More Certain than a Tom Brady Pass / Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you;

We all know what it’s like to wake up from a frightening dream and think, “Wait a minute! Was that real?” And once we get a little more alert, we realize that it was just a dream, and we hopefully fall back to sleep.

Psychologists say there’s one type of dream that’s nearly universal. Can you guess what it is? It’s the dream of being unprepared for an exam. It’s awful, isn’t it? School children all over the world have had this dream, or I should say, this nightmare, for that’s what it truly is. In this dream, you realize on the day of the exam that you never showed up for class, you missed the entire semester. Or the exam questions are written in a foreign language you don’t recognize, or you completely forgot to study the night before.

Do you believe that these dreams are never about exams we’ve failed? Rather, these dreams usually involve exams in which we did well. So, exam dreams are actually our brain’s way of reassuring us that we’ve faced this challenge before, did well and could do it again. I think maybe I’m not the only one who panics at the thought of facing a big challenge unprepared. And it helps us relate to the situation of Jeremiah the prophet in our Scripture lesson for today.

Jeremiah was a young priest in a small settlement near Jerusalem when God spoke to him one day and called him to be a prophet to the nations. Nothing scary about that, is there? Don’t kid yourself.

It’s funny, but I’ve often said, and I’ve heard others say, If God would just speak to me! If He would just tell me what I should do with my life, it would be so much easier. We all think that if God spoke to us in a clear and unmistakable way, we would feel instant relief, and would obey instantly. But look at all the people God spoke to in the Bible. Very few of them responded with, Sounds great! I’m on it! Thanks for the clear directions. And as we all know from our study of God’s Word, almost every person responded with fear, questions or excuses. So, let’s not kid ourselves that we’d be faithful or courageous and respond with enthusiasm when God calls us to fulfill His purposes.

Jeremiah responds like we probably would, Alas, Sovereign LORD, which is another way of saying, Oh no! I don’t know how to speak; I’m too young. Which seems like a reasonable excuse to us. No, thank You, Lord. I’m not ready. I’m sure You meant to give this job to someone else. It reminds me of a comment a manager wrote in an employee evaluation: He’s never been very successful, read the evaluation. When opportunity knocks, he complains about the noise.

Jeremiah wasn’t exactly complaining. He just wasn’t listening. All Jeremiah heard was the responsibility. He didn’t hear the reassurance. God never gives a responsibility without first giving reassurance. God never calls someone without first comforting them. God never appoints someone without first anointing them.

Look at God’s words in the beginning of this passage: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart . . .

I hope you hear these words too just as Jeremiah did, and plant them in your heart and mind. Because your life will never have the impact God created you for unless you understand this truth: God made you for a purpose.

That’s the first truth we need to understand from Jeremiah’s story. God made you for a purpose. In fact, when God tells Jeremiah, before you were born, I set you apart, the word used here literally means set apart for a sacred purpose or consecrated. You weren’t just made for a purpose. You were made for a sacred purpose. For God’s purposes.

Here’s a prayer I’d like everyone to pray every evening/morning, Dear Lord, lead me to the person You want to speak to, through my life today. Amen.

That’s an interesting prayer. Dear Lord, lead me to the person You want to speak to through my life today. How could such a simple prayer change your whole outlook on life? Because in this prayer, every interaction becomes an opportunity for God to speak through YOU. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t assume to have all the answers. But the burden isn’t on me. If doing the part God calls you, God would use you to work through Him to bring some truth or love or mercy into another person’s life.

What would change about your life if you viewed every moment as a limitless opportunity to live for God? Every moment. The time you spend on the commuting each morning. The conversations in the locker room or the conference room or the band room or on social media. What would those moments look like if you knew God was working through you to change people’s lives?

Ephesians 2:10 in the New Testament reads, for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which were prepared in advance for us to do. Prepared in advance. God not only created us for good works, but God also prepared those good works for us in advance. God didn’t just make you for a purpose, God made you with a plan in mind. God made you for specific good works that were prepared in advance for you to do. There’s nothing random or meaningless about your life. Every moment was created for God’s sacred purposes. That’s the first thing we need to understand from today’s Bible passage.

The second thing we need to understand from this passage is that, in order to accomplish God’s purposes, we must live without fear. Think what you could accomplish if you could live without fear.

An army friend of mine was a mountain climber and loved to also do rock climbing. He told me one of the rules of rock climbing: never jump unless you can see where you’re going to land. And before you climb to a higher peak, make sure you see a way back down.

That’s great advice for rock climbers. But not great advice for followers of Jesus Christ. God says, Jump, and I will catch you. God says, climb out on the higher peak and trust that I will show you the way. Listen to God’s words to Jeremiah: Do not say, I am too young. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

How many opportunities are lost to fear, particularly the fear of rejection? Personally, I’ve never heard of anyone dying because of rejection. How many blessings wither and die in the face of our excuses? Fear shrinks our vision. Fear stunts our potential. Fear steals our eternal impact. How? By making us doubt God’s calling. Listen to God’s words again: Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the Lord. Repeat to yourself three times a day or 30 times a day, I will not be afraid for God is with me and will rescue me. Then see what opportunities God opens up for you.

And the final thing we need to understand from the story of Jeremiah is that, in order to accomplish God’s purposes, we must trust God’s plan. Doing great things for God begins with simple trust that the One who has called us will not forsake us as we seek to follow His call.

I was struck recently by some wise words written by a blogger who compared God with professional quarterback Tom Brady. And no, he didn’t say Brady can walk on water, though I’m sure some of his fans think he can. Here’s what he wrote: God loves throwing lead passes. Do we have any football fans here this morning? What does that mean? God loves throwing lead passes.

A lead pass in football is when the quarterback throws a long pass not to where a receiver is, but to where a receiver is going. For a lead pass to work, the receiver runs ahead of the ball being thrown and trusts that the quarterback is going to throw it to just the right spot.

With God, when you follow His principles, the results are almost always delayed. As in, when He asks you and me to do something, we rarely see the results of it immediately. We have to keep doing what we know He told us to do (running) and trusting that God will get us the results (the ball) somewhere downfield . . . If I played catch with Tom Brady and he said, just start running and the ball will be there when you get there, I would trust him. He has 7 Super Bowl rings that prove he can get the ball to a receiver downfield.

How much more can we trust God when He says, just start running. I’ll take care of the rest. Whatever you’re trusting Him for today, just keep running, and trust that He’s got it all worked out.

I love the conclusion: Whatever you’re trusting God for today, just keep running and trust that He’s got it all worked out. That’s what Jeremiah learned to do. God didn’t choose Jeremiah because of his outstanding skills and charisma. Look at the final verses from today’s Bible passage: Then the Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.

God’s plan isn’t about you. It’s not even about me. It’s about God working through us. As the Lord said to Jeremiah, I have put My words in your mouth. But God gives us a choice. What we give to God, He will use for His purposes. So, what would happen if you gave everything to Him?

God made you for a sacred purpose. You can’t un-hear that truth. Every moment you’re alive is a sacred opportunity to do good works that God prepared in advance for you to do. The only obstacle standing between you and God’s sacred purpose is your willingness. Will you refuse to let fear shrink your vision? If so, God can use you to bring hope and salvation to people who might never meet Him any other way. Trust everything to God’s purposes, and God will use you to make an eternal impact in others’ lives.