Planter (8/21/22)

By August 24, 2022September 28th, 2022Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church

Planter, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd

August 21, 2022



The word of the LORD came to me: Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. I replied: Ah, Lord GOD! I don’t know how to speak, For I am still a boy. And the LORD said to me: Do not say, “I am still a boy,” But go wherever I send you and speak whatever I command you. Have no fear of them, For I am with you to deliver you—declares the LORD. The LORD put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: Herewith I put My words into your mouth. See, I appoint you this day over nations and kingdoms: To uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant (Jer 1:4-10, JPS).

For countless years, God has called on people of faith to live out the divine charge on their life. We see this stretching back in the Bible and we see it today. In Genesis 12, we see that God called on Abram, not yet known as Abraham, to leave his home and go to the land God was to show him. In Exodus 4, God called to Moses from the burning bush and charged him with the task of leading the enslaved people of Israel out of Egypt. In Jonah 1, God called the prophet Jonah to prophesy to the people of Nineveh. In Luke 2, God’s angel Gabriel calls on the Virgin Mary to give birth and be the mother to the Son of God, who she would name Jesus just as the angel had said. In Acts 8, an angel of the Lord calls the Apostle Philip to head south on a wilderness road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, and Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch reading aloud from Isaiah. The Holy Spirit calls Philip to engage the Ethiopian and he soon teaches about the connection of the prophecy to Jesus, following which the Ethiopian asks to be and is baptized by Philip. In Acts 9, the risen and ascended Jesus appeared to Saul, when he was still persecuting the church and before he was known as Paul, and Jesus both confronted and called Saul, telling him that he must go to the city where he will be told what to do next. Abram and Sarai would go on to serve as Abraham and Sarah, God’s devoted keepers of the covenant and parents to an amazing lineage of leaders in the faith. God called them and provided for them and their descendants. Moses would, at first, express some doubt about his fitness for the unbelievably difficult job of leading the Israelites to freedom, citing his unease about speaking as a leader. Yet God provided for Moses through the gifts of his brother Aaron and was at work through the liberation of the Israelites from their bondage.

While Jonah tried to run away from a challenging call, God provided and worked through the prophet, turning many Ninevite hearts toward the love of God, perhaps even despite Jonah’s resistance. God’s angel Gabriel encouraged the young, unmarried Mary, but amazingly she didn’t appear to need much encouragement, for she professed her devotion to God in living out her call, and the Gospels and Book of Acts show she did so throughout her life, even after losing her cherished child. God provided and was present in her great strength and witness. God worked through an angel and the Spirit in establishing a cross-cultural connection between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. God worked through God’s scripture in the heart of the Ethiopian, who was moved by Philip’s testimony and sought to be baptized as a follower of Jesus. And following this, Philip is somehow transported by the Holy Spirit, almost as if teleported away, leaving the newly baptized Christian rejoicing. And then we have Saul; note, not Saul the first king of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, but the Saul who would become the Apostle Paul of the New Testament. We always need to remind ourselves that Saul was persecuting the earliest church before his conversion. Granted he no doubt felt he was acting righteously by the law of Moses, but Acts shows us an amazing thing as we witness that it was the resurrected and ascended Jesus who appeared to Saul. Saul literally saw the light and fell. God the Father provided through the Son and the heart of Saul was changed from persecutor of the faith to proclaimer and teacher of the faith in Christ. It is also worth noting how God provided through Paul in blessing many churches into existence and in writing much of the New Testament scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now, of course, these are only some of the many examples we could identify of how God is present in and provides for, and through God’s people. We should highlight how God works through all kinds of people, too. God provides for and through women, children, men, people of different understandings of gender, the young and old, people of different races and cultures, people within the faith as well as those not yet inside it, the powerful and the disenfranchised; God provides through any who God so desires. In other words, God is not limited in achieving God’s plans. Yet, it’s interesting to point out that God doesn’t necessarily call those who are ready and prepared or those who have special experience or a highlighted talent for the task at hand. As many have witnessed, God does not call the equipped; God equips the called. But that may not be all that clear to us when we’re discerning our next steps in faith daily.

Take Jeremiah. In today’s passage, we meet the young Jeremiah at the very beginning of this book of prophecy. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah 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.” Wow! That is some serious stuff to say, right? Just imagine yourself hearing something along these lines. How would you reply, at first? Well, Jeremiah is a bit overwhelmed, he says “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Jeremiah tries to downplay the whole deal. He cites his youth as an excuse for his not being up for the task. It’s like he’s trying to bow out—a “thanks but no thanks” type of thing. Or not. Maybe he is just trying to process the information quickly and this is the best he’s got. And he doesn’t appear to have that much time to dwell on it, because God continues “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.” God doesn’t leave much room for the young Jeremiah to object. It’s not like he can say he’s too busy or has a conflict on that night or try to schedule a Zoom meeting to explore the idea maybe next month or so. No, God provides even during God’s reply here. God removes the concern about age and/or experience, and rather than leave him high and dry, God tells Jeremiah that God will be with the young prophet. Yeah, he’s gotta go wherever and say whatever God asks him to but God will be with Jeremiah, the whole time. “Do not be afraid of them,” God tells Jeremiah. And not only will God be present, but God will also deliver him. God will provide.

What does it feel like to be given a big responsibility? How do we try to get out of it? What happens when we live up to it and own it? Sometimes we’re confident that we got this. We feel up to the job. Maybe we’ve had experience doing this before or it just seems intuitive to us, so we don’t have many hang-ups on agreeing to go forward. But other times this can be different. We may be worried for that we are not qualified or that others have more natural talent than we do in this area. Perhaps we’re swamped and just feel that we don’t have the time to commit to anything additional at the moment. Maybe that’s the way we feel our entire lives. Or we might just be afraid. We might fear failure, embarrassment, judgment, or possibly even punishment or more serious repercussions should the whole thing go south or be a direct challenge to authority and power. And you know what, these concerns all make sense. Just as do the ones we hear from different people in the Bible. Sometimes we’re a bit shocked that they have to follow through with such challenging tasks. We might wonder why God puts them all through it.

Now at this point, you’ll have to forgive me, because I am not an expert gardener. No doubt, others in our congregation could speak more about what goes on in appropriately preparing soil, planting seeds, transferring a plant or flowers, and caring for them so that they flourish, maximizing their beauty and many benefits. So rather than attempt to convey a false sense of gardening expertise, I’d like to simply talk about what God says to Jeremiah about his job to do here at the start and what this might speak into the ways we are all called to be planters of various kinds in our own lives as individuals and as the church together. Jeremiah continues in our passage sharing “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 kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” This is an especially cool passage in the way it depicts God placing the word in the mouth of the prophet. Scholars often refer to prophets as being the mouthpieces of God; not to suggest that they have no freedom or agency, but that they are in direct relationship with God. The Book of Jeremiah is the largest book of prophecy in the entire Bible. All kinds of amazing and tragic things take place in its verses.

Jeremiah himself served as a prophet from the time of the good king Josiah through the next four kings of Judah when the region would be mired in war and destruction. Jeremiah is often considered the weeping prophets, but some suggest that given the rejection of God’s word by the people during this time Jeremiah might more accurately be called the persecuted prophet. Jeremiah would go on to prophesy relentlessly for the hearts of the people to change, for them to praise God and not idols. But they persisted in their brokenness and Israel fell to Assyria and Judah to Egypt. In time, they all fell to Babylon. But here, at the start, we see how God assures Jeremiah that God will be with him. And God gives him a job to do. Jeremiah is charged to actively engage in the world around him “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” How much of this would one person be able to achieve, we might wonder? Nevertheless, this was God’s charge to the prophet. While the pulling down and destroying bit may sound harsh yet a tad clearer: get rid of false practices and systems that may be deemed unfaithful to God, the building and planting could be maybe a bit more challenging to grasp, let alone to achieve. Even if you can determine what to dismantle and get broad enough support to do so, you still have to plan what actually should be built and adopted in its place. Have you ever noticed how easy it can be to criticize something without having even a shred of a helpful thing to suggest in its place?

Jeremiah descended from a family of priests and was called to proclaim God’s sovereignty to a world bent on praising the idols they liked. He had an extremely difficult time of it and would witness the great downfall of his people. And yet, Jeremiah’s prophecy would come true. God’s word did come to fruition. We might wonder what it was that Jeremiah was hoping to build. What he aimed to plant. And yet, the truth that we stand today as a church speaks into the seeds that this tragic prophet planted. And of course, the people of Israel would return to faithfulness in time, just as they would fall time and time again. Jeremiah did not live to see the seeds of faith he planted grow into all they have blessed. But Jeremiah planted them anyway because the glory is God’s not his own. Sisters and brothers, what seeds of faith might we be called to plant in our relationships, homes, schools, and careers, and what might we be called to address together as the church? What unjust systems may need to be pulled out by the roots and what gentle encouragement might need to be planted in the hearts of God’s people? May we listen closely to the call of the Spirit for the ways we may make the most of what we’ve been given and plant the seeds of faith that will bloom tomorrow. May it be so to the glory of God. AMEN.