Jeremiah 1:1-10, Psalm 71:1-6
The three opening verses convey details that are important as we hear Jeremiah’s call story. (1) Jeremiah is a PK, a priest’s kid. (2) God initiated the call and dialogue with Jeremiah that follows. (3) Jeremiah is called by the Lord beginning at a positive high point in Israel’s history, when the religious reforms instituted by King Josiah are in full swing; but it spans the downfall that ends at the lowest of the lows in Israel’s’ history when both Israel and Judah have fallen and the Israelites are exiled to Babylon in the North and Egypt in the South.
According to biblical history that reveals God’s creation of and relationship with humankind, there is a universal call to faith and service that permeatesfrom beginning to end. Over and over the Lord calls us to love God and love one another, to serve God and serve one another.
However there are accounts where God has chosen specific individuals or groups to perform a task or take on a role or function. The people God chooses to fulfill acts of obedient service are counter intuitive in many ways.
- David, a young shepherd boy, chosen to be King of Israel
- Sarai, an aged barren woman, designated to be the mother of God’s chosen people
- Paul, a violent, murderous opponent of Christians, called as a follow of Christ, preacher, and teacher
- Mary, a young girl with no wealth or power, chosen as the mother of the long awaited Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
While David, Sarai, Paul and Mary where chosen for roles and tasks that are beyond what we can imagine, the call of a prophet is in a category all by itself. You see, the role of a prophet is to speak for God. TO SPEAK. FOR GOD!
As mouthpieces for God, prophets conveyed unwavering calls for covenant faithfulness. Prophets received and declared words from the Lord that were brutally honest, judgmental, and threatening. Consequently, the role of a prophet was thankless, dangerous, and lonely to put it bluntly.
Categorically, the most important aspect of any call story is that God initiates the encounter. God says to Jeremiah in no uncertain terms, before I created you, I knew you, I set you apart, I appointed you; Jeremiah is God’s choice. Period. Not because of his priestly family, just because God chose Jeremiah.
One commentator points out: These verses in Jeremiah are a familiar passage that many have claimed as their own, probably because the belief that God knows us so intimately [and loves us anyway] strengthens a person’s sense of worth. That being said, this runs contrary to a world were the lives of so many exist in places that assert a different reality! I can hear a whole host of people treated as “less than” giving a hearty AMEN to that reality. People like Immigrants being held in detention centers, parents separated from children and all without adequate provisions. People like those experiencing homelessness who can’t get a job without a permanent address and can’t get a place to live with a permanent address without a job. Their lived reality does not align with the reality of their intrinsic worth as those who bear the image of God
Jeremiah is appointed as a prophet to the nations! The Israelites are bordered by Babylon to the North and Egypt to the South, both of whom aspire to conquer them. So being a prophet to the nations is way out of Jeremiah’s comfort zone – another aspect of being a prophet – no comfort zone allowed!
Now that we are clear about Jeremiah’s unequivocal and undeniable call by God, the enormity of the task Jeremiah was called to, and the tumultuous political environment. We must take note of this fact: Jeremiah was 12.
He was 12 years old at the time of his call. Let’s let that sink in just a bit.
Today we have blessed the backpacks of children and youth who are closer to the age of 12 than many of us have been in a long time. Take a good look at them.
Now, think back…What was life like for you when you were 12?
Where were you living? Who did you live with?Who were your friends? What did you like to do for fun? What responsibilities did you have?
When I was 12, I was living on the south side of Chicago with my mother and stepfather. I walked to my neighborhood school with my friends. I loved school and learning. I also watched a lot of television. I actually had to get up and turn the dial when I wanted to change the station on the TV. I was a member of the Camp Fire Girls and I took piano and swim lessons. Doing my homework and cleaning my room are the only responsibilities I remember.
Many of the children and youth with us here today live lives dominated by portable technology. This technology drives exposure to the entire world in all its beauty and in all its misery. Many of them are social media savvy, privy to a world of both in person and cyber bullying. They also have access to activities and events that cater to a wide range of abilities and interests that stem from areas that did not exist a decade ago.
No matter what picture comes to your mind, the truth is: depending on your country of residence, your race or ethnic group, your family structure, your socioeconomic status, your gender, the life of a 12 year old has billions possibilities – some designed for growth and success, others reek of oppression and danger. Both scenarios coexisting within a few blocks or miles of the other.
To be honest, I am not sure what the life of a 12 year old in the land of Benjamin looked like for Jeremiah. As a priest’s kid, the history of that era suggests that he was probably steeped in the traditions of the Israelite people. Jeremiah likely knew the stories of prophets that came before him. Maybe that knowledge was part of why he objected to his call – he knew too much!
Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet called at a young age. Samuel was approximately 12 when he was called while serving in the temple under Eli. Gideon complained to God that he was too young
The call of Jeremiah is strikingly similar to that of Moses. In Exodus 3, when Moses is called by God at the burning bush, he is around 80 years old. Moses has experienced quite a bit in his life (to say the least) and yet he still objects to his calling. In fact, Moses objects 5 times, you may remember that the 5th time he says ““My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.” Evidently age is not a barrier to objecting to God’s call.
There is a level playing field for those called to service, our inadequacies whether real or perceived, do not matter because God chooses us, equips us, is present with us and strengthens us.
This idea reinforced by the words of Psalm 71. “5For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. 6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.”
Therefore, Jeremiah’s age actually does not matter. God is free to call into service (as a prophet or another role) persons of any gender, any age, any social or economic status, any education level.
When it comes to the age factor, it seems that you already know this here at Trinity. Maybe I am preaching to the choir? I was reminded this week of the 2020 Vision Statement. #1 To create space for children and youth to fully engage in the life and leadership of the congregation. In worship I see the acolytes every week and even children ushering with their parents.
There are youth elders who serve on session (I actually had the pleasure to work with one of them, Caroline Reid, as a part of the NEXT Church Elder Symposium in January of this year)
Who knows what other ways our children and youth have been (and will be) called by God to serve as an integral part of this congregation and our denomination? To serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
Steve and I were privileged to witness the passion and creativity of youth from two different Presbyterian denominations who led and participated in the Youth Triennium this summer at Purdue University. If you ever think that the church is dying, volunteer at Triennium and you will know for sure that the church is definitely NOT dying.
Each and every one of us plays a role in encouraging them and supporting them along the way. As a group and individually we can support and encourage the (air quotes) “Jeremiah’s” among us, we can welcome and honor their contributions to the life and leadership of this church. Our words can encourage. Our looks of disapproval can discourage. The ways we include (or don’t include) children and youth like they are the church of TODAY will speak louder than any words.
I want the youth and children here today to walk away knowing this: You are as valuable and cherished by God for service to the kingdom as any one else! One reason you know this without a shadow of a doubt, is because the Bible tells you through the story of the call of the prophet Jeremiah, and he was only 12!
Thanks be to God!