We Have A Job to Do

God appointed Jeremiah as a spokesman and he had his doubts.  In Jeremiah 1:4-10 we see how God changed Jeremiah’s attitude, propelled him into action, and God is going to do that for us, too, making it clear that, “We Have A Job to Do.”  February 3, 2019.

The title of the job, the purpose of the job, duties and responsibilities, qualifications, working conditions, physical requirements (if applicable), and direct reports.  You know what I’m talking about, right? A job description.

What’s the job description for being a Christian?  In Holy Scripture you won’t find one printed out in the sequence just listed, but we can come up with a solid list of duties and responsibilities.  God wants Christians to respond to his love with hearts full of thanks that produce and pour out worship, prayer, caring, loving, giving, and witnessing.  It’s the last item that gives us pause. We know that God has determined to get Jesus’ love shining out into the world by using us as lights. For that reason, the Sundays of Epiphany move from Jesus’ role as Savior of the world to our role as witnesses to the world.  In fact, both this week’s worship theme and next week’s highlight our role as witnesses for Christ. Exciting, right? For many of us, maybe not so much. We show up for church, note a worship theme like that, and think, “I should have stayed in bed.” Let’s be honest.  For many of us the thought of being a witness for Jesus is about as exciting as root canal. “Oh, no! The preacher is going to make his pitch to try to get us to go out and evangelize. He’s going to lay it on our conscience that we are supposed to be witnesses for Christ.  I can’t stand the thought of having to talk about religion. The whole idea scares me.”

Jeremiah had a similar problem.  God appointed him as a spokesman, and Jeremiah had his doubts.  But God changed Jeremiah’s attitude, propelled him into action, and God is going to do that for us, too, making it clear that, “We Have A Job to Do.”

The recruit

You’re the recruit.  You review the job description.  Aren’t you going to ask yourself, “Can I do this?”  Jeremiah did. The work environment was downright hostile.  Who would want a job like his? Look north from Jerusalem’s high hill, and you can see dust clouds from the Assyrian army kicked up by their raging cavalry, charging chariots, and soldiers geared up like none other with iron (not bronze) swords, spears, bows and arrows, slings, and daggers.  They had mastered the logistics of moving and maintaining massive military might and developed siege equipment like battering rams to storm fortified cities. Then, if you could use satellite imagery, you’d see lurking beyond the Assyrians the Babylonians, ready to pounce, maybe not as ruthless and brutal, but bent on conquest.  But Jeremiah didn’t need satellites to spy trouble. It was right in his face. Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’  Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.  How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD (Jeremiah 2:20-22).  This is what the recruit faced when the Lord said, “You have a job to do.”  Jeremiah lets us know his gut reaction. Like Moses way back in Israelite history, a keen sense of inadequacy bubbled up, “Ah, Sovereign LORD … I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” He was in his twenties, young and inexperienced.  How could he be a witness for God not only to his fellow Israelites, but also to the world?

I’m glad Jeremiah admitted his fears, his feeling of inadequacy.  I don’t know if I could have been that honest. OK! I’ll start over.  I wasn’t that honest with myself or anyone when I started because people would have known my fears and my inadequacy.  “Can’t do that. Gotta make people think I know what I’m doing.” How stupid! How foolish! All along God knew my fears.  God knew and still knows my weaknesses. God knows my inadequacies. Why didn’t he blast me back then? I’m supposed to be a Christian ready and willing to witness, and a pastor to boot.  Why didn’t he drop the hammer back then and why not now? There is no answer to that other than Jesus. My Savior stepped in the way of God’s divine darts and made himself the bullseye, and he did that for you.  We have a job to do.  We are the recruits, but we are so flawed, so broken, so inadequate.  Yet, the Sovereign LORD says, “I know, but I’m still the boss, a boss like no other.”

The boss

The night before he was nailed to that accursed tree, the Lord Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father about his close followers and about you and me, “Sanctify them by the truth … For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:17,19).  I knew those words since childhood.  They were part of the memory work we did in the Lutheran school I attended.  But I didn’t get it. The word “sanctify” blew right over my head. Only later, did it come clear.  To “sanctify” someone means to set them apart, especially to set them apart as special for a special reason.  Aha! The Lord God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”  There was no way Jeremiah would have had a relationship with God if God himself had not set Jeremiah apart to be his own.  Jeremiah’s soul could have ended up on the garbage heap of hell, but God had done everything necessary not only to bring him into this world, but to bring him into his eternal family.  And there’s no way we can have a connection with God unless he himself set us apart to be his own and bring us into his eternal family, and he did!

Then came the promises, layered like butter cream frosting on a cake.  “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.  Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  If the boss says, “Check my track record of forty years.  I was with every recruit, never let any of them down, built them up, and stayed by their side.  They did not even have to worry what to say. And I tell every recruit, “Here’s a blank check for salary and benefits.  Write your own ticket. If you need more, no problem.” Who wouldn’t want to work for a boss like that? It would be a thrill, a privilege, a joy!  That’s what the boss, our dear Lord God, did for Jeremiah, and that’s what he does for you and me. We’ve got a job to do for the Savior of all. Who wouldn’t want a job like that?

The task

That did not mean the task would be easy.  The people Jeremiah faced had hearts like hardened cement and necks braced and faced their way and not God’s.  Most would hear what Jeremiah had to say and blow him off. But the boss gave him the task. I have put my words in your mouth ... to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, [but also] to build and to plant.”  Jeremiah was to announce to people who could care less about God that their apathy was greasing the slippery road to hell.  Then, when people started to shiver in their boots, he was to announce that God rebuilds their confidence in him by planting them in the garden of heaven.

Our task is the same as Jeremiah’s.  God wants us to proclaim the bad news of his anger against sinners and the good news of his love for sinners.  Sure, worries and fears can creep in like frost on your windows in sub-zero weather (This came up in the Third Ward Bible study last week).  “What if I’m say something wrong?” Consider this. If you are speaking to an unbeliever, what is going to happen if that person dies as an unbeliever?  Hell! What could you possibly say that would make it worse? So, you might as well try! “What if someone asks a question I can’t answer?” Don’t fake it or worse, make something up.  Just say, “That’s a good question. I don’t know. Let me check in my Bible,” or “I’ll call a Christian friend of mine” or “I’ll email my pastor and get back to you.” That’s a perfect “in” to meet and chat again, and you won’t come across as a smarty-pants or know-it-all.  Here’s a big one: “What if they reject me?” Go back to the promise God made to Jeremiah and to us, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”  God promises that he will not remove his presence and protection.  When we testify to the truths God has given us in Holy Scripture, we can join with Jeremiah and echo what King David wrote, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).

The boss says, “I have put my words in your mouth.”  The implication is clear, isn’t it?  “Don’t let my words sit in your mouth and rot.  Chew on them, ingest them, internalize my message of love to you in forgiving you all your sins.  Make that message your own and then proclaim it.” God gives us wings and does not want us to remain in the nest.  He allows us the thrill of spreading our wings and trying them out. He puts us in the heavenly chorus and does not muzzle us.  He says, “Sing out!” God makes us lights in his world and does not shove us under a basket. He places us on a hill and says, “Let your light shine.”  We have a job to do.  What a thrill, what a privilege, what a joy to carry out that task!

There have been plenty of others who had fears about being witnesses: Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter.  How did they get over those fears? How were they able to carry out the task the boss had given them in spite of their inadequacies and in spite of opposition?  Only one way. They did not look inside themselves for inner strength and resolve. They looked outside themselves at the greatness and grace of God. They witnessed what God had done for them and then said exactly what we say, “We have a job to do.  Here am I.  Send me.” Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on February 3, 2019