Chosen Before Birth

Pentecost 14, 2016, Bunker Hill, Jeremiah 1:4-10

A time line has been added to the end of the sermon

This morning we travel back in time to 580 years before Christ, to Egypt where we meet the prophet Jeremiah.  He doesn’t want to be in the land of the pyramids; neither does the Lord nor does Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. But when the Babylonian forces over ran Jerusalem those fleeing forced him to go with them.  Now he reflects back more than forty years to when the word of the Lord first came to him when he was only about 15 years old.

Let’s listen in as he dictates his recollections to his secretary Baruch.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“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.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, YOU SHALL GO!
and whatever I command you, YOU SHALL SPEAK!
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,”
declares the Lord.

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put MY WORDS in your mouth.
10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

With that Jeremiah’s life was changed forever.  Notice, while the Lord and his mother were forming him in her womb, the Lord came to know him intimately.  Before he was even born the Lord set him apart and appointed him to be his spokesman.  Now I don’t know if any of us is able to say we were set apart by the Lord while He and our mother was forming us in the womb.  But I do know that the Lord consecrated us for himself at our second birth – in baptism.   In baptism he set us apart as his royal priesthood, his precious chosen people; to tell of the wondrous works of God in Christ; to tell of his mercy.  To live a life that shows our good deeds so that others may see and glorify God.

Jeremiah knew who had come calling that day.  He responded saying “Ah Lord God, I’m only a kid.  I don’t know how to speak.” Yahweh dismisses his excuse, “Nonsense, you are going to go to where I send you.  You are going to say whatever I command you.  Don’t be afraid of them.  I am with you to deliver you.”  You see, God doesn’t care who we are, how young or old or whatever.  God chooses whomever He chooses. He came to Abraham and Sarah too old to have a child and — they have a son.  He came to Moses fugitive from Egyptian justice and called him to be Israel’s deliverer because “I am who I am and will do what I will to do.” He came Gideon hiding from the Midianites called him a mighty man of valor and turned the coward into a mighty man of valor.  He came to Mary who was still a virgin and told her she will be the mother of God and so she became.  He came to Saul persecutor of Christians and made him Paul preacher of Christ.  To none of these did God offer a more meaningful life, but He had a job for them to do.  God is not the way we get what we want, but we are God’s way to get what He wants.  Sometimes whatever blessings and benefits come with answering God’s call is preceded by pain and trouble.  His call is not always convenient and may take us out of our comfortable life and change our plans.  Young Jeremiah had a nice life until God called him.

Then the Lord put his words into Jeremiah’s mouth.  Later Jeremiah tells the Lord, that when he came upon His words he ate them, and discovered they were sweet and were a joy and the delight of his heart. “For I am called by your name, Yahweh Elohim Sabaoth (Lord God of Hosts).”  An old prayer in which we ask God to help us hear the word of the Lord, read it, mark, learn it and inwardly digest it, so that the word becomes a part of our self.  So the word of the Lord has come to us this morning and we are not only dining on the word from scripture, but at the Lord’s Supper we will eat the word made flesh, the bread of life, Christ himself. The Lord’s Supper is a preview of that time we will recline at the Lord’s table in the Kingdom of God. In baptism we have the name of the Lord placed on our forehead in anticipation of the time we will see Christ’s face and his name will be on our foreheads in heaven.

No, the word of the Lord is not a dead thing, but alive and powerful. The word of the Lord on Jeremiah’s lips would uproot and break down, destroy and overthrow, but also build up and plant.

The word would come through everyday objects; a twig of an almond tree; a cooking pot spilling out of the north toward Judah and Jerusalem signaling destruction.  One-time God directed Jeremiah to wear a new loincloth, and not wash it but to walk 500 miles east to the Euphrates River and bury it.  Then come back home.  After a while God told him to go back and dig it up.  1,500 miles of walking all over a pair of underwear.  The loin cloth was spoiled.  God told Jeremiah that He had bound Israel to himself as closely as a loin cloth, but they had become rotten chasing after other gods.  God had created Israel and Judah, “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise and a glory, but they would not listen.”  Now he would spoil them.

You see the people, the leaders of the people had put altars to Baal and the sun god and all sorts of gods, in the temple.  Priests of these other gods were preached and sacrificed in the temple.  Things were so bad that they had forgotten about celebrating Passover, the festival commemorating their salvation from slavery in Egypt.

Israel and Judah were like a boat full of people partying on a river with a waterfall downstream in the distance.  Suddenly, Jeremiah discerns that the boat is headed for disaster.  He warns the partyers, but they ignore him.  His calls for repentance annoy them.  They tell him to shut up.  Then he discovers that it’s too late they are going over. The disaster can be averted.

But the Lord also placed in Jeremiah’s mouth news of hope.  Jeremiah’s remarkable word is that no trip over the falls is final.  God is the kind of God who picks the people up from the rocks below the falls and continues to be about the business of building and planting for the future, even when there does not seem to be much to work with.

Jeremiah’s words points ahead some 580 years down the road, when the word became flesh and visited us in Jesus Christ.   Jesus uses the image of the temple destroyed to speak of his own death and resurrection, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  When his opponents used those words against him at his trial, they were unwittingly proclaiming the word of salvation.  Jesus would become the new temple, God’s home on earth.   God’s final words to his people are not judgment.  We heard the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson, “The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues and they shall come and see my glory and I will make new heavens and new earth and all flesh shall come to worship me.”  Think of it, God has created a whole new universe, a whole new dimension in which we will live with Him forever. That’s a hopeful word.  That’s a powerful.  That’s a word with promise.  That’s a word for us to enjoy in all its sweetness and joy in the coming week.

Time Line

627BC – Jeremiah called to prophecy.

612 – Babylon defeats Assyria

609 – King Josiah is killed in a battle with Egypt.  His reforms are dropped.

605 – Nebuchadnezzar takes throne of Babylon.

601 – Babylon moves against Judah and king Jehoiakim rebels

598-597 – Jerusalem falls.  Leading citizens and utensils from the temple are carried away.

587 – Babylon destroys city, burns the temple and takes more people into exile.

582 – another uprising, more people exiled, Jeremiah taken to Egypt.

561 – Jeremiah still alive in Egypt.

538 – Exiles begin to return to the land, as God promised.

7 – Jesus is born in Bethlehem

 

 

 

 

 

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