God Prepares, Sends, Call, and Provides

This message was delivered to the people of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 11, 2018. The occasion was the ordination of my friend, Jennea Pilcher.

Opening Remarks and Word of Testimony

Good evening. It is good to be here tonight and to look upon some familiar faces. I’d like to thank Pastor Jerimiah and Jennea, as well as the people of University Baptist Church, for extending an invitation to me to be part of this wonderful occasion. It is truly an honor to be here, to witness the work of God in this place, and to worship and give thanks together for what it is that God has done.

Many of you are aware that I served this congregation from June of 2013 to June of 2016 as Minister to Students. In youth ministry, you might be aware that a common element of a typical gathering is games. But you see, that isn’t exactly my forte. From the day I began service, I knew I’d need help in that regard. So all during my first summer, I prayed.

And God answered. On the first Sunday of the fall semester Jennea Pilcher attended the College Bible Study class in Room 200, led by Cheryl and Tim Wilson. Jennea was pleased to see a familiar face–Kathy Raines had met Jennea at TCU’s church fair, and though their meeting had maybe taken place the previous year, Kathy remembered Jennea, and welcomed her. Not long afterward Jennea and I had a conversation. She was interested in youth ministry. And she would be more than happy to plan, prepare, and lead the games portion of our Wednesday night gatherings.

Jennea became a key leader in our youth ministry. She served this church as an intern, and later as interim youth pastor, and she and I became not only colleagues, but friends. Jennea shared with me her passion for missions, and her discernment regarding her calling in life. Her experiences in South Africa had led her to believe that God may have been calling her to serve as a missionary. I, of course, asked, “What about youth ministry?”

Jennea answered firmly: “No.”

I eventually came to ask her about pastoring, about serving the local church. Throughout the Bible there are examples of women exercising leadership and having authority, who set for us a tremendous example of faith. In the Old Testament we find Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who feared God and defied Pharoah, Ruth the Moabite, Esther the Queen, Huldah the Prophetess, Deborah the Judge, among others. In the New Testament we read about Mary the mother of Jesus, her cousin Elizabeth, Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha, Dorcas, Lydia, Junia, and the daughters of Philip the Evangelist, who had the gift of prophecy, as well as others.

Now, I know there are some passages in the Bible that are hermeneutically challenging, that are difficult to interpret, and some of those even have to do with women in leadership. But I trust this congregation has done that work, and has proceeded here tonight convicted by the Holy Spirit that this is God’s will, that you as a body have witnessed God’s gifts and graces resting upon Jennea, and have chosen to set her apart and to ordain her for the work of the gospel ministry.

That is a decision I am glad to affirm and applaud.

Scripture Reading

Our Scripture reading for tonight comes Jeremiah 1:1-9. We read:

1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, 3 and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “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.”

6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ 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, “I have put my words in your mouth.

This is God’s Word.

Exposition

Jeremiah was a prophet of Israel. He was appointed by God as a messenger during a difficult and challenging time. Jeremiah’s time was not unlike our own. You could say God wasn’t exactly “in,” but God wanted a relationship with his people, so he sent them a messenger. Jeremiah was not always well loved by those in power. No, he was a bit of a troublemaker. But he was faithful to God. That, in the end, is what counts.

This text contains vital truth for the minister, for the pastor, for the person who serves God while serving the church. But it also contains truth for every Christian, for each one of us, for it reveals to us what God has done, and what God is doing. We see how God set apart Jeremiah. But we also find that God has likewise set apart each one of us, called us and incorporated us into God’s plan and purpose, bringing about the kingdom of God in our midst through the people he has gathered, the church.

This reading tells us, first that God prepares. Second, it tells us that God calls. Third, it tell us that God sends. And lastly, it tells us that God provides.

God Prepares

First, God prepares. God tells Jeremiah, “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 had seen that there would be a need, and God appointed a prophet, one whom God foreknew even before he was born.

We find a similar thought in Psalm 139:13-16. David writes:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In Luke 1:14-17, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that John “will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Jennea, it is vital for you to remember, and for all of us to remember, that even before we were born, God was preparing us for this moment, for this time, in which to live and serve. Paul said it well in Acts 17:25-27, in that God “himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

God uses our life experiences, both the good and the difficult, to prepare us and refine us, to shape us so that we might best serve under God’s reign. God prepares the way, and prepares us. This may lead us to some uncomfortable places. This may lead us to places where the soil is rocky. Conversely, it may also lead us to places where the waters are still and the grass is lush. Be encouraged. God is with us. God is the source of all joy, but God is no stranger to sorrow. If you do not believe that, look at Jesus Christ.

God, indeed, prepares.

God Calls

Secondly, God calls.

In Jeremiah 1:4 we read, “The word of the Lord came” to Jeremiah. He was given a summons, a call, an invitation. As Christians, we worship the God who speaks, the God who brought our reality, the Creation, into being with a word. God spoke to Abraham and said, “Go to the land I will show you.” He spoke to Moses and said, “remove your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

God continues speaking, continues calling. In the New Testament, that call is revealed most fully and completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 4:18-20, we read that “18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.”

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that Jesus Christ, “walked the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man; he walked that way in order to seek sinners!” When he came and walked among us, he called human beings unto himself as disciples. He was the companion of ordinary men and women, of the very old and the very young, and to all he said, “Come to me.”

God’s word came to Jeremiah. And Jesus’ word comes to us: “Come to me.” God calls us, as disciples and as followers, as the redeemed, as those to whom God has extended his salvation. This calling is true for every person in this room, no matter how saintly you are, or how far from God you may believe yourself to be–if you’re here, you are not as far from God as you think.

The prophet Jonah said, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” We are called to trust the saving work of Jesus, even as we are called to follow. Each of us has a calling. It is not hidden behind a veil of mystery. It is the calling to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

But some, like Jennea, sense a calling to serve God in a particular way as a shepherd, as a voice, as a minister, as a pastor. And, as is true for all of us, it is important to remember that that word, that summons, has come from God. The surety, the depth of conviction regarding that calling, sustains us.

God calls.

God Sends

Thirdly, God sends.

God said to Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” God is a sending God.

And this message proved to be important to Jeremiah. He would be sent to Israel, not only to proclaim God’s word before ordinary people, but also before the most powerful people in the land, people who had the means and authority to arrest him, detain him, and even execute him.

God remains a sending God. But when we are sent by God, we have nothing to fear.

In John 20:19-23, following Jesus’ resurrection, we are told

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus did not want his disciples to remain behind locked doors, hiding from those in authority, but instead to go out, to enter into the world, to proclaim the kingdom of God, to offer forgiveness, to preach the gospel of repentance, and to invite all people into fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 28:18-20, the risen Jesus said to his disciples, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jeremiah was given a mission. We have been given a mission.

That is our mission.

It is the best mission. The word gospel means, “good news.” We have been given the best possible news. Christ is risen! And because Jesus has conquered death and defeated the grave and atoned for our sin and opened the way to fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, we can have peace with God. We can also be about God’s work, feeding the hungry and offering drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting those who are sick or in prison. We can proclaim good news to the poor, and declare the year of Jubilee. Christ has come, and now he sends.

This is a word for you, Jennea. Christ now sends you into the world as a minister of his good news. Not your good news. His good news. But this is also a word for all of us. Christ sends us into the world as heralds, as servants, as witnesses. We are sent.

God sends.

God Provides

Lastly, God provides.

When Jeremiah is told by God that he has been appointed as a prophet to the nations, he has a reasonable response.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ 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, “I have put my words in your mouth.

You see, God prepared Jeremiah, called him, and sent him, but he also promises to provide for him, to be with him and to give him the things that he will need.

God promises his presence, “I am with you.” God promises his protection, “I will rescue you.” And God promises his provision: “I have put my words in your mouth.”

You may be afraid. There is wisdom in knowing you are afraid, but there is also wisdom in knowing that we serve a God who has power over all things that cause us to be afraid, and he has given us the promise of his presence and protection. You may be anxious because you are young, and that you may not have the wisdom or the words you will need, but you can find assurance in the knowledge that we serve a God who is from old and who is all-wise. Anything you need, God can provide. And God dwells within you. It is Christ in you. It is the Holy Spirit that is in you. Learn to walk by faith, and you will never lack. God’s abundance is inexhaustible; his riches are beyond measure.

God will provide.

God provides.

Coda

We are gathered here today for worship, and to set apart a friend and fellow servant for the work of the gospel ministry. Some of us may be tempted to say, “This is what Jennea Pilcher is doing.” Or, “This is what we, University Baptist Church, are doing.”

But the good news for us today is that this is what God is doing. God is the one who is at work in our midst. God has prepared, called, sent, and now provides for us what we, as the people of God, need in order to continue to follow Jesus faithfully. That includes pastors, ministers. God has appointed a servant, our friend Jennea. God has invited us as companions, to God and to one another. God has made this possible through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Are we not thankful? Is God not good? Is God not worthy of our ceaseless wonder and praise, our glad and joyful obedience?

I’m thankful. God is good. God is worthy. Praise be to God. Amen.

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