>The following was preached at Emmanuel UMC on 04/13/08.

Jeremiah 1:4-19
4The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5″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.” 6″Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” 7But the 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. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
9Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” 11The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. 12The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” 13The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered. 14The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15I 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. 16I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.
17″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. 18Today 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. 19They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

When I was a senior in high school, I went on a Chrysalis flight in Indianapolis. During one of the talks, the pastor offered us an opportunity to write down any questions that we may have, and he was going to take some time to answer them. At this time I was struggling with whether or not I had been called into full time ministry. So, I wrote down “How do you know if you’ve been called to ministry?” He answered by saying, “Everybody is called to ministry.” As true and insightful as that may be, it was an incredibly unhelpful answer to a very difficult question for a 17 year old. But I can look back at that answer ten years later and really appreciate what it was that he was trying to get across at the time. The focus for the month of April is missions. More specifically, today we are looking at the idea of individual calling. You see, it is not just a select few that are called to ministry, and everybody else goes on with their lives. God calls everyone to ministry, but He doesn’t just call us and leave us on our own. God is with those whom he calls, and God prepares those whom he calls, which brings us to the story of Jeremiah.

The book of Jeremiah was written at the tail end of the 7th century B.C., and into the beginning of the 6th century B.C. This was a difficult time for those living in Judah. Babylon was the big kid on the block now. The time had finally come when the Babylonians were conquering all throughout the Middle East. Jehoiakim was on the throne in Judah, and he was not too concerned with the religious reforms that his father Josiah had implemented, and so Judah was once again falling into a period of idolatry. Jehoiakim was also not too concerned about what the prophet Jeremiah had to say. In fact, in chapter 36, Jehoiakim actually cuts up the scroll of oracles that Jeremiah has written and throws the strips into the fire, then orders the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, who is Jeremiah’s scribe. All of this happens because one man was faithful to a call that was placed on his life, and I’d like to spend some time this morning looking at Jeremiah’s call and thinking through what that means for us, as believers in the body of Christ.

Jeremiah jumps right into it in verse 4 and talks about how it was that God called him to his prophetic ministry. “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” (Jer. 1:5). God already had this vocation in mind for Jeremiah before Jeremiah was ever even formed in the womb. Jeremiah’s task was so crucial that he was set apart by God before he was even born. But is Jeremiah alone in this, or does God have a calling for all of us? Paul also writes in Galatians 1:15 that he was set apart from birth for a specific task. In Matthew 28, Jesus’ disciples are called to make disciples, and in obedience to that command, we too are called to share the gospel and make disciples. So, yes, God does have a call for each of us, even if it is the most basic of calls to make disciples. I’m not going to stand here this morning and tell you that God has a roadmap for each one of us to follow, but I will say that God has a calling in each of our lives. We are all gifted for ministry in a particular way. We are all wired for specific tasks that God has prepared for us. Our responsibility is not to wish it away, or ignore it, but to carefully listen to the prompting of the Spirit, and respond out of love and obedience. But all too often, we, like Jeremiah, try to come up with some kind of excuse.

Jeremiah actually gives two excuses, but they are connected. His first excuse is that he does not know how to speak. This is not a new excuse to God. In Exodus 4:10, Moses uses the excuse that he cannot speak eloquently and that he is slow of speech and tongue. Based on Moses’ comments here, most scholars think he had some sort of speech impediment, and he uses it as an excuse to avoid his call. However, I don’t necessarily think that is what Jeremiah is doing. His inability to speak was not a physical limitation, but it was connected to his second excuse – “I am only a child.” The Hebrew word that is translated “child” here is na’ar. Na’ar typically refers to a male of marriageable age who is still single. A Hebrew male was not considered to be a man until the time that he was 30; that is why he refers to himself as a na’ar. Jeremiah was most likely between 17 and 28 when God called him to his task. Jeremiah was a young adult when God called him to his prophetic ministry, but culturally, he wasn’t old enough to speak in such a manner. But God has a way of working things out, even if it goes against the cultural norms of the day. He tells Jeremiah not to use that excuse. Jeremiah is command to simply obey the commands of God and let God take care of the details along the way.

You see, God doesn’t just call Jeremiah to do the work of ministry and check in again in 20 years. In verse 8, God says that He will be with Jeremiah and rescue him. Wait a minute, “rescue him”? What does that mean? What is Jeremiah going to be doing that is going to need him to be rescued? There are two key points that cannot be missed here. First of all, God doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The Lord is pretty blunt with Jeremiah that his task is going to be a difficult one. He is not going to be popular, and people will fight against him. I have some bad news to share today. God does not always call us to sunny days and fields of flowers. Jesus doesn’t say, “Take up your cotton candy and follow me.” He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” When Jesus said this, a cross wasn’t a piece of silver jewelry that we wear around our necks; a cross was an instrument of death. Jesus tells us from the beginning that this isn’t going to be easy. In the same way, God is not telling Jeremiah that this is going to be easy. He is telling Jeremiah that life is going to be difficult, but he is not alone. That’s the second point. No matter how bleak things may look, we are not alone in our task. Jeremiah is called to bring the message that the time of judgment has come. Judah has been unfaithful. Judah has turned away from God and towards the false gods of the world. The time for judgment has come, and it is Jeremiah’s task to let everyone know. This is no easy task, and not everything that God calls us to will be easy.

In the 2001 movie Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo inherits a magical ring from his uncle Bilbo Baggins. What he does not know at the time is that this ring was forged by Sauron, a Dark Lord, thousands of years before, and the time has come for him to reclaim his ring and conquer all of the land known as Middle Earth. Frodo is asked to take the ring to the home of the elves, where a council has been called to decide what needs to be done with it. There is only one choice: they must take the ring to the place where it was forged in order to destroy it. While the men, elves and dwarves are fighting amongst themselves as to who should take the ring, Frodo stands up and offers to take it. Before long, he is accompanied by eight others, and they set off for the dark land of Mordor. Early in the journey, as they are going through the mine of Moria, Frodo starts to realize just how difficult a task this really is.

[Scene 28 on the DVD; begin following Gandalf’s line, “I have no memory of this place.” End after Gandalf’s line, “Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case, you were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” Approximately 1:49:20 – 1:51:32. This clip can also be found on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYI44izV9iA]

Did you see how Frodo’s demeanor changes in the course of the conversation? At the beginning, the answer was clear. Bilbo should have killed Gollum when he had the chance. By the end of the conversation, Frodo is not so certain of anything anymore. You can almost see the weight of the task fall upon his face in the middle of the conversation. In fact, he wishes that he did not have a part to play at all. He realizes that this is going to be much more difficult than he may have realized.

Sometimes, that is what a call from God is: difficult and dangerous. Here in America, apart from social ostracism in some circles, there is nothing too dangerous about living as a Christian. But in other parts of the world, it is exceedingly dangerous to answer a call from God. According to one site, based on numbers in 2001, more than half of all Christians that have ever been killed for their faith were killed in the 20th century alone. An estimated 45 of the 70 million Christian martyrs since the first century were killed in the 100 years between 1901 and 2001. Answering God’s call is not always easy. But just like the eight others who set out with Frodo, we are not left on our own to fulfill our call. Two times, God says that he will be with Jeremiah and rescue him (vv. 8, 19). God says that he will be watching to ensure that His word is fulfilled.

God does have a calling for each of us. It may be difficult. We may want to run the other way, and we wouldn’t be the first. Do you remember the story of Jonah? Jonah was called to go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance, and he did run away, but he didn’t get far. God was watching to make sure that his word was fulfilled. It is not very often that God will call us to do something entirely on our own. We do not fulfill our call in a vacuum. We fulfill our call in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I can’t tell you what your specific call to ministry is, nor would I dare to do so. That’s not my place. What I can tell you is that it starts with a servant’s heart. Take just a second and look around you. I firmly believe that God has called each person here today for a reason, and it is only when we individually listen for and obey the call that God has in each of our lives, that we can begin to make a bigger impact alongside those around us. The one thing that I can tell you this morning about the call God has placed on your life is that it is a call to serve – to serve your community, to serve those around you, but above all, to serve Him.

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.