Choose Somebody Else! Reflections on Jeremiah 1:4-10

But I got lucky. (If I were a serious Presbyterian, I might say that God had all this planned from the foundation of the world, but since I am not, I say it just happened.) White males did not get many jobs in academia in the 1970s, but I landed one at Texas Wesleyan College in Ft. Worth, TX, and I was on my way. After two years as a sabbatical replacement person on the faculty of Perkins School of Theology (my alma mater), I was asked to stay and began to teach preaching, a subject I knew precious little about, in 1985. In 2012, I retired as Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics emeritus.

And I am still reading Jeremiah. " I do not know how to speak; I am only a young boy," the prophet says to YHWH, but YHWH will have none of it. "Do not say, 'I am only a young boy!' Surely, to all whom I send you, you will go; everything I command you, you will say! Do not be afraid of them, because I am with you to deliver you" (Jer. 1:7-8). YHWH said precisely the same thing to Moses after Moses' first attempt to get out of God's call at Exodus 3:12. "I will be with you," said YHWH to Moses, but Moses had four more excuses why he should not accept God's call. I admit that God's continual claim to "be with" God's servants throughout their ministries has seldom offered to me easy comfort, as it apparently did not for Moses and Jeremiah.

And then comes the kicker for Jeremiah and for me. YHWH touches Jeremiah's mouth, and gives the young boy the charge for his life: "Look! I have placed my words in your mouth. See! I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and pull down (a Hebrew sound pun untranslatable; linthosh and linthots), to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:9-10). Four demands to announce the world's deep problems, followed by two opportunities to build on the ruins and to plant a new crop after certain crop failure. It is a less than attractive mission! Much waste followed by some success. I cried more times than I could count with brother Moses, "Choose someone else!" (Ex. 4:13).

But Moses went, not without regrets to be sure. And Jeremiah went, and not without many quite public regrets and astonishing anger at YHWH's call. (See Jer. 20:7-18 for a poem that remains almost unreadable in its expressed pain and anguish after 2600 years!) And I went, too, but not without regrets and uncertainties, and fear of complete failure. What have I done, finally, in response to God's strange call on my life? I have no easy answer. I have not always done my best, though I claimed to. I have weaseled my way out of tight spots, when a more forthright declaration was needed. I have shrunk back in the face of grave injustice instead of standing up. I want to leave the success to God, if any is to be had, but I crave some success for myself, some public affirmation, some powerful acclamation of my "greatness." I confess all this whenever I read Jeremiah's honest prophecy, because he sounds so much like me, surely more competent and stronger than I, and at the same time more honest and straightforward than I.

I suppose at the last all we preachers have is that unbelievable word from YHWH: "I will be with you." It is not enough, but finally it must be enough. May it be true, O God, may it be true.

12/2/2022 9:10:31 PM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.