Reading for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and the 11th Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 1:4-7
Some people are reluctant servants. I suspect some of God’s most reluctant servants are found in the heart of the queer community. When I think of how reluctant we can be as servants, a story comes to mind.
A little girl had been trying to learn how to tie her shoes. She struggled for days and days. Finally, she managed to learn how to tie her shoes. Her parents thought she would be delighted. She was not happy. In fact, she cried. Her father asked why she was crying.
The little girl sobbed, “I just learned to tie my shoes.”
The father asked, “That’s wonderful. Why are you crying?”
“Now I’ll have to do it all by myself for the rest of my life.”
I think that is one of the fears of serving God. We might have to continue serving our God once we’ve started. Service is not always easy. But the good news is that unlike the little girl, we will never have to do it all by ourselves for the rest of our lives. God will be with us as we serve, so we are never alone in our service.
Today, we will look a little at the story of a reluctant servant. The story is found in the first chapter of Jeremiah.
This word from the Eternal came to me: “Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you; ere ever you were born, I set you apart; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said to you, “Ah, but, O Lord Eternal, I cannot speak, I am too young!” But the Eternal said to me, “Say not, you are too young; to whomsoever I send you shall you go, and whatever I command you, shall you speak.” (Jeremiah 1:4-7, Moffatt Bible)
God initiates the encounter
In Jeremiah Chapter 1, “God initiates the encounter.” God calls Jeremiah. God chose other biblical messengers — Moses, Isaiah, Samuel, and Ezekiel.
God acts that way with humanity. God saves; we respond. God calls; we respond. God intervenes; we respond. When it comes to calling people to serve, the call is personal — individual — to you as a person. I am not convinced the call of God involves people seeking out God and offering God their services. There might be times when it happens that way, but I believe God calls people to service.
Jeremiah sounds reluctant to speak for God. You might be wondering why Jeremiah was not really excited about speaking for the Eternal. This was not going to be an easy ministry. Jeremiah was called to ministry during a chaotic political, social, moral, and spiritual period. You might be thinking: Sounds a little like today. Good point! We are in a period of time that seems to have almost chaotic political, social, moral, and spiritual change.
But Jeremiah had especially bad news. He was given the difficult task of telling the people that Judah and Jerusalem were to be destroyed and the people carried into captivity.
As you can imagine, this was not a popular message. Think how popular the message would be here. Trying saying, “America will be defeated and all of her people carried off into slavery.” That would not go over well. You would never win a political office in the United States if that was the message of your campaign speeches.
The queer community is used to hearing a lot of verbal assaults and pronouncements of doom. You can imagine how well it would be received in the queer community if a gay man or a lesbian went from gay bar to gay bar saying all GLBT people would be carried off into slavery.
Nobody wants to hear a message like that. Jeremiah’s message was not popular in Judah. Even Jeremiah’s own family was not happy with the message.
Meaning of Jeremiah’s name
There are many possible meanings of Jeremiah’s name. The contributors to the NIV Bible Commentary believe the best meaning is “the Lord exalts.” Other meanings include “the Lord establishes” and “the Lord hurls.”
The role of those called to be God’s servants and prophets is to exalt people in the Messiah, to establish the Kingdom, and to gently help hurl or throw people into the safety of the Kingdom of God. Those are not easy tasks, and that is why I question the calling of those who seem overly eager to serve the Lord.
The Eternal chose Jeremiah before he was born. In Hebrew, the meaning is that God literally knew Jeremiah before Jeremiah was born. And this was intimate knowledge of Jeremiah. God did not just know Jeremiah. The Eternal molded Jeremiah, like a potter would mould clay.
You almost get a picture of God knowing Jeremiah so well that Jeremiah was personally molded into the man God wanted him to be. God continues to operate that way. God moulds us into the people God wants us to be. Jeremiah did not fill out an application form to be a prophet. God completed the application form and made sure Jeremiah had the qualifications before Jeremiah was born.
In the first two chapters of Ephesians, Paul paints a picture of God choosing you to be one of God’s children before the world was created. Christians are called by God before the foundation of the world. You do not need to fill out a long application form for a passport. The Spirit of the Risen Lord in your heart is your passport!
The very God who knew you better before you were born than you will ever know yourself, who chose you before you were born, and who personally molded you in the womb for service knows when the right time has come for you to serve God. There is no need to rush that process. And the Eternal is preparing you for service, by helping you understand how to exalt people in Messiah and how to help build the Kingdom. The result of God’s work in your life is to help you be prepared to step into roles of service, roles where you can serve the Eternal in a powerful manner.
Are you good enough?
As with many people through the ages, you might be thinking, “I believe God wants me to do this, but I am just not good enough.” You might be thinking, “God wants me to do this, but I am not straight enough.” Compare yourself for a moment to God’s servants in the Bible. That way you can see how you stack up.
- Noah was a drunk.
- Abraham was too old.
- Isaac was a daydreamer.
- Jacob was a liar.
- Leah was ugly.
- Joseph was abused.
- Moses stuttered.
- Gideon was afraid.
- Samson was a long-haired womanizer.
- Rahab was a prostitute.
- David had an affair and was a murderer.
- Elijah was suicidal.
- Isaiah preached naked. (Aren’t you glad I don’t preach like Isaiah!)
- Jonah ran away from God.
- Naomi was a widow.
- Job went bankrupt.
- Peter denied Christ.
- The disciples fell asleep while praying.
- Martha worried about everything.
- May Magdalene was… well, you know.
- The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once.
- Zacchaeus was too short.
- Paul was too religious.
- Timothy probably had an ulcer.
- And Lazarus was dead!
I’ve always accepting being dead as a good reason for not serving God. But God does not. The good things we do in our lives live on long after we are dead.
Have a few personal problems, a few issues? Well, so did the ancient servants of God. Thinking you are not worthy because your only problem is your sexual identity or your gender identification? Your sexual orientation and your gender identity are nothing that can stop God from touching lives through you.
But the Eternal said to me, “Say not, you are too young; to whomsoever I send you shall you go, and whatever I command you, shall you speak.”
Now, no more excuses! God can use you to your full potential, because the very God who formed you in the womb, who called you before the world existed, equipped you for the task at hand. Besides, you are not the message; you are the messenger.
I do not think anybody can be a good servant of God without understanding the most important part of servanthood — respect for one’s heritage. When you do not respect and appreciate your heritage in Christ, you are not going to be a powerful person of God.
The inscription on your heart
There is a story of a tourist. When traveling in France, he purchased an amber necklace. Customs duty on the necklace was rather steep, so he decided to have the necklace appraised. The jeweler that appraised the necklace offered him $25,000 for the necklace.
The man suspected something was not quite right, so he got it appraised by another person. The second appraisal was for such a high figure the man was stunned. He asked why the necklace was so valuable. He was told to look closely and was given a magnifying glass. The inscription read, “From Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine.” The name on the inscription made the necklace valuable.
Inscribed on the necklace of your heart and soul is Jesus. That inscription makes you valuable and gives you worth. People may look at you and not see your value. They might look at you and not be able to see anything other than your sexual orientation, or your gender expression. But when they look closer, when they look into your eyes, right into your heart, they can see the inscription of Jesus, the son of God, on your heart.
There are two concepts of the temple of God in the Pauline epistles. One is that the church, collectively, is the temple of God. The other concept is that each person who is a Believer is the temple of God. The Holy Spirit lives in each Believer and makes each Christian the temple of God. As the temple of the living God, you are a God carrier.
I want you to reflect on the second picture of God. You may know the chorus that goes, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” Think about that song and how it applies to you, as I make a change in the words:
Surely the presence of our God is in this place (me).
I can feel God’s power and God’s grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings.
I see peace on my face.
Surely the presence of our God is in this place (me).
God is calling you to help build the Kingdom, to invite new people to join the Kingdom. And nobody can explain the grace of God better than the queer community, better than people who have felt excluded so long and found inclusion and love in God.
God is not just on your side. God is living in you, working in you. So you are capable of doing the wonderful things God is calling you to do.
A lifelong counselor, teacher and educator, having worked in elementary and secondary education for 25 years, Gary Simpson is a member of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association and has spoken and led workshops on gay-straight alliances, bullying, spiritual self-defense, gay Christian identity, and the needs of GLBT youth and young adults.
Currently studying at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., he holds a B.Ed. from Union College in Lincoln, Neb., an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling and Ed.S. in Educational Psychology from Loma Linda University in Riverside, Calif., a Master’s in Religious Education from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, and a Certificate in Sexuality and Religion from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.