Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
INTRO: I recall a story I heard one time about a man who was hiking later into the afternoon and had lost his way a bit. He was taking some short cuts on what he thought was his way back to camp and he got rather lost. Soon the twilight gave way to total darkness, it was a new moon so there was no light over-head, just the stars that occasionally blinked through the trees. He began to stumble down what he thought was the path. Mistake. It was actually a small clearing that dropped sharply into a ravine. One misstep and suddenly this man go es tumbling down his arms flailing wildly trying to grasp at anything he can. He claws towards the ledge that he’d just fallen from and finds a branch and catches himself on it and there he hangs. He’s to far down and the ledge was too steep to crawl back up and he doesn’t know if he’s hanging 10 feet or 40 feet off the ground. The only thing he could think of doing was calling out for help. To his surprise he was answered by a voice saying, “Let GO!”
This is like the ultimate trust fall right! Even if possibly it could be someone who actually is helping, how can they see him if he can barely see! Even if he does let go, he can’t see the wind is whipping around and what’s the best he can expect a broken ankle or rib? But there was no other voice, no other option, no other possible hope or assurance. Trusting is never easy unless we are absolutely certain of the outcome. But when does that happen right?
This is Jeremiah. Just a man wracked by human fears, same as you and I, the fear of having to trust even when the outcome is uncertain and the odds seem insurmountable. A man who was afraid to trust and to speak even when he heard the very voice and Call of the Lord.
Part I: Trust him
The text today begins, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah was a young man. Yet, the Word of the Lord came to him. This was no feeling, or impulse on his part. It was nothing other than divine revelation given especially for him. Almost as if to prove this was no gut impulse that came by his own whim, he immediately rejects this notion that he should be called to preach God’s Word. Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
Jeremiah didn’t want to speak because he didn’t trust. By his own reckoning calling him is a dumb decision on God’s part. Wait, you want me? I’m still a kid! And you want me to stand before kings and generals and emperors and speak?! I’m hardly suited to that task.
Yet, to God this it was no matter that Jeremiah was young. The message he was to speak was not his own. It wasn’t some eloquent argument that he would be tasked with dreaming up. Just like Jeremiah records here – the Text says, THE WORD of the LORD came to me. And what did that word tell Jeremiah?
It said trust me! I knew you before time was time. I’m the one that put you together in your mothers womb. I’ve already seen the events of your life from cradle to grave Jeremiah. And you’re afraid because your young? You’re afraid because of mortal men and earthly kingdoms? You have my Words and not your own!
The task that lay ahead of Jeremiah was indeed daunting. His call was intimidating. When Jeremiah was called into the ministry Jerusalem is literally on the brink of destruction. Foreign nations are gathering like wolves to polish off a wounded sheep. But that said, again, we have to go back and see who is saying this to him. This is no man. This is the God of the Covenant. The one who made promises to his forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those prophets of old, who spoke the Word of the same God. And the faithful promises of the LORD that they proclaimed came true. The Word that the Lord the call he extends is trustworthy.
I can’t ignore here how this is how God deals with his people. How his people have, since time immemorial, known their Lord is by his Word to them. It is no different here. Jeremiah receives the Word of the LORD. Jeremiah had a specific task to accomplish and the Lord here was uniquely calling him to that ministry. He offers him this comfort that he knows and has been with him since the very beginning. Never has he not been there, never has he not known him.
Really, God could say that much of any of us. We are not our own. As much as we like to think so, as much as we like to fancy the idea that we are captain of our own ship and master of our own destiny. We who so often want to turn to our own feelings or impulses. Yet we are the same people who often find ourselves clinging to a branch in the dark and afraid. Afraid of what lies around the next corner of life. Afraid, reluctant, resistant with a laugh and a sigh – to trust when God says he has in mind for us our highest good, no matter how far the fall is or the odds stacked against us.
We are not our own! We’ve got the Word of the one who made us. He reminds us, just as he did Jeremiah, we were formed, crafted and shaped by Him. He knows our lives and every single step we will take before we take it. He is with us at every turn of life, because he has seen it already – from first gasp to final breath. The Lord uses everything, every twist and turn, every stumble, every fear, even the seemingly insurmountable yawning pits of life and he calls us to his Word. He calls us to trust him, for this is the not the fickle word of a man but of the one who made you and all things. He knows how far the drop is. And what God tells us in that Word is the same thing that he told Jeremiah, Trust! Do not be afraid… I am with you and I will rescue you!
And if his Word were not enough – the Lord goes a step farther. I don’t know what it was about Jeremiah, perhaps he was still unsure or still wavering in his heart. But God goes a step farther. As Jeremiah is wavering holding on to that branch in the dark – God flies to him and grabs him and carries him down himself. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” Here Jeremiah, here’s a tangible reminder that my Word is in you and is a part of you. You mouth has been touch by the hand of God. Now, Go! See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Oh but we have no such thing as fantastic or supernatural that causes so much wonderment as having God touch our lips to assure us that we have his Word and his promises within us!
Think of the disciples, at the last supper. Talk about fear, and uncertainty and angst. They know something is up. Jesus has ceased being cryptic and now speaks openly about his death. Not only was he their closes friend, He was who they trusted in as the messiah, and now he’s about to die? Their whole world view is about to be turned upside down in the next 24 hours. Jesus knows this. So he takes the bread and the cup gives thanks and says – Eat, Drink, this is my body – this is my blood – Given for you!
Is this not quite literally putting his Word in their mouth? Is this not Jesus putting his Word in our mouths! God promised that he’d be with us in all things, through everything and here is this tangible reminder of his Word. A reminder that you can taste. That God has in mind your highest good. This is what Jesus came to do! That we need not fear, he is with us, he has forgiven us. When our hearts have doubted and wavered like Jeremiah and the disciples.
And what does a pastor say at the end of communion? “Depart in peace. Amen.” It isn’t stay here! It’s Go! Go on, nations, kingdoms and peoples need to know of this forgiveness and this peace. That is on your lips! All those people fumbling around in the dark, searching for solid ground in life, but in their heart of hearts are really afraid and feel like they are dangling over a precipice. They need to hear of their God, the one who made them. The one who, whether they know it or not, loves them deeply. So much so, that hung on a branch in the dark in their place, in our place.
Brothers and Sisters, that Word is in your heart, the Lord’s Call is on your lips. for many people who are afraid clinging to a branch over a cliff hanging in the dark – you will be that voice that shouts “Let Go.” You might be that only voice of assurance and hope for them. You’ve heard the Call of the Lord, trust it, and speak it. Amen.