Jeremiah 1


(Jerry, Jeremiah, You and Us)

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Jeremiah 1

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

The word of the Lord came to me saying

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart:
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

As Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do now know how to speak; I am only a child."

But the Sovereign Lord said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a child.' 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," declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

The word of the Lord came to me: "What do you see Jeremiah?"

"I see the branch of an almond tree," I replied.

The Lord said to me, "You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled."

The word of the Lord came to me again "What do you see?"

"I see a boiling pot, tiling away from the north," I answered.

The Lord said to me, "From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms," declares the Lord.

"Their kings will come and set up their thrones
In the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
They will come against all her surrounding walls
And against all the towns of Judah.
I will pronounce my judgments on my people
Because of their wickedness in forsaking me
In burning incense to others gods
And in worshipping what their hands have made.

"Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land - against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not over come you for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord.

Let me introduce you to Jerry - a somewhat fictitious amalgamation of many people - you might recognize yourself in him, as in spots I do.

Jerry is a busy guy. "Too busy!" he would say but he keeps on doing it, filling his life with activities and work, keeping the boss happy, doing what is best for his wife and children, fulfilling expectations, being a good church member and volunteer to. And when it comes time to sit down and relax, in truth, Jerry is still busy - the television keeps his inner thoughts occupied, plans for the next day flash through his mind during commercials. He may have had dreams about his future when he was young, but the realities of life have had to come first, his dreams are on the back burner. He had times of fulfilment, happiness, the "I'm doing what I was meant to do!" feeling once and a while - but the truth is, life is so busy that it has robbed him of those moments, it has robbed him of personal and spiritual fulfilment, expectations have smothered his soul to a point that he is satisfied with survival.

Once in a while, he feels an internal rebellion that he quickly has to squash - can't make waves. Once in a while he feels like screaming at everybody to slow down and take stock - but he keeps that voice muffled. He wonders what is wrong when he has to push himself through apathy to doing yet another thing for others. He wishes his service would come from the heart with passion - but the flame is out. He goes through the motions of being a good citizen, a good Christian, a good husband, a good father, a good soccer coach, a good gardener, be good, don't make waves, but his sense of purpose in being good is missing, just the subtle voices, the pressures to fit in, conform, go through the motions, don't upset the boat. He has this nagging feeling that even though his life looks so good, he is blowing the one chance he has at life, a depressing deflating thought that nags him - he keeps on pushing it to the back ground.

Let me introduce you to Jereymiah. - a definitely historical figure unlike many people - I pray to God that I might recognize more of myself in him, I hope you do to.

Jeremiah's name literally means "God hurls" or "God throws" - in the sense that Jeremiah was thrown with pointed purpose and blazing passion right into the heart of a rebellious nation called Israel. God's pitch in this man came with pin point accuracy, it started before he was born, it continued while he ministered, it ended achieving its purpose. In his life, he did what he was meant to do, he influenced kings, he aroused their hatred, he did not fulfil expectations, in fact he went against expectations, he became a lone political voice advising submission to enemies, yes, he too cried out that his life would be different - not because he lacked purpose and passion, but because his life was so totally defined by purpose and passion that it got him into a lot of trouble.

This morning, there are three points of comparison and contrast that I want to make between Jerry, and Jeremiah.

The first is that both of them were known and formed by God. (Verse 5)

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

That statement is true for both Jerry and Jeremiah, for me and you. Before God created us in our mother's uterus, he knew us. He knew our hearts, our souls, our characters, and because he knew us, he gave us what we needed for this life, our gifts, our talents, our characters, our skills, the qualities that we would need to serve as his pitch in this world. He knew our struggles before they came to be. He created Jeremiah with a character that would be able, in his strength to face kings and nations with steeled determination, yet with a love that walked with them for his entire life as he wept for the nation. He gave to Jeremiah gifts of poetry and language that have spoken for God's people throughout the ages, and given them hope in their darkest hours. So to, like Jerry, God has given each of us the qualities and the gifts necessary for life, and through the Holy Spirit the gifts necessary for our faithful serve to him and each other - he formed us the way we are because he knew us before we were created. Like Jerry though, so often, we get so involved in fulfilling expectations, doing things that we are not gifted to do, keeping others happy, that like Jerry, we loose touch with ourselves, and loose touch with the purpose for which God has placed us in this world.

This morning, God challenges you to stop your hectic life and hear these words

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

"Before you were born, I set you apart."

That's the second thing that the Lord said to Jeremiah - "I have set you apart."

Set apart for what? Literally - it means to be made separate, holy, distinct, different. God's plan for Jeremiah was not the status quo. God's plan was for Jeremiah to be different and make a difference. In a nation that was too busy with their idols to hear God any more, Jeremiah was set apart to listen to God, to speak his words, to confront with the truth. God knew Jeremiah's character, he formed him to fulfill this task, he sovereignly shaped his life even by the time he was a teenager in a priestly family to be his divine pitch to his people.

As a child of God, the same is true for Jerry, for you and me. We confess in the sacrament of baptism that we are set apart for God, we are marked by him with a purpose in this world. We have become God's pitch with purpose to our society, to our work place, to our neighbours, to our families, to our church.

Jeremiah heard that theme again and again throughout his ministry as he listened to God speaking to him. Jerry, you and I however, have lost that sense of purpose, because the clutter of fulfilling expectations, busyness, plans and entertainments have put God's purpose on our personal backburner. In the lack of time, even for ourselves, we wonder why we struggle with the malaise of apathy and the drudgery of a lost sense of purpose.

We need to hear these words

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

"Before you were born, I set you apart."

"I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

Jeremiah, as he listened to God, heard that again and again - "I appointed you." His career as a prophet was not his choice, it was God's choice - because God who knew him, gifted him, made him different and chosen him for the task. He was doing what God appointed him to do. And because God had appointed him, his work was not mere opinion, it was Spirit driven truth delivered with amour and rage, passion and power designed to drive God's point home.

Every child of God has an appointment, a divine calling. What a privilege we have that we can ask God - "What are you appointing me to do? What is your call on my life?" Young people, you have a privilege, understanding that God knows you, he knows how you are formed, he knows your gifts and talents better than you do - you have the privilege of seeking his call in your life so that your work, your influence is not just mere opinion, not just a way to make money, it will be an opportunity to influence others with God's influence - that's what it means to be called, appointed. Jerry, our fictitious amalgam also has a call from God - but like so many people, Jerry abandoned the human hunger for a sense of call a long time ago, the urgent took over the important, life was too full for the divine.

We like Jerry, need to let these words settled deep into our hearts, deep into our self image, our self understanding

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

"Before you were born, I set you apart."

"I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

Let me conclude by applying this text, not only to Jerry, you and I, but now also our church community. What God said of Jeremiah, he has said even more powerfully of his church. Listen to these words from 1 Peter

"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a set apart (holy) nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. "

We as a church have been looking at the theme of spiritual passion for the last year. Looking at Jeremiah, we discover that at the heart of passion is divine purpose that arises out of how he formed us, how he chose us, how he set us apart.

At our last congregational meeting, we have chosen to establish a mission and vision committee - a committee that is going to be facing some fundamental questions - How has God formed us? What are the gifts and abilities that he has given to us? What in our history has shaped us and uniquely qualified us to serve as a people set apart in our city? How does he want us to be different - outstanding in the field? What influence does he want us to have as a church, for what purpose has he created us? What is our calling here?

They are going to be doing some hard work. But we all need to do it with them, personally and collectively. God calls us to take the time, away from our distractions, away from expectations to asking God what his will for us is. People of God, you are God's divine pitch to this world. Are you going to be just another ball, or is your pitch going to cause the principalities and powers which are the opposition, to strike out?

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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