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Unlikely Heroes

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Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Luke 13:10-17

A Rabbi, a Vicar and a Methodist minister went fishing and patiently sat on the river bank waiting for a bite. After a few hours the Rabbi stood up and said, "I don't think we are to get anywhere here - I'm going to cross the river and try up stream". The Methodist minister said the nearest bridge was 3 miles away. "No problem" replied the Rabbi who knelt down and prayed, then stood up and walked across the water! The Vicar started packing away his fishing equipment, then he knelt down said a quick prayer and walked across the river to join the Rabbi. The Methodist minister thought 'if they can do it so can I'. He knelt down and said a prayer, stood up and walked to the river bank, took one step out into the river and vanished beneath the surface. The Vicar turned to the Rabbi "Do you think we should have told him about the stepping stones"?

There are times in our lives when God calls us to step out in faith and do something that appears to defy common sense. Today’s two readings are about unlikely hero’s in the story of God and His people – not people you’d expect to be called by God. And yesterday, though you probably didn’t realize it, was St Bartholomew’s day and he also fits into this category.

It’s thought that St Bartholomew was the same person as Nathanael who is only spoken about, very briefly, in John’s Gospel. Firstly at a point when we know nothing about Nathaneal, so like a bit of a nobody coming down the street, Jesus sees him approaching and says “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

You may not be too impressed by this BUT wouldn’t you love to hear Jesus say that about you? I would – Jesus sees a man of transparent honesty and integrity, it must have shone out of him and Jesus wants him in the team He’s putting together. After this Nathanael hardly features. He simply slips in and gets on with the job.

The woman in our Gospel passage has just slipped in to worship at the synagogue. One of life’s rejects, bent over, crippled, only able to look at her feet. Even worse: a woman too! She’d be relegated to the back-row of life - a total nobody. But Jesus notices her, Jesus calls her over. She obediently comes to Him and He is able to use her to show the religious people how bent they were - how they were bowed down under the rules and regulations about what should happen in synagogue worship and on a Sunday too! Even more though calling her ‘a daughter of Abraham’, the highest of tributes!

Then we get to Jeremiah, someone I have a real soft spot for.

Not just because God often calls me to do and say unpopular things but because on top of that I often feel weak and feeble! But God isn’t renowned for choosing strong confident best of the bunch types! I get quite worried about people who come and tell me how much they know about something and how good they are at it! Most of the people God calls, both in the Bible and in my everyday experience, are only too aware of their shortcomings. But God calls us warts, inadequacies and all because He needs to use us. To be able to do that He needs people who need His strength, not their own.

And He needs to use people who can take all of His strength in and then not hog it to ourselves but be willing to give it out to others.

The Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea for a reason. It's so salty it contains no fish or plant life. Why? Because there are no outlets! Water pours in but nothing flows out. This law of nature also applies to God’s church, and explains why some believers are unfruitful and lacking in spiritual vitality. It’s possible to attend church, home-groups and read Christian books yet be unproductive in our Christian life. Like the Dead Sea we might have several “inlets” but no “outlets.” To be vibrant and useful believers, we must not only “take in” all we can, but we must also “give out” in service to others!

Before you say, “Oh I can’t do anything.” Or “God wouldn’t want to use me” let me share a few Biblical facts with you to make you realize you’re in good company.

  • Moses stuttered and Abraham was too old.
  • David’s armor didn’t fit, he was too young and he had an affair.
  • Timothy had ulcers.
  • Naomi was a widow.
  • Amos’ only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning.
  • Solomon was too rich and the Widow was too poor.
  • Peter was afraid of death and Lazarus was dead.
  • John was self-righteous and Jeremiah depressed and suicidal.
  • Paul and Moses were murderers.
  • Jonah ran from God, Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
  • Elijah was burned out and John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
  • Martha was a worrier and Mary was lazy.
  • Samson had long hair and Noah got drunk.

Fortunately God doesn’t require a job interview or grand CV. What He looks for is a heart and soul willing to be used. God calls us to serve not be served and it doesn't matter how great or small the act of service is.

Jeremiah is a most unlikely super-hero. There he was sitting around one day minding his own business and God says “You will be my appointed spokesman to all the world. To this Jeremiah responds “You cannot be serious?” Ok, not exactly how he responded! He says he is too young and its true. It turns out that Jeremiah was 12 or 13! Not even a young man and yet called to be God’s spokesman. You can't be too young (Jeremiah), old (Abraham), dumb and nothing to offer, (Moses, Jeremiah and Amos). There are no such excuses!

God told him that He's in control, that's all he needed to worry about. There were times when Jeremiah seemed to forget that and you can't really blame him. He really suffered, at various times he was: beaten and put in stocks; threatened with death; beaten, imprisoned; put in a muddy cistern to die. He went through anguish, told God he wished he were dead and accused God of being unreliable.

God simply reminded him of his promise to stand by him. Their relationship, doubts and all, forms one of the best examples in the Bible of what it means to follow God in spite of everything.

We need to know there’ll be days we feel abandoned, days when we tell someone about the Gospel and they're offended. Times when we feel everyone’s against us. Yet God is still there and never abandons us.

Jeremiah's plus was that he was teachable. He said he's too young and also he wouldn't be any good at public speaking. But he was willing to be taught. There will be times when we won't know what to do, when we don’t understand what's going on and want to give up. Yet God will be able to do an even better job through us if we are willing to be teachable, and trust, like Jeremiah.

Unfortunately Jeremiah seems to hang-on to his early reluctance throughout his life. He appears to suffer severe depression but it is also apparent that his faith was big enough for the difficult complex task to which God called him.

Many of us can see ourselves in him, just as many see themselves in the woman. We too have been doubled over in our spirits, have suffered inner pain, rejection, second class status, heartache and disappointment. But that day, that Sabbath, Jesus was there and He saw her. He saw as she was and He was moved to heal her.

Jesus saw Her. We have things on our minds and overlook people. God isn't like that. Even if you're sitting behind someone in a big hat or in the farthest corner Jesus sees you. Jesus sees us this morning and He sees us as we are. He sees us in a personal way, as He saw Nathanael, and as God saw Jeremiah – warts and all.

What might these people have in common? They were all in the right place. Nathanael Jesus had spotted ‘under fig tree’ – which means he had been studying the Old Testament. The crippled woman was at worship, and Jeremiah we know was part of a priestly circle. They were all in places that led them to being open to God and who happily enter into that.

Secondly, they are all people who do not seek status or high positions. None of them are up-the-front folk.

This is what Christ wants from us – not spectacular achievements but honest, faithful discipleship.

When President Kennedy visited the Cape Canaveral Space Center, he came across a man with a broom. He asked him what he did. ‘I’m helping to get a man on the moon,’ said the man. Exactly.

What God calls us to do doesn’t require us to have an X-Factor or Britain’s-got-talent type of fame and publicity. He just needs the faithfulness of a person ‘without deceit’, getting on with the business of Christian living.

When Jesus calls us by name, we have the choice whether to respond or not. Whether to hold on to who we are now and the ways we have become accustomed to living, or whether we will be willing to risk losing them for new ways, God ways, Kingdom ways. Choosing to turn our backs on Jesus and walk away, or stand before him face to face, in relationship.

It was easy for the crowds to cheer on Jesus, there was very little risk involved. Just as it's easy to walk out the door here today, smile and go home unchanged. But Bartholomew, the woman and Jeremiah all allowed themselves to used and changed by God. And, as I spoke of last week, they will be amongst the great cloud of witnesses in the heavenly stadium are applauding and cheering us on.

There are no such things as insignificant decisions, and no such people as ‘ordinary Christians’ – we are all special. We all matter to Him.

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