Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, to warn God’s people that they were headed in the wrong direction. Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were powerful and the kingdom of Judah was not. Within Judah was Jerusalem, the city of God, the place where the Temple was, the place where the Ark of the Covenant resided, that place where when the Israelites settled down after they escaped from Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years and entered the Promised Land, they built a home for God.
Jewish historian, Jacob Isaacs says of Jeremiah, “The great prophet Jeremiah lived during the most crucial period of Judah’s existence as a kingdom. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple, after he had incessantly warned his people to mend their ways before it was too late. And when the catastrophe finally overwhelmed his people, he was the one who bitterly lamented Israel’s terrible fate…. At the same time, [he helped]….his stricken people to bear the blow with courage and dignity, and [pointed] out to them the path that would lead to restoration and redemption.” (Our People: a History of the Jews)
In the passage we read this morning, Jeremiah is remembering how God called him to be a prophet and his response. We don’t know what was going on in Jeremiah’s life when God called him. We don’t know how old he was, what responsibilities he had, what he was training or trained to do. We do know that he did not feel equipped to be God’s prophet. “Ah, Lord God, I do not know how to speak, after all I am only a youth.”
Jeremiah was called to warn God’s people that they were headed for disaster, to live through the disaster, and then to encourage God’s people and reassure them that justice would be done. So, it is understandable that he was reluctant to accept his calling.
Jeremiah’s task was like trying to turn a sailboat around. I’ve been researching sailing again. To change direction when you are sailing, you perform a maneuver called “tacking.” I’ve been watching youTube videos of sailboats on the water, tacking. What you do is you turn the bow, the front of the boat, so that the wind shifts from coming into the sail from one side to coming into the sail from the other side. Of course, you have to keep adjusting so that little by little the boat turns. I don’t think, even after watching the videos, I would have any idea what to do if I were on a sailboat in the water.
That must have been how Jeremiah felt. How was he supposed to turn God’s people around? He wasn’t a public speaker! He was too young! Jeremiah didn’t think of himself as a great prophet. He was the son of Hilkiah, a priest. He was born in Anathoth, about 3 miles northeast of Jerusalem. He was a regular person, born and raised by good parents in a little town. Who was going to listen to him, anyway?
Throughout Scripture, we see this pattern. God calls, and we give our best excuses why we are not the right person for the job. Abraham and Sarah were old. Moses was tongue-tied. Isaiah wasn’t holy. Mary wasn’t married. Peter was a sinner.
We all do it. We do it when we are asked to teach Sunday school. I don’t know enough about the Bible; I did that when my kids were young; I am too busy. We do it when we hear that there is an opportunity to serve at the Soup Kitchen or at Room in the Inn. I don’t know what to say; I don’t feel comfortable around homeless people. Every time we are called to serve, to speak up, to step out, to change directions …we offer our best excuses. God, let me share with you why I am not the best person for the job.
Over and over again, we see this pattern. God calls, and we respond with all the reasons why God should call someone else. And God responds as God responded to Jeremiah, I made no mistake in calling you. I have known you since before you were. Before you were even born, I had purpose for your life. Don’t offer excuses. Where I send you, you shall go, and I will be with you.
Every now and then, someone shares with me that they don’t know what their calling in life is, or that they don’t think God has a call for them. God has known you and had a purpose for you before God formed you in the womb, and that calling is a part of who you are. Our calls aren’t to things exotic or unknown to us. Every one of us has been called. Each one of us has a life to live that makes the world more just, more peaceful, more loving.
All I ask, says God, is that you are willing. And perhaps, that is where changing directions is really the hardest. If I were to get on a sailboat this afternoon after reading about tacking and gybing, and watching videos of people working the sails like a well-choreographed dance, I would be nervous at best. Unwilling to go, at worst. That boom could swing around and hit me. The boat could capsize. I don’t need to take the risk. Other people already know how to sail. I can appreciate the beauty of the boats in the water from the shore. I’ll just watch.
And just like that, I will never feel the wind through my hair, never hear the pop of the sail in the wind, never experience the camaraderie of working together to steer the boat, …never know the joy of sailing.
How is God calling you to make the world more just, more peaceful, more loving? Is it inside the church or in our community? Is it with children or hungry or refugees? Maybe it is equipping others for ministry by teaching or by opening and preparing the church building or by ushering. Or is it something else? Is there something that has been whispering in your thoughts as I made my list and I didn’t say it? That is your calling. What is keeping you from knowing the joy of sailing? May you know the exhilaration of changing direction and catching the wind of God’s Spirit in your sails. Amen.