Wednesday, January 24, 2007

4 Epiphany, Year C: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The appointed lesson for this Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, is Jeremiah 1:4-10. This is the amazing narrative of God's call of Jeremiah to be a prophet. It's great; let's dive right in.

Jeremiah's Call

This story of Jeremiah's commissioning strongly invites us to see Jeremiah as one who takes up the mantle of Moses. The excuses of the prophet in 1:6-8 are the same as those of Moses, namely, a lack of authority (cf. Exodus 4:1) and an inability to speak well (cf. Exodus 4:10). God's response and provision in Jeremiah 1:9 echoes the promise of Deuteronomy 18:18 that God will send a "prophet like Moses" and "put my words in his mouth." In a recent post about Elijah (click here), I mentioned the biblical tradition that God raises up a "prophet like Moses" for each generation to represent and communicate God's awesome, spine-tingling reality before the people. Jeremiah is certainly this kind of prophet.

Jeremiah's new role as Moses entails his radical self involvement and self sacrifice. We should thank the Lord every day that we are not called to Jeremiah's task. As a true intermediary, Jeremiah will quickly get radically and personally caught up in God's burning anger and wrenching pain over the people's sin and God's steadfast purpose to bring them back into the covenant. As 1:10 says, Jeremiah must both destroy and build, must both pluck up and plant. The book of Jeremiah echoes these phrases at 18:7; 24:6; 31:28, 40; 42:10; and 45:4. Jeremiah must perform seemingly contradictory tasks. If that were not enough to split his personality, as a Mosaic intermediary Jeremiah finds himself representing, often in quick succession, God's word, the voice of the people, and his own inner struggle. As we listen to Jeremiah's words throughout the book, we hear, alternately, his own inner words, a voice in radical empathy with Yahweh, and a voice in deep sympathy with the people. The emotionally overwhelming role of intermediary quickly tears Jeremiah up.

Read the book of Jeremiah not to become like Jeremiah in his anguish, but to see in him an interpretation of God's interrelations with God's people. Jeremiah embodies the divine-human encounter. He gives us readers a metaphor and paradigm of God's word in interaction with humanity.

In Jeremiah's persona we learn theology. We see God's wonder-working Word stirring things up, destroying and building. We glimpse God's inner struggle with a simultaneous antipathy and attachment to us sinners. We get insight into the burning power of God's word but also into its effect of drawing out genuine, deep conversation. In the prophet's life embodying the Word we do not see pure fiat at work but intermediation, back and forth, closeness and emotional involvement. Above all we see a God who can truly, radically say "I am with you" (1:8).

Will any of you be speaking on this text on Sunday? What are you thoughts?? Let's continue to explore this text in the comments and in more posts...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not preaching this Sunday, but this text has been on my mind b/c it's one of the options for the diaconate ordination.

The links to Moses are fascinating. The "I am with you" of 1:8 also echoes the Moses/Burning Bush story. Not only does God say there "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12), but some commentators also think that God's name, which is traditionally understood as "I am," is really about presence, not existence. Everett Fox translates the name as “I will be-there howsoever I will be-there" and Rashi understands "I am who I am" to mean “‘I who shall Be’ with them in this suffering [am the One] Who will be' with them when they will be subjugated by the other kingdoms."

The biblical story seems quite cyclical at times.


Wed Jan 24, 10:12:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Thanks! The very h-y-h is lacking in Jer 1:8 but, yes, the thought of God's "being there" for Jeremiah and for God's people surely seems to be present. ---S.

Wed Jan 24, 04:56:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, certainly there is not an exact linguistic echo in the Hebrew where we could think of the author of Jeremiah as quoting Exodus 3. The Hebrew in Jeremiah 1:8 lacks any verb here. I was thinking more conceptually of this idea of God being with us and the importance of relation in call stories.

Call stories seem to be full of fear and reassurance. Jeremiah 1 and Exodus 3 seem to be initial fear of being up to the task followed by reassurance that God is/will be with them.

Other call stories, however, do not have that same fear of God and reassurance of God's presence. 1 Samuel 3 has mostly initial confusion. And the fear in the story is not fear of God, but fear of Eli and reassurance from Eli that he really does want to hear the truth.

This is a lot of fun, Dr. Cook. Thanks for offering this blog!


Wed Jan 24, 10:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Anne Marie said...

Hey Dr. Cook! Thanks for this blog--a great resource to be sure. I am preaching on Sunday, although the sermon is far from fully developed. I am drawn to Jeremiah, though, as my current community is in a time of transition, of being brought low in order to rise up again. Jeremiah's destroying and building is spot on for us. As I said to a colleague today, the epistle is lovely (I Cor 13:1-13), but we aren't quite there yet--still need some time in exile...

Thu Jan 25, 10:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hey there Anne Marie, Thanks for the comment! So glad you're working with the OT this week! Do send along what you come up with as it emerges if you can. Best, ---S.

Thu Jan 25, 10:26:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

UPDATE: To read Anne Marie's sermon, click here ---S.

Sat Feb 03, 08:39:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Herr Doktor

I came across your blog entry via What a delight to return here. It's like being right back in your class, minus the laptop fireworks (I supplied my own big coffee cup, cheers).

I have the privilege of preaching on this text this evening b/c it is one of the Evening Prayer readings, at least in the Japanese BCP.

I'm planning to talk a bit about how judgment is sometimes the only path we leave open for God to encounter us (so, us as recipients of Jer's msg, not so much messengers). Judgment not as a fit of divine pique, but a showing up of the reality of our situation, our self-inflicted alienation. It's Lent, after all.

And then I'm hoping to put us in the place of Jer as Representative Man, i.e. known by God BEFORE conception (what does THAT say about birth control and abortion? But not going there this evening!) And WITH God always, even when we run full-tilt the other way (Ps 139).

Finally, the end of all divine judgement is not obliteration and the end of relationship, but the reestablishing of the relationship on fruitful terms.

At EP as opposed to Mass I speak from an outline and not a text (although "winging it" in Japanese is still a BIG challenge). But that's where I think I'm going with this text.

If I get really carried away I may talk about my own experience of being plucked up, pulled down, destroyed and overthrown by God before He started in with building and planting (e.g. in your OT class!). But the goal at this point is to shoot for "calm and collected".

Not a goal I often achieve.

I pray for you daily. Looking forward to returning to this site.

Your Easternmost former student,
Kevin Seaver

Sun Feb 17, 02:00:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Muthah+ said...

It is so good to find your blog after almost 15 years after I audited your class on the minor prophets your first year at VTS.

I find in Isaiah the kind of polarized actions that we Anglicans/Episcopalians try too often ignore. The extremes of tearing down and building up are the realities of growth but painful just the same. In the parish it is the delicate balance of the two extremes that keep the Christian community from becoming stagnant.

After the 'tearing down' of the past 8 years in TEC, hopefully we will hear the prophet's call to build up. Personally, I beleive that that is what I am seeing.

At least that is what I am preaching on tomorrow.

Lauren Gough+

Sat Jan 30, 02:53:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Lauren, it is great to hear from you. It is hard to believe our class together was 15 years ago! I too hope a time to build up has arrived... ---SLC

Sat Jan 30, 08:59:00 AM GMT-5  

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