The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.” –Jeremiah 1:7 NLT
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
--2 Corinthians 12:9
Do you ever get wrong numbers? I do. Apparently my phone number used to belong to Pedro, and Pedro has a lot of friends. The first year I had this number, I got several calls a day for Pedro. As I answered Pedro’s calls, I got to know a little bit about him. For instance, Pedro speaks Spanish. So I learned to say, “Lo siento, esta numero no es Pedro.” I’m sorry, this isn’t Pedro’s number. I also learned that Pedro is a mechanic, and based on the number of calls he gets, I’m guessing he’s a good one.
I did my best to be polite and helpful to these callers, but there wasn’t much I could do, because I’m not a mechanic, but especially because I’m not Pedro. Those calls weren’t for me.
Jeremiah’s response to God reminds me a bit of answering calls for Pedro. “Are you calling me? But I’m too young. Surely you need someone older. You must have the wrong number.”
God doesn’t dial wrong numbers, but sometimes we respond as if he has. “Are you calling me? But I’m too . . . “ How would you fill in the blank? I’m too busy, I’m too old, too young, or maybe, I’m not strong enough, smart enough, or healthy enough.
Just like Jeremiah, God knew us before we were born and set us apart to be his people, to be his church, to be his ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20). He calls us to trust in Jesus, to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and to go and do and say what we might not otherwise go and do and say were it not for the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
God is calling and we need to say yes.
Jeremiah was reluctant to say yes because he was just a teenager, so he said, “I’m too young.” Moses was also reluctant. He had a bunch of excuses. He was already 40. He’d already killed a man. He didn’t speak well. He said, “I’m not good enough. I don’t know enough. People won’t believe me.” (Ex 3-4)
The problem with all those excuses is that they are based on the wrong perspective. Yes, we’re imperfect humans, but God is not calling us to do anything on our own. God is calling us to work with him. God is not too young or too old or too weak or unprepared. God is not limited by our insufficiency. In fact, God told the apostle Paul that weakness is where God works best. Paul had a deficit, a problem that he called a thorn in his side. He asked God to take it away because he thought it was getting in the way. But God said no, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made great in your weakness.” (2 Cor 12:8-9)
God is calling and we need to say yes because God promises to go with us and to give us his strength.
Maybe our weakness is vision. We can’t say yes because we can’t see where we’re going if we do. God doesn’t always show us the whole road. If God had shown Jeremiah all that was ahead of him, Jeremiah might have gone running in the opposite direction. If you read the rest of Jeremiah, you’ll see that Jeremiah had a rough time. Maybe he should have run away. That’s what Jonah did. God told Jonah to go tell the people of Nineveh to repent, and Jonah knew that they would. Jonah didn’t like those people, so instead he ran the opposite direction. But God helped him to turn around and go to Nineveh anyway.
God tells Jeremiah, “I will go with you.” God made the same promise to Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Joshua. When Joshua was leading the people into the Promised Land, God said, “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)
Joshua couldn’t have led the people all by himself. We can’t do what God calls us to do alone either. We need God because he’s the brains and the strength and the heart. God promises to go with us, too. We need God’s strength because we’re too much like aluminum. Aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth and the third most abundant of all the elements. It has all kinds of wonderful properties. It’s light. It doesn’t burn easily. It’s flexible. We probably all have a roll of aluminum foil in our kitchens. But except for foil, aluminum is not often used all by itself. It’s too weak. So it’s combined with other metals as an alloy. The strength of these other metals combined with the lightness of aluminum makes it great for cars, airplanes, cooking utensils, and a whole bunch of other things. Aluminum can do more as an alloy than it can by itself. And we can do more with God that we can on our own.
We need to say yes to God, and we need to trust in his strength, not our own.
God promises to go with us, and, like he tells Jeremiah, he will give us the words to say. When Jesus is speaking to the crowd one day, he tells them the same thing. He says, “When you need to speak, the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.” (Luke 12:12)
Maybe that’s the thing we wonder about the most. How does that work? How does God give us the words to say? Jesus gives us an answer to that. He says, “Stay connected to me. Abide in me.” We have to stay connected to the source of the words.
There’s an episode of I Love Lucy about this. Ricky’s mother has come to visit. That by itself might be troubling, but there’s a bigger problem than usual. Ricky’s mother only speaks Spanish, and Lucy doesn’t know any Spanish. So, in usual Lucy fashion, she finds a solution. She hires a man who speaks Spanish to tell her what to say. The man is hidden in the kitchen and speaks into a radio that only she can hear. It works great, until the man leaves unexpectedly. Suddenly Lucy has no idea how to say anything because she’s lost her source.
Like Lucy, we need to stay connected to God, our source. The easiest, most basic way is through prayer. In the moment in which we need to speak, we can just say, “God, help me speak.” When there’s time for a longer prayer, I like to use an adaptation of an old celtic prayer:
God be in my head and in my thinking, in my mouth and in my speaking,
in my heart and in my feeling, in my hands and in my doing,
in my feet and in my going.
Part of having God’s words is stocking up. The more we read the Bible, the more those words become part of our thoughts, and the more the Holy Spirit can use them to help us know what to say.
Another way to stock up is to take time to write down the ways that God has helped you. This helps us be able to remember them later when we face similar situations, or when we have the opportunity to help someone else in the same situation. For example, those who are recovering from addictions are the best people to help others learn how to fight their addictions because they can tell about how God helped them.
God is calling. We need to say yes based on his strength, not ours, we need to stay connected to God the source of that strength, and we need to stay ready for whatever God puts in front of us.
I learned this week at the citizen’s police academy about how policemen prepare to be ready. As part of their training, they get sprayed with pepper spray and have to face an attacker in the midst of that crippling pain. It sounds pretty awful. Pepper spray is made out of habanero peppers, one of the hottest peppers. Over a hundred times hotter than a jalapeño. It makes your skin burn. The worst part, though, is how it feels in your eyes. When someone gets sprayed with pepper spray, they instinctively close their eyes to protect them. But the police trainees have to respond to an attacker after they’ve been sprayed, so they have to open their eyes, even though that is going to make the pain even worse.
They do this for two reasons: One is so they know what it’s like, but the other is so that they learn to do their jobs despite the difficulty, so they can be prepared to face difficult challenges.
Hopefully we will not have to deal with pepper spray in our faces, but we will face challenges when we say yes to God. In fact, it’s been said that one way to know we’re on the right track in following God is when we find ourselves in difficult situations, especially if they’re situations we wouldn’t have been in if we weren’t following God. T.S. Elliot said, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” If we aren’t in over our heads, how will we know how big God is?
Following God and trusting him in the midst of challenging situations is how we grow. Being prophets to the world around us, we help others grow by providing God’s perspective about our situation and a word of hope as the antidote to despair. This is what Jeremiah did for Israel, and what we do for each other when we answer God’s call.
How will you answer God’s call? Sometimes when I don’t recognize the phone number as it rings in on my phone, so I assume it must be another phone call for Pedro, so I don’t answer it. I just ignore it. That’s one way to deal with God’s call, too. We can just ignore it. But unlike those people calling for Pedro, God’s not going away. He will keep asking.
Saying yes might not be easy, but the best things in life never are.
God is calling us. Let’s say yes to him.
 Season 4, Episode 8
This sermon was preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Galveston TX on January 31, 2016.