Jeremiah 1: 4-10, Epiphany 4, “Reluctant Mouthpiece”

“Reluctant Mouthpiece” is a sermon interpretation of Jeremiah 1: 4-10.

Reluctant. Reluctant to talk. Reluctant to talk about Jesus Christ. Reluctant to talk about Jesus Christ to my unchurched friends. Lutherans are reluctant. You are reluctant. I am reluctant. We are by nature and by culture and by denominational heritage reluctant to talk with our unchurched friends about Jesus Christ.

In a sociological study of Lutherans, it concluded that 90% of all Lutherans rarely or never spoke to anybody about their faith in Jesus Christ. In this study of active Lutheran Christians, active in that they attended church about three out of four times a month, it was found that 40% of these Lutherans never talked to anyone about Christ; 35% of them rarely speak about Christ; 13% of them spoke about Christ to their kids about once a month; and 12% spoke among their family about Christ once a week. Only 12% of active Lutheran church members spoke to their family about Christ on a weekly basis. What a devastating commentary on the Lutheran church. This sociological study concluded that Lutherans, with their Scandinavian heritage, are reluctant to talk about Christ even with their children, not to mention being reluctant to speak with their unchurched friends about Christ.

It is with this mood of reluctance that we approach the theme of today’s Old Testament lesson. Jeremiah was a teenager. He was a reluctant mouthpiece of God who didn’t want to talk with other people about God. In another words, he was a good Lutheran. He was reluctant to speak with others.

The Bible says that Jeremiah was a prophet to the nations, and several words in that statement cause confusion. It seems to me that there are three fundamental confusions before us. Let me explain.

First, when examining the word, prophet, most people who are seated in the pews conclude that you are not prophets. Most of you, when you hear the word, prophet, think of paid preachers. I, standing in front of you today, am the paid prophet of the Lord for you. I am trained to talk about God and the Bible. A preacher goes to the seminary in order to study to be a prophet. Or you often think a prophet is a religious “big shot” like Billy Graham or some other television personality. In other words, you, sitting in a church pew, are not a prophet. … You say to yourself, “ I am not a preacher, who has been through seminary and trained to talk. I am not a famous preacher like Billy Graham. It is obvious to everyone that I am not a prophet.” Such thoughts are erroneous conclusions.

That is, we hear from God’s word in Acts 2:21 where God says, “All of my people are prophets.” Young and old men, young and old women, young and old, male and female, all Christians are my prophets.” On Pentecost morning, we re-enact the Pentecost story. A wide variety of people from our parish read a Bible passage in their own language such as German, Italian or Spanish. The message of Pentecost is clear: all Christian people are prophets, men and women, boys and girls, young and old. We are all God’s talkers. Not just the paid preachers. Not just the famous God talkers like Billy Graham.

A second confusion is this: we don’t realize the word, prophet, refers to a specific part of the human body. In the children’s sermon today, I asked the kids. Does the word, prophet, refer to fingers? No. Does the word, prophet, refer to wrists? No. To hands? No. Does it refer to elbows? No. Does it refer to shoulders? No. To heads? No. Does the word, prophet, refer specifically to the mouth? Yes. Yes. Yes. The word, prophet, refers to a specific piece of the body and that specific piece of the body is the mouth. A prophet is God’s mouthpiece. A prophet is God’s talker. We don’t visualize hands that are willing to serve others in love or visualize feet that are willing to walk the extra mile for someone else. Hands and feet are crucially important, but the word, prophet, refers specifically to God’s mouthpiece.

Most of us want our hands and feet to do the talking; most of us want our example to do the talking. We don’t want our mouths or tongues to say anything. We want to remain silent and say nothing except through our hands and feet. But, in addition to our hands and feet, we also need a mouth that does the talking, that tells of our faith in God. All three parts of the body are needed. … The word, prophet? It refers specifically to the mouth. We, the prophets, are mouthpieces for God.

A third confusion happens when it was said that Jeremiah was a prophet to the nations. When we hear the word, nations, that brings to mind foreign nations like China or Chad or Chili. “A prophet to the nations” means to go to other nations and tell them about Christ. It means to become a foreign missionary. … But, the word for nations is “ethnos” and means ethnic groups. It refers to any group that does not know Jesus Christ. It also means, Gentiles. A Gentile is anyone who does not know Jesus Christ. In other words, you don’t have to go to China, Chad or Chile to be a prophet. A prophet is a talker, a mouthpiece for God, and a prophet can stay right here at home and speak to the ethnic groups and gentiles all around you. It is confusing if you think a prophet has to go to other nations. A prophet, or mouthpiece, directs his or her language to people right at home. If a prophet goes to other nations of the world, I can escape being a prophet, and as a Lutheran, I want to escape being a prophet if at all possible.

These three confusions get in our way immediately. Someone else is a prophet; not me. The prophet must be a paid preacher or the religious big shot. I, a Lutheran, want to be a prophet by simply being nice to someone with my hands and going the second mile for them with my feet, but never use my mouth to say anything about God. The net result is that I avoid being a prophet. That’s what I want to avoid at all costs: being a verbal spokes man or woman for God.

There are many prophets in the Old Testament who were reluctant to speak about their faith in God. When we are reluctant to talk about God and God’s ways, we join good company in the Old Testament prophets. The prophets, like us, are often reluctant to talk. Let me illustrate.

First, we need to talk about Jeremiah, the prophet today’s text. Jeremiah certainly was reluctant to talk with others about God. Jeremiah said, “I am only a teenager. I am too young. I am too new at the Faith. What will my friends think if I talk to them about the Faith? Others will make fun of me, ridicule me, and reject me. I am afraid of their rejection. ” Like Jeremiah, so many teenagers are reluctant to talk about our faith in God because we are afraid of rejection, afraid of the opinion of others, and afraid of ridicule. Of course, you don’t need to be a teenager to be afraid of rejection and ridicule, like Jeremiah was. All people of all ages seem to have this fundamental fear of ridicule by others.

There is another example of a reluctant prophet in the Old Testament and that was the prophet, Isaiah. God said to Isaiah, “Isaiah, I want you to be my prophet; I want you to be my talker and tell of your faith in me.” Isaiah replied, “O no, God. I can’t be your talker. I am a person of unclean lips. You should hear some things I say. I use bad language. I am such a bad example. I am a lousy disciple. How could I talk to anyone else about you Lord, knowing what a bad example I am.” Yes, lots of people then and now use this excuse, “I am such a bad example. How can I witness for God.”

There is another example of a reluctant leader in the Old Testament and his name was Gideon. Gideon responded, “Not me, Lord. I quote, ‘I come from the weakest tribe.’ I come from the weakest of backgrounds. I have a poor education. I only went through grade school, junior high school, or high school. How do you expect me to talk to a college graduate about Christ? That is my excuse, Lord. I really don’t know enough about the Bible. My background in the Bible is poor, and you really wouldn’t expect me to talk with anyone about you.” Yes, lots of Christians still use that old excuse, “I don’t know enough Biblical background. If I had more knowledge, I would talk more.” This is another good but lame excuse, used for centuries.

There was this other leader in the Old Testament and he, too, was a reluctant prophet. His name was Moses. Moses, too, found excuses and he said, “I have a speech impediment. I got this problem with speaking and I have a stutter. I am not good at talking at all. In fact, I am downright embarrassed to talk. I am downright shy. I have this brother by the name of Aaron. He is good at talking and I will persuade him to talk for me.” The excuse of shyness is centuries old. People have been using this excuse for decades. “I am not good at talking. Get someone else to talk about you, Lord.”

So several of these Old Testament prophets had this problem of their reluctance to be prophets. They held the familiar excuses for not talking about God and God’s values. They said, “I am too young, I don’t like being ridiculed or rejected. I am such a bad sinner, such an imperfect example, with no enough knowledge of the Bible. I am a shy person with speech impediments. Let a smoother talker do the talking. Besides, I am from a weak cultural heritage, and we have never done it before”.

But God wouldn’t take “no” from these escape artists, from these mission dodgers, from these reluctant prophets. God would not take “no” from them, and with godly persuasion, God persuaded each one of them to become the spokesman for God. God overcame every one of their lame excuses.

So it is with us. We too are reluctant prophets, reluctant spokes men and women for God. We too are filled with inhibitions and excuses and reasons why we can’t do the job. Like God did to Jeremiah, God touches our courage, touches our spirits, and touches our mouths. God touches us and miraculously, God uses people like us, like you and me. God uses people as common as we are to speak. Not only to silently talk with hands. Not only to silent talk with feet as we go the extra mile. But God always uses common and ordinary people to do God’s work. All of these famous prophets and famous leaders were initially common and ordinary people before they became famous in Biblical history. God chooses you; touches your courage, touches your spirit, and touches your mouth and puts words into your mouth and you, too, become a prophet, a mouthpiece, for the Lord. This is what happened to Jeremiah and this is what happens to you and me.

Rev. Edward Markquart, edited by Ministry Depot