Sermon for 12 Pentecost, Year C
Based on Jer. 1:4-10
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
A man became acquainted with another man who ran an establishment, which trained “Seeing Eye dogs” for the blind. The manager asked if the guest would like to experience what it was like to be guided by a Seeing Eye dog.
‘Yes,’ he said, he would like that. So the put a harness over his eyes so he could see nothing, then set him out with the dog. When they got to a busy street corner, the dog wanted to go across, but the man became afraid and held the dog back. The man said to himself: ‘How can a colour-blind dog know when the light is green?’
After a while, the dog got up from the sitting position and tugged. This time the man decided he would trust the dog that got him safely across the street. They went around some corners, at one point the dog pressed against the man’s side, pushing him over. Then, finally, they arrived back at the establishment where they had started.
The manager had followed the dog and man without detection by the other man. And he told the man that he had resisted the dog at the light and they talked about the importance of trust between dog and the person. Also, the man was told that when the dog had pushed him, there were branches hanging over the sidewalk that would have hit the man. 1
In our first lesson from Jeremiah today; we learn of God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet to his homeland, Judah, and the nations. When he first heard this rather immense, challenging, and overwhelming task; Jeremiah expressed his doubts and seems to struggle over whether or not he can trust God. Let’s look at the text a little more closely and see what we can learn from it.
There are four important words in verse five, spoken by God to Jeremiah to confirm the legitimacy of his call to be a prophet. Each of these words emphasize that it was God doing the acting and taking the initiative to call Jeremiah as a prophet. This was not something fanciful that, on the spur of the moment, was dreamed up by Jeremiah himself. God is The Central Actor who creates—formed—Jeremiah for this purpose before he was even born, while he was still in his mother’s womb. God is The Giver Of All Life; God Is Our Loving Creator Who Has Formed Each One Of Us For A Special Purpose Too.
Next, God tells Jeremiah that he knew him while he was in his mother’s womb. The word knew is a loaded one in the Hebrew Bible. It can refer to God’s foreknowledge—that is, God’s ability to see clearly into the future and make plans well in advance to make that future eventually become a present reality. In short, it is God’s ability to fulfill, to bring into fruition, God’s promises. However, the word knew is also used to describe very intimate relationships, as for example, between a husband and wife. A relationship that is loving and very close. A relationship characterized by care and commitment to one another. Although Jeremiah never marries, there is a sense in which he becomes married to God as God’s prophet. His relationship with God is a very close and colourful one; very life-giving and vibrant. God knows each one of us too and desires to be in a very close, vibrant, intimate relationship with each one of us too.
The third word God uses to describe Jeremiah’s call is consecrated, which is related to the word “holy.” Jeremiah is—of all the people that God has to choose from—specially chosen, set aside, made in the right way with the right, God-given gifts and qualities to be God’s prophet to Judah and the nations. God was not satisfied with “any Joe or Jane,” God knew that Jeremiah was the right person—no one else—to be the right prophet to Judah and the nations at that particular time and in that particular place. Maybe some of us feel the same way too. Maybe some of us have a deep sense of calling from God too—that we are the right person for this or that particular time and place and purpose.
The fourth word God speaks to Jeremiah is that he appointed Jeremiah a prophet to the nations. The word appointed here is an important one in that it emphasizes The Source of Jeremiah’s authority and call—namely God. In other words Jeremiah is under God’s orders not human orders. Jeremiah is not responsible to human beings for God’s words and activity. Rather, it is the other way around—Jeremiah is responsible and accountable to God for his activities and calling as a prophet to the nations. On more than one occasion, Jeremiah would run into rebels who would question his authority; doubt the authenticity of his message and actions; and accuse him of being a false prophet. It was at times like these Jeremiah would need to remember Who called him to be a prophet and From Whom his authority as a prophet came.
In many respects, the relationship between pastor and congregation faces this issue too. Pastors, like prophets, are called by God and therefore appointed by God. Hence they are given their authority from God and are thus accountable to God for their pastoral ministry. This is an awesome gift as well as an immense task and responsibility. There are always times of doubt, rebellion and testing. However, just as God reassured Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you;” so God is with pastors and congregations today and reassures us.
As we move into the future, let us go back to the story of the Seeing Eye dog and the man, and apply it to our present situation. Whenever we begin a new ministry, maybe pastor and the congregation are a bit like the man of this story and like Jeremiah. We may have our doubts; we may want to make our excuses to justify our doubts. We may protest and say: “We’re too young; we’re too old; we’re too this; we’re too that.” We, like Jeremiah and the man in the story may hold back or even resist what God wants us to do to go forward. However, the more we are together, the more we learn to trust God and each other—just like Jeremiah and the man in the story. In one sense, God calls prophets and pastors to function like Seeing Eye dogs among God’s people. They are given the privilege and responsibility to share God’s Word with the people. As messengers and servants of God’s word, God provides them with a vision of the road ahead. A road that keeps our relationship with God alive and healthy; a road that offers us fullness of life now; a road that leads to our ultimate destination—provided we trust God and God’s prophets and pastors. A trust that believes God will keep God’s promises and give us the grace and all other resources that we need to keep our promises and fulfill God’s holy purposes—within us and among us. In trust, we like Jeremiah and the cloud of witnesses down through the ages, can all accomplish miracles for God! Amen.