Friday, August 23, 2013

Tearing Down, Building Up

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Jeremiah 1:4-10.
 The first time I preached, it was a surprise for everyone, including me.  

For our fourth School of the Spirit residency in the fall of 2010, the teachers put together a panel from the class to talk about "Being Other in Community."  I felt led to be on the panel, so I wrote a proposal saying that I would like to talk about the prophet as other.

After the teacher told me I would be on the panel, I spent the summer trying to write out my message.  First, I wrote about Elijah in the wilderness, telling God he wanted to die.  Then I wrote about the last chapter of Jonah: Even though Jonah's mission had been wildly successful, the story ends with Jonah being angry with God. 

Although both of those Bible passages spoke to me, the message was not coming together.  That was hard for me, because I had planned to write the message out in advance and submit it as my fall reflection paper.  I was also terrified of getting up in front of my class without knowing what I was going to say.

I spent a lot of time during that fall residency in prayer.  I still did not have the message.  Then, finally, during the hour of worship before the panel was scheduled to speak, I knew what I had to do.  It became clear that all I needed was Jeremiah 1:4-10, and that I would be preaching from that passage.

So I did.  I spoke about God calling Jeremiah to be a prophet and my own struggles with others naming the gift of prophecy in me.  I said that it was hard in part because I am young, but also because I am a woman.  I shared how challenging it is for me when I feel led to give messages that tear down and destroy, because I always want to build and to plant.

As I spoke, I knew I was preaching, and it felt right.  Afterward, I was glad that I didn't know in advance, hard as it was, because I only would have doubted myself and my abilities.  And that experience gave me confidence later when I felt led to preach again in programmed worship.

Now, three years later, I am beginning seminary at Candler School of Theology.  When I saw that the theme for orientation was "Tearing Down and Building Up," I laughed.  I knew immediately that it was a reference to the first chapter of Jeremiah.

Like the School of the Spirit, I know that seminary will be a distilling process for me.  In addition to what I will learn about the Bible and Christian history, I will also be learning about myself and what God is calling me to do.  I know that it will be challenging, and there will be days where I doubt myself and God, and wonder why I am here.

But I am also grateful for signslike this orientation themereassuring me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.


  1. Thank you.

    I also like reading this message as the national conversation is full of reflections about the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

  2. Friend, I read your post with interest. I edit the newsletter of Sussex East Area Meeting (part of Britain Yearly Meeting). Whilst there are differences between United Kingdom and USA Quaker practice's, I feel that your post "speaks to our condition". May I have your permission to reproduce it in full in our newsletter called Quiet Ways? Quite a number of Friends don,t have Internet Access so it has a free printed distribution of about 200. A high resolution portrait and some biographical details would be useful too. My work email, probably the quickest way of contact, is
    In Friendship Keith Harcourt

  3. Ah Ashley, what a funny, connected, marvelous life this is! Mark & I are using the Revised Common Lectionary for our Burrow Bible Blessing & Breadbreaking and this week's first passage is...Jeremiah 1:4-10. And, of course, I'm working on my presentation for the SotS residency 5 panel On Being Other in Community. Do you have time to read it or are you swamped with work already? If you do, I'll send it to you. I'd welcome your thoughts and feelings about it while there's still time for editing.
    with love,
    Mary Linda

    1. That's amazing! The Lectionary often speaks to my condition. And I would be happy to read your presentation. I'll send you my email address.


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