text: Jeremiah 1:4-10 & 7:1-11
The purpose of the church is not the church itself, but the world. We are the body of Christ for the sake of the world. God calls us to be actively engaged in living our faith out loud, caring for the world, especially those most vulnerable.
First of all, a couple of quotes.
“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” – Abraham Lincoln
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When you know something is wrong, but you don’t speak up, you become part of the problem.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
God is calling Jeremiah to “stand up and speak up.” Today we all need to stand up and be counted, to speak out. Just as true, we need to learn when to “shut up,” when to sit down and give it a rest.
Speaking up for God? Who does that these days!
Too many of us presume to speak on God’s behalf, yet in the process are merely spouting our own ideas. Rather than speaking for God, we are trumpeting our own views. The result is we recreate God in our image, as if God were in complete agreement with us and our thoughts.
How do we avoid that trap? By slowing down and listening; by being humble students of Scripture; by approaching God’s Word with prayer and asking for guidance. By examining and challenging our assumptions and being willing to adjust and change as we listen and learn.
This reading from Jeremiah has two focuses. The first is God’s call to Jeremiah when he was still young and inexperienced. Jeremiah felt inadequate. He felt intimidated. Like other prophets, and us, he was hoping God would call on someone else to speak up for God. Second, God tells Jeremiah to confront the people with their hypocrisy. They need to examine their lives and live their faith out loud—caring for others in their midst; caring for the weak and vulnerable.
God’s opening comment to Jeremiah is about God knowing him even before birth, even before conception. This is not talking about what some call “pre-existance” — the idea that we were hanging around somewhere in heaven or space waiting to be given a human body.
Another concept that this touches on is “predestination.” Does God predestine us in such a way that we have no will, no choice of our own? That our lives are all planned out and predetermined in advance—like fatalism?
God has a plan for each and every one of us. Jeremiah was called by God, even before birth. Jeremiah’s life purpose was God ordained. Yet Jeremiah had choices and freedom in how he responded. God is not a puppeteer, controlling and manipulating us according to some mysterious plan. That is an inaccurate picture of the loving God of the Bible we have come to know through Jesus.
A hermeneutical principle (hermeneutics is the science of interpreting and understanding the Bible) is that our interpretation must be understood within the context of Scripture. When we read the Bible we need to always keep the bigger picture in view and not let the confusing smaller pieces throw us off.
God’s plan is not as specific as some might try to understand it. Who to marry, where to live, where to go to school, what type of job to pursue, etc. God gives us a fair amount of latitude in life and life’s choices.
But God does get quite specific in how we live, how we care for ourselves and for each other. The Ten Commandments is quite tangible in showing us how to live a life of love in our relationship with God and with ourselves.
God’s plan does not just mean living a good and moral life. None of us can do that adequately. None of us can live and love well enough on our own. We need help. We need mercy and grace. God’s plan centers on Jesus. We need Jesus who is God-come-to-us in human flesh for the sake of saving and changing us, and for the sake of reaching all people.
God had us in mind even before the creation of the world. The Apostle Paul tells us that God’s plan for saving us through Jesus was put into place even before the world was created.
“Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be His through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before Him.”(Ephesians 1:4)
God had each of us in mind when Jesus died on the cross and rose again. God intends for all “to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
God’s plan for each of us centers on Jesus. And, God’s plan for us includes how we live out our faith in the context of our lives and the world, how we live with each other.
So, what does God tell Jeremiah to say to the God’s people? Look at chapter 7:3, “amend your ways and your doings, and let Me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
The temple is not an end in itself. The purpose of the Temple is for people to draw close to God together in worship. To nurture and care for their relationship with God and with each other. The purpose of the Temple was to help the worshippers love God and love people—to live their faith.
The purpose of the church is not the church. We do not exist for the sake of ourselves. God has placed us here for the sake of caring for the world, for all people. To love God and to love people. Walk our talk. Live our faith out loud. Don’t just claim to be religious, put our faith into action. Faith is not just a set of doctrines and beliefs that we adhere to. Our faith must make a difference in how we live and conduct ourselves.
God’s plan is that we connect with His heart, connect with God’s care for all people. That we make our worship and daily lives be in sync. To not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. To live our faith out loud.
God’s call to Jeremiah is to speak God’s Word faithfully and consistently, not being afraid of those he speaks to, not altering or changing the message in order to appease his audience.
God tells Jeremiah he will speak to an international populace. People from multiple nations and kingdoms. God “touches” Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “now I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). When we try to make it easier for ourselves by narrowing the scope of what it means to love our neighbor, Jesus teaches us in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 11 that all people are our neighbors. Who do we accept help from? Who do we help? Hopefully, not just those like us, those with whom we feel safe or agree with. But all people, even those very different from us.
God’s call to Jeremiah was to stand up and speak up. No hiding. No avoiding. No shirking of duty. Stand up and seize the day. Stand up and take the initiative. Don’t wait for convenience or the golden opportunity. Stand up and speak up. But, then do not belabor your speaking. Don’t argue or push. Let God be God. Sit down and trust the process of God working.
In Jesus’ name. Amen!