Before You Were Born
Before You Were Born?
(Sermon for Combined 5th Sunday Worship, WPPC & FBC)
Psalm 139; Luke 9:57-62 & Jeremiah 1:4-10
Has anyone ever said to you, "I knew you before you were born?" Kinda weird, isn’t it?
I’ve had people say that to me. Usually, people who knew my parents… or family members, grandparents… aunts and uncles. So considering that, it’s not quite as weird.
But, to be honest, I haven’t always appreciated what they were trying to say. As I’ve grown older… and as I’ve moved from one generational bracket to another… I learned a greater appreciation of the sentiment.
Of course, when we become parents, we gain a broader understanding concerning “knowing someone before they were born.” As we plan for, and anticipate the arrival of our children, we certainly know something about them (we’ve often already chosen a name, and we sometimes know the gender before birth)... we’re keenly aware of their presence, and existence, before their birth… and we have hopes and dreams for them. And to some degree, we have a very strong influence in helping set the course for their lives, even before they’re born.
Of course, parents know their children before their children are capable of knowing themselves… before they have a sense of “self-awareness” or before they’re capable of forming lasting memories of their own. There’s something special, and holy, and intimate about knowing someone before they were born. We have a knowledge and memory of that person they don’t have of themselves.
Pastors who’ve been in ministry for 30+ years get to “know people before they’re born,” too! From a unique perspective.
Of course, on occasion, pastors are blessed to be there alongside new, expectant parents; and you’re one of the first to get to see the new baby (often in the hospital). You’re then blessed to “dedicate” or baptize the baby. You later have the honor and responsibility of confirming the child into the faith… and watching them grow into young adults… as they finish High School and work through College… and establish their own families. You occasionally get to officiate the wedding of a child you’ve known “before they were born” – and you then find yourself baptizing (or dedicating) their children. It’s a humbling experience to say the least.
But then, to keep you doubly humble, some smart-aleck always reminds you that all it really means is you’re getting old. :)
But God is saying much more than “I knew you before you were born” to Jeremiah. God is saying “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…”. Before Jeremiah’s parents had any inkling of an idea that he’d be born, God already knew him… That’s intimacy on another level, right?
I suppose we could say... God knew Jeremiah like an engineer knows his designs before they’re ever expressed on paper, or like an architect knows his/her blueprints, or like a builder who can visualize, and understands the structure they’re building!
Of course, analogies are always weak and break down… but maybe God’s knowledge is more like an artist who knows their work of art. An art curator (or appraiser or scholar) may look at the painting and see many things. But only the artist knew the painting when it was a blank canvas. The artist knows each brush-stroke and each blending of color that goes into their work.
And still... God knew Jeremiah even more intimately than that. God knew not just the personality traits and physical characteristics Jeremiah would express. God knew the intricacies of Jeremiah’s make up, the details contained within the Jeremiah’s genes, and chromosomes (his DNA)… and even beyond that, God knew the reason, the purpose, for Jeremiah’s existence long before Jeremiah knew it himself!
That’s a level of knowing that’s beyond human comprehension. It’s a level of intimacy that’s reserved for God, and God alone. God intentionally, willfully, purposefully designed Jeremiah. God knew Jeremiah better than Jeremiah knew himself.
God actually says, “before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” So not only did God design Jeremiah, but God created him for a specific and unique purpose. God had a job (a calling, a vocation) in mind for Jeremiah. Judah was going to be carried off into captivity. God wanted a mouthpiece, a spokesperson, to speak his Word to the people... a Word they didn’t often want to hear.
That was Jeremiah's calling. He was chosen to “declare the Word of the Lord” to king and commoner… to announce the rise and fall of kingdoms. And he would live-out that calling courageously and faithfully over some 40 years...
And God had planned it all before Jeremiah was formed in his mother’s womb. Jeremiah was designed in body and spirit to be who he was. He was set apart to speak for God before he ever drew his first breath.
Of course, it was all a bit overwhelming for Jeremiah! And in response, Jeremiah made excuses… as we all tend to do when we feel less than adequate… or unworthy. Jeremiah said, “I’m too young… I lack experience… I need more training.” Jeremiah could only see his perceived short comings, his inadequacies.
But Jeremiah wasn't alone. Last Sunday we talked about how Isaiah protested, too. “I’m a man of unclean lips…” – remember?
Many others could only see their weaknesses… or their perceived inabilities!
Abraham said, “I’m too old!” Moses had said to God in the burning bush, "I can’t speak, send someone else." Jonah said, "But I don't want the Ninevites to repent and be saved." John said, "Shouldn't I be baptizing you?” The rich young ruler said, "Sell everything?"
One would be disciple of Jesus said, “Let me go check on my family, let me prepare them for what’s ahead.” Another said, “Let me wait till my father dies.” And the list of excuses goes on and on.
But the fact is, God knew all of them better than they knew themselves. It was God who created all their capabilities and limitations. God knew what they could do and what they could not do. If any had been incapable of voicing God's words, or living out God’s calling… He would have never called them.
Which brings us to the point of the sermon: God knew you before He knit you in your mother's womb and before you were born you were appointed to serve him. God knows your abilities and your shortcomings. In fact, God created you the way you are for His purpose.
You may not be called to a prophet to the nations like Jeremiah, but you can rest assured… that if you’ve heard the calling of Christ, and you’ve responded in faith, believing… then you are called. We are all called to live our lives in service to Christ. You were uniquely created and gifted to play a specific role in God's plan.
The challenge to us, is to see beyond our excuses… our weaknesses… and live into our calling! Remembering that God’s strength is made perfect in our weaknesses!
Don't think for one moment that you’re incapable of doing what God has called you to do. Because God made you. He created you the way you are for his purpose. You may think you are too young or too old or not able to do this or that or not smart enough or too weak.
But God knows all of that already… He knows what you can and can't do. And he promises to give you what you need just as he gave Jeremiah the word, and Moses the courage, and Jonah the ride they needed. God told Jeremiah "I will be with you." And that promise it ours, too! God will be with you… He will empower you to serve him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!