Normanhurst Uniting Church, Epiphany 4, Sunday, 3rd February, 2019 Sermon Summary
Text: Jeremiah 1.4-10 Title: Send me Jesus
It’s the beginning of a new year. Some of us have had major disruptions over the break, such as moving house, or at least purchasing a new house. Others have been able to loll around on the sofa in front of the TV, watching sport. In between moving house and watching tennis on TV many of us may have had some time to reflect on our lives over the summer break. This time of the year involves new starts in church as well as at school, at work and even where we live. Then next week we’re going to commission Ian Docker as a pastor at Bowden Brae. The following week we’ll re-commission Tony Jones and Elisabeth Harnwell as Normanhurst Christian Education Association’s workers at Normanhurst Boys and Hornsby Girls’ High Schools for the year. And on the 3rd of next month we’ll commission people into their positions in Church Council, and in the congregation in general. Over the next few weeks I’ll carry on approaching people who have come into the life of this congregation over the past year, and asking them if they would like to formalise that relationship by becoming members here.
So over the next month we’ll be looking at the call of God on our lives, and in particular over the coming year. What is God calling you to this year? Today’s reading from there Hebrew Scriptures is particularly appropriate for this theme. It’s about the call of God on Jeremiah. Some background: Jeremiah and good king Josiah were born at much the same time, during the last decade of the 50 year reign of evil King Manasseh. If you are concerned by the state of affairs in the world today I will respond by saying that unfortunately humans have always had an evil streak, and some leaders have always been inclined to abuse their power. King Manasseh had devoted his 50 year reign to deliberately re-introducing the deities of Canaan and Assyria; the black arts of magic and necromancy; human sacrifice (even within the King’s own family); and such travesties of justice that 2 Ki. 21.16 says that “he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” with “innocent blood”.
Good king Josiah was born in 648 BC, and Jeremiah a little after that. At this time Judah was a little like that juicy bone fought over by the 4 dogs I compared myself with a couple of sermons ago. Much smaller than the size Israel reached under the reign of Solomon, the remaining kingdom of Judah was a part of Syria-Palestine, and was fought over by the empires of Egypt to the south-west and Assyria to the north-west. The northern Jewish state of Israel had rebelled against Assyria and was punished by being destroyed. The southern kingdom of Judah had under Manasseh’s father king Hezekiah also rebelled against Assyria by getting rid of Assyria’s and Lebanon’s religious symbols. In response the Judaean countryside was devastated by the Assyrian army, but Jerusalem was miraculously spared. Perhaps this devastation had its effect on Manasseh, who became an enthusiastic idol worshipper.
Anyway, good king Hezekiah, bad king Manasseh, good king Josiah, during whose time God called Jeremiah of Anathoth to be a prophet. But before Jeremiah entered the scene, and when the boy king Josiah ascended the throne of Judah the geo-political order started to turn; Assyria started to weaken.
Various nations around the edge of the great empire started to harry it: Elamites and Medes to the east where Iran/Persia is today; steppe-dwellers from the north; Arab tribes from Arabia. In 627 BC, the year of Jeremiah’s call, the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal died. This caused a civil war. More decisively, it provided the opportunity for the increasingly powerful city of Babylon to declare its independence from Assyria. Babylon was situated downstream from Nineveh and upstream from Ur, where the two great rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, came close together. So now Judah was the bone that the dogs of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and later on Persia fought over.
Soon enough Babylon emerged as the strongest dog, but in the meantime good king Josiah took advantage of the period of turmoil to institute religious reforms in Judah, and even in the old kingdom of Israel. After a national renewal of the covenant, based on the rediscovered book of the Law, Josiah sent Jeremiah out on a speaking tour, a call to recommitment to the covenant. And this, I think is why those who framed the lectionary have Jeremiah 1 and Luke 4 in the same group of 4 readings. My son has introduced me to an American theologian called Brad Jersak. One of many interesting things Jersak suggests is that Jesus consciously followed in Jeremiah’s footsteps. So we read last week that Jesus came close to losing His life when He challenged what His own townsfolk understood by the good news. Similarly, Jeremiah, who came from a village near Jerusalem called Anathoth, was threatened for the first time when preaching in the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today we’ll focus on Jeremiah’s call. Have you noticed that call narratives in the bible tend to be similar. God says “Hey Jezza, I picked you out before you were born to be a prophet to the nations.” Whereupon Jeremiah, or Moses, or Gideon, or whoever it might be says, “Oh no God, you must be mistaken. I can’t speak, I’m only a boy”, or some other excuse. Then God refutes the objection. In this case: “Do not say ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” When God calls you to something, whether it be to help with the Activity Centre or Kids Club, or to be a prophet to the nations, the thing is that God has the thing covered. Your part is to follow instructions.
These words to Jeremiah might well have been to me when I was faced with preaching to 2,000 delegates and helpers at a youth conference in the Solomon Islands in the language they all understood: Solomon Islands Pijin: “Now I have put my words in your mouth”. The words I spoke were not my words. I could not even speak their language. But the words I spoke were effective, “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow that which was not of God in those people’s lives, and more particularly to build and to plant.When we are called by God it is not to achieve, it is to follow, to be obedient to the Call.