Narrative Lectionary Reflection for November 23, 2014 (Year One)
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10
Here’s another one of the biblical stories that reminds us that God calls unlikely candidates to do divine work. Jeremiah is called as an underprepared youth to preach a tough word in a time of great unrest and war to a rebellious and downtrodden people. He doesn’t get to proclaim a message of prosperity or pop-theology. His words are bitter food upon which to chew and are not popular among God’s people of Judah and Israel who have lost so much that they held dear. But this melancholy prophet perseveres in doing the work to which he has been called, and he does it faithfully, not scrimping on truth but also not forgetting about promise and hope. It’s an excellent study in leadership and stewardship.
If we view this lesson through a stewardship lens, we see that in addition to calling us to speak, God has entrusted so very much more than words to us, calling us to be faithful stewards of the world and all that is within it. Yes, just as in Jeremiah’s time brokenness and distress, war and destruction are all around us. A variety of “words” fill our world and call us hither and yon to believe and act on all manner of things–many of which stand in direct opposition to God’s word. More and more of our congregations see their faith cups as half full (or less!) rather than filled to overflowing with God’s abundance and hope. Sure, this is not a time for pat glossing over of difficult truths and tough realities, and there may indeed be things (buildings, institutions, and assumptions) that need to be torn down in order that seeds of hope may grow and flourish. If we use the divine words God has placed in our mouths to speak a prophetic word–even though the words may be difficult ones–the promises of renewal and hope are never far away.
This lesson is also readily viewed through leadership lens. Leadership, whether as called vocational church leaders or as the priesthood of all believers, is not an easy or lightly-held task. In fact, it’s downright tough because faithful servant/disciple leadership requires us to chew on and share some heavy, tough words and to face rejection, humiliation, loss, and marginalization. Is it any wonder that statistics about clergy burnout, depression, and substance abuse are so significant?* There’s a reason; faithful leadership is quite often tough sledding. We are called to point the way to Christ, to expose the presence of evil and to shine light into the world’s dark corners. We are given words to speak against the lies of this age and to give hope and truth in the midst of what appears hopeless. Yep, bearing prophetic witness to God and the way of Christ can exact a few pounds of flesh, BUT the important word to remember is that we are never alone. God is with always with us, feeding us words, bearing us up, and planting seeds of hope and possibility through us as we turn the soil and stir the pot.
This is good news for all of us who are called to chew on a mouthful of divine words, who dare do nothing else besides place our hope and trust in the One who knew us even in the womb, and who are called to speak a tough word in tough times. This is good news that there is always hope when God’s words are the ones spoken, heard, and sown. Blessings on your preaching, teaching, and faithful ministry.
Invite people to discuss the words they feel called by God to share with others. Are they words of hope? Are they words of conviction? Do the words make them uncomfortable? Do certain words hold power for them? What words in worship or scripture are most powerful? How as the priesthood of all believers are we called to speak divine words, prophetic words, and hopeful words to the world?
If you have time for a movie night, consider showing a film that addresses the power of words–for good or ill. If you want a comedy, consider Liar, Liar. If you want a really fine movie that touches on the power of words to make a real difference, consider The Great Debaters. Spend some time talking about how God does provide words and guidance for our lives so that we can both speak a prophetic word and a word of hope, comfort, and peace.
The suggested prayer for this week’s Narrative Lectionary reading is a good one to unpack with children: “God of cleansing, you showed the people of Israel how to behave in ways that honor you and your people. Show us how to behave so that your world might be blessed through our actions. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.”
Invite the children to talk about how our words and actions need to align to give honor to God. We pray for God to show us how to behave. How does God teach us to behave? Entertain all answers: the Bible, Sunday school lessons, parents, prayer, teachers, pastor might be some answers they give. Remind the children that Jesus shows us in his life how we are to behave. He tells us we are to love God 100% with all we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help children think of one way they can show love for God, neighbor, and self this week. Pray a simple prayer with them.
*According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010), “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”
Photos: emdot, elvertbarnes, and dennis hill, creative commons. Thanks!