Welcome to the year 627BC where we meet a young man by the name of Jeremiah who hears God calling him to a task that he feels is well beyond his years and his ability to carry out. He lacks confidence – feeling himself neither old enough, nor articulate enough, to step up to the demanding prophetic ministry he feels himself being called to:
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overflow, to build and to plant.
Jeremiah 1:10 (NRSV)
What a message! No wonder the poor young man felt not up to the task! And no wonder he has come to be known in our day as the weeping prophet! Wouldn’t you weep if you knew you had to spend the rest of your life constantly warning the powers that be that all is not well with the world and that disaster and destruction lie ahead? And then to do so throughout those long years when the people for whom the message was intended simply wouldn’t – or didn’t want to – listen.
Whether or not we are people who, like Jeremiah, feel our calling in life is determined by God’s plans and purposes, many of us can still identify with the prophet’s lack of confidence and self-belief. And it can so often hold us back from achieving all that we could do. But then the opposite can be just as bad if individuals are so brimming in over-confidence that they can and do take on the world, whether or not they are well-equipped – or even called – to do so.
What we learn from this beginning to Jeremiah’s story is that God had this plan for the prophet’s life mapped out from long before baby J was even born so . . . If that was true for Jeremiah 2500 years ago, could it also be true for us today? Might God have a plan and a purpose for me?
From a very young age I wanted to be a meteorologist when I grew up! I had mini weather stations in the garden and I loved to check and analyse the world weather reports in the newspaper each day. As I approached my sixth form years (at the age of 16 in the English school system) I had to decide on my A level choices (just three school subjects). I knew meteorologists needed physics – and that maths and chemistry were pretty useful too – and the geography I loved (and the only subject in which we actually studied the weather at all) would be an ok choice to take. All of this hit me one day as a real wake up call. Physics and maths all day every day for the next five years of school and university. I loathed these subjects and couldn’t wait to drop them. What I loved and could spend all day doing was language learning – I realised languages had to be my main subject from then on.
So I could no longer dream of being a meteorologist! And that left me entering adulthood with no idea at all about who or what I was born/called to be or do. And I’ve found myself spending much of my adult life seeking answers to those questions. But I don’t regret the years of job changes and uncertainty – it’s made me who I am today with, I hope, a range of skills and experience that all contribute to the person I am now – and I find the variety a useful background for working in the role I have now as a parish priest.
In any case, even if it might have been a calling I could’ve discovered sooner – though not before my mid-thirties – I do believe I am now where God has called me to be. And that is the really big thing we learn as we read Jeremiah 1. This chapter is not simply about the young prophet’s call and commission and his very human reluctance to take on a demanding and difficult task, it’s every bit as much about God’s plans and purposes for the world he created. God is sovereign – ruler of all. His divine word is to be communicated to the people who need to hear it and Jeremiah is the one chosen and called to be the human messenger who will share that word. As the book of Jeremiah unfolds, we can expect to see God’s will and purpose revealed in the words and actions of his chosen messenger. Perhaps I have more in common with an ancient prophet than I might have thought because I’m pretty sure that God still longs to see his purposes fulfilled in all that I say and do each day as well.