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.

No comments:

Post a Comment