Known By God
By MacArthur H. Flournoy
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying: Jer 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." Jer 1:6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth Jer 1:7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you; you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Jer 1:8 Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Jer 1:9 Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. Jer 1:10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
In reading the call of Jeremiah, it’s quite easy to miss the rich, complex and unfolding story of Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.
The call of anyone to a life of faith is monumental; what is literally being asked of anyone to become a Christian is an invitation to place our trust, faith and life in the hands of a God we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands. It is a monumental move from a secular life to a life of faith.
Let’s draw our attention to this young man who lived in 7 centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Christ.
In researching Jeremiah’ familial lineage, it stands to reason that he would be called to be a prophet to Israel.
First, we note that his name literally means "Yahweh Exalts." That alone sets him apart from the everyday person and makes a statement about who he is, and who he is to become in the world.
We also learn that Jeremiah and his family were members of the religious establishment by birth and by association. It could be said that Jeremiah was born into the priesthood. As such he would have been familiar with the ancient tradition of Israel, the Mosaic exodus and covenantal foundations of Israel’s life and faith.
Jeremiah 1:4-10 is a revelation in every sense of the word. God is revealing God’s will to Jeremiah – Jeremiah is called to be a prophet to the NATIONS.
It’s incredibly important to understand that the revelation comes to Jeremiah not in the some physical form like the burning bush that appeared to Moses but as the prophetic word of God.
The text says "The word of the Lord came to me." So, see with me now, God Personified, Majestic, Omnipotent, and The Embodiment of Perfect Love or however we might envision God – None of those images holds true for this passage. God does not take the form of humanity – but instead manifest God’s self to Jeremiah in the form of the prophetic word of God.
We see this same phrase "The word of the Lord came to me" in verses 4, 11, and 13. It is in this prophetic phrase "The word of the Lord came to me" that embodies the presence of God.
BUT THERE IS A PROBLEM in this narative about this great Prophet; Jeremiah is resistant. One has to wonder, why would Jeremiah resist the call? It’s important that we understand what is being asked of Jeremiah in this context. He is not being called to be a prophet just to Israel, but he is being called to be a Prophet to nations.
Essentially, Jeremiah is being asked to step outside of his comfort zone, his familiar surroundings and go forth in the name of God and declare the prophetic word of God which is harsh and hard, yet, no less true. Perhaps Jeremiah’s resistance is a matter of courage – the kind of courage that says no matter what the outcome, God I will go forth as you see me. I wonder do we have that kind of courage. But if justice is to come, it will require us speak.
This begs the question, who gets to speak in our society? Who gets to speak in our communities? Who gets to speak in our legal system? Who gets to speak when decision are being made about social programs designed to aid the poor and those who stand in need?
Who has the privilege of having voice? Some call that agency. Why is Jeremiah resistant? He has been raised among priest, in a culture where one does not question God much less say no to God. Where does this young boy get the courage to resist the prophetic word of God?
There is a struggle taking place in the heart of Jeremiah before he accepts his call. Perhaps some gathered this evening know what its like to struggle with one’s call in life. Does anyone here remember what it felt like the first time you sensed the prophetic voice of God?
Do you remember that tension; "Are you sure you have the right person God?", "is it really me that you are calling?", "Could such a thing be possible at my age?" Flurries of questions come out of our mouths or we walk around in a befuddled state of silence, wondering, "Is it really possible that God is calling me to do this particular thing, whatever that may be?"
Jeremiah’s struggle is no different than the struggle many of us and those in our communities face – "Are we ready for what God is asking us to do?
God knowing Jeremiah speaks to the source of Jeremiah’s angst: and tells Jeremiah "Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." And before Jeremiah has yet another opportunity to object to God’s Call; God touches his mouth.
The placement of the hot burning coal on Jeremiah’s tongue is symbolic of God’s authority being placed in Jeremiah’s mouth. Jeremiah’s words were not his own but God’s: He was given "Prophetic Authority." Prophetic authority is expressed in Jeremiah in the phrase "The word of the Lord came to me: How incredibly simple and profoundly beautiful.
There comes a point in the life of every person faith where we are called to bear witness to grave injustices. And not just bear witness – if that alone were the case, though grievous it could possibly be bearable. But we must name with Bold Humility in full Prophetic Voice injustices in one part of the body represents an injustice to the entire body.
Do you recall a time when you could witness an injustice; possibly feel somewhat bothered – but for the most part, remain silent. Perhaps our silence was/is due to our complicity in the injustice. Many of us have sat in congregations where homophobia, sexism, misogyny, elitism, classism and heterosexism were the cornerstones of that congregation’s theology.
Some of us sat in those pews, year after year, after year, after year.
But one day God touched our mouths. Jeremiah would say "it was like fire shut in my bones." And we stood up and named the injustice as we gave voice to what was not of God.
However, I cannot go any further without focusing on a particular verse within the text that unlocks an entire universe with its own galaxies, if we would but pause for a moment and consider the magnificent enormity of this statement.
God tells Jeremiah "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."
Before I formed you in the womb – I knew you. Stop!
THE ENORMITY OF THIS STATEMENT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO LIBERATE US FROM FEAR, SELF DOUBT AND UNCERTAINTY ABOUT OUR CALL.
Before I formed you in the womb – I knew you.
Before I formed you in the womb – I knew you.
We are known by God! If there is a single thought that I want you take away from this message; it is this: WE ARE KNOWN BY GOD
Say it with me again: Before God formed me – God knew me!
That means our genesis predates our date of birth. And we are KNOWN by God.
We, like Jeremiah are compelled by this great gospel to prophesy – that is to declare the will of God;
We have been called to name injustice wherever it exists.
We have been called not only to name injustice but to give voice to injustice wherever it may live. And let’s not be naïve about naming injustices. There is a price to be paid; possibly loss of friends, possibly the loss of social status, maybe the reputation of one who is not a "team play" but a trouble maker, the loss of a job and the list goes on ad infinitum. Speaking out for justice comes with a price.
We have been called to bear full prophetic witness for those who may never see the inside chamber of a legislator’s office, speaking truth to power.
Some may ask – by what authority do you speak; to which we must respond; I speak as a person of faith.
And if you choose to operate with bold humility, I encourage you to say to whoever questions your suitability to speak against systemic injustices; "I speak with the power and authority given to me by the Most High God."
The Hebrew bible is emphatic that We Are God’s Witnesses as found in Deuteronomy 4:9 "Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children"
During Jeremiah’s tenure as a prophet he witnessed Israel being led into exile by the Babylonians. This came about as a result of Israel refusal to adhere to the covenant they entered into with Yahweh. In effect they forgot that they were KNOWN by God.
There is a danger in forgetting and living in the truth that we are known by God.
If we do not live in the realization that we are known by God we can be led into exile; into the valley of doubt and stagnation, hopelessness and despair, overwhelming depression and paralyzing fear.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
We, like Jeremiah are known by God. God is intimately acquainted with our every need.
God knows the desires, dreams and vision of our heart because God knows US.
And it is because we are known by God through the power of the Holy Spirit we can speak truth to power and do the work of Justice.
On an immersion to Washington DC to study legislative advocacy and countering injustices, in meeting with Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s Legislative Assistant in he told us one way we as people of faith can bring about justice in health care reform is to write letters as progressive people of faith. He also shared with us the most effective form of advocacy is to have conversations with people. In other words to use our voice and engage others in dialogue around issues of justice, and the reasons we support certain initiatives.
All too often progressive Christianity has allowed a small sector of our beloved community of faith speak for the entirety of Christianity. Consequently, when decisions are made on Capitol Hill or the numerous State Houses throughout the nation these select few self-appointed Christian leaders are believed to speak for all of us.
We must be witnesses for justice, and stand ready to prophesy in support of justice and mercy.
Audre Lorde told us many years ago "your silence will not protect you"
Could it be that our silence has resulted in millions of poor people dying of hunger and lack of water, in Haiti due to our nations economic and foreign policy, resulting in Haiti’s inability to build the necessary infrastructure to respond to the devastating disaster that has claimed more than 150,000 lives;
Could it be that our silence has allowed the governor to cut funding for programs for domestic violence services in this fiscal year, while we know women and girls face atrocities the world over.
Could it be that our silence has resulted in 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States, a number greater than any other nation in the world? Among those incarcerated we know the vast majority are poor people of color
Could it be that our silence has allowed for structural racism to exist in our criminal justice system where possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine results in instant incarceration, most commonly associated with people of color while the law allows for 500 grams of white powder cocaine most commonly used by white middle income people. Where is justice in the Criminal Justice system?
Could it be that our silence has resulted in a broken health care system, corrupt where only the most privileged have access to health care while 47 million people in our nation remain uninsured.
We learned in Washington DC that the insurance industry spent 400 million dollars lobbying against health care reform. Pharma (All pharmaceutical companies) spent 137 million dollars lobbying against health care reform. So the total money spent to lobby against justice in health care is 537 million dollars. Those in favor of health care reform spent 1.5 million. Where is justice?
BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO WITNESS INJUSTICE; we don’t need anymore SPECTATOR Christians.
We are KNOWN by God
I ask you today church, where are the prophetic voices of our time?
We are KNOWN by God
Where are the ones who would give voice to what we have seen; and more importantly who will speak forth the mind of God, the will of God, the justice of God, The mercy of God, the compassion of God.
We are KNOWN by God
Who among us like the Prophet Isaiah 62:1 will declare "For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch"
We are KNOWN by God
We should not be naïve about the voice of one who dares to name injustice. The prophetic voice often leads us into seasons of great lamentation.
I do no think it accidental that Jeremiah is the author of the book of Lamentations. I dare say the prophetic witness of Jesus the Christ compels us to periods of lamentation;
There’s an old gospel song that expresses this lamentation. It says: "Trouble in my way, I have to cry sometimes.
We are KNOWN by God
In the book of Lamentations we find 2:19 which proclaims
"Arise, cry aloud in the night. At the beginning of the night watches;
In this season of Epiphany we can be that prophetic light that speaks to the darkness calling forth the illumination of God. We can do this because we are known by God.
Do we really believe that God knows us?
Psalms 139 says it best:
Audre Lorde Poem: (Litany for Survival)
I therefore charge you by the power of the Holy Spirit to go forth from this place with bold humility and with full prophetic voice, name, proclaim and speak against injustices in all its forms according to the power of God that is at work in you.
We are known by God!
MacArthur H. Flournoy