Old Testament Series Intro II: Creation and Call
Minister: Rev. Kerry McCormick
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Title: Creation and Call
Theme: Intro to OT Series
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
5 "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."
6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
7 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,
8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."
9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 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."
Grace and peace to your from our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that, as the Scriptures are read and your word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Today we begin an 8-week sermon series refreshing and grounding us in the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible - the sacred texts Jesus knew. As Pastor Olon and I attempt a new thing, you’ll be hearing this introduction twice: this weekend from me, and next weekend in his voice. Because we encounter Scripture as individuals and because we have been empowered since the Reformation to read Scripture in a language we can understand and allow it to speak to us personally, Olon and I intend to offer our perspectives as a way to invite you to encounter the Word of God in fresh ways for yourselves. We just thought it would be more helpful to do it separately to give you time to digest each one of us at different times.
Beginning with an intro to the Hebrew Bible sounds like a heavy academic exercise. And as your clergy are indeed in danger of displaying our wares as students of the Bible highly trained in seminary to regurgitate what we have learned, I hope to try to minimize that tendency within my self for your sakes. Most likely I will fail, and you will get way more than I should offer in these few moments today. Our time on Wednesday nights is designed to give us more of an opportunity to dialogue about what you hear today.
At one time in my ministry, it was a stated value for the congregation to have the pastor visit every home at the beginning of a new appointment. Often as I went from house to house, I noticed people set out important family heirlooms as a way of communicating something about their identity to me. Frequently one of the heirlooms placed for my viewing was a family Bible; usually a monstrous, leather-bound, gold-leafed affair, recently dusted for the occasion of my visit. I found it a curious practice to break out the Big Book just for me. I quickly discovered my home visits had about as much value as that family Bible.
It’s not easy to read scripture on our own. Show of hands: who has made the New Year’s resolution to read the whole Bible in one year from cover to cover? Anybody get past Leviticus?
One of the reasons the Bible is so challenging is because it is a collection of writings. It was not composed as a novel to flow from start to finish. It’s not even arranged in chronological order. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching narrative that helps us make sense of it; it’s just a re-assurance that it’s perhaps less daunting if we approach the Bible differently than you would Sue Grafton, James Michener, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Dan Brown or Maya Angelou. Although, you may very well find strains of Scripture within each of these modern writers. It’s hard to be completely original.
By way of introduction: if you have your Bible you with you, you might turn to the Table of Contents at the beginning. You will find a list of 39 books (more if your Bible contains the Apocrypha). Both terms: the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible are acceptable to refer to these writings. The first five are commonly called the Pentateuch or Torah (Law): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers which take Israel’s history from creation through the formative events of the Exodus from Egypt to the entrance to the Promised Land with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai somewhere in the middle-ish (attempting to not get too academic here). The bookends of freedom and land are notable for Israel as ways to understand its core identity.
Loosely speaking, Torah is followed by more history, the books of writings, wisdom, and then the prophets (who are arranged by the length of the scroll and their importance, not by when they were active in relation to the books of Israel’s history). The Psalms are likewise, arranged in five sections (like the five books of the Torah) to correspond with various cycles of ancient Israelite worship.
The whole library was collected over a period of about 1,500 years. Job, scholars believe, is the oldest book (dated to about 1,500 BC) and Malachi is the youngest (dated at about 400 BC). In the first century CE, the texts were gathered from their Sanskrit and Hebrew origins and translated into Greek. It is said 70 scholars took 70 days to accomplish this task and their version is known as the Septuagint. If you have a study Bible with notes at the bottom of the page, sometimes you will see a variation of translation offered depending on whether we are relying on the Masoretic (original language) Texts or the Septuagint.
Translation is always an issue for Bible scholars, for in the very nature of the task (rendering a thought from one language to another) something of nuance is lost in the process. Several denominations require clergy to learn both Hebrew and Greek so they are able to do their sermon preparation in the original language. It’s not required of United Methodist clergy, so aside from a few really beautiful words of Hebrew, I’m completely lost. There are folks in this room who know far more than I do about such things. Being a student of history, I’m more interested in context than connotation, I must admit.
Various schools of rabbinic thought are present in the Hebrew Bible. The history covered in 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles, for instance, traces the same time period but from the different perspectives of the Northern and Southern tribes. It is a blessing to us that our Jewish ancestors in the faith held the tension of keeping and honoring these various contextual viewpoints. All the richer and more precious now is our understanding of the foundations of our faith because they were willing to hang on to the stories from both sides of the divide. All the more obligated are we to hold the Hebrew Bible in its integrity for the faith of the ancient ones who were not comfortable with consensus, and didn’t ask the faithful to abandon their unique relationship with God in the ways that had been revealed and communicated to them.
It’s getting deep in here, huh.
For all our academia, Scripture is only helpful to our identity in Christ as we engage it. Not that context isn’t important, it is. But it’s only useful as it informs our faith and helps us answer questions like: who is God, who are we, what is the nature of our relationship with God? Our prayers, our journals, our music are ways we communicate with God, offer our praises, and let God know what’s on our hearts – what’s going on in our lives. It is through hearing God’s Word to us, however, that we encounter God’s nature and identity, God’s intentions for humanity, and God’s desires for relationship with us. At some point we need to address the “so what?” questions for our own lives as we read Scripture.
Jeremiah heard God’s word. The “so what” for Jeremiah was God’s call on his life to be a prophet and to speak to God’s people the desires of the divine heart to be in relationship in such a way as to honor God the way God intended for Israel as was established in the giving of the Law and the 40 years of training (aka wondering) that surrounded the Sinai event.
There’s a discernable pattern in the Hebrew Bible by which God calls leaders, prophets, judges and kings and each in turn has some stopper of an excuse. Moses was a stutterer. Gideon was a fool. Rahab was a prostitute. Samson had anger management issues. Esther was a haram girl in a Gentile court who became the queen of a foreign nation. David was a murderer. Jeremiah was just a kid no one would take seriously. We could go on, but I think you get the point.
Just in case you missed it, though, here it is: In the Hebrew Bible, God makes use of the strangest, most unlikely people and circumstances. And if you thought you were strange and unlikely, then you are exactly the kind of person God is looking for to participate in the sure and certain circumstance of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God – God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
Through the next 8 weeks as we focus on the Hebrew Bible, the basics of our faith, we are invited to encounter God as our Israelite mothers and fathers in the faith did: as both Transcendent Other – Maker of the whole universe and Immanent Friend who chats with the created ones in the garden. Our experience of God’s revelation will include a terrifying Spirit at Passover, a still, small voice as Elijah sought protection from God. In song, poetry and vision, God is imaginatively portrayed as rock, shelter, a protective eagle’s wing, a rod and staff, the beloved one, a wheel, in cloud and majesty and so much more.
Do you feel the invitation to imagine God for yourself – in ways that allow you to express your unique relationship? Do you wonder if there isn’t some call on your life you haven’t been able to define or articulate because the images you sense don’t fit with what you expected they should be? Do you hear the permission God grants us to experience God uniquely for ourselves to cultivate a deeper, more personal relationship?
From a time before you were born, God has been yearning for you to ask the “so what” questions, overcome the perceptions you have about why you’re not the one God is calling, and preparing you for a life of active daily discipleship. I pray all of that will be part of our journey together through our Bible Basics tour of the Old Testament.
Let us pray:
As we encounter you through your word in the days and weeks ahead, help us. Be a present guide through the Holy Spirit to see for our own lives what you would reveal to us about who you are and what you’re up to. Help us to overcome the fears we have about reading and understanding Scripture so that we can get to the “so what?” and discover what you are up to in our lives as you call us to be more than we ever imagined we could be. As you were so real to the ancient ones of our faith, be real in our lives, too. May it be so for all of us. Amen.