The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, Church of the Holy Spirit, Nashville

“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; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:4-5).

Prophets are called by God. Prophets have a definite experience of being set apart by God for specific work. God reveals himself to the person he has chosen and outlines the appointed task. But all call begins with revelation, an experience of God that God wills to happen.

The call of the prophet Isaiah came with a vision of God in the Temple in Jerusalem. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty… Seraphs were in attendance above him… and one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:1-3).

The ministry of Ezekiel also began with a vision, received while he was beside the river, in exile in Babylon. “Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking” (Ez. 1:28). Both Isaiah and Ezekiel received a vision.

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah doesn’t give us any clue as to what he saw when he was called, or whether he saw anything at all. We just know that he heard the word of the Lord. God revealed himself to Jeremiah, just as he did to Isaiah and Ezekiel, calling him to be a prophet, calling him to interpret what God was doing in time and history, in ancient Israel and among the nations. God opened Jeremiah’s heart and mind to his truth.

Prophets are required to say “yes” to the call in order to become prophets, but prophets do not get to choose whether they are going to be prophets. God tells the prophets that he chose them from long ago, before they had a choice. The prophet Isaiah said, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me” (Is. 49:1). We hear this again in our reading from Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:4-5). Being a prophet is not about what the prophet does, but about what God is doing through the prophet.

Jeremiah tried to avoid saying “yes” to the call. “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jer. 1:6). However, it’s God’s choice, not ours. “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you'”(Jer. 1:7).

Jeremiah, like the other prophets, was called to specific tasks. In Jeremiah’s day the Kingdom of Judah was under threat from foreign invasion. The People of God believed that God will not allow them to be defeated. Jeremiah’s word to them was that it was a time when much would be destroyed so that new work could begin. “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” (Jer. 1:10). The People needed to believe, not that they were invincible, but that God could be trusted to secure their future in spite of what was to come.

Jeremiah’s work was not easy. His life was in danger. His own people turned against him. He was persecuted. The king threatened him. The kingdom was destroyed and the People were taken to Babylon. Jeremiah himself ended his life in exile in Egypt. Yet God worked mightily through his ministry, revealing his will through him, and preparing the People for the future.

We are not all prophets but we are all called by God. Some of us, like Fr. Nicholas Cho and his wife Grace, are called to come a far distance to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’  But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom. 10:13-15). St. Paul quotes from the prophets themselves to describe the call of those who preach the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.

God has called all of us to be here today. He called Fr. Nicholas to help lead this congregation. He called you, the people of the Church of the Holy Spirit, to hear the Good News proclaimed. God calls all of us to the mission and service of the Church.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee