This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on August 21, 2016.
“The word of the Lord came to me,” declares Jeremiah. We gather for worship to place ourselves in this vulnerable position where the word of the Lord might come upon us. The high moment of Christian worship is the moment when the scripture is read giving expression to the voice of God. This text offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves a great question: Are we providing the appropriate setting that allows scripture to come alive in the context of our worship? How might we improve the platform upon which this part of worship is framed? How might the person(s) reading best prepare for this moment? Scripture should not only be read, but it should also guide our worship. How does this text set the mark on the horizon toward which all elements of worship might be directed? Isaiah reinforces this assertion, “Listen carefully to me,” says the Lord, “Incline your ear, and come to me. Listen, so that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3).
Jeremiah articulates God’s long involvement in our lives. Even before we were formed in the womb, God had knowledge and understanding about us. God knew and approved of us even before our birth and claimed us to be his own. Before our birth the Holy One declared us to be holy and set apart for kingdom purposes (1:5). Early on, God appointed us to be spokespersons to the world, “a prophet unto the nations.”
It is at this point where we join Jeremiah in preparing our alibi. We establish the bases for our unworthiness. Almost a century after Isaiah, Jeremiah found himself in a village not in a city. He could have easily voiced this protest, “I am not strategically placed for this high calling.” “Who am I for this cosmopolitan age?” He could have reasoned that the people aren’t ready for such a bold advance. He could have asked, “Who am I to affect such change in this day? I’m hardly old enough to consider taking on this responsibility.” It is not surprising that Jeremiah plays the age card (1:6). He obviously could complain that he just didn’t know how.
We dismiss ourselves in this same fashion, and the church through the years has followed this same course. The words spill out of our mouths with great ease, “Now is not the time; I am too young, too uncertain, too ambivalent, too timid, too fearful, too reticent!” There is not a time when speaking a word on God’s behalf is premature, and yet, Jeremiah was certain, “Oh, my goodness, I cannot speak. I am only a child.” The church confronted with hearing and speaking the word of God often wants to delay entry into fulfilling their present day assignment. We may know the words, but we can’t imagine knowing the tune. “We are just not ready to share a word from God to the world.” Case dismissed.
So listen carefully to the Lord’s response. “Be careful about dismissing yourselves too quickly. Wherever I send you, I shall go with you. This is a mission that I am undertaking. I want you to join me.” (1:7). When given this opportunity, we are prone to let a strange silence overtake us. We can acknowledge, however, that our understandings about the grace of God are far more developed than we are prepared to share. Preachers can confess that we have been far more well-versed in the text than we are really comfortable sharing. We leave clippings of the narrative on the cutting room floor. We prefer to share the softer parts, the less controversial matters. Even in our mature years we’re certain that we are too young to deal with the ramifications of what we really do believe God would have us to say!
But this message of hope is entrusted to us! We must find confidence that even before our birth God has given us the blessing for just this moment in time. The goodness of God has brought us into this world. Let’s hold our heads high. May this reality boost our confidence in taking up the mantle. And when we are afraid – because not a day will go by when you feel adequate for the task before you – when we are afraid, let us have no fear because God promises to be with us (1:8). Don’t be afraid! God will see you through. But, that is easier said than done. It is only by the touch of God that we can have the courage to speak a message of trust and hope in God.
It is at this point when the Lord put forth his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. In the same fashion, the Lord our God, the Eternal One, The Holy One stretches out his hand toward us. Worship truly begins when we put ourselves in a position to be touched by God. Scripture is God-breathed, inspired. God reaches through the text to put this word into our mouths. The Spirit of the Lord seeks to inspire us to speak a good word, to give voice to a strong word, to set loose in this world the life-giving word of God. Worship carries with it this charge to us. What we have heard must be allowed to touch us, and what touches us must be given utterance. We must give voice to a new language. We have a new song to sing. We have a fresh vision to share. We have the utter joy of proclaiming good news to our brothers and sisters. We are called to give fresh expression to the ways of the kingdom. We must raise our voices on peace and justice concerns. We must be alive with wonder to ways that really make a difference for this good earth and all its good people!
Stephen D. Graham
Tags: not now then when, scripture is God-breathed, scripture comes alive, scripture guides worship, touched by God