Sunday, August 21, 2022
Do you have any inspiring authors or speakers you like to listen to? Or how about quotes that have made an impression on you: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” or “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” No matter how many times I watch it, I cannot keep myself together when I watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a powerful speech! Aside from famous or well-known speakers, we might think of words of wisdom or saying people we know have given us, that we treasure and hold dear. Words can have great power. From the beginning, God spoke and the world came into being with a word! Many of us have memorized favorite Bible verses or passages like Psalm 23 because God’s Word in scripture speaks so powerfully to us, comforts us, encourages us, and inspires us. Words can be very powerful.
Of course, when you think of the amount of words we listen to, say, and read in a day, not everything leaves a lasting impression! As a pastor, every week, I strive to come up with something interesting and edifying to say to God’s people, using Holy Scripture as a guide. I know you won’t remember every word; I don’t remember everything I say myself! There are weeks when it feels like no one is listening or that my words won’t make a difference. But then there are the times when people come back to me, sometimes months or even years later, and say, “Remember when you said…” They were listening! They remember. That is humbling feedback for a pastor. Every week, I pray that you might hear not just me, but God’s word speaking through me. There may be a lot of words out there, but God’s word can still speak to us and through us in powerful ways, through all different kinds of people. And here’s another humbling thought: God can and does speak through you, too!
So, we come today to our last prophet for this summer, Jeremiah, and the reminder of how powerful God’s word can be when delivered by mouths of prophets. His book is almost as long as Isaiah’s, and we believe Jeremiah also wrote the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah uses a lot of words! Remember, a prophet’s main job is not just to predict the future, but to speak the word of the Lord to the people. And here’s something I just learned this past week – in Hebrew, the word for prophet actually means, “one who is called for a task.” By definition, the Lord calls prophets to speak on his behalf, and God’s hope is that people listen and respond.
In our first lesson for today, we have Jeremiah’s call story, which begins the book. His story might remind you of other people in the Bible who initially are uneasy about the task God is calling them to do: Moses, who tries to make the excuse that he is not a good public speaker, or Gideon, who says he’s not important enough to speak on behalf of God. Here, Jeremiah’s argument is that he is too young and inexperienced. He doesn’t know how to speak! The Lord isn’t buying the argument. “Do not be afraid of them…for I am with you to deliver you,” the Lord says. God touches his hand to Jeremiah’s mouth, and assures Jeremiah that he has God’s own words in his mouth. It’s a powerful image. Can you imagine the responsibility Jeremiah is feeling?
Because the Lord doesn’t give Jeremiah an easy task. The book has plenty of words of judgment to the people of Jerusalem and to other nations. The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem during this time, and the people of Israel are exiled. But it isn’t all doom and gloom work that Jeremiah is called to do. Beyond words of destruction and defeat will come words to build and to plant as Israel will be able to return from exile and rebuild the temple. Jeremiah’s words end with good news of hope and promise to God’s people.
If someone as great as Jeremiah or Moses or Gideon had doubts initially about God’s call in their lives, certainly, we, too, have had our insecurities. When have you struggled to listen to God and follow? We all have! Even if we simply struggle to see or hear God guiding us in the first place! In deciding whether to move or not, whether to take a job or not, navigating every day work or parenting decisions, deciding to have a medical procedure or intervention done or not, planning retirement, and so on, there are many points in our lives when we wonder if we’ve done the right thing, and as people of faith; if it was what God wanted us to do. Sometimes it is tempting to take the easy way out and decline to serve the church in some capacity, or take the risk in our personal or work lives, rather than trying to prayerfully discern if it’s what God is calling us to do. Like Jeremiah, we might not have as much confidence in ourselves as God has in us! We may think we’re too young, too old, not a good enough speaker or too insignificant.
We see in our readings today that God can use every single one of us as “prophets,” called to a certain task, called to speak a word of hope, good news, and life to someone else who needs to hear it. We don’t all have to be preachers like me and stand up here every Sunday or even occasionally, but we can share a story with another parishioner or even better, a friend or family member, about God at work in our lives. One of my favorite parts about being a pastor is visiting people in their homes. Just this summer, I have experienced two older members of our congregation inviting someone to come to our church. One has dementia, the other will probably never set foot in this church building again because of physical health issues, but they are doing what they can to speak and share their faith, despite the barriers. I often wonder how we who have experienced the word of God at work in our lives so powerfully can keep it to ourselves? And like our fellow members’ examples, let’s not let barriers or excuses get in the way of confidently trusting that God will help us speak the right words, when we’re called to say something.
In our gospel for today, Jesus encounters a woman who has been bent over with a crippling disease or spirit for eighteen years, and with a word, he heals her. She is able to stand up straight and praises God immediately. She can’t possibly keep what has happened to herself a secret! With only a word, God sends his Son Jesus, the Word made flesh, into the world to save and restore us. That very same powerful Word, which was in the beginning with God, which was given to prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah as we read today lives in us. God has touched our mouths with his hand, words of love and life and possibility. At Holy Communion, we put God’s Word made flesh in our mouths; we taste and see that the Lord is good. God has a word for our insecurities, doubts and weaknesses – “Do not be afraid. I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Thanks be to God. Amen!