Sermon Archives

Sunday, January 31, 2016
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Answer God's Call

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.”   God says to us, “Do not be afraid.” (5) 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.

Amen.

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.