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  • Mariah Martin

God Slap

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

I have a horrible story to tell you. One time my friend was riding her bike in her neighborhood. Bike riding was a new skill for her so she rode with hesitation and wobbly handlebars. Alas, the inevitable accident happened. A stick got stuck in her spokes and she tumbled headfirst into the edge of the concrete sidewalk, splitting her chin open.

But that’s not the worst part.

My friend’s mom heard her screaming and she rushed to her aid, moving with the super-human speed that parents take on when their little one is in need. At this point my friend was inconsolable, uncontrollably wailing. There was a lot of blood. A lot. And my friend wouldn’t stop wailing and her mom couldn’t get a good look at the cut on her chin…and it was just chaos. They were both in full-on panic mode and my friend’s mom acted on a strange, desperate instinct.

She slapped my friend right across the face.

Now, before we start mom shaming, know that it worked. Because of the complete shock of the slap my friend was dumbstruck long enough that her mom could take a look at her chin and decide if she needed stitches or not.

This is how I imagine Jeremiah reacting to God touching his mouth. The translation “touch” is misleading. The true flavor of the Hebrew word is more akin to being slapped.

This is how one writer put it: “Touched his mouth? No, God literally smacks the word into him. It was as if he had swallowed a lit road flare whole.”[1]

Later on in Jeremiah, the prophet describes the consequence of trying to silence the prophetic voice within him: “If he clenches his teeth until his jaw aches” then he feels something within him rise up, it feels like a burning fire shut up in his bones. Jeremiah says, “I am weary from holding it in and indeed I cannot.”[2]

It is as if God slapped Jeremiah in the mouth, he swallowed God’s truth and it now resides in his heart, his belly, his bones. It has become part of him. If Jeremiah resists, his body still propels him forward.

In some ways Jeremiah had it lucky. It would be nice if God met our excuses: “but God I am too young, no one will take me seriously//but God I am too old, no one will take me seriously” with a loving God-slap.

A clear re-direction. An unmistakable path beckoning us to discover our life’s purpose.

Although Jeremiah’s vocation led him down a painful road of humiliation, bullying, loneliness, death-threats…at least his prophetic purpose was overwhelmingly obvious.

Sometimes enduring difficulty in the right direction is preferable to aimless wandering.

So what do we do when we feel a bit lost? When our calling is unclear?

Let me ask you a question, not a rhetorical one, you can say the answer out loud.

When you meet someone, you tell them your name, then what is the first question they ask to open up the conversation?

They usually ask, “What do you do?”.

What do you do.

We live in a capitalistic society where our worth is measured by how much we can produce, how much we can obtain/own, how productive and efficient we are.

Evidence of this lies in the fact that this past Wednesday it was -17 degrees outside with a wind-chill of -50 yet some people were still expected to work? And I am not talking about the hospitals or the police stations…I mean places of business, stores that sell products. This shows that as a society we value production over people. Money over actual human lives.

What do you do?

A chaplain told me recently a story about a woman that she visited at a nursing home. This woman could no longer move on her own, she was bed-bound. The chaplain went to her side and asked the woman how she was. The woman sighed, looked at her and said, “I can no longer do anything. I can only be.” Then she said, “Look at the flowers in the windowsill, aren’t they magnificent? I feel sorry for people who can’t see beauty, people who don’t look for, and find, beauty everywhere.

I can no longer do anything. I can only be.

I realized recently that Nick and I, after being apart would reunite, and guess what is the first question we ask one another?

What did you do?

While I was gone—at work—what did you do?

What if we asked one another what gives you joy? What motivates you to get up in the morning? How has your soul been? What music makes you cry?

When God approached Jeremiah he did not task him what work our society would approve of. This was not a paid profession. This work was about who Jeremiah was, who he would be.

But Jeremiah was afraid of this calling. He flooded God with excuses: “But God I can’t speak, but God I am young, I am not married.” Within the hierarchy of Jeremiah’s social context, it was the elders that do the speaking. The married men, the fathers of the household—the patriarchs, were the ones who did the talking. And God said, “Nah, I want you Jeremiah, I don’t care if you are young and unmarried.” Maybe those qualities were part of why God chose Jeremiah.

I also like to think that God picked Jeremiah because Jeremiah was extreme. He felt things powerfully. On one hand he would proclaim with a joyful outburst: “I ate thy words and they became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by they name, O Lord of Hosts” (15:16). On the other hand he was called the “weeping prophet” and would say things like: “My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me” (8:18).

As one commentator said, “God formed Jeremiah with the most tender and faithful heart—he was a living witness of the heart of God.”[3]

In today’s world Jeremiah would be the angst-y teenager that would get made fun of as someone who is ‘soft’ or ‘weak’. Or he would be the radical, idealist young adult pleading with the world to change its course. Teenage angst has a power that has been denied and belittled and explained away as generational whiney-ness. I wonder what the world would look like if we quit stomping and dumping condescension on our youth, and instead listened to them and empowered them, lifting them up? Alas, that is a different sermon for a different day.

At the end of today’s passage there are four words of destruction: to pluck up, to pull down, to destroy, and to overthrow. Jeremiah’s job was to call people to repentance so they could avoid this complete annihilation. But they didn’t and in year 587BCE the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and God’s people were exiled, ripped from their homes and their place of worship. All was lost.

Yet through the devastation, God was still there. They had betrayed God’s covenant with God’s people and worshipped other gods but God did not abandon or give up on them. As God said to Jeremiah, after the complete devastation, there will be a time to build, a time to plant.

This is, I believe, a universal calling. It is part of our vocation to build and to plant. To “break new ground with creativity.”[4] To put back together that which has fallen apart. To mend, to heal. We were created to create. And what we create doesn’t need to have a purpose. We don’t do it for the end result, rather to relish in the process. This is not a profession, it’s a passion.

St. Hildegard of Bingen named this process “viriditas” which is the greening power of God. It is what sustains us and animates us, like how the sun and rain nourish and encourage green forests and gardens. A good exercise to live into this Divine greening is to ask yourself, while doing something or being somewhere, “Does this nourish me or deplete me?” Another way of saying it is, “Do I feel more full (spiritually, emotionally)? Or do I feel emptier, more hungry?[5]

Another way to think of this Divine greening is to appreciate a Greek word for love, Eros. Now Eros has gotten a bad reputation as love that is not really love, but lust. But this is a distortion of Eros, it is Eros gone wrong. The true meaning of Eros is love acting as a powerful life force that drives us forward. It is the, “Energy of life, the pulsing blood of vibrancy, running through your cells, enlivening the fabric of your being.”[6]

Eros is a description of our true vocation.[7]

Eros is the fire burning Jeremiah’s bones. It is what kept him going when he faced cruel opposition. This passionate, vocational spirit of Eros is what fuels poetry, art, music, dance. Anything that is love come alive. Therefore Eros is best described in an artful way.

Hear this poem of calling:

This one is by Rupi Kaur

you tell me to quiet down cause

my opinions make me less beautiful

but I was not made with a fire in my belly

so I could be put out

i was not made with a lightness on my tongue

so I could be easy to swallow

i was made heavy

half blade and half silk

difficult to forget and not easy

for the mind to follow

Here are excerpts from the song "Wooden Heart" by Listener:

But we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts We all have the same holes in our hearts Everything falls apart at the exact same time That it all comes together perfectly for the next step So come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief And fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach Come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever We only have what we remember

If we hold on tight we’ll hold each other together And not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep All these machines will rust I promise, but we'll still be electric Shocking each other back to life Your hand in mine, my fingers in your veins connected Our bones grown together in time Our hands entwined, your fingers in my veins braided Our spines grown stronger inside Because our church is made out of shipwrecks ---------------------------

So I stand before you, wondering, asking you?

What is it you crave?

What sets your soul on fire?

What bends and stops time for you?

Captivates you? Takes all your focus?

What feeds your spirit?

What nourishes your body?

What sparks a passion within you that, if kept inside, would eat you alive?

We see with Jeremiah that your calling, your vocation, does not promise happiness, in fact living it our might hurt, a lot. But it is a far worse fate to push it down, sequester it in a tiny corner of shame, hiding—protecting the most powerful part of you.

So let it out. Peel off the layers that protect you from the vulnerability of truly being yourself, of truly following God’s call on your life.

Do it. Not because society expects you to produce product like a factory or vending machine. Remember this is about passion not profession. Do it because your bones might just burn if you don’t. Do it, or rather, be it.

My deepest prayer for you is that when you turn to God with your objections to God’s calling on your life, when your insecurities and excuses well up and threaten to overwhelm you, that God slaps you in the mouth with her words of grace saying “Yes, you, I am calling you, as you are. You are enough. You are my beloved child. I knew you before you were born, I am apart of you. I am always with you and you are enough.


[1] “Vocation of the Prophet to the Nations: An Exegesis of Jeremiah 1:4-10: EBSCOhost,” accessed January 29, 2019, Robert R. Howard.

[2] Jeremiah 20:9

[3] “Vocation of the Prophet to the Nations: An Exegesis of Jeremiah 1:4-10: EBSCOhost.”

[4] “Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 by Patricia Tull,” accessed January 29, 2019,

[5] I get this idea from the book The Wisdom of the Body, by Christine Valters Paintner.

[6] Also from The Wisdom of the Body

[7] In my opinion, Eros also exists in the psychological phenomena called “flow.” Flow is when time stands still while you are so intensely absorbed in something you love, something that excites you, something that you never want to stop doing.

Works Consulted

“Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11 by Juliana Claassens.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 by Alphonetta Wines.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 by Henry Langknecht.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 by Patricia Tull.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4-10 by Richard W. Nysse.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“The Call to Prophetic Ministry: Reflections on Jeremiah 1:4-10: EBSCOhost.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Vocation of the Prophet to the Nations: An Exegesis of Jeremiah 1:4-10: EBSCOhost.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

“Word of Grief, Word of Hope: Jeremiah 1:4-10, 17-19: EBSCOhost.” Accessed January 29, 2019.

Jeremiah 1:1-10

Philip E. Thomson

Jeremiah’s Identity Crisis

Michael S. Moore

"Wooden Heart" by Listener

"Milk and Honey" by Rupi Kaur

The Wisdom of the Body by Christine Valters Paintner

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