What does the church need as it speaks to the world today?
What do you and I need as the individuals who make up the church,
as we seek to follow Christ and proclaim his gospel to the world?
Jeremiah needed to know the answers to those questions for himself.
We heard today God's call to Jeremiah to be a prophet,
his spokesman not just to Israel
but to the nations.
God's call came to Jeremiah at a time of national and international upheaval.
He lived through a time of great change,
from the time of king Josiah, a godly king,
to the exile to Babylon;
from the demise of the Assyrian empire
to the rise of the Babylonian empire.
It was a time of decreasing trust in God
and increasing social injustice and immorality.
On top of this, the kings, priests and prophets of Judah were compromising,
both in their private lives
and their public pronouncements.
They gave a message of peace and comfort, when war was upon them.
In the middle of all this, Jeremiah was called to proclaim God's truth:
the reality of that war,
the depravity of sin,
the infidelity of the people
and their only hope – God.
His whole life was founded on God's call to him –
this gave him the confidence to proclaim God's message.
So what was it that enabled him to do so in such a time?
And what can we learn as we seek to proclaim God's message
in our day and situation?
There are three aspects of God's call to Jeremiah for us to focus on today -
and God's comfort.
Firstly, what is the importance of God's consecration for Jeremiah?
We see it in verse 5:
“before you were born I consecrated you.”
To be consecrated is to be set apart for a particular task.
Jeremiah was the son of a priest
and so grew up assuming he too would become a priest.
And priests were set apart,
to serve God in the temple.
Yet here we see God change the direction of Jeremiah's life.
He would indeed be set apart,
but to be a prophet rather than a priest.
But why is this so important?
Surely it is a simple change of career –
one religious job for another?
If Jeremiah was mentally prepared to be a priest,
why did he need this extra assurance of God's consecration for his work as a prophet?
Well, Jeremiah had a hard life ahead of him.
God's words through him were severely critical of many priests and prophets in Jerusalem
because they were abandoning God
and seeking their own pleasure and prosperity.
He was set apart by God and,
because of this,
was also set against many who would otherwise have been his peers and support network.
Also, having spent his whole life anticipating being a priest,
Jeremiah had to deal with his own defeated expectations in his call.
We all make plans for what we might do
and those plans don't always work out as we expect.
There were times when it seemed like he might fail,
when the weight of his work pressed him down.
So he needed to know that he was doing what God had set him apart to do,
or he would have crumpled under the pressure.
It was the assurance of God's consecration that kept him going.
And we see in verse 7
that the past event of Jeremiah's consecration
is given present reality too.
God says “You shall go to all to whom I send you”.
God will carry through in the present what he has promised in the past.
We too need the conviction of God's consecration of our lives.
Peter wrote in his first letter,
“You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation”.
Because of Jesus' life, death and resurrection we have been set apart
to “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness
into his wonderful light.”, as Peter again puts it.
To be consecrated for God's work is a wonderful thing,
but it has a flip side.
As we are set apart for God,
we find that we are set apart from the world –
and so the world won't always like what we say and do.
Jeremiah certainly found this to be the case
and it will be the same for us.
In fact, one of the indicators of our consecration is conflict with the world.
As Jesus said,
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.
As it is, you do not belong to the world,
but I have chosen you out of the world.
That is why the world hates you.”
But being set apart also involves
being set apart from things we may have hoped for or desired
which were not bad in themselves.
Just as Jeremiah had to put aside his plans to be a priest,
God's call on us can involve us having to put aside some of our dreams
We may also feel inadequate for such a consecration.
Am I really good enough to serve God?
Am I strong enough?
Or brave enough?
Or old enough?
Or young enough?
Would God really call someone like me?
Jeremiah had that same concern -
“Ah LORD, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But look at when God consecrated him –
Before he had done anything, good or bad.
Before he even had a tongue, or mouth to speak with!
It was God's choice,
based on God's desire,
not on Jeremiah's ability,
We are made adequate by God's consecration.
So God's consecration of our lives is both a challenge and a comfort.
It is a challenge because it reminds us that we are set apart from the world
and so should not feel comfortable with everything that the world loves.
But it is also a comfort as we face that challenge,
because we know that God has his hand on us
and we are walking according to his purposes.
Is your life set apart for God?
The second aspect of God's call to Jeremiah is his commission.
Again in verse 5 we hear God say
“I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
God did not only set Jeremiah apart for a task,
but he made clear what that task was.
Jeremiah may have thought that Israel had enough problems of its own,
but he is called to proclaim God's words not only to Israel
but also to the nations beyond.
It was a commission beyond the scope of what Jeremiah had expected,
perhaps even beyond the scope of what he believed was possible.
But it was not beyond the scope of God.
And once more this past commission is reaffirmed in the present,
as God tells Jeremiah “to speak whatever I command you.”
The work of a prophet was to speak God's word.
Jeremiah was not free to make up his own message as he saw fit,
nor to adapt it to the desires of his audience.
There were plenty of self-proclaimed prophets doing just that in his time,
assuring people of imminent prosperity and peace,
when the truth was that disaster was upon them.
Jeremiah's words would “pluck up and pull down,
destroy and overthrow,
build and plant”.
This was not a means to instant popularity.
Building and growing take much longer than uprooting and destroying.
And Jeremiah's life testifies to his unpopularity –
he was imprisoned,
taken into captivity –
and yet he continued to speak what God commanded him to.
He spoke God's word in various ways.
He wrote a prophecy against Babylon
which he passed on to someone else to read out there.
He himself was taken against his will to Egypt
with many of the other people who were left behind
once the Babylonians left,
and he prophesied there.
Most of his task was fulfilled while still living in Judah.
If we are to speak to the world today,
we need to know God's commission.
It is not enough to be set apart,
because being set apart can easily become an escape from the world.
We can refuse to get involved in the world's problems,
because we are “not of the world”.
But our consecration is the foundation for our commission.
God sets us apart for his work,
and his work is done in the world.
God has a specific call for each person whom he has consecrated.
Again, Jesus said to his disciples
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you
that you should go and bear fruit
and that your fruit should abide.”
Is your life bearing lasting fruit?
Do you know the particular commission God has laid on you?
Are you ready for what it might involve?
We have seen that the call of God is hard.
Jeremiah was consecrated from before his birth
and commissioned to be a prophet,
but both of these things involved loss –
loss of dreams,
loss of friends,
loss of dignity.
If we knew only that God has set us apart and given us a task,
we would perhaps be obedient,
but we would never be happy.
And so there is the third component to God's call for Jeremiah;
It is the first thing God says in verse 5:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”.
When God says to Jeremiah “I knew you”,
he is indicating his specific choice of him and love for him.
It is the word God uses to express his particular relationship to Israel,
his chosen people.
But once more, God's comfort to Jeremiah is not restricted to his past.
God says in verse 8
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
God knows what Jeremiah will have to face
and he knows Jeremiah would be unable to face it without God's help.
God's call to us never comes without God's comfort for us.
Jesus' final words to his disciples,
his charge to them to make disciples of all nations,
end with the comfort that
“I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
In his final words to them before going to his crucifixion
Jesus said to his disciples
“In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The church's message to the world is similar to that of Jeremiah –
it is a call to both pluck up and overthrow,
and to build and to plant.
As Paul said in writing to the Corinthians,
“We destroy arguments
and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,
and take every thought captive to obey Christ”.
There are things in our lives which need to be rooted out
if we are to follow Christ.
There are things in the world which need to be overthrown
if we are to obey Christ.
But we are also called to bear fruit,
to make disciples of others who also bear fruit,
to build the kingdom of God.
Have you been set apart by God,
as part of his holy nation,
his royal priesthood?
Have you received God's commission to you?
If such things seem too much,
then you are probably in the right place.
No one in the Bible heard God's call and thought,
“Hey, that should be easy”.
But when they heard God's call,
they also heard his words of comfort.
So let us go and make disciples;
let us receive, live and share the abundant life of Jesus Christ.
“And lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.”