Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who Me?

Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Exodus 4: 1-3, 10-13
Genesis 12: 1-5

I remember my first day at school.  Seminary that is!  I had driven three hours to get to my first class by 9:00 am in Newton Centre, MA.  I had a brand new Bible, paper and pencil to take notes and my class schedule.  I hadn’t been to school in 23 years.  I was to take a course in the Book of Judges from the Old Testament and a survey course in the New Testament.  I already knew who my professors were going to be. 

A group of us new students sat down for lunch to get to know one another.  It was scary and intimidating I have to admit.  Our lunch conversations centered around getting to know one another through our ‘call’ stories.  Or rather, what (or who) made you come to seminary?   

To be ‘called’ is a term that is used a lot in the field of ministry.  You trot off to seminary and are asked to articulate how you were called by God to this ministry.  And believe me there are some pretty UNbelievable stories.  I remember listening to some of them and feeling so inadequate because my story really was unremarkable.

No flashes of lightening for me.  No scales falling off of the lenses of my eyes.  Just here I am Lord, here I am – I get it now.  It was merely a feeling that became more and more pronounced as the years wore on until I could no longer ignore it and all seemed to be in place, more or less.  I had three young kids in tow as a single mom when I trotted off to seminary. 

The theme of call is articulated throughout your years as a seminarian.  First by fellow seminarians, then by probing professors and ecclesiastical committees, by curious congregants, and by those who, too, think they hear ‘the call’. 

We are all called.  Like Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, we are all called to a higher purpose in our lives.  We will explore these three servants of God in scriptures today, all ‘call narratives’. What they have in common is that they really are somewhat of a ‘rag-tag’ and ordinary group of individuals who finally, in the end, give in!

The Call of Jeremiah from the Book of Jeremiah
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

To make a long story short – God knew way before Jeremiah was born that he was to be called.  When the opportunity is presented to Jeremiah, he argues with God, ‘I’m way too young.”  God argues back, “Don’t say that, don’t worry, I’ll be with you, I’ll rescue you if needs be.”  The rest, they say, is history!  Jeremiah, of course, prophecized at a raucous time in the history of Israel and he heralded a new understanding of Yahwah to the people.

The Call of Moses from the Book of Exodus
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say,
‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

To make a long story short – Moses doubts that people would believe him as a prophet but God demonstrates to Moses how he’ll be able to do it.  That didn’t work so Moses argues that his speech is not so great.  God argues back, “Who gave you that mouth anyway?”  Then God reassures, “Now go, don’t worry, I’ll be with you.”  The rest, they say, is history!  Moses, of course, leads the people Israel out of Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea waters toward the land of milk and honey.

The Call of Abram from the Book of Genesis
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

To make a long story short – God comes to Abram and his wife Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) and tells them when they were up in their golden years to literally pull up stakes and move on.  While it is not recorded that Abram k’vetched and argued, I certainly would!  You know when you get older you just want to stay put.  But Abram followed God’s command, he moved and wandered and eventually was made the father of many nations.  The rest, they say, is history.

Moses was slow of speech, Abram was just a plain old geezer, Jeremiah just a happy go lucky, uneducated kid - all of them had something going against them.  Unlike the candidates that we have just seen in the Republican and Democratic conventions who can’t say enough good about themselves, the candidates that God calls are quick to point out all of their faults and argue with God about their qualifications.

But guess who wins?  God of course!  It was once said that, ‘the task does not depend on the leaders ability, but on the leader depending upon God.’  No matter how inadequate you might feel about yourself, the truth is with trust and faith in God, you can accomplish a lot.

Which is true in all of these narratives, what God wanted was someone who would rely on him, to depend on God with all their heart that what they were being asked to do was within God’s realm of glory and plan, and that they would be able to handle it or at least stick with it.  God wanted someone who trusted that their life was going to be used to the benefit of others.  It didn’t matter their ability.  That was secondary.  What mattered was their faith.

And as the beautiful hymn from the Iona community says,  ‘Take me as I am, summon out what I shall be’.  That is, take me just exactly as I am today and call forth from me what you need, that is what I will become and that is how I will live my life. 

Being called by God doesn’t necessarily mean a life to ministry.  But it does mean awakening others to God’s love by the life you lead. 

Brother Roger of the Taize community in France asks, “Will you, for your part, be one of those who open up the ways of the Risen Christ?  Or will you hesitate and say, “Why do you ask me to prepare ways of the Gospel for others?  Can’t you see that I am quite helpless, like a child?”  He later says, “You awaken others to Christ above all by the life you lead…..You communicate the life of the Risen Christ through a profound personal unselfishness, by forgetting about yourself.”[i]

I do believe that if we are to call ourselves Christians it means then that all of us are called to exemplify God’s love and forgiveness, Christ’s unquenchable thirst for justice, and the Holy Spirit’s energy in our every day world and each day that we live out.  We are called to be.  And we are called to do.

Will you, through your actions, tell the Gospel that you have been called to tell?  Because when you say, “Who Me?”  God says, “Yeah!  YOU!”


[i] Brother Roger of Taize, “The Sources of Taize”. GIA Publications, Chicago, 2000. P. 30.

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Bar20 Hoppy said...
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