“Called”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:14-21

 

“Do you even know me? Who do you think I am? Why would you want me? First of all, I’m way too young for this. Second of all, I’m not a good talker. When the big moment comes, I promise you, I will not know what to say. Plus, you’re scaring the bejeezus out of me! Please, don’t make me do it.”

If you were on the hiring committee that called him in for an interview, he would not be your guy. You would be looking for a wise and experienced leader. You would want someone with demonstrated abilities in public speaking. You would want someone insightful, someone confident, someone eloquent, someone compelling. You would want someone with a sparkling resume, enthusiastic references, and a smile to which nobody could say no. And I suspect you would want someone who actually wanted the job.

If all that is true, then you would not want Jeremiah. But God did.

When the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and told him that he was to be a prophet, that he had been destined for this from the beginning, Jeremiah said, “Ohhh, no, you’ve got the wrong guy.” He shook his head. His eyes were wide. His knees went weak and his bottom lip started to tremble. “Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy. I’m pretty sure you want somebody else for this job.”

That’s the moment when that hiring committee would thank him for his time and show him to the door with a perfunctory, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” But that’s not what God did, because God operates differently. In God’s eyes, Jeremiah had been holy from the get-go, meant for God’s service since before he was born, called to a unique and essential mission that only he could fulfil—a mission to see the world with God’s eyes, to speak to the world with God’s words, to point out the places where society and its leaders have fallen short of the covenant relationships to which God calls us, and to call people to a new way of living.

So when Jeremiah said, “I’m pretty sure you want somebody else for this job,” God said, “Jeremiah, I’m pretty sure I want you.” God took him by the hand and said, “You think you’re too young, but you have been mine since before time began. Do not be afraid, Jeremiah, for I am with you. I will always be with you.”

Then God touched Jeremiah on the mouth and said, “You think you don’t know how to speak. But I am putting my words in your mouth. If you listen, I will help you know what to say. Do not be afraid, Jeremiah. I will always be with you.”

That’s what God said to Jeremiah. And this is what I say to you: this is not only a story about Jeremiah. It’s a story about each of you, from our newest sister Ashley to our longest-running old-time member.

One of the core theological principles that animates our United Church of Christ congregations is called the priesthood of all believers, which means this: that each and every one of us has a connection to God, a call from God, a role to play in co-creating the world for which God longs. Vocation is not reserved for pastors, preachers, priests, and prophets—it is for every person, every child of God.

And what we learn from the story of Jeremiah is that God does not search the world over for the one who has demonstrated experience and an ideal skill set. God calls each one of us for a purpose as God sees fit, regardless of our perceived ability or lack thereof, and then God equips us for the work that is ours to do.

Of course, for many of us, God does not speak quite as clearly and directly as God did with Jeremiah. So how are we to know what that work is? Each of us has our own unique call, and our calls may change and evolve over the course of our lifetimes. But as followers of Jesus, we can be sure that those calls, those vocations, will be related to the second story we heard this morning, the story of Jesus launching his public ministry in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. It is telling to see which text Jesus used to define his identity, his life’s work, his calling. He chose a text from the prophet Isaiah, from what we know as chapter 61.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

      because God has anointed me

            to bring good news to the poor.

God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

      and recovery of sight to the blind,

            to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

If it was a foundational text for Jesus, it is a foundational text for us, too. As Christians, this is a place where we can turn as we seek to know what God is calling us to do. A call from God will, in some way, bring good news to the poor—the good news of employment, of safe housing, of a hot meal, of basic human decency, of greater equality and new opportunity. It will, in some way, proclaim release to the captives—to those who are held prisoner by addiction, or mental illness, or physical illness, or grief, or loneliness. It will, in some way, bring recovery of sight to those who cannot see—to those who are blinded to beauty and possibility by anger, or disappointment, or hopelessness, or boredom, or hatred. It will, in some way, let the oppressed go free—free from racism, or homophobia, or sexism, or ageism, or classism, or xenophobia, or all the other isms and phobias that hold us in their grasp. It will, in some way, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—a blessed moment when debts are forgiven and grudges released, when the land and all its inhabitants enjoy a time of rest and renewal and joy.

A call from God will, in some way, move us to give and receive forgiveness. It will move us to tell the truth, even when it’s hard. It will move us to see something broken and say, “I want to help fix that.” It will move us to admit when we need help, or when we don’t know. It will move us to say “I love you,” and to believe that we are loved. That’s what it means to be part of the priesthood of all believers. That’s what it means to have a vocation. That’s what it means to be called.

It doesn’t mean we will always be popular. After all, the next thing that happens after this story in Luke’s gospel is that the people run Jesus out of town and nearly drive him over a cliff to his death, so offended are they that this ordinary man, Joseph the carpenter’s son, would have the chutzpah to claim that he is called to such a dramatic and world-changing ministry. And if you’ve ever read the book of the prophet Jeremiah, you’ll know that there is a reason why he is known as “the weeping prophet.”

No, a call from God will often bring us squarely up against the entrenched strength of the powers that be, and those powers do not take kindly to being moved. A call from God may bring us into opposition with mighty structures that are built on the very things God calls us to overturn—poverty, and oppression, and captivity, and exploitation, and resignation. A call from God may bring us to confront things we’d rather not look at—things like the persistent scourge of racism that grips our nation in the most insidious of ways. There are things that we, like Jeremiah, are called to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, before we can build and plant, before a new creation can come into being.

Maybe you, like Jeremiah, can find all kinds of reasons why you’re not qualified. Maybe you, like Jesus, have been told by someone in your community that you couldn’t possibly be meant for that. Too young, too old, too weak, too angry, too discouraged, too messed-up, too conventional, too anything else.

But God—God thinks you’re just the one for the job. You don’t need a sparkling resume for this position. God is not worried about what grades you got, or how many zeros your last paycheck had, or whether your socks match, or even whether you think you can do it—because God knows that you already have the only qualification you need. God knows that you have been destined for this since before time began. You have been holy from the start. God says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will always be with you. I’m going to hold your hand; I’m going to put words in your mouth; I’m going to put courage in your heart. I’m going to equip you to do the thing that you are called to do. And, together, we will build a world of good news and freedom, of healing and restoration, of justice and joy for all people.”

Friends, the contract is already signed. You’re hired. God is, even now, making you ready. Let’s get to it!

 


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