You Shall Go, You Shall Speak, Do Not Be Afraid

Meditation on Jeremiah 1: 4–10.

Pastor Karen Crawford

Jan. 30, 2022

Link to livestream: https://fb.watch/aSLH3d68wO/

Link to bulletin:

So, I finally figured out Ohio weather. It only took me 3 years!

In the summer, it’s Florida. In the winter, it’s Minnesota.

Aren’t you glad I served churches in Florida and Minnesota before coming here? God was preparing me for Coshocton!

Today is Jim’s last day as interim at Northminster Presbyterian Church in N. Canton. He has been there a year. He has served as an interim for a number of congregations since I was ordained and installed in Minnesota in 2011.  

What do you know of Jim’s call story? His parents nurtured his Presbyterian faith since he was born. They were charter members of Eastchester Presbyterian, which started as a little storefront church next to a bar in the Bronx. This is what it looks like today.

Eastchester Presbyterian Church in the Bronx

And Jim’s parents weren’t just the kind of people who showed up on Sunday morning. His father was the superintendent of the Sunday school, among other things. Jim and his sister, Mary, always knew that they would be in church and Sunday school every Sunday, no matter how tired they might be from whatever they were doing on Saturday with their friends.

Jim’s parents chose to send him to Missouri Synod Lutheran schools beginning in 4th grade. This must have been a sacrifice for them! They were Irish immigrants; his Dad drove a bakery truck and his mom cleaned offices at night. They lived in a rented apartment. They didn’t own a car. But they were willing to pay for a religious education.

Jim has served in a variety of vocations—not just parish ministry, which he did right out of seminary, but also 25 years in healthcare administration. During that time, he stayed active in church, serving in adult Christian education and preaching occasionally, attending worship, as his parents had modeled for him.

Then one day, when Jim was in his 50s, he was asked by his pastor, “Why don’t you come back to the parish? Serve as a pastor, again.” This was the Rev. Dr. Dick Sheffield of Market Street Presbyterian Church in Lima, Ohio. Dick kept on asking him. When the associate position opened at his church, Dick urged him to apply for the position.

When I met Jim around 2004, he had come to York, PA, to be the pastor, head of staff, of Eastminster Presbyterian Church.

One person spoke into his life—and then other voices confirmed it.

But the call originated with the Lord, who not only claimed Jim in his baptism, but had plans for him since before he was born.

Jim didn’t hear an audible voice like the Old Testament prophets. Nevertheless, the Lord was calling him to follow in the way he should go. The call required a faithful response.

God was saying, slide “You shall go. You shall speak. Do not be afraid.”

***

Just how young Jeremiah was when he heard the Lord speak to him, we don’t know. Many think that when Jeremiah heard from God, his cry of,  “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” was really him saying, “I am not qualified for this! I am inexperienced. I don’t know what I am doing. I am unworthy.”

He answers the call with anxiety and trepidation, not enthusiastically like Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me!” Jeremiah lives from around 650 BC to 570 BC. His prophetic ministry begins around 609-598 BC, in the reign of Josiah.

Scholars say that Jeremiah was sensitive, introspective, and possibly shy. His calling would lead to physical and emotional suffering. He would be arrested and imprisoned. He would struggle with doubts and loneliness.

The Lord sensed his fear at the time of his call, and said, “Do not be afraid of them.” God was speaking of those who would be shaken up by his preaching and oppose him. Jeremiah would preach against the people’s insincere worship of the One True God and their idolatry, worshiping Baal with burnt offerings. He preached against social injustice. He urged the people to repent and trust in God and reveal their trust through how they lived their lives in community and in national affairs. He warned of God’s judgement as they faced drought, famine, pestilence, and war.

The Babylonians would attack and conquer the Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. Many people would die; many others would be deported to Babylon and forced into exile in 597 and 587/86 BCE.

The Holy City and Solomon’s Temple were destroyed.

But the predominant message of Jeremiah is HOPE. In the darkest days in the history of God’s people, God always proves to be faithful. The love and mercy of God is always stronger than the forces of evil and hatred. Restoration would come after the Babylonian Exile, and God would do a great work. God’s people must be patient, Jeremiah says, and persevere in faithfulness.

In chapter 29, beginning at verse 5, Jeremiah writes to encourage the exiles living as strangers in a foreign land:

 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; slide multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare….

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart…”

Jeremiah has no idea what’s in store for him at the beginning of prophetic ministry, when God says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Still, he obeys, blank slide believing the one who calls him will strengthen him to do his will. After all, the Lord says you SHALL go (meaning there’s no question about it) to all to whom I send you. You SHALL speak whatever I command you.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

Sometimes, it hits me—just how mysterious and amazing God’s plans are. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t know God’s plans until we are looking back and marveling at what God has done. Just think how scary that might be if we knew ahead of time.

I know that I would not be a pastor if I hadn’t married Jim. That wasn’t the path I was walking and I didn’t have a thought in my mind, when I met Jim, that I should be a preacher. Jim told me that I already was a pastor. If we hadn’t met, I would probably still be a religion writer with The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, PA.

But there’s no use wondering what might have been. For we know, now, that it has been God’s intention for us—to serve as pastors and be husband and wife.

It wasn’t easy or comfortable.  It still isn’t easy or comfortable—learning to trust in God, wait on Him, seek His will, and serve Him, daily.

In time, God placed people around us who spoke into our lives at the moments we needed to hear. Things started happening. Doors opened, confirming our calls and guiding us in certain directions. More and more, God was shaping us so that we could fulfill the specific ministries God had ordained for us. God is still working on us!

But this message isn’t about my call or Jim’s call. There’s nothing special about Jim and me—at least there’s nothing more special about us than you. Your gifts are just as valuable as ours! Everyone’s gifts are needed for the Body of Christ to function and serve God and neighbor well.

This is what I hope you will take from this message. Three things. Here we go.

One: The Christian calling is not just for prophets, preachers, or teachers. It’s not just reserved for those who do mighty things that are loud and public and capture people’s attention. The greatest gift—Love—leads us to do quiet acts of kindness that have the power to heal and change hearts and lives forever!

Two: The Christian calling doesn’t originate with us or depend on us. God, with his plans for us since before we were born, is the source. It’s not a reward for what we have achieved. And it’s not our confidence in whatever act God is calling us to do that qualifies us to answer the call of God. Jeremiah’s story reminds us that God is the one who prepares us to live out the vocation for which we were created and gives us what we need to fulfill that calling daily.

And three: The Christian calling requires a faithful response—obedience. If you know God is calling you to serve and you haven’t answered the call to serve, yet, what are you waiting for?????

Listen to the promise in God’s Word to each of us, the Body of Christ, with all our gifts and talents.

You SHALL go.

You SHALL speak.

Do NOT be afraid.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for knowing us so intimately, just as you knew Jeremiah, your prophet long ago, before he was in his mother’s womb. Let us always worship you with our whole heart and not turn and worship idols, as we are sometimes tempted to do. Thank you for having a plan for each of us and giving us unique personalities, talents, and passions to accomplish your will for the world with us because you love us. Help us, dear Lord, to obey. Take away our fear of failure and what others might think of us. Let us quickly respond in faith when you say to us this day, You shall go. You shall speak. Do not be afraid! In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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