The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
By the Rev. Rebecca Tankersley, St. James in Dallas
Jeremiah 1:4-10 (CEB)
The word of the LORD came to me:
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I made you a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.”
The LORD responded,
“Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
Where I send you, you must go;
what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you,”
declares the LORD.
Then the LORD stretched out his hand,
touched my mouth, and said to me,
“I’m putting my words in your mouth.
This very day I appoint you over nations
to dig up and pull down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.”
For many years, I read this call narrative (and others like it) with envy. It seemed too much to think, when I was young, that I might one day hear words like these from the Lord. I thought God only spoke like this to particular people, centuries ago.
This passage from Jeremiah, however, reveals more than God’s plan for one man who lived long ago. This passage illustrates the manner in which God calls all of us into service. The universality of the call is reflected in four statements by God, recounting for Jeremiah how God has acted in his life. To Jeremiah, God says:
I created you.
I knew you.
I set you apart.
I made you a ___________.
Though God called Jeremiah to serve particular people (the Israelites) in a particular place (in exile in Babylon), God calls each of us to serve people in our own place.
I created you. From Genesis, we learn that “God created humanity in God’s own image” and pronounced us all “very good.” From the prophet Isaiah, we hear that we are precious in God’s eyes precisely because God created us (43:1-4).
I knew you. God knows each of us intimately and totally. Take a moment to pray Psalm 139, focusing on verses 1-6. “Lord, you know when I sit down and when I stand up … you surround me – front and back … that kind of knowledge is too much for me.” The God of heaven and earth knows each of us.
I set you apart. As members of the Body of Christ, each of us is set apart. The apostle Peter reminds us that we are “a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession” (1 Pet 2:9). We are set apart as God’s treasured people so that, as God promised to Abraham, all people might be blessed. Yes, God acted powerfully in Jeremiah’s life. And God has acted powerfully in each of our lives. God created each of us to be different and gave each different gifts. God made Jeremiah a prophet by putting God’s own words in his mouth and sending him to speak God’s word to God’s people. God has given each of us gifts of grace to equip us for the work of serving and building up the Body of Christ. To some, God has give gifts to serve as “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11).
I made you a _____. Having gifted each of us with grace, God calls us into service. God made Jeremiah a prophet. Each of us must discern through prayer and with the support of the Body of Christ how God has made us. So far, I’ve learned that God made me a wife, a mother, and a priest. What did God make you?
Having created, known, set apart, and made Jeremiah a prophet, God calls Jeremiah into service. “Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say.” Notice the imperatives in God’s call: you must go, and you must say. God speaks these says words to each of us. We find them in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing … and teaching them.”
We may, like Jeremiah, be filled with fear by God’s call. We may, like Jeremiah, protest that we are too immature to carry out God’s work. We can protest, but God calls just the same, making the same promise to us as to Jeremiah:
I am with you.
Even to the end of the age.