Jeremiah: Call and Commissioning
Bible Background: Jeremiah (one of the Major Prophets-because we have a ‘major’ amount of writing by or about him), began as a prophet in 626 BCE. He continued through about 587 BCE when Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon. This time of national crisis also posed a serious religious crisis. A prophet’s job is to speak for God. That involves “afflicting the comfortable, and comforting the afflicted!” Jeremiah faces rejection and hardship as a result. His secretary-Baruch-compiled some of the book (chapters 26-45). Someone else wrote chapters 46-51. And yet another person wrote the final chapter. (Notes from Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress.) The message is essentially-God judges and God saves!
Digging into Chapters 1 and 7: 1. God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet when he is a young person. Jeremiah tries to object saying “I am only a boy!” God dismisses that concern and assures Jeremiah “I am with you to deliver you.” Many ‘call’ stories in the Bible (and in modern life!) report how the person ‘called’ doesn’t feel capable or qualified to do what God asks. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah are prime examples. Maybe that’s “normal!” A wise Christian writer has pointed out: “God does not call the qualified-God qualifies the called!” When have you felt ‘called’ by God to a particular task or form of service? What excuses have you tried? How has God helped you overcome those excuses or hesitations?
2. God appoints Jeremiah “over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (There are 4 negative verbs and 2 positive ones!) Jeremiah will speak to people in power, and he will announce judgement, and people will not want to hear that. And he will also pronounce a word of hope.
3. In chapter 7, the word of the LORD instructs Jeremiah to “stand in the gate of the LORD’S house” (the Temple) “and proclaim there this word…Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place.” The people believed that the Temple in Jerusalem was God’s dwelling place on earth. That’s where they went for prayer! That also led them to mistakenly assume that God is with us! God is on our side! God is right here! Instead of asking “are we on God’s side?” When do we as persons, as church or as a nation take God’s presence and God’s protection for granted?
4. Chapter 7:5-7 is a very social justice message, that rings true for every generation: “If you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place/land…”
Like most of the books of the Prophets, these words remind us that God really does care about justice and fairness here and now, and God shows special concern for the poor and the ‘least of these’. Think of how Jesus also embodied and taught this same concern!
5. A couple of take-aways for today? First, the call of Jeremiah reminds us adults to remember to nurture our young people-whom God can and does also call! Jeremiah was a boy/a youth. Boys and girls and youth are important workers in God’s world! Secondly, the plea to do justice in chapter 7 should help inform our approach as individuals and as a church to the social justice movements of our day. There are a number of urgent ones! And yes, those subjects and movements are ‘political’ (and we’re often wary of that fact!) But more than that, these issues are often at the heart and soul of what it means to be God’s chosen, called, and sent people! These movements make many people uncomfortable. God’s word does too! There’s no getting around that-if we want to be on the side of God! Jeremiah comes to understand that well!