Thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-10

lifebelt-459753_1920When we meet Jeremiah he is young—scholars think probably about 19. He is from a priestly family and, as far as we know, was living a fairly comfortable life. Then God shows up and says to Jeremiah: “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Did you hear that? “I will rescue you.” When it comes to this promise of rescue, context is everything. If I am in the ocean, flailing against an undertow, I want to hear the lifeguard—or anyone for that matter—yell out, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll rescue you.”

But, if I am planning a trip to the beach, and my friend pats me on the arm and says, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll rescue you”–well, that’s not particularly comforting.

Jeremiah was not planning to be in a situation from which he needed to be rescued. But then, God called him to be a prophet. Fun fact, Jeremiah’s nickname is “the weeping prophet.” My husband likes to call him “the big crybaby,” but he was actually quite justified in his weeping. Throughout his prophetic career: Jeremiah’s life was threatened; he was beaten and put in the stocks; he was thrown into a cistern and left to starve; he was imprisoned; and he was forced into exile in Egypt. Indeed, Jeremiah had to be rescued by God on more than one occasion.

This tends to happen when people agree to speak and enact the word of God. I heard echoes of Jeremiah’s story in an essay from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]:

Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been arrested five times and put in Alabama jails. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near-fatal stabbing.

For King, as for Jeremiah, saying “yes” to God’s call put him in dangerous situations. It was the promise of God’s faithfulness that allowed both Jeremiah and King to say “yes” to the difficult work God called them to do in the beginning. And it was this promise of faithfulness that kept them going despite the struggles.

“I must admit,” wrote King, “that at times I have felt that I could no longer bear such a heavy burden, and have been tempted to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But every time such a temptation appeared, something came to strengthen and sustain my determination.”–That’s God’s faithfulness: “something came.”– “I have learned now,” says King, “that the Master’s burden is light precisely when we take [God’s] yoke upon us.”

In an interview given to Playboy magazine, King shares more of his struggles and his experience of God’s faithfulness[2]:

There was one morning I recall, when I was in Birmingham jail, in solitary, with not even my lawyers permitted to visit, and I was in a nightmare of despair. . . . there, incommunicado, in an utterly dark dungeon. . . . the following Sunday afternoon—it was Easter Sunday—two SCLC attorneys were permitted to visit me. The next day, word came to me from New York that Harry Belafonte had raised fifty thousand dollars that was available immediately for bail bonds, and if more was needed, he would raise that. I cannot express what I felt, but I knew at that moment that God’s presence had never left me, that [God] had been with me there in solitary.”

“God’s presence had never left me,” said King. That eternal, steadfast presence is exactly what God promises to Jeremiah when he calls him to be a prophet. That promise is, perhaps, the only thing that allows Jeremiah, and Martin Luther King, and us, to say “yes” when God calls.

We might not be called to lives full of struggle and martyrdom. The calling of a prophet is difficult and, thankfully, rare. But we are all, at times, called by God to do difficult things. The list of what God might call us to do is a long one, and many of the things on that list do not make sense; they are not logical; they are not safe.

As we learn from Jeremiah, God has a tendency to call us out of comfort and into situations from which we need to be rescued. It’s easy enough to lean on the faithfulness of God when we are already in crisis and don’t have any other options before us. But in the beginning, when God first calls, we have a choice, we have options, we are comfortable enough with or without trusting in the faithfulness of God.

And whether we say “yes” or “no” when God calls will depend, in large measure, on whether or not we truly believe that God is and will remain faithful. Whether we believe that God will rescue us . . . when the time comes.

 

 

 

[1]    “Suffering and Faith” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington; p. 41

[2]    A Testament of Hope, p. 376


This post is excerpted from a sermon preached at Peace Mennonite Church on May 14, 2017.

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