The Call of God

On August 29, 2016 by saintlukesgresham

Deacon Laurel Hart

“I have a gift for you.” The person on the other end of the telephone line told me. A gift for me I thought? What could this person have to give me as a gift? All kinds of visions entered my head – after all I didn’t know this person very well. I’d only met them a few short weeks ago. Maybe the gift would be an interesting book or possibly some free tickets to an event like a movie or a concert. I was sure it would be something small but meaningful. I held my breath ever so slightly in anticipation. We’d met in a lay ministry and I was very interested in the organization – their purpose and good works. And the gift? Well, I was slightly chagrined by the next statement. I learned then that this organization, when seeking volunteers for various jobs, presented the request by couching it in a manner which made the appeal seem almost like you were winning a prize. Their method was first of all flattering to the recipient and totally effective. Of course, I volunteered – how could I turn down this wonderful gift? Have I spoken the same words to other people for the same devious purpose in the intervening years? Guilty as charged!!

Poor Jeremiah – it almost sounds like his dialogue with God starts out with the same sales pitch. The call of Jeremiah seems remarkable for how it casts his call in a manner similar to God’s call to Moses. The call to Jeremiah is very direct and very intimate – not like a phone call. No burning bushes here; just the “word of the Lord” saying that Jeremiah was born for the task that is being presented to him. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” If we put aside further study about Old Testament prophecy; this account of Jeremiah’s call raises a more universal question: Is God calling me? It begs the question I’m addressing to everyone here today “have you ever felt called by God?” When this happened did it feel like a gift? Did you jump at the opportunity? Or as I have been at certain times; startled or even scared. Loudly protesting with my internal self-talk much like Jeremiah, who when he hears the Lord’s call answers “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” What excuses have I made to keep me from living the life God calls me to live? How can all of us in this community come together, support and encourage each other and learn to overcome our fears, insecurities and hesitations to answer God’s call? In today’s collect we’ll pray “that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples…” This power is based on the unity of the gathered community, not on a house divided. It is a power that expresses itself in good works of service, in mercy shown to the weak and hurting, in opportunities for healing of body and spirit, and includes all of us. Jeremiah learns about this power when he is called to be a prophet. Jeremiah teaches us that God’s power is not always found in those who are physically strong, wealthy or those having political power. God can and does use all of us as individuals and collectively as a gathered community. God’s power sustains us. As the psalmist tells us today in Psalm 71, verse 6: “I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.”

After contrasting Mt. Sinai from the old covenant and Mt. Zion presented as a new covenant, the author of Hebrews addresses us: “See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking…” I have experienced times in my life when God’s voice seemed – for some time anyway – to have fallen silent. Have anyone here today also passed through a time like this? God’s apparent absences, whether real or imagined, can provoke spiritual crises and we question our faith, our beliefs and our relationship to our God. If we are lucky and have gathered the courage to risk sharing our thoughts with another person trained as a spiritual guide; possibly a time of spiritual crisis can lead to newer, deeper forms of faith. But this passage suggests a different sort of crisis, one triggered not by God’s silence but by God’s clarity of message. It’s safe to presume that most mature Christians have encountered this sort of dilemma, too: when scripture couldn’t be clearer; when our conscience awakens us to another’s suffering. How can we then stubbornly refuse to reply to God’s voice? When we keep our gifts, those of the spirit or our purse to ourselves – and return to the mundane routines our daily existence. The author of Hebrews urges us to respond to such instances of clearness with commitment and gratitude. May God give us the strength and courage to take action when God’s call is so strong and obvious.

Though one person here in attendance might disagree, my parents Chris & Ellen raised me to be a compliant person. I’m generally a follower of rules, most of the time I drive the speed limit, pay our bills on time, and turn in my library books by the due date. I’ve always believe that reasonable laws and rules makes our society a safer, happier place for the general population. Lately, I’ve been following our Bishop’s admonition to the diocese to read the Bible on a regular basis. So this past week, I have been slogging my way through the mind numbing chapters and verses of Leviticus. I was aware of the prohibition against wearing clothes made of two different fibers. I hadn’t ever paid much attention about the rules around the trimming of beards because I don’t wear one of those. I was surprised to see the pronouncement against tattoos – which is obvious not be followed here in Portland. And of course, the laws concerning keeping the Sabbath are repeated many, many times in these verses. No wonder the leader of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath and kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” I’m just thinking – this person was raised to follow the rules. But here two views of holiness come into conflict, the holiness of a sacred day and the holiness of God’s chosen one – this poor affected woman who Jesus recognizes as a daughter of Abraham. The conflict arises when on the Sabbath Jesus sees this disabled woman and calls her into healing. When Jesus is confronted about his work on the Sabbath, Jesus recalls the practical nature of human life, “does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox?” It is an argument about the sanctity of human life – sanctity which encompasses respect for the dignity of each person. Did you notice, unlike other people who ask for healing from Jesus this woman did not? What must is be like to suddenly have an upright posture? A young man I know, by the name of James, recently had back surgery after years of significant pain. He shared with me his greatest surprise and joy was discovering that he now can walk moderate distances and is enjoying nightly strolls in his neighborhood. Have you ever experienced healing you never even thought to ask for? Are there parts and pieces in our lives and experience which beg for healing but we’ve given into resignation or hopelessness? I marvel at the utter grace of receiving unasked for, unanticipated healing! Can you think of a time when the ‘healing touch of Jesus’ actually enabled you to see something you had not seen before? Or to have reveled in a new light – something constantly before us from our daily life. Something wondrous? Some injustice? A reminder here – we just heard about the prophet Jeremiah – God has given him and us the charge and the power.

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Amen.

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