Summit Presbyterian Church
August 21, 2016
“I Am Only . . . . .”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is one of the first questions we’re asked as children. Our first answers are often fantasy based. Mermaid. Superhero. But soon the the grown-ups in our lives encourage us to think along more professional lines — doctor or lawyer, nurse or teacher, police officer or computer programmer. As we grow older - and some of us ask this question into our 60s — our answers change, as we learn about the world and ourselves. What we’re good at and what we’re not. What we like and what we don’t. What’s open to us and what’s not. We learn that our choices are limited by the world around us. By our past, our financial resources, our connections, discrimination. Of course, asking the question at all reflects a degree of freedom and privilege — and generally speaking, the more privilege the more possibilities. But everyone makes choices, and in our culture we’re told it’s important to make good choices: to fulfill our potential, find a career path, nurture our gifts, discern a vocation, work towards a goal. Some young people struggle for years with the question of what they’re going to be or do. In mid-life we often reassess and make changes, not always wise ones. As we get older, we sometimes struggle with regrets, feeling like we missed our call or never fulfilled our early promise or made poor choices, whether they involved career or family or geography. If we’re pray-ers we pray for God to tell us what we should be when we grow up, or if we’re grown, where are we called. We like to think God has a particular path in mind, a particular purpose, if we can just discern what it is.
God had a particular path in mind for Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God had a particular plan but Jeremiah wasn’t trying to figure out what it was. He was just a boy: minding his own business, doing boy things. In that time and place people didn’t ask children what they wanted be when they grew up, if they were one of the lucky few to grow up — that had been pretty much decided at birth by their station in life. So Jeremiah wasn’t looking for his “call” — and when the call comes Jeremiah is reluctant, as most biblical prophets are: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Was Jeremiah awed by this call, lacking confidence, afraid of failure? Or was Jeremiah looking for an excuse because he knew what was coming? A difficult and challenging life, where a lot of folks would hate him, as he spoke words of judgement and doom to the leaders of Israel. God would also give Jeremiah words of hope and assurance but those would come later, and there would be fewer of them. But whether Jeremiah was feeling humble, frightened or both, it doesn’t matter to God. Jeremiah doesn’t need to be gifted with words because God will give them. Jeremiah doesn’t need to know where to go, because God will send him. Jeremiah doesn’t even need to be afraid, because God will be with him. This call is not about Jeremiah’s talent, or skill, or passion. It’s not about Jeremiah, period. It’s about speaking the words that God will put in his mouth, and going where God tells him.
None of us are Jeremiah, or even a 21st century Jeremiah, I think it’s fair to say. He was a singular prophet. Given a particularly difficult Word to speak at a particularly challenging time, a word that would be recorded in scripture for all of God’s people to hear. One that warned of danger and suffering and ruin. Words that spoke of God’s judgement and anger and even violence, although the ultimate message in Jeremiah is one of compassion and love for God’s people. Although Jeremiah spoke for God, it doesn’t mean every word in the book of Jeremiah is the literal word of God, spoken through Jeremiah as though he were possessed. Nor is every word in the book of Jeremiah necessarily one the prophet himself spoke. The scriptures were written years later. But God spoke through Jeremiah, to the people of Israel and now to us. God called Jeremiah. God used Jeremiah.
None of us are Jeremiah, thank God. But God also calls us and uses us in much the same way — by giving us words to speak. By putting words in our mouth. Not the pure Word of God — none of us can speak that Word, our words always get mixed up with God’s. But God uses us by putting words in our mouth that speak of God’s kindness. Of God’s presence with us in Jesus Christ. God uses us by putting words in our mouths that reflect God’s grace and mercy. Words that warn of danger, and tell of God’s justice. Words that reflect the tender love of God, even when God isn’t mentioned. Those words may be parental words. They may be romantic words. They may be religious words or political words. They may be technical words, words that help us solve problems or ease suffering. They may be scientific words, poetic words, short words and long words, English words or Russian words, G rated words and R rated words, on rare occasions they may even be acronyms. God gives us words no matter who we are, what career we’ve chosen, how educated (or not) we may be, how old or young, rich or poor. Sometimes the words God gives us may not even be words we speak, but words that are communicated through smiles, eyes and touch. Not all the words we speak are put in our mouth by God, not by a longshot. I shudder when I think of the ratio of Cheryl words to God words that come out of my mouth, especially in sermons. But we can increase the chances that we’ll speak at least some of those words if we listen: through prayer, silence, worship, reading the Bible, listening to one another, learning about the world around us. And the more we speak the words that God is trying to put in our mouths, the more God can use us The more we’ll be following our vocation.
Because our Christian vocation is more basic than a career we may have the privilege to choose, or a job we may enjoy, or a even a ministry that suits us. Our vocation is to speak the words that God puts in our mouth, to do the work that God puts in our hands, and to sing the songs that God puts in our hearts. And those words and works and songs are given to us every day — no matter what we decided to be when we grew up, or if we’re still deciding. God doesn’t wait for us to choose a major. God doesn’t work only through professionals. What we become when we grow up may help us to speak and sing and work for the glory of God, but we don’t need to “be” anything to answer God’s call. For God gives us words (and works and songs) every day as disciples of Christ, as members of Christ’s body: words (and songs and works) so that we may pluck up what needs plucking, and plant what needs planting. For God formed each us in the womb and has consecrated us for the holy task of showing forth God’s love. In the words of the psalmist who offers this prayer: “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, Oh God, my rock and my redeemer.”