Obstacles Create New Paths
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.’ --Jeremiah 1:9
The way Jeremiah tells it, ‘The word of the Lord came,’ and Jeremiah was not prepared for its power or its unfolding. God spoke tenderly of knowing Jeremiah in the womb. God’s knowledge of him then becomes a consecration, then a challenging appointment as a prophet—and then Jeremiah raises very human objections.
Resistance is part of discovering God’s capacity for grace. Obstacles are doors to the depths of God. Jeremiah, like Moses, resisted his calling to be a prophet. Both callings required them to relinquish ease and safety. Obstacles create new paths.
A perceived obstacle such as not knowing how to speak or being too young, creates a new path for a relationship with God that becomes increasingly transformative.
If relationship is the essence of creation, the human, Jeremiah, is placed in relationship with the Creator who is present to undo, empty, release, free, and unbind us from what is conventional for a transformative newness. As we set out from another year of remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must acknowledge that there have been hundreds of years of resistance to systems of equity for all people in our nation. We must reckon with how complacent and complicit the church has been and for how long. We must turn our lips to God as Jeremiah did, for newness.
After a call and Jeremiah’s objections, God touched Jeremiah’s mouth.
The Hebrew word, ‘nawgah,’ translated here as, ‘touched,’ can be rendered in many ways. It may be translated to touch violently, strike, smite, plague, or to empty. Here Jeremiah’s mouth—and his objections—are undone by the touch of God. This is an encounter of worship where emptying and transformation were required before God could put new words into his mouth.
Such an encounter is worship, like Job hearing a voice in the whirlwind, or Elijah’s still small, voice. Responding to these encounters requires a leap, an utter reliance. In that leap, by grace, obstacles create new paths.
Winter is the time of year God touches the earth in ways that empty it for newness. Epiphany is a season when we read of disciples hearing callings that transform them and, by grace, they become the prophetic community of Jesus. We are almost ready to mark our third late winter in which the planet has been wrestling with Covid-19—an illness partly named by the year of its onset.
How might God touch your mouth to empty, release, undo, unbind, or free you to leap into boldness of faith? What might God seek to undo in your speaking? What new paths for innovation or Sabbath or practices are required now, these years into Covid-19? How might God touch you to increase racial justice and radical inclusion?
The faithful who came out of exile returned to Jerusalem with a depth of theology and capacity for diversity of thought because their experience revealed more of God. Letting go permits room for newness and joy. Obstacles create new paths. God is before us and with us, our pioneer and perfector of faith. God knows how to be God to us. Thanks be to God.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).