Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10
The Super Bowl is on February 13th, and many sports fans are looking forward to that big game. However, for another group of sports fans the day they are more excited about is the day after the super bowl because February 14th is the day that pitchers and catchers start reporting for spring training. One of the aspects that makes baseball unique compared to so many other sports is just how many professional teams there are. For instance the 32 teams of the NFL make up all of the professional football teams, but there are a total of 247 professional baseball teams in the United States. Even though our state does not host a MLB team, we have four professional baseball teams in the state. One of the reasons why there are so many baseball teams is because of the extensive farm system that baseball has. The origins of this system is now over 100 years old. The way it works is that each major league baseball team has multiple teams associated with it. This goes from the high level AAA teams like the Indianapolis Indians all the way down to rookie league teams. In these leagues players can continue to develop skills until their affiliated major league team has need for them. With rare exception, MLB draft picks start off in the farm teams. Of all players drafted by a major league team, only 1/5th will actually play for that major league team. The other 80% will spend their entire professional careers in the minor leagues. Sometimes players can spend years playing in the minors before they are called out and given a shot in the major leagues. For instance, Shawn Kazmar briefly had a stint in the major leagues in 2008 but then spent over twelve years in the minors before he was called up by the Braves for a game against the Cubs in 2021. Likewise John Lindsey holds the record for the longest time spent in the minor leagues before being given his chance. He played for sixteen years on minor league teams before he debuted with the Dodgers in 2010.
The farm system is unique to baseball, and I think there is something truly special about it. I appreciate from the highest ranked team of the MLB all the way down to the rookie leagues everyone involved is aligned in their purpose to develop the skills to the best of their ability and win games. All of them have a committed passion that drives them and when they are called out and called up they answer the call by embracing the challenge. I do think there is a faith lesson in there for us. As we consider the call of Jeremiah from this morning’s scripture as well as the life Jeremiah lived as a prophet I think we get some guidance on how we can live as people God has called out and how we can be disciples that God can call up.
Jeremiah is considered to be one of the Major Prophets. The division between major and minor prophets does not have to do with importance or prominence but with size. At 53 chapters Jeremiah is an extensive book. One of the aspects that makes Jeremiah unique is that it contains more narrative of events than some of the other prophets. Jeremiah’s book is also not just a recording of his prophecies but it also contains insights in to Jeremiah’s personality and his own faith. Jeremiah was a prophet during an extremely tumultuous time. Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet began around 626 B.C.E. and ended sometime after 586 B.C.E. During this time Jeremiah proclaimed the word of God that came upon him in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, because the Northern kingdom had already been conquered, sacked, and taken into exile by the Assyrians.
Even though Jeremiah spoke on behalf of God his words were not always received well. For instance the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, was fairly hostile towards him. Jeremiah 36 records an instance where the words of Jeremiah were read to the king, and the king responded by cutting up the scroll and then burning the pieces. Jeremiah was also active when the Babylonians, the conquerors of the Assyrians came and captured Jerusalem. Jeremiah found himself caught up in the political turmoil that followed, he was under arrest, and forcibly taken into exile into Egypt. Jewish tradition remembers that Jeremiah died in Egypt, and the extra-biblical Jewish sources recorded that he was stoned to death by his fellow Israelites while in exile.
This morning’s scripture marks the beginning of Jeremiah’s long journey as a prophet. God does not call prophets in quite the same way in this day and age. Instead of the Word of the Lord coming upon us we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that as it is written in Romans, “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.” We are given these gifts because as Ephesians states “we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good work.” We likely have not been called to the same ministry as Jeremiah, but as followers of Jesus we have been commissioned by our Savior to make disciples and we have been given his example of being a servant to others to live into. We may not all be called to be a prophet, but all who call themselves a Christian have been called in some way. So as we consider both the calling and the life of Jeremiah I think we can find three specific ways in which we can better live into our own calling.
The first help we find into living into our calling, is found in verse 5. In calling Jeremiah God reminds him, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you before you were born I set you apart. “ We know that God is our creator, but I do think we always give that the full appreciation it deserves. We are formed by God, but not only that we are uniquely formed by God we are crafted by God to be unique. It is common knowledge that our fingerprints are unique to us, but there are so many other unique qualities. The retina of our eyes and the contours of tongue are just as unique as fingerprints. Not only that but our voice is unique to us and even the way we walk, our gait is unique to us as individuals. In the history of all of humanity, you are the only one of you that God has created.
It is not just physical differences that make us one of a kind. Like Jeremiah we have been set apart by God. We are gifted by God in unique ways. The areas of serving and work that light our heart ablaze also varied and unique. We all have different passions, and we all have a unique and wonderful story. When it comes to what God has set us apart to do, these three areas Gifts, passion, and story act as a GPS map in our lives. In their book Find Your Place Rob Wegner and Brian Phipps right more about this. They wrote, “Your gifts, passions, and story- each of these are sending you a different signal. And when those signals are triangulated by the Spirit of God through a community of trusted traveling companions, they will tell you where you are right now and where you need to be.”
One of things I really appreciate about Jeremiah as a person is how relatable he comes across in the scripture. His prophetic writings are full of honest emotion, and his reaction to God telling them he has been called as a prophet is a prime example of that honesty. His reaction is the same that many of us might have defaulted to: He makes excuses. He lists all of the reasons why God got the wrong guy. Again this is a common occurrence or at least it seems to be. In listening to people’s testimonies there is a common thread that tends to pop up. Based on several stories I have heard, God’s favorite type of humor must be irony. Because a lot of people have stories about how they are now serving God by doing the one thing they said they would never do. For instance the person who does not find think themselves great with kids ends up being an amazing VBS leader, or as another example, a preacher’s kid swears they would never ever do what their dad does. God has set us apart and God has a way to eventually get through all of our “I couldn’ts”, our “ I can’ts”, and our excuses.
The final way that the story of Jeremiah can encourage us to live into our own calling is how Jeremiah was in it for the long haul. We do not know the exact age that Jeremiah started his ministry as a prophet but based on this morning’s scripture we know he was young. While there is some guesswork involved most biblical scholars put Jeremiah’s age somewhere in his 70s when he was taken to exile in Egypt. Jeremiah faithfully served God for decades. The book of Jeremiah does not record all of those years. It jumps from point to point throughout his life. Like a baseball player sometimes Jeremiah was called up by God to be God’s voice on the national stage speaking truth to kings. Other times Jeremiah would be out of the spotlight, but even during those times he faithfully followed God. He may not have always been called up but he was always called out.
In the same way we have been called out by God, God has made us, and God has a plan for us. Sometimes we might be asked to make big leaps of faith as we trust God to lead us into the unknown to do something risky but meaningful. Other times we faithfully serve God in small ways. We regularly and lovingly serve God and seek to further God’s kingdom. The small behind ways of serving God, of putting others first, and seeking to share the good news are just as valid as big upfront ways. It is not like God grades us on a curve. Someone living into their calling does not get more point in heaven than someone else because their calling appears to make a bigger difference. God has called each of us and made us unique. So whatever it is you feel in your heart to do, do it! Use the gifts God has given you, serve the needs that light fire under you, through your example make disciples, and through your loving actions change the world.
In this morning’s scripture Jeremiah, the son of a priest, was likely already faithful to God. God affirmed that he has been called out and then he called him up to a greater service. At first Jeremiah made excuses, but God cut through those and Jeremiah began to fulfill what God appointed him to do. Throughout his life in whatever God asked, big or small, Jeremiah was faithful. May that be true for all of us as well. In the big and the small may, day in and day out may you be a faithful disciple of Christ. Yet, may you also be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps like Jeremiah, God is calling you out and asking you to take a step into greater service. May you be open to that possibility and not make excuses. If you feel in the depths of your soul that God is calling you up to take a bigger risk, to take a bold step, and to make a difference in this world in a way that only can, then may you be willing to follow. If God is calling you out this morning, then may you take the words that God spoke to Jeremiah to heart: “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you and will rescue you,” Declares the Lord. God has your back, so may you better step into your calling.