Sunday, August 25, 2013

lessons from Jeremiah for a holy life

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today is the well known and rather haunting story of the calling of the prophet Jeremiah. And the story is important, I think, not only because it tells us about how one of the major figures of the Bible came to understand the plan that God had for him, but also because there are lessons in it that apply to each and every one of us.

The passage begins: Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, '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.

'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.' God had a plan for Jeremiah before he was born, before, as one might say, he was even a twinkle in his father's eye, the priest Hilkiah. And just as he had a plan for Jeremiah, he has a plan for each and everyone of us. Something that can be of comfort to us at moments of doubt, at the times when we wonder what it's all about and if our life is really going anywhere … and a reminder to us that we never have the right to play God with the life of ourselves or others. Life is a unique gift from; a God who knew us before he formed us in the womb; a life we have no right to interfere with by deliberate termination, murder, self-harm, or euthanasia.
The response of the prophet to being told that he is to be God's prophet is instructive: Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 

Jeremiah is not at all sure that he wants to follow God's plan. Small wonder: as he says, he is only a boy! Some versions like to translate the Hebrew here as 'young man' but the word used does actually mean boy. So he's probably only around 13 when God speaks to him and quite frankly he doesn't find the prospect of being a prophet appealing! He doesn't think he's suited: he's too young – no one will listen to him; he doesn't think of himself as being a public speaker – and if he's like most, the prospect of speaking in public terrifies him; the Holy Land of his day is a place torn by war and where the worship of false gods is rampant – being a prophet charged by God to tell people to repent of their sinful ways is likely to be a short career ending in a violent death.

And the truth is that we can all be overwhelmed by what it is that God is calling us to do. We may not be facing being a prophet to a hostile and adulterous people, but that doesn't mean we won't feel inadequate to doing what it is that God is calling us to do, whether that is being a missionary, exploring a vocation to the ordained ministry, or leading the Holy Life that all Christians are called to do.

There's a good reason for feeling inadequate – it's because we are. None of us are equipped to lead the life that God wants us to live. But that doesn't mean we should worry. Look at the answer God gives to Jeremiah when he voices his concerns:

Do not say, “I am only a boy”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you'

God already knows that we are weak. He knows – and he has chosen us anyway. And knowing that we are to weak to do it by ourselves, he lets us know that he will be there with us. Just as he tells Jeremiah 'I am with you' so he is also with us. And more, he will equip us to do what it is that he asks of us. Look at what he did for Jeremiah:

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. 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.

And just as he gave Jeremiah what he needed to be a prophet, so will he also give us what we need to lead the life that he needs also. And if at any time leading the life that God asks of you is proving difficult, if you're finding it tough and think that you can not do it, consider that Jeremiah also cried out to Lord that he couldn't do it, and God gave him the help that he needed. So too must we all pray to God for the help he will unfailingly give to all who ask to lead as he wills us to live … just as we must also pray for each other for the strength to endure to the end. Amen.

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