"I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth."
Thanks to the Three Dog Night group and the song "Joy to the World" whenever the name Jeremiah is mentioned the image that comes to mind is as likely to be a Bullfrog as it is an Old Testament prophet. But this morning we are having our lives challenged and examined by the words of the Old Testament prophet named Jeremiah. Jeremiah the prophet painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel as a tearful giant. A man of hugh strength, broad shoulders burdened by the pain and frustration of an alienated and rebellious people of God. Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet from the time of 626 B.C. to about 586 B.C. when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, called to speak a word of doom and judgment upon the people of God for their neglect of God, and yet a voice of great hope and amazing conviction of God's steadfast and faithful love for all people will bring a new covenant. Jeremiah the prophet attacked and abused by his people, ridiculed and imprisoned and yet Jeremiah who knows that God will come with a new eternal and holy covenant written in the very heart of his people.
In many respects the call to Jeremiah is not that much different from the call to most of God's servants. God comes and in various and sundry ways God impresses upon the heart and mind of his servant that God has a special and unique assignment for him. Oprah Winfrey had an interview with an elementary school child. The young man was only infant found alive after the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building. The baby had burns all over his body, and the heat had damaged his breathing system so that there were no natural filters for the lungs, the lungs had no defense against diseases. He had to have a tracheotomy. He has been confined to his home for nine years. But slowly medical achievements have repaired and restored him. They have recently removed the tracheotomy and he is now going to public school. When asked why he thought that he had been so blessed by all these miracles: to have survived the bombing, to have been found alive, to have been saved in ICU, to have overcome every health challenge imaginable, his simple answer is God must have a special job for me.
He believes himself called by God to a place and a work. We are all called by God to a place and a work. In the past we have called that our vocation. It was what we have felt God calling us to do. We are all called by God to take a particular path, to undertake a special work, to have a unique contribution.
God called Jeremiah and said, "Jeremiah, I have designated you to be my prophet to this generation. " Jeremiah was not particularly overjoyed to discover that call. "Whoa, wait a minute, I can't do that job. I do not know much about mass communication. My major was in finance not public speaking. I do not know how to work a crowd or stir up the masses. I am only a kid. "
Of course, one begins to get used to that kind of discussion in the Bible and among God's people. It is the Divine-Human dialogue. God has a mission and a work for us, and our response to the mission is to be either overwhelmed with the magnitude of the mission or underwhelmed by the prospects of how that mission comes no where close to what we thought we wanted to do. Listen God, I understand that you may be calling me to care for mother at home and to extend that kind of loving care to her three maiden sisters but I really had in mind a calling to be President of Good Housekeeping Magazine. They are only a couple of elderly ladies and I was meant for greater things. Or God opens before us a huge mission field of providing medical care to illegal immigrants, and our first response is that that is more than one person can handle. We know nothing about medical care. God opened before Moses the liberation of his people from Egypt, and Moses says "You got to be kidding. I stutter, who will listen to me. " Isaiah says "I can't go for I am a sinful man. "
God shows you the wheat fields rich with harvest and waiting for someone to step up and begin the work, and our response is I have never drive a tractor in my life. God shows us the life and death challenge before us in regards to clean air and water, and we throw up our hands and say but we are only a small Sunday School class and we know absolutely nothing about ozone emissions and coal fire power plants. It is just way more than we can even imagine doing anything about, God. We are only . . . They are only . . . It is only . . . We are only a small youth group and there are so many homeless people in our town. We have already done our duty, we are only a bunch of retired people, what can we do. Those are the regulations passed by the state government, and we are only a bunch of parents in one school in a low-wealth county what can we do.
God answers Jeremiah's objection with the promise, "Do not say, I am only a youth. for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, " says the Lord. " As always one is not sure how much freedom Jeremiah had in this call. In the Presbyterian tradition of the Book of Order, every instruction in the Book of Order with the word shall is a command. There is no exception. "You shall go and You shall speak." Jeremiah is being sent.
Maybe my imagination is running away but part of me tries to imagine what God's reaction might be when he gives us our assignments and we respond, "We are only . . ." "We don't know how to do that and we are only seventeen, we are only a small congregation, we are only a few and none of us speak spanish." God looking at us in astonishment and asking us, "Just who do you think you are talking with. What am I, the living Holy God of creation, what am I chopped liver? If I call you to a mission, do you not believe, do you not think that if I give you the mission. I can give you the talent and the resources to do it, if you will undertake it and attempt it. Who do you think you are talking with? Some bankrupt, powerless, retired dreamer of dreams. I will be with you, and I will deliver you." How dare you have the audacity to say that you are only anything when you have been called to be a part of my work and kingdom.
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews knows it is a great encourager of the faithful to look at that list of people who thought they were only too old to have children, too much of a stutter to lead the Exodus, Elijah who believed that He alone was left among the faithful, David who believed he was only a youth, but made King. Paul who was only an earthen vessel in which the truth was carried. Martin Luther who was only a German monk, but could do nothing else but Here I stand. Dorothy Day, only an unwed mother of Catholic commitment, William Stringfellow who was only a wasp in East Harlem, Ghandi who was only bespectacled, bow legged little man, Nelson Mandela, who was only a student protester, Mother Teresa who was only little nun from Europe in India. It was only one man who started Habitat for Humanity. It was only a woman who started MADD.
When and where we begin to feel and hear the call of God to our vocation, to sense that there is a place in the world, a need in the heart of humanity, a work that needs and ought to be done, and it keeps coming back to our door. It keeps coming up in our line of sight. It keep stings us, our heart breaks, every time we hear about and yet we find ourselves pushing it away. I can't do anything about that. I am only . . . Then you better take a long look at the power and purpose of the God you worship. If you start to wonder whether or not God is pushing you in a certain direction or pushing us, and yet you don't think that we will be able, that you will be able to accomplish much because you are only, because we are only . . . then we need to have a good long look at the God we call Father, for God ask what am I, nothing, if I call you to a work, I am able to go with you and to deliver you.
God is working his purpose out and bringing before you and me and his church a work, a calling, a mission for us and God will go with us to enable us to fulfill his calling. For I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
Rick Brand is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Henderson, NC.