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.”
Jeremiah 1: 4-11
Some children know how to speak God’s truth early on. Some are more reticent, but I think the best Christian formation helps them to realize that God has known them since before they were born, and that God’s word is part of them, to be shared with the world in a unique way. Adults who have had the experience of growing up in the faith can help children to know God. Curricula help in Christian formation, and content matters, but relationships and the encounter with God matter more. Adults and children together can meet God and become prophets, apostles and teachers to others. They may not realize it, but God’s words are in them, right in their mouths, ready to come out when God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, calls them forth.
Of course, people of all ages need to learn about the covenant history of God’s relationship with humans in order for them to be ready to proclaim God’s healing, loving, and liberating word to the world. When I think of the way faith is formed weekly in the Catechesis atrium, the Sunday School room and the Rite-13 and J2A groups, I am so inspired by the teachers and mentors who learn about and encounter God with young people. Some of them have shared with me how this ministry inspires them and helps them to know God better, and I am so grateful that they take the time and the risk of sharing the faith with children and youth. Some of those youth are about to embark on preparations for the Rite-13 liturgy and Confirmation during Lent, and some of the adults in the congregation will be asked to walk with them, to remind them that God has known them since before they were born, and that they have a word of God to proclaim with their lives. Taking hold of this faith in God’s promises is what they will be working out how to do for themselves in the next few months and years. Taking hold of it so that the words they have learned from us are their own to share with others.
Jeremiah knew the word of God and the covenant promises in his heart, because he grew up in a priestly family at the shrine near Anatoth, in the North of Israel. In the verses that precede his call, he is identified with the tradition of Moses at the shrine of Shiloh, rather than with the temple at Jerusalem. The keeping of Mosaic law and sustaining the right covenant relationship with God would have been very important to such priests, and Jeremiah would have been taught the traditions of Moses and how to teach them to others, but the encounter with God is more than that teaching. If he knew the stories of Moses and other prophets, Jeremiah would have reason to be afraid. Thinking of him alone, no mentors nearby, makes me even more grateful for the adults here who walk with young people into the room with God. We all need others to help us process our calling from God.
Jeremiah is afraid when he says “I do not know how to speak”. We are often afraid to speak of the covenant promise we carry to the world: that God loves his people like a father and a mother, and will never abandon them. The difficult message that Jesus claimed for his mission:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4: 18-19)
This promise, and this mission are the word God has put in all of our mouths. We can show it in our actions, but proclaiming the good news in words is also part of our calling. There is great risk in doing this. As with Jeremiah, and as with many prophets in our midst, Jesus is rejected. The fear that Jeremiah had is not baseless, but if the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, which is true because of our baptism, we must speak in the name of God when we see the covenant with God being broken.
The commandments that God gave Moses, that Jeremiah knew from his birth, and that Jesus summarized as “love God and love your neighbor,” are the covenant promises. We make them in response to God’s love for us, and we share them with others because God put the words in us. We too are called, given the words to share God’s love, and also God’s truth that is grounded on the commandments given to Moses and to us through Jesus Christ. Don’t be afraid. God knows you, and God chooses you, to proclaim the words he has put in your mouth, and no other person can do that.