Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
“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.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth. 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.”
1 You have looked deep into my heart, you have searched me, Lord, you know all about me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Prophecies and Pottery: Called to Be a Mouthpiece
Pottery was used for many things in the ancient world. They were common containers utilized for essential purposes. While pottery can also be beautiful works of art today, they continue to be utilized for essential and common purposes – like this piece of pottery that was used for many years in the McCuistion household as a cookie jar. As a prophet, Jeremiah was a common person with an uncommon call – he was called by God to become a mouthpiece – a “container” of truth that needed to be poured out – truth that could not be contained.
The use of the word womb in this scripture is another symbol of a container where God formed the prophet. It is reminiscent of Psalm 139.
”You formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
The call to worship was written by my seminary roommate – and I love this line:
Formed in the womb of God, we-made of clay and spirit
are vessels of the vision and essence of God.
John Debevoise, in the Commentary “Feasting on the Word” writes:
The description of Jeremiah being knitted together in his mother’s womb is a tender moment. The experience of scriptural familiarity can bring a sense of comfort and security. Scripture is written over time in our hearts and in our consciousness – shaping our faith. It is an affirmation that we, too, have been known by God. This verse is often used in worship for baptism, confirmation, and ordination. It is a declaration of faith in the divine assertion of human dignity and worth.
Jeremiah reluctantly responds to God’s call with protests of personal inadequacy. “I do not know how to speak, because I am only a boy“. It’s reminiscent of the call of Moses, “O God, I have never been eloquent; I am slow of both speech and tongue“. Both attempt to escape the call of God, but God will have none of their resistance. To Jeremiah, God speaks: “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy;’ you will go where I send you, and you will speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” Like Moses, Jeremiah finally responds to the call. But, you have to wonder, if they both had listened to all that was asked of them, if they might have argued and resisted harder.
Do you remember a song written in 1971, “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night? Hoyt Axton originally wrote the first line as “Jeremiah was a prophet” but the rest of the band didn’t like it. So Jeremiah became a bullfrog. It became a hit. That first line? Maybe it wasn’t so random. Bullfrogs are called “choruses” because of their loud croaking. And prophets are called to be God’s mouthpiece, some might also call it croaking – speaking up and speaking out in order to bring God’s justice.
Jeremiah was called to confront a corrupt political system and an immoral society that didn’t want to listen. His mission was to announce impending disaster, destruction, and doom if they did not repent of their ways. With four action verbs, they would see their world plucked up and pulled down, destroyed and overthrown. He received the call during the reign of King Josiah – tumultuous years when Jeremiah is faced with the reality that the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were not invincible. The people were losing what little political power they had. Their leaders would be taken into captivity into a foreign land, in the devastating Babylonian attacks, destroying the temple in 587.
Sally Brown, in the commentary “Feasting on the Word” writes:
The word of the prophet is a disruptive word. It’s about right treatment of the poor and the stranger. When these are neglected, the anguish of the God breaks out. Whatever our role in bearing the word into the world today, we should not be surprised to find ourselves involved in confrontation. God’s commitment to care for the vulnerable HAS NOT changed; and God yearns over humanity with a love too profound to turn a blind eye to our self-absorption, indifference or intolerance. Only God’s promise to sustain us will make such work bearable. God is attentive to our uses and abuses of power – relational, economic, social and political.God challenges these vectors of power. Threatened power structures will not take meddling lightly. So TO US as to Jeremiah, God speaks, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Jeremiah lived in a time when it was tough to be a prophet. Although, I can’t think of a time when that has ever been easy. Like Jeremiah, we, too, live in such a time as this, where people do not want to listen to truth. God’s call on Jeremiah’s life begins 40 years of faithful if reluctant service from 627–587 BC, AND 40 years of deeply personal struggle. His desolation reminds us that there is no call from God devoid of conflict. Jeremiah struggled with God’s call on his life, with a sense of failure, with opposition from critics, and with deep discouragement. He would pay for his willingness to be God’s mouthpiece, a container speaking truth. Besides the physical suffering he endured, he would agonize over a nation that wouldn’t change its ways. He would beg for his eyes to become fountains so he could weep for his people whose choices were taking them away from God. Destruction, dislocation, loss are themes throughout his life. He nearly collapses under the strain of the task. He finds himself alone and afraid, calling for God to help him but receiving only silence for a long time. His prophetic life follows a pattern of delivering harsh words and only much later receiving and offering words of hope and consolation.
God’s consolation? I created you, in order to fulfill the prophetic need in this moment of Israel’s history.. You were designed for such a chaotic time as this, just like Esther. You are to endure and thrive. He needed to not only survive the adversities he would encounter, but thrive in them. That may not have been the comfort Jeremiah is looking for.
So what does Jeremiah’s call have to do with us? UCC pastor Kimberleigh Buchanan says:
The people were in survival mode. Their lives had taken a disastrous turn. They didn’t know who they were anymore. They were displaced and devastated. But while the people’s location had changed, their calling from God had not. Jeremiah’s message was that they were still called to be God’s people. Circumstances may have changed. The world looked dreadfully, drastically different, but still they were called to be God’s people. Much later in the chapter, Jeremiah used the hope-filled action verbs of ch. 1:10 – build and plant. Hope is almost always more delayed and subdued than we desire.
The prophet’s mouth becomes the vessel, the container, through which God will connect with God’s people. God formed each one of us in a container to be a container through which God pours God’s word and love. We are all known and beloved of God and called by God to specific tasks, regardless of our circumstances. We are invited to trust that God will supply what we need to fulfill our calling.
Fill us, Potter God, with your word and your ways, that we may become your vessels – vessels of your love, your truth, your justice, your mercy. Amen.