We are still in the Epiphany Season, which celebrates Christ’s light coming to all people of the world. Yesterday celebrated the specific feast day called Presentation of the Lord, when Joseph and Mary brought 40-day-old Jesus to the Temple, an offering given as a sign of dedicating their child to God. On the way in to the Temple, a prophet Simeon and Prophetess Anna both saw him and talked about the great salvation he was going to bring to all people.
For a little over 50 years, there is a uniquely American festival that is happening today. Do you know what that is? [Super-bowl] That's right. Two teams are going to try and win the last game of the football season.
Usually the teams have some star players, and they really count on them to help win the game. (and sometimes they wear black and white stripes). But usually they are the quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. But how good and important do you think the quarterback would be if the offensive line didn’t protect him or the receivers always dropped the passes? Or how good would the running back be if the line and receivers didn’t block for them? Or what if quarterback never threw the ball so the receivers could catch them? They wouldn’t get very far down the field, would they, much less score or win the game. And how good would they stop the other team if everyone on the defense didn’t cooperate (work together) to do their job?
Sometimes, players get to thinking they don't need anyone else to win, while other people don't think they are important enough to be on the team. But that isn’t how it is with Jesus. Everyone is important to him. The prophets said wonderful things about what the star Jesus was going to do. Yet he still chose not to do it alone but to surround himself with a team to advance the news of God’s salvation forward into the world. And now he has chosen us too. He thinks each one of you is an important part of his kingdom team.
Paul describes this team as a body and says, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) Sometimes I think I’d be better off without my knee and hip when they ache -- but life would be much harder if I didn’t have them. I wouldn’t be able to get around very easily.
It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything on our own, but when we rely on each other and work together we become an important part of his team and as you know -- the popular phrase is that there is “No “I” in team”, but did you know that TEAM stands for “TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE?”
Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you that when we feel all alone and unable to do what we think is pleasing to you. Thank you that you have given us each other to rely on, and that together, we make up your mighty team where all things are possible. Help us all to be the best team player we can be for your kingdom. Amen. Hand out ROLOS candies -- Kind of look like playing pieces -- you know like Xs and Os on the chalkboard -- but since we are all on the same team -- they are all Os.
Bible Reading Luke 4:23-29
Last week Jesus began his ministry and had become popular in Galilee, including Capernaum. He returned home for the first time, where he did few miracles. Then he taught in the Synagogue that in him were fulfilled Isaiah’s words of a Messianic age ushering in salvation from sin and worldwide peace. They were impressed, but they also knew him as Joseph’s son, an ordinary man. Jesus heard or sensed their skepticism and so in Luke 4,
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. (NIV)
Message Luke 4:21-30, Jeremiah 1:4-10
Called to our Future Despite Others’ Doubts or our Own
The town of Nazareth is tucked up in a hollow, high against the slopes of a mountain which rose higher on three sides of the town, so they had plenty of options from where to throw Jesus to his death. But to relieve you of the suspense. Jesus (perhaps miraculously) walks away from the crowd unscathed and went to Capernaum to resume his ministry.
God, Prove Yourself
Jesus had just impressed the Nazarene synagogue members with his presentation, but not the content of promising that he himself was going to bring deliverance and healing to those damaged by sin and usher us into a new age in God’s kingdom. It sounded good, but the Nazarenes had watched him grow up and they had their doubts he could rise to that kind of greatness. One disciple expressed it, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Maybe that was their self-image too. Jesus puts their thoughts into the words of a parable. “Physician, heal yourself.” Meaning, “Jesus, you struggled against poverty and the difficult conditions of Nazareth just like the rest of us. Prove you have risen above it (and therefore can lift us from our daily struggles). And, prove it by doing the kind of miracles we heard you did Capernaum.”
My motivations for my requests are…
This demand was not seeking God’s compassionate help, gracious salvation, or timely rescue and intervention -- they were simply seeking proof of power. God doesn’t submit to tests of his existence or power or love.
Instead, Jesus answers the parable with another well-known saying -- that for a variety of reasons, exceptional people are not recognized as such by those who know them best. He illustrates with two Old Testament prophets who were also seen skeptically by their contemporaries. The prophets were therefore sent not to their own people but to foreigners who would recognize their greatness. Jesus is warning the Nazarene synagogue members (and us?) that if they did not accept him as God’s chosen Messiah, he too would be sent to outsiders.
Jesus’ claim to be God’s anointed, (for now) only nagged the Nazarenes with doubts. The idea that God’s grace and salvation could be diverted to people they considered not religious and therefore despised --- this enraged them to what they considered a justifiable murder. This blood thirsty hate was shared by the synagogue leaders in Pisidian Antioch and in Jerusalem against Paul when gave the same warning about their rejection of Christ leading to God’s salvation being offered to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:45-47 ff, 22:21-22)
Jesus had no doubt who he was -- or that he was going to bring God’s salvation to the world. His challenge was overcoming the doubts of religious leaders -- a conflict which eventually led to his death.
Jeremiah: Challenges - Scope of Mission
The prophet Jeremiah would face similar challenges. Jeremiah too, in service of a global Creator, recognized that his scope would be wide -- pronouncing God’s word without compromise, even when it was uncomfortable and dangerous, telling King Zedekiah that he would be handed over (exiled) to the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 37:16-17; 38:14-18) and speaking God’s determinations about the rise and fall of great threatening nations like Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt, but even the small nations surrounding nations who had a long history of violent activity against Israel. (Jeremiah 1:10),
Doubted by others
and if that wasn’t enough, add to it the religious leaders and prophets who had their doubts and stirred up doubts in the crowds about Jeremiah’s message by offering an alternate message, just as they did in the days of Jesus and Paul. All this together and more added up to a formidable task for young Jeremiah and may have stirred up self-doubts within the young prophet.
In fact, the opposition and pressures of his position would lead him into dark times in which he was, at times, overcome by despair (See Jeremiah 20:7-18), (Some believe he wrote the book of Lamentations).
“Alas, Sovereign Lord… I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Doubt of self - Declines call
Not surprisingly, Jeremiah hesitated, saying he lacked training and experience as a speaker, and that he was too young. The good news is that human inadequacy and inexperience give space for divine equipping. Paul argued that God’s grace was sufficient, and his power is all the more obvious in those who are weak. Therefore, Paul boasts and delights in weaknesses, in insults, persecutions, hardships and difficulties, because when he is weak, then he is strong, because Christ’s power would rest on him. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
Call of Assurances
Jeremiah needed a call so strong that it would reassure and sustain his faith in God and God’s mission during dark, difficult days. In the first half of my ministry, it seemed like every clergy gathering I attended, we were asked to break into groups and share our call with each other. There seemed to be an understanding that at some point in most of our ministries, we would probably need to have our calls strongly engrained in the forefront and foundation of our memory if we were going to make it through. And Jeremiah faced much worse than we would ever experience.
This call (like many prophets) is a dialog between Jeremiah and God. It is strikingly familiar with the call of Moses, sending a meta message that Jeremiah authentically stands in the succession of Moses - an assurance that both he and his hearers needed. Hear the assurances of the call:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, (Jeremiah 1:4)
Direct word from God
The “word” is not just words. For them, what a person thinks, plans, says and does are all part of the same “word” the same experience. Jeremiah’s experienced the whole intent of God’s message, giving him confidence to speak and act (symbolically) in declaring that word.
“Before I formed you in the womb… (Jeremiah 1:5)
Destined before birth
God’s destiny and purpose for Jeremiah was set. Remembering this in dark, desperate days may not have given Jeremiah comfort, but it probably helped against second guessing himself based on his dreary circumstances. Much like Jesus knew his destiny was to die for the world. It still gave him a sorrow that he’d rather not experience (as we know from the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36 ff)), but knowing it was his destiny also gave him the courage to boldly move forward and face it anyway.
“…I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
To know that we are known by God -- not just intellectually -- but intimately -- God doesn’t just know about Jeremiah, he has a deep personal, unwavering commitment to him…
“Before you were born, I set you apart;” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God set Jeremiah apart for God’s exclusive use. We often use the word consecrated -- something dedicated only for sacred use (thus altar candles are never used for anything other than altar candles). Jeremiah himself used this phrase of the nation, often translated as “holy” -- the nation is set apart for God, and Jeremiah is an individual set apart for God’s service as well.
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God authorizes Jeremiah to represent him, to be his voice to the world -- since God’s sovereign scope is not limited, neither will be the prophet’s declarations be limited.
[Jeremiah says], “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever
I command you. (Jeremiah 1:6-7)
Jeremiah belongs to God and so Jeremiah has no choice. He must go anywhere to anyone and everyone and say and do whatever God tells him to say and do. The call’s description is all-encompassing, but vague. It seems scary, but it is an assurance because with every order God gives, God is also going with him.
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
(as he rescued the nation from Egypt, as he rescued David from the bear and the lion, and as the temple songs sing about “rescue” in ways that went far deeper into the soul than physical circumstances.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth…” (Jeremiah 1:9)
This is almost a direct quote from Deuteronomy 18:18 where God says he will raise up from among the people a prophet like [Moses] and God will put his words in that prophet’s mouth, and that prophet will tell them everything God commands. This imagery is also in Isaiah and Ezekiel -- and it is a powerful expression of God’s commitment to be personally involved and connected with everything that the prophet would be asked to do.
In Jesus, Jeremiah and even Paul, as well as many others; God’s involvement covered the whole of their life – their family, their experiences, their training, those who influenced them, their grasp of cultural movements – all their past, bad or good, shaped them and prepared them for their service to God. Jesus’ call, Jeremiah’s call, these are not our calls – he has not called us to be a Messiah or to physically die on a cross, nor has he probably called on many of us to predict to world leaders God’s moving of national trends. He may or may not be calling us to full time professional ministry, but he has called us all to be Christian and serve as an important part of his kingdom team, and he certainly calls us to our families, our friends, and those we interact with on a regular basis, and he calls us to treat all others with the love of Christ. What I’m saying is that while our calls may not all be alike, may not all have the same elements, or the same purpose -- we are all called in some way -- and there are some consistent principles in how God calls and works through and with his people:
He knows us and is committed to us. He knows what we are capable of in his equipping hands. He may use our past experiences, good or bad, to shape us and prepare us. He will direct us to our highest purpose in him. He will go ahead of us and prepare the way for us and be with us and involved in whatever and wherever and to whomever he sends us, regardless of what results (or lack of results) he is creating through us. All he needs from us -- is -- all of us. All he needs from us is all of us. A willingness to die to sin and to live the Christ ethic, and to reply positively to his call of this moment, in this hour, in this day, in this week, in this month – each day we rise and answer the call again by asking, “What Lord, do I do today?”
Closing Hymn Here I Am, Lord
This is, in essence, the covenant that Jesus establishes with us – that he is committed to us in love and direction, and we are committed to him in love and obedience.
Prayer and Closing Blessing.
Dear holy and awe-inspiring Father, we come into your presence aware of our sins and failings. Though there is greatness in us and a deep longing for goodness, we too often deny our better selves and refuse to hear your voice calling us to rise to the full height of our humanity. At times, we find ourselves walking in darkness with our vision obscured. We do not look within, and we are unwilling to look beyond to those who need us. We are too weak to walk without your help. Be with us as a strong friend and teach us to walk by the light of your truth. For you are merciful and gracious, endlessly patient, loving, and true, showing mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and granting pardon. Thank you for giving yourself to us and for the ability to give ourselves to you, and by faith, receive your presence afresh. Now as we go, may we be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory. Amen.