Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30
A few years after we came to the US, I ran into a classmate on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary. As he zoomed by, he turned and shouted, “Are we still on for tomorrow?” I remember being struck by such an odd expression “Are we still on for tomorrow?” If he had stopped to talk, I would have said, “I don’t know about you, but I am always on.” If my classmate would come back today, I would simple say, “On!”
Beside the fact that a one-word sermon topic would be easy to be read from Hanover Road, I am reminded of the word on, as I was reflecting upon today’s scripture lessons. These lessons bring us to Jeremiah and Jesus. Both lived an incredibly meaningful life, but also a rather hard life. They had something else in common. Nothing stopped them. I am sure they paused once in awhile, but they never abandoned their work.
The Oxford English Dictionary reveals that “on” is a passionate word. It is for getting something into action, into movement forward and onward. The Dictionary also says that some Scottish use it as a verb. The Old Testament lesson tells us that Jeremiah had no choice but to on with his prophetic ministry, for God called him to do what he had to do—when he was in his mother’s womb.
Jeremiah found that God had the prophet’s life in mind for him. The book of Jeremiah says that he started his ministry in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign, in 627 BCE. Five years later, in 622 BCE, King Josiah needed to consult with a prophet, but he does not send for Jeremiah. Now Jeremiah was called when he was in his mother’s womb, so this year of calling, 627 BCE, must have been his birth year. He would be only five years old in 622 BCE when King Josiah needed a prophet’s counsel.
Prophets are famous for experiencing oppositions, but none so much as Jeremiah had to go through. We find him sad all the time, and sometimes in the state of what one biblical scholar famously called “suicidal despair.”
Apparently, there was a time when he decided not to preach, only to find that not to preach was even harder. He said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention [God], or speaking any more in [God’s] name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer 20:0). Jeremiah was driven to prophesy whether he liked it or not—against all oppositions.
In our gospel lesson, we hear Jesus’ saying. “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” I am sure Jeremiah would reply, “Tell me about it, but I don’t think a prophet is welcomed outside the prophet’s hometown, either.”
In today’s passage, the Lord reminds Jeremiah of his destiny. “I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Jeremiah replies, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
God said to Jeremiah, “I will make you a prophet to the nations.” Today, a prophet to the nations sounds like a person who will get to travel all over the world. Well, the only long distance travel he would get to do is to be taken to Egypt as a hostage at the end of his life. Jeremiah had to endure every form of opposition, but he persisted. On and on! He only became the prophet to the nations much later in history when the people who were taken into exile into a foreign land realized Jeremiah was the true prophet and started collecting his words. In his lifetime, all Jeremiah had to do was to go on, and so he did.
We have started this journey of faith, but the question is whether we are still on it. It is worth asking once more. “Are we still on?” We will answer. “Yes, we are still on!” Time will come when we shall say, “Yes, we completed the journey”—when we stand before the Lord in glory.