoy the weekly youth group planning.

I started a blog. A person I was working on a regional committee with read my blog. She said that it seemed like I was trying to find a forum for my voice. I realized then that I had no outlet to teach and preach the things God was laying on my heart. When I was ready to leave that ministry and enter search and call, I finally accepted that God was calling me to a ministry that I could preach regularly. It only took me 7 year years but I finally found my place in the pulpit.

And, here I am. Still finding my voice and still trying to preach the word of God. But, for the first time since I answered God’s call, for the first time since I entered seminary, I finally find myself in a place where I can undoubtedly say, this is where God called me to and this is the work God prepared me for, though I am still learning and still being equipped. Now, I describe myself as a Prophet of Reconciliation.

May God continue to transform me and may God continue to give you gracious ears as I continue to grow in your midst.

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