Pulling the Sermon Together (Jer. 1:4-10)
2010-08-20 by Laurie McKnight
Happy Friday. Some of us are “off” today; some of us have finished our sermons for Sunday already. Some of us will be starting our sermons tomorrow night. Friday is often the day the sermon “gels” for me, as I marinate on it all week....all the different themes that the scripture readings and any additional research I may have done begin to blend together.
This morning, I’m looking at Lectionary Homiletics Vol. XV, Number 5 (August-September 2004, p.33 ff), and rather than recreate the wheel, I’m relying on some excellent scholarship that has already been done.
We’ve already mentioned that this is Jeremiah’s call story; we’ve mentioned his reluctance to be called by God (as other prophets were – and are); we mentioned YHWH’s commissioning of Jeremiah, by touching his mouth and placing there “the message that he was to impart.” LH further indicates that the detailed telling of Jeremiah’s call story was important to relate and record: “…it was for those who questioned his credentials and [it was] for him, when he experienced moments of insecurity and ambivalence.” God saw all that coming: the reluctance of others to hear/attend to what Jeremiah had to say, and Jeremiah’s doubts about his own abilities to be a prophet.
Donald K. McKim writes that Reformed theologians, including John Calvin “…see in these words a sturdy statement of God’s election or predestination of Jeremiah, ‘from all eternity,’ to be one of God’s chosen ones…. There is no inherent ability, merit, or righteousness within Jeremiah himself as a person that leads to his selection.” We’ve already discussed the idea of inviting parishioners to share their call stories – how and when (and if) they feel called by God – if they feel chosen – if they feel strengthened, beyond their own abilities, by God’s faith in them and by God’s touch on their lives.
McKim also reminds us that Jeremiah is talking back to God, dissenting, disagreeing with God. Even if Jeremiah was “only a boy,” how or why did he think arguing with God was a good idea? How can you disagree with the one who has known you since before you were born? We could speak with our parishioners about free will – the minds and the spirits God has gifted us with – would God have “taken no” for an answer from Jeremiah? I suspect that’s a possibility. When have we said “no” to God? Even when we know what God’s call is on our lives, sometimes we still demur.
Jill L. McNish says we often doubt our own abilities to be prophetic, to speak God’s word. And yet God often chooses those “…people whom others – by reason of race, or class, or disability, or gender, or age, or sexual orientation, or ethnicity – might be inclined to ignore. How willing are we to hear prophetic words from the mouths of…. ‘others’…?” How willing are we to be those mouths, speaking to others – risking persecution, humiliation, separation from our families or our peer groups? We could talk about marginalization in society – where we think we fit in (or don’t), which voices we are likely to listen to (or ignore), who we seek to share our own message with – do we share our call stories? Are we eager to tell what God is doing in our lives?
We could talk about arguing with God; we could talk about our fitness to do God’s work (or our own judgment of that); we could talk about how we judge others as fit – or not – to do God’s work. Can we acknowledge that we all are called? Can we make allowances that sometimes we answer God’s call, and sometimes we don’t? And sometimes we say, “Not yet” to God – not now, not never, just not yet.
I imagine I will ask my congregation a series of questions (I always do, in every sermon), and I will invite them to think about where in this call story of Jeremiah they find themselves – where they are on the journey of their faith – where they are in complying with God’s will for their lives, and in following Jesus, a more recent though maybe less reluctant prophet than Jeremiah. I might sum up with a reminder of a few verses of Psalm 71 – if we follow God’s call for our lives (and why wouldn’t we – God loves us and wants what’s best for us and has known us since our time in the womb), we can be assured of refuge and protection, and we can lead nations and kingdoms, we can build and plant and be part of a new heaven and a new earth.
Thoughts on Wombs
2010-08-19 by Laurie McKnight
Perhaps this is a place that only a woman would naturally go to when linking Psalm 71 and the Jeremiah 1:4-10 passage – and yet we all come into the world after developing in the womb. I enjoyed hearing an old fiery Baptist preacher once actually yelling at his congregation – stirring them up – talking about feminism, and instead of talking about what women didn’t have – he lifted up what women did have. He said, “They are men with wombs! They are womb-men!” For me, that was a nice joining of the genders, and put the “addition” or “bonus” of a womb (if you will) in a very positive light.
The psalmist says in 71:6, “Upon you [God] I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” Imagine if God was our midwife, our obstetrician. We already know God as our creator. We know God was present when we came into being, and if we are aware of it, we know we’re blessed; we have known God our whole lives long, since before we even had conscious or rational thought.
God says to Jeremiah in 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God is reminding Jeremiah of their long-standing relationship, of which Jeremiah seems not to be aware. Jeremiah even as an adult is not remembering his history with God, all the ways God intervened in his life and set him apart as special and called.
The psalmist knows about God, about relationship with God, about praising God. The pericope for this week is only 6 short verses, one-fourth of the entire psalm length of 24 verses. The psalmist builds on this relationship with God in the next 18 verses, reminding God of their mutual admiration society, and invoking God’s continued protection (refuge) and blessing through the psalmist’s old age. The psalmist starts with the womb and counts on God until the end of days (“even when I am old and gray”), and the psalmist promises to continue in relationship with God, and promises to continue to praising God. Just like our mothers, out of whose wombs we emerge, God always loves us. God remains our caring, heavenly parent throughout our days.
Jeremiah needs the reminder of the long-term relationship. God calls Jeremiah, but Jeremiah needs some persuading. After verse 10 in our pericope, God quizzes Jeremiah, asking some questions and testing some visions. And it turns out well: Jeremiah answers correctly. It turns out Jeremiah has the stuff; he is a prophet after all; God was not wrong! (We know our earthly parents have dreams and visions of what they would like us to be – sometimes we have the gifts/aptitude for their choice for our lives and sometimes we don’t. But God, our heavenly parent, seems to “get it right” more often than not. You’ve heard the maxim: “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.”) God can tell that Jeremiah is the one (perhaps God has destined Jeremiah to be the one!), and God promises Jeremiah to continue to be with him, to help him on his journey, to help him with his call. God has promised to be with Jeremiah, to fortify him, to terrify his opponents if necessary, to rescue him if necessary. What a loving parent, who was with us at the beginning of our lives, and who promises to be with us at the end (and through the middle) – perhaps from the shelter of the womb to the shelter of the tomb, and then we bask in life eternal with our Lord.
Posts That'll Make You Stand Up Straight
2010-08-19 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to guest blogger Laurie McKnight, and thank you also to Stephen Schuette and Leah Schade for their contributions. The posts are bubbling with helpful insights. Soak it all up.
I'm not sure what way I am going for this sermon. Maybe I will meditate on the idea of honoring the Sabbath and couple that with a first-person narrative in which the bent woman tells her story, or maybe a religious leader can tell his story about feeling threatened by an empowered woman. Hmmm. Bubbling.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Freeing the Bent Woman
2010-08-18 by Leah D. Schade
The drama of this scene in Luke is stunning. First, Jesus brings the woman into the middle of the synagogue. To place her in this area that is forbidden to women was to challenge exclusive male claims on the means of grace and access to God. Second, he declares that she is free from her ailment. To speak to her in this way was to challenge male restraints on women’s freedom. Then, he lays his hands on her. To touch her in this way was to revoke the codes forbidding physical contact because of male scruples about menstrual uncleanness and sexual advances.
And once he touches her, immediately, she stands upright, no longer doubled over by the spinal ailment that had crippled her for eighteen years. It’s like the grip of the satanic, serpentine force has been severed, and the weight of countless generations of Edenic sin has suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. She is free – free to stand tall, to be reconciled to her body which has been her enemy for so long. Not only is her body released, but so is her voice, for it says that she began praising God. What a scandal – a woman talking freely and without fear, praising God in the midst of men and in the presence of God. But there she is – the choke-hold on her voice released, and she speaks loud and clear, telling everyone about this mighty act of God.
The reaction of the men is not surprising. The leader of the synagogue first attacks Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. But this probably masks his true fear – his fear of chaos, his fear of what allowing women to have their own voice, and assert their presence would mean for their well-established hierarchy. Then in verse 15, it says “the Lord answered him” – notice the change in how Jesus is referred to in the text. The Greek word is kurios, meaning Lord. This is God This is the word of the Lord. And what does God say? “You hypocrites! Don’t each of you untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? You treat your animals better than you treat your women! And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” speaking.
To refer to this woman as a “daughter of Abraham” is astounding. According to Walter Wink, in his book, Engaging the Powers, in all of ancient Jewish literature, this expression has never before been used. Up to this point, “Women were saved through their men; to call her a ‘daughter of Abraham’ was to make her a full-fledged member of the covenant and of equal standing before God with men,” (Wink, 129). And more – Jesus is asserting that her illness is not divine punishment for sin, but is due to satanic oppression. When he frees this woman of her eighteen-year affliction from Satan, he is symbolically freeing all women from the affliction of Satan that began in the Garden of Eden so long ago.
Thoughts on Jeremiah's Call
2010-08-18 by Laurie McKnight
Thoughts on Jeremiah this morning – this is his call story. I think of my own call story – perhaps every pastor preaching this passage this week could take a moment or two out of their sermon to tell their congregation their call story – what do your parishioners know about how you chose to become a pastor – and why? Or you might invite congregation members to share their own call stories. What are our parishioners called to do? This might be (probably should be?) separate from their jobs – what they do to earn a living. Vocation and avocation could be discussed – what we do for food money, vs. what we do that feeds our souls. Where do your parishioners feel that God is calling/leading them? How well (and how quickly) do they answer/respond?
I felt called by God at age 15, and yet I declined the call. Not, like Jeremiah, because I was too young (or a girl), but because I felt I wasn’t “nice enough.” God could certainly not call someone like ME! I didn’t know that much of my bible at that point, and I had no idea that fully human people fill every page – I didn’t know the history of reluctant prophets (like Jeremiah, or Jonah, or Moses…the list goes on…) – all the people who said “No” to God (or made up excuses) before they reluctantly said “Yes.” It took me about 30 years to answer God’s call – but I’m so glad I did! My life is much better/happier now – which is not to say that it’s without its hardships, but truly “letting go and letting God” has been a gift.
I wonder if our parishioners feel God’s call on their lives. I wonder if they feel they have answered God’s call, if they feel they have committed to God, and where their satisfaction/contentment now lies. Do they wrestle with measuring “happiness” by worldly or cultural standards? Or is knowing and serving and loving the Lord its own reward – its own measure of a life well and obediently lived?
I'm looking at Jeremiah 1:9: Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
And I’m reminded of a situation that occurred in church last Sunday. A parishioner told me that my sermon really resonated with her and with her daughter (a young adult who has caused her mother some worry over the years), and the mother told me that my sermon had helped get her daughter back on the right path. I demurred, not only to try and attempt to be humble, but also to give God the glory, the “credit” due – because I truly believe God speaks through me, and the Holy Spirit blesses to everyone’s understanding the message they need to hear. I don’t think I’m the crafter of magic or salvific words; I believe God does that, and I said as much to this parishioner. And then she said to me, without missing a beat, “Well, then, that sort of takes the pressure off of you, doesn’t it?” So I don’t get the “credit” when my message is “good” – but does God get the “blame” when my message is “bad”? Can my message ever BE “bad” when God is the architect of the message, and blesses the understanding of scripture to my parishioners’ ears?
My parishioner is absolutely right. We can’t have it both ways. But I’m not sure we need to have it both ways. If, like Jeremiah, God has touched my mouth and filled me with words, then I have no worries about being a “good enough” preacher (or even a “nice enough” pastor). Perhaps God has touched the ears (and the hearts and the souls and the minds and the hearts) of my parishioners, and they hear what they need to hear – they hear God’s call to them; they hear God’s unique message to them.
With God on our side (Emanuel – God with us) we are capable of doing great things: leading and inspiring others, praying for others, caring for others, showing God’s love to others, sharing God’s love with others…. We are all called as God’s children to be in loving relationship with all of God’s other children – our sisters and brothers in the faith (in the Old Testament) and our sisters and brothers in Christ (in the New Testament). We are all called – we all have call stories – and we are all called to care. And because God loves and cares for us, we are all enabled to do. We are all able to be vessels, servants, workers in the vineyard….to build and plant and minister to all nations in God’s name.
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