30 May 2021 Naming and Calling Martin Baker
1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 ‘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.’
6 Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7 But the Lord said to me, ‘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. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ 9 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. 10 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.’
Have you ever been talking to someone and seen their eyes drift away, and they notice someone over there? Over your shoulder. And you just kind of know that they would rather be in conversation with that person, rather than you?
For me it’s not a problem, not having eyes that point in quite the same direction at any one time - no one knows who I’m talking to.
But that sense that someone would rather be talking to that other person in the room. That there is a more important conversation to be had than the one they are having with you.
I do know a few people, and apparently the Queen is like this, people who are really good at appearing to be intensely interested in whatever the person who is speaking to them is saying.
And I also know people who do have a genuine and real gift for making other people feel that they and their opinions are valued. That they are important.
In one simple way we often get told about something that was central in Jesus mission.
Jesus never says ‘’oh didn’t see you there bent over, in the ditch or hiding away with your leprosy. Or up that tree ‘’
The wonder right through our Bibles of being known by God. Being formed and appointed, being called. To be noticed. Understanding that we are valued and we have a purpose.
The protestant reformation was based around what was then an extremely revolutionary claim - that we are all called, that there is no hierarchy when it comes to matters of faith and discipleship. This affirmation was called the priesthood of all believers.
The first letter of Peter, in our Bible says , ‘’for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.’’
It may not sound like much to us, but those affirmations changed the course of the history of the church, and the understanding of each member of the congregation.
So, this morning, though we reflect on Jeremiah’s call, we also acknowledge that there is a call made on all our lives.
In our reading today Jeremiah hears these words from God
5 ‘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.’
Then it seems as if Jeremiah is overwhelmed at this point. Like the call to Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. Moses never saw himself as a leader but God saw in him something. In the Book of Judges God calls upon Gideon, to free the Israelites from a heavy oppression. These people both called, and deeply conscious of their inadequacies.
How many times might we have been called or challenged, but have some internalised story going on about why we can’t do that thing?
6 Jeremiah said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7 But the Lord said to him,
‘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. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
It’s hard even for us to get past what someone looks like, to get past our knowledge or perception of another’s inadequacies.
A simple example, but I still remember that experience of breaking my ankle years ago, hobbling around on crutches and, I don’t know if you have had this experience, but people first noticed not you, but your crutches and then they looked for your injury. Before they looked at your face.
I think I would have saved a lot of time if I just wore a sign around my neck saying yes, its broken, Yes, I fell off a hill, yes that was a silly thing to do. So, let’s move on now and have a normal conversation.
God looks past all these protests by Jeremiah and we are told:
9 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. 10 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.’
Today we hear this word placed in Jeremiah’s mouth. It’s not just a simple metaphor here.
Our scriptures have a profound understanding of word. Dabah Yahweh. The word of God. We hear this phrase again and again. God spoke forth a word and brought forth creation. Let there be light, let there be order. The creatures are named. They’re given a word. And now, let there be justice, let there be righteousness.
I have put my words in your mouth. See today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build and to plant.
Jesus was described as the word which became flesh.
Churches like ours have taken these things especially seriously. Preachers in some churches were locked in the pulpit when they came to preach the word. A sense of sacredness and protection for what was about to happen. The traditional black gown I still have was to emphasise authority but also invisibility of the human speaker. God might be making use of this person, this weak vessel to once gain proclaim the word.
10 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.’
Six verbs are used to summarise the authorised word of God in the book of Jeremiah.
Pluck, pull down, destroy, overthrow, build, plant.
Jeremiah’s words were not easy words to listen to. All that pulling down, destroying, overthrowing. He saw the social wreckage around him. The destruction of the temple. The turning away to worship other gods who demanded even human sacrifice.
It wasn’t an easy time.
That song – “accentuate the positive eliminate the negative don’t settle for Mr in-between. “ That was not Jeremiah’s song.
A lot of the time he did the opposite. Accentuated the negative and eliminated the positive.
Think of what we do today. No one takes Instagram or Facebook photos of people looking sad or miserable, or families who are squabbling or photos of the kids going back to cold and damp homes.
And so in Jeremiah we actually find the false optimism behind a lot of popular culture actually being condemned as false prophesy.
But what we do discover, is that with Jeremiah, the word of God speaks into every situation. The truthful and the false.
We hear from Jeremiah that God’s word speaks not just into the happy times of building and planting but also into the times when things are overthrown and destroyed.
We are moving through this pandemic. Destruction and rebuilding.
There is no sense of triumph in the destruction. A terrible grief and acknowledgment of the consequences of things that have gone on. More evidence now that the virus may have come from a lab than a market trading in illegally slaughtered animals.
The powerful forces at work insisting that the Olympics should go ahead but the certain knowledge that the event will result in more and more deaths. Jeremiah would be asking about our priorities, about what was truthful and most important. Asking us about the consequences and origins of things.
And still in the midst of this the discernment to look at what it really means to build, to plant.
We know what it means to have destroyed, torn down, overthrown this last year.
But also, we are being asked through this, what does it mean to plant to grow to build?
Given all we have been through, all we have learned, what future are we wanting?
We think too of our own stories of loss and brokenness and what it has meant to build and plant in our own lives.
Those things that have been lost, the grief that has overwhelmed us, the homes and buildings and structures that we will never see again.
God’s word takes these things seriously. The pain and hurt and loss are real.
But still there is this word, and, as it has done since the beginning of creation, it brings rebuilding, planting, real, tangible signs of hope.
We come here this morning named by various words and labels. Spoken by different people. Broken ankle, deceiver, conceited, sick, bent, joyous, honest, loving, handicapped, poor wealthy. The word of God is spoken and all those transient labels fall away.
The word of God, we look to passages in Jeremiah like the one we heard this morning, that when God's word is being proclaimed nothing can stand in its way.
Not content with superficial or temporary. Putting aside the labels that can be so limiting and destructive for us personally and of our communities.
For the word of God to mean something it must mean that it can change things. Change us. Address us. Call us by name. People of the word. Bringing new creation. Doers of the word and never hearers only.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.