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“Do Not Fear, I AM With You”              Jeremiah 1:4-10       August 22, 2010

Hardly anyone in the Bible ever volunteered for God’s service. Nearly everyone resists God’s call initially and, along the way, often. Jeremiah was no exception. Imagine his astonishment when, as a mere youth, “the word of the Lord” came to him and said (v. 5):
 
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet ….” Isaiah had a similar word from God (see Isaiah 49:1: “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me”).

Jeremiah responded not by saying, “Yes, Lord. Here I am. Send me.” Rather, he said, essentially, “Lord, I’m just too young and inexperienced to speak to those you have asked me to speak to.”
 
The Lord didn’t say, “Oh, well, I guess I’ll call someone else if you don’t think you’re up to it.” Rather, the Lord spoke again to Jeremiah. God expected Jeremiah to go to whom God sent him and to say what God commanded him.
Even so, God acknowledges Jeremiah’s reluctance and reassures him: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (v. 8).
 
“Do not fear/be afraid” and “I (your God) am with you”: These words of God are constants. Throughout Scripture, we hear encouraging words that God speaks to folks who are frightened by God’s call or by what they’re facing.
 
It was the same when Moses (a much older man of about 80! when God called him — see Exodus 7:7) offered one excuse after another, but God kept after him until he responded with a “Yes” (see Exodus 3:1–4:31).
 
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua and Solomon all heard the words: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” Such reassurances of God’s presence in times of fear also appear in the gospels as an angel of God comforted and encouraged Mary and Joseph. God reassured the apostle Paul in Acts 18:9 and 27:24.

The message “Don’t fear; I’ll be with you” isn’t an empty promise. Fearful things do come to us all. Some of them are in close association with what God calls us to do or be, whether personally or as the church of Jesus Christ. God invites us to believe that Jesus Christ walks with us amid our fears to the other side of the task or within or through the tough times.

For most of us, Jeremiah’s initial response is understandable. So what can we learn about God’s call and our response?

First of all, God’s call is personal.

Jeremiah is being called to be a prophet — a mouthpiece of God. His call is specific to the way God made him (v. 5) and is intended for the situation in which God has placed him (vv. 7, 10).

Similarly, God calls each of us to become who he made us to be on behalf of those he has called us to impact.

Parker Palmer examines Christian calling and vocation in his classic book Let Your Life Speak. The title is borrowed from an old Quaker adage that captures the two-sided nature of calling: It’s about who you are, and it should influence others’ lives.

Your life -- Speaks.
 
God’s calling interacts (first) with how he has wired us. Our gifts. Passions. Talents. But this calling then speaks out to others — extending kingdom values to people in our circles of influence.

In saying that calling is personal, we also mean that it’s unique to each of us. We aren’t supposed to read Jeremiah’s calling and do what he was supposed to do. We’re supposed to read it and do what we are supposed to do.

We aren’t all called to be missionaries in a foreign land, mothers to autistic children, servants in children’s ministry, or even sufferers of chronic pain.

God’s call is personal to each of us. God knew us and planned on us before ever forming us (v. 5). How should this impact our sense of self?
 
In Jeremiah we read: “before you were born, I consecrated you.”
In Psalm 70 we read: “upon you I have leaned from my birth, it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.”
 
God’s call is personal to each of us. We have value because God created us. We are not here for no reason.
 
We may not think our little lives matter in the greater scheme of things, but we do matter, and we matter greatly to God. Stop and reflect on that a while. . . . Do you ever get discouraged for mistakes you’ve made—things you’ve forgotten? . . . Don’t sell yourself short. You have value because God created you.
 
We can safely say, “My times are in Your hands” and be at peace.
In light of the above, who has God made us to be? And who are we supposed to influence through our life?

Our response to God is a process. n verse 6, Jeremiah initial response sounds almost cowardly.
6Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." You don’t mean me, do you?

If we heard God speak to us, we’d respond in a second, right? More likely than not, our response to God is closer to Jeremiah’s hesitancy.

God speaking: “I’ve made you a prophet.”

Jeremiah: “I can’t speak well enough. I’m not old enough. I’m not brave enough.” That’s just silly, God. You must have mistaken me for someone else. I don’t fit what You’re looking for.

Jeremiah’s story is a lot like Moses’ calling in Exodus 3–4.

God speaking: “I’m sending you to deliver my people.”

Moses: “Who am I? Who are you? What if nobody believes me? I can’t do it. Please ask someone else.”

When we read these accounts, it isn’t just their stories. It’s our story. Responding to the call of God is often a Jeremiah or Moses process. We balk. We question. We wrestle. We fear. We need clarification. We want things to be easier. We flat-out ignore.

We’re human, and these responses are common in the process of understanding calling. They’re assumed in the process of growth. They’re expected in the process of sanctification. Eventually, we learn to discern our right relationship with God and how to live that out in our personal life. As we learn, as we take to heart the words, “don’t be afraid, I AM with you,” we act and we grow when God calls.

But before we get there, we usually duck, deny, downplay, or deliberate in responding to the voice of God. Spiritual growth is a process. There’s more to life than “once saved, always saved.” We’re on a spiritual journey which takes a lifetime to complete.

What was true for Jeremiah and Moses is also true today: God believes in us more than we believe in him. He’s patient enough to allow us to get on board with his agenda through process.

God’s call is personal; our response is a process. God’s call is also a partnership. When God calls Jeremiah, he doesn’t leave him alone to accomplish that calling.

“You shall go to all to whom I send you” (v. 7).
“You shall speak whatever I command” (v. 7).
“I am with you” (v. 8).
“I have put my words in your mouth” (v. 9).

God’s calling is always the invitation to partner with him in a place where his Spirit is already at work. (Evangelism model)

Paul models this in describing the preaching he was called to do. It wasn’t a human effort but a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:4). What was true for Paul is true of real preaching today. And what is true in the pulpit is just as true for the calling of every individual.

Whatever God calls people to, is the thing he intends to empower them to accomplish. This means we are not alone in our calling, whatever that may be. We aren’t solely responsible for the results of what we are called to. We find God at work around us and join him in what he might do through us. That is the partnership of our calling.

God’s call is personal and our response is a process. God’s call is a partnership and may not always be a permanent call.
 
While our response to God may be a process, it isn’t one without an end. In Jeremiah’s case, he spoke the word of God “until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month” (v. 3).

God called out to Israel in prophecies. Warnings. Chances. Fresh starts. Guidance. Forbearance. But Israel didn’t have forever to respond. God isn’t content to be ignored forever. He eventually honors the desires of those who ignore him, and then the consequences fall as they may.

We see this throughout the Bible. Israel ignores her prophets, and enemies eventually show up. Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move to the next town if they were ignored.
 
No more chances. We can ignore God’s call, and he’ll eventually accept our terms. It may be the call of God to trust Christ for the first time. He may be calling us to leave a pattern of sin. He may call us to change jobs or move our families to another part of the country.

But when God’s spirit leads and woos, it isn’t forever. Consequences come, complacency sets in, and eventually death comes. Something can cause the invitation of God to expire.

So while we need to be careful in discerning God’s call in our lives, we also need to be careful not to put off our obedience. Responding to God’s call is a temporary window of kingdom opportunity.

When we read the calling of Jeremiah, we see our own tendencies. We’re likely to balk at partnering with God. We may not see how he has made us. We may have excuses lined up and ready.

But God doesn’t make errors in calling us. “Did you mean me… ?” is always gently answered with “Yes, I really did mean you… . In God's infinite wisdom, and with God's infinite power, God has chosen you, only you, as the only one who can stand as a particular kind of witness, perform a unique kind of ministry, give a distinct shape to Christ's body here on earth.
 
You are the only one God chooses for this task. Only you can do God's work as only you can do it. Together with every member of the body of Christ, we make up a community, each answering God’s call. Together, God’s kingdom moves forward. Amen.


Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, LA
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