Septuagesima Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 4, 2007| Jeremiah 1:4-10
Jeremiah lived during a time similar to our own. This may seem strange since he lived over twenty six hundred years ago in a land thousands of miles away with a different language and culture. But there are certain things common to the nation of Judah in the seventh century B.C. and the United States of America in the twenty first century A. D. In ancient Judah and in modern America most of the people are at least nominally devoted to the religion set forth in the Holy Scriptures. And in both countries this outward allegiance is quite thin indeed. While the biblical religion is given lip service, the real worship of the people is quite different from their formal creed. The worship of the gods of pleasure has the people’s devotion. In ancient Judah the gods and goddesses were deities devoted to pleasure. Altars were built to them in the public square. In our day the idolatry is less formal but the spirit of the idolatrous worship is the same. What serves us is the standard for faith and life. Our inner feelings become the judge for good and bad behavior. What feels right is right. What feels true is true. There is no word from God to which we must be bound.
But God has a different idea. He sends Jeremiah to speak His word. Now ancient Judah was God’s covenant people and America cannot make that claim. But surely all Christians may lay claim to a special relationship with God. God chooses His people and He graciously blesses them. They don’t deserve it. It is an election of grace. It is not a democratic election. Only one vote is cast. It is God’s. You cannot campaign for God’s vote. God does not look to see whether or not those He chooses are worthy to be chosen. Worthiness is out of the question. No one deserves God’s grace. God is gracious and that’s that.
God elects His children. That is, He chooses them. The parable of the workers in the vineyard powerfully illustrates how God’s choices don’t conform to human standards. But then God is God. He doesn’t consult us about what is right and fair. He chooses to bless those who worked but an hour with the same wages that He gives to those who bore the heat of the day. Who can question Him? Does He not have the right to do what He chooses with what belongs to Him? Or shall we resent His generosity? No, it is as Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
The doctrine of election is a mystery too deep for anyone fully to grasp. We simply take God’s word for it when He teaches this to us. Attempts to explain divine election in a way that conforms to human reason will inevitably lead to a distortion or even a denial of this precious truth. God loved His people from eternity. From eternity He knew them, chose them, and made them heirs of salvation. He did this for the sake of Jesus Christ His dear Son. Jesus was elected or chosen by God in eternity to be the Savior of sinners. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, as the Revelation of St. John teaches. We are elected in Christ.
The doctrine of divine election assures us that God’s grace is not an “iffy” or uncertain thing. God is not fickle. What He promised yesterday will be promised tomorrow. He binds Himself to His word and this means that His word cannot fail. God elected Jeremiah. We read: “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’”
Jeremiah was a young man, perhaps twenty years old. He wasn’t qualified to speak God’s word to anyone. He didn’t have the native ability. Besides, he didn’t know what to say. But God had chosen him. God knew him, that is, he chose him. God sanctified him, that is, He set him apart for a holy purpose. God ordained him, that is, He placed him into the public preaching office. And when did God do all this? He did it before Jeremiah was even born.
After choosing Jeremiah to be a prophet God formed him in his mother’s womb. When a child is born it is God’s doing. Children are not accidents. They are never unwanted.
The same God who formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, who set him apart to be a prophet even before he was born is the God who promised to be with him and to give him the words he needed to speak. Listen once more to what God said to Jeremiah when He called him to be a prophet: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you.”
What God commands the prophet to say is what the prophet says. There’s nothing and nobody to be afraid of. If God tells you to say it God will protect you in the saying of it. The word that you speak is far more powerful than those who will oppose it. You say what God gives you to say and it is done as surely as God gave it to you to say. Listen to how Jeremiah describes it:
Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.”
When God put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth He gave to Jeremiah power over nations and kingdoms. That’s the power of the word. Has any nation in the history of the world opposed God’s word and survived as a nation? God said to Abraham nearly four thousand years ago:
I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
All the nations of the earth have been blessed in Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God promised through the prophets. Those who belong to Christ are the elect of God’s grace. They are the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, elected in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world. The nations will rise and fall. God’s word will build and God’s word will destroy. God’s word will not fail. It cannot fail because it is the inherent power of God Himself. So God said to Jeremiah. So it must be.
St. Peter writes:
Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)
Jeremiah didn’t look like much. He was just a kid. As it turned out, he would preach for many years. They called him the weeping prophet because he had to witness the destruction of God’s holy nation. The reforms of the great king Josiah were short lived. The corruption was too deep. The people didn’t care for the truth. They didn’t want God to say anything to them. They were quite willing to accept every good thing God gave but they weren’t willing to honor Him by listening to what He had to say and taking it to heart.
It was a day very much like our own. People think that they’re doing God a favor to go to church and then it doesn’t matter much what the church stands for as long as there is a religious sentiment that acknowledges a higher power. And when God’s word clearly exposes sin that people don’t want exposed they refuse to listen. God’s clear and authoritative words of law that define what is right and wrong for all people are dismissed as a preacher’s opinion. The blood of Jesus shed for sinners is ignored because there are no sinners anymore. How can there be real sinners without real sin? Where is the sin if there is no law to condemn it? And as the religiously self-indulgent congratulate themselves on their so called “spirituality” the word of God is silenced and those who faithfully preach it are scorned.
But this is nothing new. We can understand Jeremiah’s fear to confront the false prophets of the false religions of his day. Jeremiah taught an exclusive message that positively angers people and human nature hasn’t changed over the years. We preach the same exclusive message. It is that God’s word is true and all men are liars. It is that what God says matters more than anyone’s religious feelings. It is that God has the right to be gracious to whom He chooses and nobody has the right to judge Him for it. If God wants to treat someone who has done no good deeds at all with the same generosity as He treats those whose good deeds require them to bear burden after burden, well, God can do as He pleases.
And what He pleases to do is to come to people like Jeremiah. No, not all are gifted to prophesy or to preach. And not all are called by God to do so. But every single Christian is chosen by God. Every single Christian’s life is given by God to live. And whether you are student or a mother or a truck driver or a mechanic, a teacher or a preacher or a father, God has called you. You say, I can’t do what you’ve given me to do. Maybe not. But consider. The word of God enables you to do what you cannot do. When God speaks to you He makes all things new. His words destroy and throw down, this is true. His law doesn’t assist you to find within yourself the answers you need. His law kills you dead. It reveals your selfishness, your greed, your lust, your hatred, and everything dirty. It throws you down to where you cannot get up.
And His gospel builds you up. It brings to you an innocence so pure that God in heaven can see nothing wrong with it. It is Christ’s. It was won by His obedience and death. Now it is yours. God said so. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Your heart doubts. Then the gospel’s power penetrates into your doubts and dissolves them, replacing unbelief with faith. This faith is the most precious gift we have. And it comes to us from the word, the same almighty word given to a frightened boy over twenty six hundred years ago. It’s a word that takes all our fears away. Amen.