Jeremiah is one of the great and heroic figures in the Bible. We can learn from his example as he represented God in the middle of a godless society that was increasingly trying to use God and to use religion to justify immorality and complacency.
We can learn from his message as he brought the word of God to people who had little or no time for God in their busy and selfish lives. We can learn from his heart. Jeremiah not only stood firm in difficult times and spoke the message that was given to him, but he cared for - he loved - the people he was called to minister to.
Jeremiah is often called 'the weeping prophet'. It is through the mouth of a weeping prophet that people hear God speaking words of correction and judgement. He was like a doctor who has been asked for an opinion, has done all the tests, and knows that the patient has a serious cancer. What the patient wants to hear is that everything is fine. But the doctor has to convince the patient that everything is not fine, and the only hope is to go through a painful and dangerous course of treatment.
So there is a tremendous amount in the book of Jeremiah - the longest book in the Bible.
However, this morning, the subject is not "Jeremiah's Example" or "Jeremiah's Message", but "Jeremiahs' Call". There is rich content here for several sermons that you won't hear this morning. I could say a lot about Jeremiah's call, but my fear is that you would enjoy the sermon, you would be informed, educated and enlightened by it, but possibly in looking back at the service, you would find the message was basically irrelevant to your life.
Read Jeremiah 1:4-5.
God knows you, and God has called you. The only real difference is that Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to the nations, and you may not have been called to the nations. You may only have been called to this nation, or this city, or Sea Mills.
Read Jeremiah 1:6-9.
Isn't it odd that God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet, and then the first thing He says is, "Jeremiah - shut up! You're talking nonsense." Even a prophet needs to learn not to speak his own words.
Jeremiah did not feel that he was ready. Do we feel the same way as Jeremiah? Well, God knew what He was doing in calling Jeremiah - read the book if you don't believe me! - and He knew what He was doing when He called you.
Please would you all stand up. You can move around if you like, but please get into pairs… Now, in just a moment, I would like you to hug each other for around thirty seconds. Off you go. Now, while you are hugging, please be aware of how you feel about the experience. What do you think you are communicating through the hug? What do you think God is saying to you through it? All right, you can let each other go now, and return to your seats.
I apologise to anyone who found that a difficult experience. Please hold on to what happened and what God said to you - there will be a chance to share it in a short while.
Congratulations - you are all prophets. What you have just done was a prophetic act. Throughout the Bible, prophets not only spoke, but they did things that had a special meaning or significance.
In embracing someone, you are communicating many things. You are saying: whatever you have done in the past, whatever you may feel about yourself, I accept you. You are important. You are valued. That is a message direct from the heart of God.
It is always safer to hold back from other people. It is always easier to keep your distance. Allowing people to come close to you is a risk. But God takes that risk. Just as you were close to someone else for a few seconds, so God wants to be close to you - not just for a few seconds, but for all time.
Christianity is not about believing a set of doctrines, although there are truths you need to know and understand. Christianity is not about being a good person, although morality is a vital aspect. Christianity is not about church services and rituals, although coming together to express our common life is important.
Christianity, if it is about anything, is about living in an intimate relationship with the creator God of the universe, who we can come to know through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith is about living day by day in the presence of God, listening to His voice, enjoying His love, and living in a way that expresses His character and fulfils His purposes.
Living in the presence of God is the essence of the prophetic gift. The prophet does sometimes speak messages from God, but this is simply one way that the relationship is expressed. Anyone can speak words from God. In the Old Testament, even Balaam's ass spoke God's word. The world doesn't need more words; the world needs words from a heart that is close to God.
We are all called to be prophets. You may not think of yourself as a prophet, or call yourself a prophet, but you are called to a close walk with God, listening to His voice, and discovering how He feels about things.
We can't simply look to Jeremiah as our prophetic role model - there are a few differences between his ministry and ours. He was called to make prophecy his life's work, and he was called to prophecy to the nations. These details may differ for us.
The more important difference is that Jeremiah was operating in Old Testament times, and we are living in the light of the New Testament.
Everything that Jeremiah said and did must be understood in the light of the gospel message.
God took on human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He did not just take on the appearance of humanity, as a piece of divine play-acting, but He really did become human. He lived with us so that we could get to know Him.
He called those He met to follow Him - to join in His ministry. He described His ministry in a variety of ways: to proclaim good news to the poor, to destroy the works of the evil one, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But however you describe it, when Jesus said "Follow Me," He was not just telling people to believe a set of doctrines or repeat a set of religious practices, or become good people. He was inviting people to live in a close relationship with Him and to be a part of His mission.
Following Jesus was not, and never has been, a nice optional extra.. He claimed absolute authority. If you follow Him, He is your first, last and only priority. If the things He said are true, they are the most important truths in the whole world; if they are not true, then forget Him.
We can sometimes talk very glibly about a relationship with God. I talk with folk who have the impression that we can live reasonably good lives and offer Him a bit of worship every now and then, and He will be satisfied. But once you have found Jesus, that approach is impossible. He wants to know if you are on His side - if you are working for Him or working against Him.
A relationship with the God Who made Himself known in Jesus is not a relationship with a distant authority where you pay your taxes and hope not to be noticed. It is not a relationship with a good friend where you drink coffee and chat about old times. It is a relationship with your commanding officer on the battlefield, where the battle is fought with faith, hope and love against the enemies of disbelief, despair, hatred and indifference. This battle took Jesus to the cross, and He calls us to follow Him.
Jesus calls us to follow Him. And, being God, He knows who He is calling.
As we follow Him, we find our lives are transformed. We start to become the people He created us to be. But He is under no illusion about what we are like here and now.
We are redeemed children of God. But most of us are also broken and damaged people. God is slowly putting our lives back together, but the job is not finished yet. The church is not a club for nice, successful people - it is a hospital for mending broken people. Sometimes God steps in and brings about a miraculous healing and restoration. But very often, the miracle is that He enables us to endure, to find peace in the middle of the conflict and confusion.
We suffer the consequences of our own folly, and the effects of living in a fallen world in which peoples lives matter less than corporate profit. Some Christians are not comfortable with this reality. They think we ought to be successful, victorious, overcoming all problems in the power of the Spirit.
They forget that we follow a crucified and broken Saviour. Because His heart was broken, He can call the broken-hearted, and offer them hope.
We may feel that we are not doing very well as a church, because so many people here are coping with pain and difficulty, in our own lives and the lives of the people we care for. But in God's eyes, that is not failure - it is success.
We need to learn how to proclaim to truth of the gospel with confidence and clarity, but also with honesty and humility. God is loving and powerful, but He doesn't solve all our problems straight away. We don't have all the answers, but we have all the answers we need in order to follow Him.
Sea Mills is full of weak, damaged and hurting people. Because we know what it is to be weak and damaged, they can find a home here where they belong, and through us and with us they can find the God Who has the answers to their deepest needs.
The 'weeping prophet' lived in a close relationship with his God, loving and trusting Him even when he didn't understand what was happening. And he lived in a close relationship with his community, the people who were ignoring God and bringing disaster upon their own heads. He provided the place where his God and his people could meet.
We, the church, as a prophetic people, are called to do no less today.
Over to you - any questions?