One of my favorite scenes in a movie ever happens early on in Bruce Almighty. Bruce (Jim Carey) has called out God, basically telling God that he could do God’s job better. He’s called God out, and now, God starts calling Bruce back.
God uses street signs. God uses a pager. God uses a truck full of signs.
And still, Bruce can’t recognize his call. He can’t recognize that God is specifically speaking to him.
Are we ever guilty of that?
We use language in church about “call” and sometimes we differentiate it and sometimes we don’t. We say that God “calls” people into ministry. We say that God puts a “call” on our lives to do or to be whatever we’re going to be. We say that God “calls” us to act or to move in the short term, to act in a certain way on behalf of God.
However we use it, it involves us a) hearing God’s communication and b) God having a plan for us to act after we receive that communication. But there’s also a “c,” how will we respond to that call? Because we could follow through with what God wants or we could just walk away.
Jonah walked away- he floated on a ship in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go.
Moses argued with God- he said he wasn’t skilled, prepared, or experienced enough to do what God wanted him to do.
Paul didn’t understand what God wanted from him, so first he persecuted Christians, and God had to knock him off a donkey on the way to Damascus, and blind him for a few days.
And then there’s Jeremiah. You can read his call story in Jeremiah 1 here. We don’t know exactly how God communicated to Jeremiah, whether it was some kind of direct speaking, a dream, an angel, or a vision. But we know that God tells Jeremiah that he’s known him his whole life (actually, before he was even conceived) and that God has appointed him to be a prophet to the nations.
Like some of the other saints of the church, Jeremiah argues with God. He says that he doesn’t know how to speak, and that he’s too young.
But like so many of these other call stories, God is undeterred.
“You must go to everyone I send you to, and say I sent you. Don’t be afraid of them because I will rescue you. I am with you.”
All of that’s pretty standard for a call story. God tells his servants, the faithful, that he’ll be with them, that they can use his name to back up their argument or message, and that they shouldn’t be afraid even when the world around them is scary or makes no sense.
But then it gets… different.
God reaches out his hand and touches Jeremiah’s mouth. Not only has God spoken to Jeremiah, but he has tangibly touched Jeremiah. This is a more intimate picture of God’s intervention in human existence than we’ve seen before in the Old Testament, of God reaching out and touching someone.
Whose face do you touch? I don’t know about you, but it’s a pretty small list for me. My wife’s. My children. It’s intimate, close, affectionate.
God tells Jeremiah with this touch, that he has appointed him over nations and kingdoms, with the power to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” He tells Jeremiah that he has put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
Jeremiah has been made God’s mouthpiece but Jeremiah has been made more than that. He has been made of God, a reminder of the original imageo dei when God created Adam and Eve in “his image” in the Garden of Eden.
What Jeremiah says from this point forward is what God has to say. God proves it to Jeremiah by asking what Jeremiah sees. We don’t know if it’s in the spiritual world or the physical one, but Jeremiah has no doubts about what God is asking.
Jeremiah says he sees the branch of an almond tree. And God says that Jeremiah has seen correctly because it is a fulfillment of God’s word. A vision of a boiling water comes next, with a preview of the upcoming invasion that is brought upon the people of God.
This is the message that Jeremiah is to bring to his people, that destruction is coming and that they should repent. It’s pretty simple.
Jeremiah will pronounce judgment on the people because they’ve forsaken God and worshipped other idols. He is urged by God to get ready, to be prepared to speak the truth even when it’s rejected, because God is with him and will rescue him.
Whew, what a call story.
The direct call of God on Jeremiah’s life. The intimacy of touch. The inspiration of the word. The message for the people.
If we fast forward a few chapters, we’ll see that Jeremiah is beaten, ridiculed, imprisoned, threatened with death… all because he followed through with what God told him to. He does what’s supposed to, what he’s called to do, and it results in a greater struggle than if he’d just failed to say what God told him to.
Bruce thinks that his life will get easier if God would speak to him, that somehow everything about his life will be buttoned up and just the way it’s supposed to be. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that being closer to the truth meant Bruce had more problems, not less. And it worked the same way for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah stood up in Jerusalem and told people that they needed to change or things would get very bad, very quickly. He said that in the midst of political persecution, one man speaking the truth, while the government and religious leaders were all saying that he was wrong, a liar, a fraud.
Jeremiah didn’t make the news; he just delivered it. He understood what it was like to hold his hands up and say “don’t shoot the messenger,” and recognize that the people couldn’t separate the meaning of the message from the messenger himself. But he couldn’t stop telling the truth because that’s what he was called to do!
Are we that focused on the truth? Are we listening for God’s call in the night, in the whisper, in the storm? Are we willing to stand up to the earthly authorities, to the apathy that can’t see danger right in front of their faces, to the corruption in our own neighborhoods and communities, to say that we need to turn to what God wants from us or recognize the consequences?
I’m aware that being a prophet is pretty lonely. I know that speaking to the truth means that someone won’t like it. But the reward outweighs the risk. We’re either intimately known by God or we’re not known at all; we’re either part of God’s family or we’re not.
You can’t have it both ways.
I hope that today you’ll consider whether you’re following what God is calling you to do, or not. That you’ll reflect on your life and the way you’re living, and ask yourself, “is God with me and am I with God?”
Reflect on that, chew on it, digest it.
I pray today that if you haven’t made a choice to hear God’s call and respond, that you will today. And I pray that if you have made that choice before, but have fallen out of the practice of listening well, that you’d “re-up” with God today, and commit yourself to prophetically speaking the truth of God’s love and call in our world today.
The world still needs prophets who are prepared to speak the truth. We can’t survive without them.
This sermon is for November 10 at The Stand in Prince George, Va. I’m publishing a week early because I won’t be preaching on November 3.