Jer 1:1 ..... Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came ........
Jer 1:17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them...They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you.
Jeremiah was a conflicted, tortured man who was asked to speak very difficult words that nobody wanted to hear! And we have a way of calling someone a Jeremiah when we think them as a ‘prophet of doom’.
And I really, really understand him.
Because I have had moments when I have felt an inner compulsion to speak about difficult things – knowing that they are unpopular words. These words often begin inside of me: somewhere in the region of my stomach. I sense that they need to be said, but my stomach gets knotted and my voice becomes trapped somewhere in my throat. My mind burns with the knowledge that the words need to be spoken, but I struggle to speak them.
I remember this during the turbulent years of South Africa in the 1980’s. And how I very reluctantly spoke to my local white parishioners about the injustices of our land – and faced disgruntled members who told me that they “did not come to church to hear about the problems of the country.” When I was arrested by the security police they stopped paying my stipend.... even though no charges were ever proved against me! I remember speaking in the years we were moving into a new democracy of the need for a gun-free society, and having the military-employed members of my congregation choosing to withdraw their financial contributions because “you do not want money that is earned from guns.” Well it is happening again: I have a congregation who have discovered that their former minister has entered a same-sex civil union. They are deeply unhappy that I have asked them not to be her executioners, but rather to offer her their support and prayers. And so they walk out of my services when I get up to preach; and they with-hold their financial contributions; and they have run to my bishop to complain about my lack of Christian belief.
And it eats at me!
Because I have no aspirations to be Jeremiah. I wonder if there is a way to avoid saying the words. I look desperately for reasons why I should stay silent. I long for a peaceful life – the kind of life where people love me, and thank me for the reassuring words I offer. But all the time I know this driving inner prompting that asks me to speak about the difficult things.
So pray for me that I might be faithful to the promptings of the Holy Spirit – especially when I feel like putting my head down and avoiding the flack.