Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sermon: God calling

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, 
Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

31 January 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To listen to this sermon click here.

All week, I found myself 
reflecting on Jeremiah 
and what it means to be called by God.   
Maybe it was the debates on TV, 
the candidates expressing how they are “called”.
Maybe it was a former youth member
asking for a reference letter to a college 
“certificate” program on public service,
to which he said he felt called. 

I mean, calls from God are scary. 
Do we say yes? Do we wiggle around it?

In some cases, the call is so clear,
like the proverbial lightening bolt. 
In other cases, not so much. 
Maybe God’s call is a thought
that you can’t shake, or
an idea that seems crazy or
appears as if it is impossible. 

“The owls that bring Harry Potter
invitations to attend
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
were like a call from God. 
Harry’s less-than-kind foster parents try,
as best they can,
to destroy the invitations. 
They even try escaping to
a remote cabin on an island. 
Finally, the umpteenth letter arrives
personally delivered
by an angry giant of a man named Hagrid. 
God’s call was like this for Jeremiah –
relentless and inevitable.”[1]

What does it mean to be called by God?
Jeremiah received the call from God
and immediately responded
that he was not able to accept. 
“Thanks, God, but I cannot. 
I’m too young, too unskilled,
too unfamiliar with that kind of work. 
I’m just a kid.”
Jeremiah resisted God’s call –
he believed he was not up to the task.

This sense of inadequacy
is actually typical of “call” stories. 

When God called Moses
to bring the Israelites out of Egypt[2],
Moses had all kinds of questions, 
including, “What do I call you?
What if they do not believe me?
I have never been eloquent,
neither in the past nor even now …
I am slow to speech and slow of tongue.”
When God called Gideon[3]
to deliver Israel from Mideanites,
Gideon asked,
“How can I deliver Israel?
My clan is the weakest…
and I am the least in my family?”

Gideon, Moses’ and Jeremiah’s fear,
sense of inadequacy, and
maybe even resentment of being called
are all understandable. 
Sometimes we, too, think that we are not able 
to accept a call from God.

Maybe God is calling us to forgive someone.
Maybe God is calling us to work
with someone we don’t like,
or to love someone who we think is disgusting.
Maybe God is calling us to serve somehow
that is way out of our comfort zone.
My biggest fear
when working as a hospital chaplain
South Carolina was being exposed 
for not knowing the bible well enough. 
I was anxious that care receivers
would ask me to quote scripture,
and honestly, my biblical knowledge
was just not that strong. 
I didn’t grow up with the bible. 
My fear sometimes paralyzed me with care receivers 
and affected my own self esteem
as I feared judgment of my colleagues.

Maybe you can relate to a sense of inadequacy,

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, I am …
(fill in the blank)
 Too “young” in my faith journey or
Too “old” and set in my ways.
Too unskilled to know how to pray for my enemies or
Too sure that God won’t listen anyway.
Too busy to serve as kitchen helper 
or too fatigued from caring for a loved one.
Maybe we realize we are too anxious
to answer that call,
as it might reveal some vulnerability
or might invoke criticism or judgment
from our friends or our intimate loved ones.

There are myriad ways that we feel 
inadequate or unprepared to answer God’s call.

Jeremiah’s (and our) fear, anxiety,
sense of inadequacy are all understandable – 
and here’s the good news;
these feelings did not disqualify Jeremiah
(and do not disqualify us)
from serving God’s intentions. 

God chose Jeremiah. 
The word of the Lord happened to him. 
God insisted on the call that came
“before I formed you in the womb,
I knew you, I consecrated you …”
This call had nothing to do
with Jeremiah’s capabilities,
because the role for which God chose Jeremiah
was made before Jeremiah was able
to merit his selection.

God promised to guide Jeremiah
to whom God will send and
God promised to give Jeremiah
the words to speak. 
God responded to Jeremiah’s objection
by granting him the capabilities
and promising faithful companionship. 

Jeremiah’s call story
reminds us that we do not choose God;
God, mysteriously,
and even sometimes against our will,
chooses us. 
God prepares us
to live out the vocation
for which we were created – 
the vocation God prepared for us
before we were able to merit selection. 

Reasons for not doing something
related to God’s work
are often reasonable and justifiable. 
And the good news is that
God grants us both the capacity
and the companionship.

Perhaps you have seen
the posters around campus and website,
“you have been called to serve”? 
If these notices have peaked your interest,
God might be calling you
to serve at Crossroads in two Sundays,
February 14th.
You can respond to this call by following
the link on the website
or contact Rev. Areeta for more info.

Perhaps your heart is broken
by the water issues in Flint.
Is God calling you to respond?

Our feelings of inadequacy
do not disqualify us,
nor does our achievement
or our self-confidence qualify us
to answer the call from God. 
Basically, it’s not about us.

It’s about God’s intentions.
God prepares a call.
God promises companionship.
God grants us the capacity through
the interests and abilities
cultivated in our hearts. 

This story from Jeremiah shows that
the calling to serve and
the capacity to fulfill it flow together
in a kind of dance.
There is a synergy between
divine and human activity
to build up and to plant green shoots
for God’s dream to come to fruition.

We co-create, in effect, God’s kingdom
through God’s call to us
and our responsive, “yes.”
And what happens when we say “yes” to God?   
God says yes to us.

This poem from Kaylin Haught[4] 
captures this dance quite well:
“I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes”
See, if God’s call was about
skills or experience,
God would have said to Jeremiah,
“don’t worry, I have a trade school for prophets. 
You will learn it all there.” 
No, instead, God just said, “Don’t be afraid.”[5]   
God says to us, “Do not be afraid.”

God calls every Christian
to live the radical gospel of Jesus Christ –
loving our neighbors and serving the poor.

Today’s good news is that
God grants us the capabilities
to answer God’s call and
God promises companionship along the way. 

Answer God’s call.
Say yes to God
and you will know that God says yes to you.


[1] George H. Martin, “Pastoral Perspective: Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany,” Feasting on The Word (290-292)

[2] Exodus 3-4

[3] Judges 6:11-15

[4] Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me,” from The Palm of your Hand, 1995, Tilbury House Publishers, Copyright 1995

[5] Inspired by George H. Martin, ibid.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sermon: Relationship Checkup

 Manuscript, Writing, Paper, Old, Letter, Ink
The Third Sunday after Epiphany
Christ Church Episcopal, Grosse Pointe 
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
Year C – 8am, 24 January 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

My friend, Fred, insisted that
we write each other once a year
on the anniversary of our friendship. 

He began this the first year after we met.
Fred wrote about
the highlights of the year,
the adventures of times together,
the few difficult times when we had argued,
the lessons we learned and
his hopes for the coming year,
together, as friends.
In reply, I shared my perspectives back.

This tradition helped us grow together.
We are now not in contact now,
since our lives changed course, but we did share a “going away” lunch, marking the closure of our friendship.

We see something like this in
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, including
the baptism highlights of the year,
the quarrels and difficult times they had,
his hopes for the community.

Paul highlights recommendations
for treating each other
as fellow members in the community.

Perhaps he wrote this letter annually
or as a response to an inquiry made
to deal with key issues
as their lives changed course.

Paul wrote this letter
with a revolutionary twist.[1]
In that time, other comparisons of
human community to the physical body
had reinforced the societal hierarchy:
·        lowly workers should obey and support
their military and political leaders,
·        those at the bottom of the social ladder
should be grateful for the guidance and protection of their natural superiors, just as
·        the brain is more critical than the lowly organs sustaining daily life

Yet here, Paul argued
for diversity and interdependence
with a strongly egalitarian message. 
The notion of superiority of one member
is ridiculous, he wrote. 
People cannot live with only one body part.
All the people of Corinth -
including the privileged and
those of lower status –
are bound together intimately, just as
·        the body relies on all physiological parts to work together. 

The believers in Corinth
were a tattered group
with seemingly nothing in common. 
Their work and their interests were so different
that they lost a sense of
what God was doing through them. 
Carpenters, politicians, homemakers,
teachers, stone masons, weavers…

They related to each other independently,
caring only for their own “tribe.”
When they came together for weekly worship
they often argued. What were their priorities?
What was God up to with this tattered group?

What is God up to in our world? 
Our society, too, draws us ever more apart
with individual cell phones, personalized news,
complicated schedules and separate lives.
Our society, too,
values CEOs more than janitors,
the “brain” more than the “lower” parts
of the body.
This fosters independence
so that deep conversations are be avoided.
It’s much easier to live independently and individually.

According to a Pew Research 2014 Study[2],
which surveyed 35,000 adults,
there has been a falloff in traditional
religious beliefs and practices in recent years.
A growing share of Americans are
“religiously unaffiliated,”
which accounts now for nearly 1 in 4 adults.

This leads to a conclusion
that society and our world
seems to draw people more and more
into an escapist approach
to spirituality, finding ways to affirm beliefs, through consumerism, individual interests, and unique experiences.
So what is God up to in that?

And what was God up to
with the people of Corinth? 

We see Paul’s reaction in our text.
They gathered together, once a week,
and God was sending them sent them out,
Paul wrote, as members of one body.
God called them to use the gifts God gave,
regardless of their social “status,”
to serve as prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers.  What did God have in mind here?

Frederick Buechner offers that God was making a body for Christ, through these people with these gifts.[3] He wrote,

“Christ didn't have a regular body any more
so God was making him one out of anybody
he could find who looked as if [that person]
might just possibly do.
[God] was using other people's hands
to be Christ's hands and
other people's feet
to be Christ's feet,
and when there was some place
where Christ was needed
in a hurry and needed bad,
[God] put the finger on some
maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander
and got [that person] to go
and be Christ in that place himself
for lack of anybody better.”

God used the people of Corinth
to sustain the fellowship of that community
to carry on God’s belief in the people,
through a tattered
and diverse bunch of people.

And so it is with us.
God uses us
to sustain the fellowship of our community
to share God’s belief in people,
through this tattered
and diverse bunch gathered here.
God works through our bonds of affection, as egalitarian members in Christ’s body
with different gifts,
until we all become fully human at last.

How are we doing?
Well, we express it each week and
each year, in our annual meeting, (today)
where we evaluate:
the highlights of the year,
the adventures of times together,
the few difficult times when we had argued,
the lessons we learned and
our hopes for the coming year,
together, as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Today, God calls us to be religious
through this community here
even when we are not
as “spiritual” as we might be.
God calls us to see each other
as equal members of this Body of Christ:
as apostles, prophets and teachers
for each other,
for our community.

Today, God calls us
to hear that we are forgiven and
to learn how our God
came down from heaven
“to enter the pain and beauty of humanity. 
climbs up from earth
to offer his body for us so
that we might, in turn,
be his body in the world.”[4]

Today, in this community,
Even in our annual meeting,
we are called
“Christ” to each other
“Christ” to God.

All of us. Finally.
It is just as easy, and just as hard, as that.

[1] Inspired by Lee C. Barrett’s “Theological” Commentary, Feasting on The Word, Year C vol. 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 2009) p. 278
[2] 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the centerpiece of which is a nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 adults. Cited at on January 19, 2016
[3] See Buechner’s article about Paul, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words at cited on January 19, 2016
[4] Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Accidental Saints” (Convergent Books, New York, 2015) p. 170