Jeremiah’s Call II
by Jack Wald | September 23rd, 2001

Jeremiah 1:1-19

This has been a most disturbing week for me and I know I have not been alone in this. We are getting over the shock of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City, but are now facing the future. The US is sending massive amounts of firepower to the Gulf. The Taliban in Afghanistan have threatened a holy jihad if the US attacks. Pakistan is an impossible situation with a population that supports Osama bin Laden and a leadership that has pledged support to the US.

There is an Arab proverb that goes something like this: It’s me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; me, my brother and our cousin against a stranger. Morocco wants very much to become part of the western world, part of Europe. But if this conflict escalates, the pressure to ally with the Muslims being attacked will be intense. The West will say they are combating terrorists, individuals and the nations that support them. The press in the Muslim world will say they are attacking Islam.

We live in an Islamic country and fear the consequences of a US led attack on Afghanistan or some other Muslim country. We in Morocco are fortunate to have a monarchy that is committed to peace and will strongly resist attempts by Islamic fundamentalists to stir up the people of Morocco. But it is still a concern.

This past week I felt afraid in Morocco for the first time since I have been here (other than when I am driving of course). I had a very pleasant lunch with the Community Liaison Officer at the American Club this past Tuesday. While we were eating, a woman came up and was a bit agitated. She talked of military wives not knowing what the evacuation plans were and said they felt they were being left hanging. They needed to know what was going to be done. This talk shocked me. I had not considered the need to evacuate Morocco and the fact that this talk was taking place scared me.

I left that meeting feeling very unsettled. I noticed the police outside of the Peace Corps office. I noticed the police on the streets and I felt vulnerable. I came home and watched more TV, CNN and BBC, picking up the discussion of what targets would be attacked in Afghanistan and what the response might be. I listened to the stories of people being afraid to fly or travel overseas from the US.

Wednesday night, American citizens met and the American Ambassador and her staff addressed the concerns of the American community. The Ambassador is very sharp and allayed fears by the way she addressed the issues and concerns head on. I felt much more at ease after that meeting.

I am not worried now. I know things could change quickly depending on the US response. But I feel safe here in Morocco.

All the same, many in the world are feeling nervous, particularly in the US and particularly in the East Coast of the US. A friend emailed us that her sister lives in a northern New Jersey community and has a dozen neighbors who are missing in the World Trade Center collapse. She wrote that people are afraid to fly, afraid to go to New York City and stay in their basements.

This is the news that has been most on my mind. But there are others in our community who are feeling afraid for a different reason. This week I have met at different times with sub-Saharan Africans who are hiding from the police. In the last three weeks or so, 4,000 of them have been deported from Morocco to Algeria. Faithful attenders of our church have disappeared. The police have been raiding their houses and taking them away.

As a citizen of the US, I am drawn to the concerns of the US. But I am not pastor of the American Church in Rabat. I am not pastor of the Western Church in Rabat. I am pastor of the International Church in Rabat and I try hard to be that. As pastor of RPF International Church here in Rabat, my heart has ached this week at the mess this world is in and the suffering of people in the world: in New York City, in Washington, in Rabat, in all the places concerning people in this community of faith.

It is in this light that I speak today from Jeremiah.

The burning question for many people this past week has been, “Where can I go that I will be safe?” Am I safe if I stay in Morocco? Am I safer in the cities or out in the countryside? If there is retaliation, will I be safe here? Am I safer back in my home country or here in Morocco? Is it safe for me to fly? Several work groups from the US have canceled their trip to work at the children’s home at Ain Leuh because they are worried it is not safe to come to Morocco at this point in time.

Where do I find safety?

Let me answer this question by asking a question. Was Jeremiah safe? To answer this question, we need to look at what took place between Jeremiah and God in Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet to the nations.

Two weeks ago we focused on the three sentences of the call
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

God appointed Jeremiah to an overwhelming task and Jeremiah responded
6 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Some people, when they look at responses to God’s calling, focus on the weakness of the response. When God called Moses to go to Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of bondage, Moses resisted.
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary to tell her she would bear a child, she asked
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

I would argue that these are all expressions of humility that are appropriate when God calls us to what he has in mind for us to do. Can you imagine Jeremiah responding to his appointment as prophet to the nations this way?

Oh boy! That’s great! I’ve been wanting to give it to those guys for a long time and give it good. Hot diggidy dog. Now they’re going to get it!

Jeremiah’s response is a response that takes in the enormity of the task God has appointed him to and is overwhelmed by it. This is how it always is when God appoints us to what he wants us to do. We are overwhelmed and thrust into the position of having to trust in him in order to do what we have been appointed to do.

But now listen to God’s response to Jeremiah’s statement.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.  10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God promises that he will be with Jeremiah and will rescue him. God demonstrates that he will give Jeremiah the words he has to say. I can imagine Jeremiah wondering as God spoke to him, “I’m too young and inexperienced. How do I know what to say to kings and nations?” God answers him by telling Jeremiah he will put his words on Jeremiah’s lips. Jeremiah wonders what is going to happen when he stands up to the king who has power of life and death over him and gives him news he does not want to hear and God tells him not to be afraid. He will be with Jeremiah and he will rescue him.

God goes on to give Jeremiah more detail.

11 The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
13 The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered.
14 The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.  15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD.
“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
and against all the towns of Judah.
16 I will pronounce my judgments on my people
because of their wickedness in forsaking me,
in burning incense to other gods
and in worshiping what their hands have made.

Now God instructs Jeremiah how he will speak to him and tests Jeremiah to see that he is seeing what God wants him to see. He instructs Jeremiah and gives him the central message that will dominate Jeremiah’s next forty years of ministry. Jerusalem will be taken by kings from the north.

This is a terrifying message to receive. Jeremiah might have been thinking, “You want me to take that message and deliver it to the king?” Jeremiah was no fool. He knew how the king or any king would react to such a message. Going now to President Bush of the US and telling him terrorists will bring down the US and destroy it is not a message likely to be greeted with kindness and appreciation. Jeremiah’s fears were likely enhanced by hearing more detail of what he was supposed to say.

God gave more detail of what Jeremiah was going to say and knowing this was likely to enhance Jeremiah’s fears, he provides more detail on how he will support Jeremiah in his role as prophet to the nations.
17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.  18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.  19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

A fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall – images of strength and endurance.

So the question is this, did Jeremiah feel safe? A fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall. I think Jeremiah felt overwhelmed at what God appointed him to do but entered his ministry with a feeling of confidence that God would support and protect him. I think he felt safe.

But was Jeremiah’s life a safe one? His message was rejected over and over. Jeremiah spent 40 years preaching an unpopular message to people who ridiculed him and threw him into jail, threw him into a cistern, threw him just about anywhere they could to get rid of him. He was constantly being threatened and he very often felt afraid, depressed, discouraged.

Was Jeremiah’s life a safe one?

This is my conclusion. Jeremiah was safe because he was doing what God wanted him to do. I said two weeks ago that Jeremiah had a choice when God appointed him to be prophet to the nations and that was the choice of Jonah.

God told Jonah to go preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s enemy, the Assyrians. Jonah ran away in the opposite direction and brought destruction upon himself. Jonah had a choice but in choosing wrong he was anything but safe.

Jeremiah could also have chosen not to do what God appointed him to do, but that would have led him away from safety, not to safety. We are safe when we are living in obedience to what God wants us to do.

Being safe does not mean we will not suffer. Being safe does not mean life will be easy. Being safe means we are under God’s care and protection, doing what he has appointed us to do.

When we examine this matter of safety, we think of bones unbroken, skin not burned, body not bruised, emotions not shattered. Wen we think of safety, we think only of this material world and in this material world, there is no ultimate physical safety.

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said this, found in Luke 12
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Todd Beamer was one of the passengers on the airline that crashed in Pennsylvania. Cell phone conversations reveal that he and some other passengers decided to fight the hijackers and that struggle brought down the plane, preventing it from reaching its target in Washington, D.C. Todd Beamer was the husband of Lisa Beamer who attended the speech President Bush made to the Congress and the nation. Todd Beamer was also a strong Christian, attending Princeton Alliance Church, a church with close ties to the church we attended in Princeton, New Jersey before we came to Rabat.

Did God keep Todd safe?

If you remember what I said last week, God makes two promises to us. To be with us through whatever we face in this life and to take us to be with him when we die. I believe God fulfilled those promises and that Todd Beamer is safe now in the arms of God.

This is what it means to be safe: You are safe and protected by God until his purpose for you is fulfilled and he calls you home. Todd’s wife Lisa was interviewed on CNN and said she believed God had used her husband to save lives and to encourage others in the world to follow his example of putting his trust in God. God kept Todd Beamer safe and when he died, took him to be with him for eternity.

There are those who surround themselves with power and use every technology available in this world to make themselves safe, but true safety is not found in what this world can offer. In Revelations, in a picture of the last days when God’s judgement of this world will come, a picture is given that speaks of the futility of seeking safety in the technology and power of this world.

Rev 6
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Those who thought they were safe, kings, princes, generals, the rich and mighty, those who surround themselves with all the world can offer to provide safety, will fall under the judgement of God. There will be no safety for those not in a covenant with God.. There is no safety apart from God.

Are you looking for safety this morning? Seek God. Seek God with all that is in you. Seek what it is that God wants you to do?

When is the last time you prayed, asking God what he wants you to do with your life? I was in college preparing to go to medical school when a friend asked me if I had ever prayed, asking God what he wanted me to do with my life. I prayed and my life took a new direction. My life has continued to take new directions. From pastoring a church to running a business and back again to pastoring a church in an international setting. It doesn’t matter if you are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or 90 years old. Spend some time this week praying and asking God what he wants you to do with your life. To what has God appointed you? To what is he appointing you to?

Seek God and obey his leading in your life. That is where you will find safety.

If God has appointed you and you are struggling because what he has called you to is overwhelming, hang on. God who appointed you will also surround you and support you. He will make you a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall.

This is not easy. I am sure Jeremiah felt at times that he wanted to quit. I imagine he was tempted at times to deliver a message the king would like. If he delivered a good message, he would be asked to lie down on a soft couch and be served a delicious meal rather than being thrown into a cistern and sinking up to his armpits in mud.

But it is in the times of difficulty that our test comes. It is easy to do what God has appointed us to do when everyone applauds and cheers us on. The test comes when our obedience to God costs us something.

Let me finish this morning with a story about Hilary Johnson. Hilary is a Liberian who works with RPF as an administrator. You see him on Sunday mornings helping to get the sound system set up and doing many other things for the church.

Hilary came to Morocco about 14 years ago as a student. He finished his studies here and stayed on in Morocco, receiving support from the United Nations as a refugee from Liberia – a country which is in turmoil. For the last couple years he has worked with the church, helping us with a multitude of tasks.

Last summer he received word that his mother was dying and made a trip back to Liberia, his first trip home in fourteen years. This trip was a very difficult one and Hilary was robbed by government soldiers and almost lost his life. He was at a police crossing in the middle of the night with a gun sticking into his forehead so that blood ran down his face while three men voted on whether he would live or die. The vote was two for his living and one for his death and after some tense moments he was allowed to leave, without his luggage.

He returned to Morocco, very discouraged. He knew for sure that there was no life for him in Liberia. Living on what the church pays him in Morocco is not enough for him to settle down and make a life for himself here.

He has tried and tried to find ways to make a living here in Morocco and failed to do that. So I have been helping him to get a visa to Europe so that he could look for a job there.

A couple weeks ago, I signed a paper for him, attesting to his character, that was taken to the French Consulate across the street from the church. When I signed the document, I looked Hilary in the eye and told him I was putting my name and reputation on the paper and also the church’s name and reputation. I asked him to promise me he would honor the terms of the visa he received and he agreed.

This past Wednesday he received a 14 day visa.. On Thursday night he came to my house and we talked. It became clear to me that he intended to go to France on this visa and not return. I reminded him of the promise he had made, not to dishonor my name or the name of the church. But the temptation to take this easy ticket to Europe was too strong. He asked me if I would forgive him if he went and did not return and I said I would, but that willingly disobeying God is to take a step away from God and those are very dangerous steps to take.

I was crushed. In all the emotion of this past week with terrorists and threats of retaliation, this additional disappointment was crushing. I am so often discouraged at the repeated choices that are made by Christians who willingly disobey God to further their own ambitions. This one hurt a lot.

But then on Friday, Hilary called to say he was leaving at 5 PM and that he had decided to come back when his visa expires.

Hilary is in a very tempting situation. He has received entry into Europe without having to pay $1000 US to a smuggler and risking his life crossing the sea in a small, overcrowded boat. The temptation to stay in Europe and not come back will be intense. But this is where the test for us all comes.

Each of us face moments when we have to decide if we will stick with God when it gets tough or if we will seek the easier way out. One decision leads us to safety and one to danger. I pray and hope you will pray with me for Hilary, that he will stick with God where he will find safety.

And I pray that those of you going through difficult times and choices will find safety in seeking God and choosing to obey his calling to you.

We are not living in an easy time. But Jeremiah did not live in an easy time either.

The world we face today and the world Jeremiah faced are not dissimilar. All eyes are focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq. In Jeremiah’s day, the eyes of the ancient world were focused in the same place – just the names were different: Babylon, Assyria, Persia. In both times, the world was in turmoil and people feared for their personal security.

The world was not safe then and it is not safe now. Seek God, obey God despite the difficulties you face. Find safety in the arms of the one who loves and calls you and will take you to be with him for all eternity.