Jeremiah 1:4-10 Luke 13:10-17

Some here today may recall the late 1960s song written and recorded by the brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb…the Bee Gees…in which they said…”It’s only words…and words are all I have to take your heart away.”
Words are one of the tools that God uses to take a heart away…and they were a tool he gave to the prophets of old…and to Christians today. Just like the prophets of old…like Jeremiah and Isaiah…you and I are called to use words and other tools to win hearts for God and for Christ.
Note that it’s not family background or influence…nor a time of crisis nor a time of peace…that make a person someone who takes a heart to God. The prophets of old came from all walks of life…from different social classes and from city and country life. They do have one thing in common…God stepped into their lives. God called them into service. God enabled them.
The story of Jeremiah’s call that we heard this morning is typical. Regardless of our circumstance it is also a story that speaks to us.
First…there is the sense that God is calling. God interferes…intrudes…comes uninvited into a person’s life. If someone had told me in my twenties that I would be here preaching today I would have laughed loudly at that person. But…here I am…God interfered in many ways to turn me from the path that would have kept me away from this place this morning. It took me a long while to hear the call. Jeremiah discovered who he was and what his life purpose was when he was stopped by God and God spoke loudly to him.
God’s call comes in different ways…different places…and at different times in life…for all of us. There is no one way that God calls. Does sensing that call make each of us a prophet like Jeremiah or Isaiah? Perhaps not, but does that call require a response? You bet it does. Christianity means action. Christianity requires action.
That response is the second step. Jeremiah was hesitant. Isaiah was hesitant. So was I. Are you hesitant?
In effect…Jeremiah said…”Look God, you’re making a terrible mistake…I’m the wrong person. I don’t know how to speak. I’m just a kid.” I said…”I’m not really sure. I’ve got other work to do. I can only do a little piece of your work, God.” If you’re hesitant…what words are you using? Are they an excuse more than reality?
The final step in the story of Jeremiah’s call…my call…and your call…is reassurance from God. Jeremiah was told to look beyond the resources he had…that he thought were limited resources. He was given a promise…a promise that he could bank his life on. He wasn’t given the promise of an easy path…nor a promise of instant success. He was given the promise that runs through the Old Testament and is renewed…quite clearly by Jesus…his last words in the New Testament….”I am with you always.” I was given the same promise. You are given the same promise.
Armed with that promise…and with the opportunities that God gives you…whose heart can you win for God and Jesus…with the words that God has given you. It’s only words…and words might be all you have to use to take a heart away….God’s words…and the heart of someone God has created…and known since their creation. God wants you to help that person know God…and his son…our savior Jesus Christ.
As mighty as they have been…and as mighty as they remain…it is not God’s word alone…that win hearts.
On that Sabbath…when the woman shuffled in and slowly took her place in the synagogue…no one took notice but Jesus. He called her forward…spoke to her…and touched her. With his healing power he spoke the healing words that set her free from her ailment…free from her separation from society…and free from the separation she might have felt from God.
The woman heard and felt love…love from God…love from God’s son. She was given this love because Jesus loved God and Jesus loved his neighbor as well. In our homes…our community…our state…our nation and our world today…all of them gifts from God…there are neighbors who don’t feel that love. There are people negatively affecting our neighbors just as the synagogue leader attempted to affect his congregation.
He was indignant that Jesus had healed the woman…because Jesus’ reaching out with love violated some silly rule…some silly tradition…some silly misperception of what should be and what causes bad things to happen.
This man had no heart to pity the poor bent woman. He ignored her until Jesus touched her. Who around us is being ignored and forgotten? It might be someone clearly disfigured like the woman. It could be someone who looks normal in every way.
The man in the synagogue couldn’t see the beauty of Christ’s compassion and rejoice with the woman’s deliverance. Like him…are there those around us who would rather give resources to weapons…acts of destruction…or perpetuation of hate…than use those resources to deliver someone from physical and emotional misery?
He fancied himself as a lover of the Law…and all of its silly details…a lover of tradition and all of its insensitivity to the changing world in which he lived…a lover of separation simply because of human differences. He wanted to protect the rules…the tradition…and the image. His love for the rules…tradition and image showed his lack of love for the woman…for his neighbor…and for God.
Fifty three years ago I was about to start my junior year of high school. I was excited. We had moved from the country to the big city of Syracuse, New York. I knew little about the school I was going to attend…other than it was in a new state of the art building on the rich side of town.
I was confused and amazed when I watched the TV news on August 28th, 1963. There on the TV screen were thousands of people in Washington, D.C. protesting the state of our nation…racial discrimination and unemployment.

I heard an eloquent, moving speech by a man whose name was not familiar to me…Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said his dream was that his children and all children would one day be judged by the content of their character…not the color of their skin.

I had never considered that an issue. To that point I had never really felt or seen any prejudice in the all-white world in which I lived. All of that changed a week later when I entered my new high school. It was populated by a majority of Jewish youngsters.

Though many of them were from well-to-do families I heard them tell their stories of intolerance, prejudice and hate-driven actions. Two years later I heard many of the same kind of stories told by my fellow black students in the inner city high school to which I had transferred.

Yes…we have come a long way since those days…but there is much more to be done. Let us not be like the leader of the synagogue who challenged Jesus on that day. Let us not be like the white preachers whom Dr. King referenced in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”. Those preachers…men supposedly of God…told him to slow down. The preachers felt truly justified changes were being sought too quickly.

Instead…let us remember…as Jesus demonstrated…justice and healing delayed…are justice and healing denied.

Let us not look at the world as it is and ask why. Instead…let us see the world as Christ would have it and say why not. Then act to make it that way.

The need for our words…or action…manifests itself in many ways…for many people…people who are God’s creation…our sisters and brothers. For example…As I was preparing this message I was also watching a Facebook exchange of views on a report that a nearby city had decided to forcibly remove homeless people from its downtown and jail them if they choose not to be moved to a homeless shelter on the edge of the community…a shelter built to accommodate perhaps one third of the city’s estimated homeless population. One of the participants in the exchange was a woman who with her words…and those of Christ…expressed strongly that this was not truly caring for the least among us…in fact she said that it was a demonstration of just the opposite. She used her Christian words and took action.

How would you respond to the news report? How would you respond to the action if it was taken by members of the county council right here in Greenville County?
What would your words…and your actions be?
Let us remember…it’s not only words…but words and acts of love that God has given you to take hearts away…to take hearts to him and to Christ. He also gives you the ability and opportunity to use them. Look for those opportunities. Seek them out.
And…remember the words that Jesus said…to take your heart away…”I will be with you always.”

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