Each year my friend Dawn hands out what she calls “Star Words.” You give her a number between 1 and 400 and she gives you a word that coincides with it. Whether it’s luck of the draw or divinely inspired, the point of your star word is to help you focus on your personal growth and to help you realize who God has destined you to be.
Last year my word was “Change” which turned out to be a powerful and even prophetic word. As I looked back to where I began, so much of my life has changed for the better. As a result I feel closer to God, and more sure of what God is calling me to do.
This year, my word is equally as powerful as it is challenging. It’s “proclamation.” Now, you might think this is the perfect word for a minister. But I’d beg to differ. First of all, not everyone wants to hear what God has to say to them. And second, you never know how far people will go to censor or silence you. Think Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Or because it’s the Super Bowl, Colin Kapernick.
In today’s reading God calls a young child, Jeremiah, to do the unthinkable. Go out into the streets and warn the people of Judah to stop sinning. As you can imagine, Jeremiah is about as excited to answer God’s call as God’s own people are to hear what he has to say.
Go out and proclaim. That’s your calling. But who’s lining up to do it?
Last time I preached this particular text from Jeremiah, I used the movie Straight Outta Compton as a sermon illustration. The following Monday I would discover that using gangster rap to proclaim God’s word would somehow offend a few people. Go figure.
But isn’t that what God wants us to do, to offend the status quo? Because that’s what is bound to happen when God gives us words to speak.
Straight Outta Compton tells the story of the rap group N.W.A. They are five young black rebels who would go on to ignite a social revolution that is still reverberating today. The movie opens with the quote, “You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”
When I heard that, I couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who hit the streets to proclaim God’s truth. The movie opened my eyes to see that proclamation comes in many different ways and voices.
In a era riddled with gang violence, poetry would become a powerful weapon. By connecting the raw language of the streets to the growing genre of hip hop music, N.W.A. empowered a new generation to stand up against the socio-economic political system that had literally imprisoned them their entire life.
These modern, poet-prophets would create the most lucrative commercial music in American history – simply by speaking truth to the raw emotions that had been festering in the ghettos and barrios of the world.
There is something to be said about poets and prophets being one in the same. Through the use of powerful and imaginative words, both Jeremiah and Jesus were able to disrupt a seemingly secure system by calling it out; naming the inequity and making it public.
As I said earlier, pointing out other people’s sins has never been a popular way to make friends or influence people. Which is probably why Jeremiah tried to wriggle out of what God was calling him to do.
You might have noticed that Jeremiah gives God a familiar excuse, “I can’t do what you’re asking. No one is going to listen to me. I am only a kid.” Moses said something very similar as well, but that didn’t stop God from using him. Go out and proclaim. That is your calling.
So let me ask you this: What do you say to God when you are called to speak for God? Do you make an excuse, or simply shrug off the responsibility? Or do you say, “Sure…why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” If you have heard my story, then you know it took a lot of kicking and screaming before I gave God what God wanted from me.
Let’s face it, it’s easier to make excuses than it is to make a difference in the world. But God doesn’t accept our excuse anymore than God accepted Jeremiah’s. This leads me to believe that the promise God gave to him, is also the same promise God gives to us. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will give you all that you need. Just Go out and proclaim.”
I’ll admit that fear, anxiety, resistance, resentment, or having a feeling of inadequacy is an understandable reaction to doing what God has called you to do. But nowhere in this passage does God tell Jeremiah, “Don’t worry because there’s a trade school for prophets." God just said, “I’ll deliver you.”
Go out and proclaim. That’s your calling. You don’t have be a social influencer with millions of followers, you don’t even have to be able to articulate in order to speak for God. You just simply need… God.
Jeremiah had God’s promise. And if the poets and prophets of the Bible teach us anything, it’s that God’s word can be trusted. This is good news because God’s word is our hope. Our strength. And our salvation. And in Jesus, God’s word became our flesh and blood.
St John’s writes, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” In this poetic proclamation, I’m positive John offended more than a few people. And good for him. John’s words are but one example of how the Bible itself is an offensive book. Its very message stands in opposition to the power of culture and politics.
As Jesus showed us, it’s in our proclaiming of God’s glory that God’s word becomes a life-changing force that's impossible to silence.
Last week, I told the story of Jesus preaching in his hometown where he read from the prophet Isaiah. The people who had known him as a boy were amazed by what he had to say. But it didn’t stop them from trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. Jesus brought them hope; an end to oppression, injustice and exploitation. Yet they tried to censor him. He told them their faith was no longer wishful thinking, but now realized and fulfilled. And so they killed him. But not even death could silence God's Word. Through Christ Jesus, it lives in and through us today.
So what is God’s Word asking of us?
“To pluck up the lowly, and to pull down lofty. To destroy and to overthrow injustice and to build and to plant the peace of God in the heart of every person.” To go out and proclaim God’s love and grace to the world. That’s our calling.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be the voice of the poor and downtrodden; to right the wrongs that plague our communities. And to name injustice for what it is. We don’t have to be prophets, poets, or gangster rap artist…we just have to be faithful to our call. More than just being vocal, Jesus shows us the way to be the good news out in the world, to be the living word of God in our communities and homes in the way we love and care for one another.
Our call to serve God demands that we speak God’s words of truth in our daily life, in a language that wakes people up. To be more like Jesus and let our actions speak in ways that get people’s attention.
In Jesus, God has given us a voice and vocabulary to return the world back to God’s glory. Just as God spoke to our hearts through Jesus, we too must allow Jesus to speak through us so other hearts can be helped and healed. To remind you of this years theme, When we see and do what Jesus does, we learn and teach the way and will of God – a way that some will no doubt find offensive.
I challenge you to look at your home, your neighborhood and community, and listen to what’s being said. And use that as your starting point to begin proclaiming the good news…using words if necessary.
*Revised from a sermon previously given in January 2016.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”