Readings: Jer. 1:4-10; Ps. 71:1-6; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30.
The theme this week is Jesus is Our Hope. Psalm 71 shows that Jesus is both our hope and refuge. 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) reminds us of what is truly important (love) and describes Jesus, who is love. In Luke 4, Jesus announces that he is the One who brings hope. The sermon this week from Jeremiah 1 focuses on the nature of our calling as bearers of hope to a hurting world.
Tend to Your Calling
Introduction: Talk about your calling to pastoral ministry—what did it look like? Who affirmed it? What did you believe God was saying to you at the time?
Maybe you’ve heard people say they have a calling from God, and you’ve wondered what that means. “I’ve been called to serve,” or “I’ve been called to preach,” or “I’ve been called to be a prayer warrior.” How does God call people? What does he look for when he calls someone for a special purpose? Our first response might be, well, the Bible says, God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. And that’s true.
Given the talents and abilities some people have, we might be tempted to think it’s obvious why God called them to do a particular job; they seem perfectly fitted for it. But would God call someone without a particular set of skills? Would he call someone who has not yet learned how to follow him? Could God have a purpose for someone who hasn’t done well and who hasn’t shown what sin tendencies he or she has? Would God call us without really knowing what we are going to do with our lives? Let’s get a bit crazy—would God call someone who has not yet been born?
The Bible tells us God sometimes does just that. In fact, when you look through the Bible to see how God calls people, you won’t find a definitive pattern or even a list of prerequisites for those God chooses to call. We do know he doesn’t discriminate as he has called men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. In our Old Testament reading today in Jeremiah, we find an example of a calling that took place before birth. First, a bit of background:
Jeremiah was born a Levite—into a Levitical priestly family. His father was a priest, his grandfather was a priest, and so was his great grandfather. Even as a youngster, Jeremiah didn’t have to wonder what his life’s work would be. He knew he would most likely be a priest. That was the calling he fully expected.
But God had other plans for Jeremiah:
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.” (Jer. 1:4-5)
Wow! What would be going through your head if you heard God say this to you—that he “formed you in the womb and set you apart before you were born”? Would that make you feel secure—knowing God had something significant for you to do? Would it give you the courage to do what God asks of you?
Jeremiah always thought he would be a priest—serving in the temple. But God called him to be a prophet. Being a prophet was a much more difficult task than being a priest. The priests knew what their duties would be. They were all written down and had pretty much been the same for centuries. Not so for prophets.
Prophets could be called upon by God at any time to speak to a group of people or to whole nations; and let’s be honest, some of those messages from God weren’t always well accepted. They could include good news or not-so-good news. It wasn’t a life’s work for the faint of heart. It was often dangerous work. Being a prophet was definitely taking Jeremiah out of his comfort zone.
So, what does Jeremiah have to do with you? I believe if we think about how God works with us, we can see some parallels in Jeremiah’s story and in our story. More on this later. First, let’s notice Jeremiah’s response.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jer. 1:6)
It’s estimated Jeremiah was probably in his late teens or early 20s. That’s young to take on such a responsibility, and Jeremiah knew that within his culture he would be considered too young for anyone to pay much attention to what he would have to say. His response may have been just a concern for his age, but I would suggest it’s more than that. I suggest Jeremiah might be looking for a way out of this calling.
Have you ever done that? I have.
Personal anecdote: This is a good place to share a short example of God prodding you and you not responding well.
Sometimes I know what God wants me to do—go make peace with someone, go bring a challenge to someone, share some bad news, give some gentle correction, change something in my life—yet I can come up with all kinds of excuses. “Lord, that person isn’t ready for a challenge. If I make peace with that person, I’ll look foolish. I’d rather just love people, rather than challenge them or give them gentle correction. And Lord, I kinda like the way I am—don’t you accept me just the way I am? Is change really necessary?”
God stopped Jeremiah before he got too far into his excuse, and I’d suggest he stops us as well:
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 1:7-8)
Too young is just one excuse. We can come up with several—and it’s because we don’t like to come out of our comfort zones—and we certainly don’t like to face the possibility of rejection.
Notice God’s words: “Do not be afraid! I am with you! I will rescue you if you get in a bind!” Note the similarity to the words Jesus gave the disciples at the great commissioning: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”… and “I will be with you always.” Or in the words Paul tells us in Romans 8 when he reminds us that nothing can separate us from God and his love.
Sure, we can start out like Jeremiah and be a bit fearful and timid at the beginning, but if we believe God and take him at his word, we can also be strong and powerful and impactful like Jeremiah, who became one of the bravest of God’s prophets, facing down powerful leaders of nations. God was with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s words would be God’s words. God is with you—your words can be his words.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10)
When God calls, he empowers us with what we need to fulfill that calling. He doesn’t call you to be a leader and not give you gifts of leadership. He doesn’t call you to be a pastor and not give you gifts to be a shepherd leader. He doesn’t call you to be a prayer warrior and not give you the ability to pray with and for others. Whatever God calls you to do, he gifts you to do.
He reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth—letting Jeremiah know that he would be given the words to say as he prophesied. Again, God is saying, I am with you—I will never leave nor forsake you—I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.
And because of this, Jeremiah was able to uproot and tear down things that were not of God, to destroy and overthrow things that were destroying God’s people, and then to build up and to plant.
We could share similar stories from Scripture: David and John the Baptist were both chosen from the womb, and you were chosen before the foundation of the earth to participate in the uprooting and tearing down that Jesus is doing in this world as we share his love and his life with others. You are participating in destroying and overthrowing the lies people hear about who God is and about what he is doing. Jesus has invited you to join him in building and planting—building his kingdom, and planting good fruit through your life.
God didn’t call you to himself because of your great talents and abilities—(he gave you those talents and abilities)—he called you because of his great love for you. Like Jeremiah, David, Samuel and others, we are often taken aback by God’s calling. “Why me? I’m nothing special. I can’t do this. I don’t have any talents.”
To this God replies: “I make you special. You can do this because I am with you and in you and I will even tell you what to say. You do have talents and abilities. I know, because I formed them in you when you were in the womb. I have been with you, and I will be with you always.”
Jeremiah and David lacked the qualities and experience necessary for their callings. Jeremiah was young and fearful and hadn’t a clue as to what he was supposed to say. David spent his youth, not in a palace, but out in the fields herding sheep. Did these factors stop them from fulfilling their callings? No.
God was not unaware of who they were. As with all those he calls, God fills in the gaps. He gave Jeremiah the words he should speak and promised him protection from those who would seek to harm him. God was faithful to Jeremiah, to David, to Jesus, to Paul, to many, many others, and he is faithful to you and to your calling.
It’s obvious most of us haven’t had the kind of callings that Jeremiah and David had, but we’ve all been called by God. He has called us into a special relationship with himself. He has called us to join with him in sharing what we have with the world—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is that dangerous work? It could be. It has been for Christians historically, and still is. Many Christians are being persecuted around this world.
Maybe you feel too young or too old for your calling. God has called you anyway. Are you introverted and shy? God has called you anyway. Maybe you’ve made some pretty bad mistakes in your life that you’re not proud of. Not a problem. You are forgiven! God has called you anyway. Trust God to supply what you lack.
While we haven’t all been called to some special vocation like Jeremiah or David, we have all been called by God to share his good news and to be the light and salt in this dark world. Tend to your calling. Look at the people God has placed in your life and ask God who he wants you to spend more time with. Then build relationships with them so you have opportunity to share God’s love and life. Do what God has called you to do—join him in the great commission of bringing his light and truth to others. You’ve been called, and God doesn’t make mistakes, so ask him where he is asking you to participate. Let’s tend to our calling!
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Have you ever felt called to something—ministry, service—like God gifted you to do something specific? Share. Have you wondered if you have a calling? Do you wonder what God has called you for? To do?
- Put yourself in Jeremiah’s sandals. How would it feel to have God tell you he formed you in the womb and had appointed you to a particular calling before you were even born?
- Jeremiah said he was too young. What reasons (excuses) do you hear people using to get out of serving in the church? What excuses have you given?
- What do you think it means, “When God calls, he empowers” Share an example of someone you know, or share an example about yourself. Do you feel God has empowered you?
- Take a moment and think about the things you enjoy doing. How can these be used for God’s glory and service? What are you passionate about? Who gave you that passion? Why?
- Psalm 71 reminds us that Jesus is our hope and refuge. It also says he is our confidence. What does that mean to you?
- In the love chapter (1 Cor. 13) Paul describes the perfect love—many say he is describing God. What attribute of God’s love means the most to you? What attribute do you try to live out in your life? What area do you struggle with?