Monday, November 24, 2014

Who Me?

Jeremiah 1: 4-10
There are call stories galore; call stories of how men and women are called to ministry or a particular profession.  Some of the most bizzare are those that I heard at the beginning of my seminary years.  From a vision of the archangel Michael clinging to the windshield during a wintery snow storm to God speaking to someone through their computer screen those folks heard God’s call and heeded it.  Mine was not so splashy, just a persistent metaphorical itch that I couldn’t seem to scratch and satisfy.

Then there are call stories; call stories of the prophets from the Bible. 

Take Abram.  To make a long story short – God comes to Abram and his wife Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) and tells them, when they were in their golden years, to literally pull up stakes and move on.  I’m sure 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.

How about Moses?

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.

And today we have Jeremiah. Let’s hear the call story of Jeremiah, from the first chapter.

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, reluctantly took up that call and prophesized at a raucous time in the history of Israel and he heralded a new understanding of Yahweh to the people.

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!  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 and yet they were called by God and relied on God. It was once said that, ‘the task does not depend on the leaders ability, but on the leader depending upon God.’[i] 

But that time in which Jeremiah was called was tumultuous, he was called to a particular situation, a precise moment in the history of Israel which was very unsettled and fractious.  It was during the reigns of Josiah, Johiakim, and Zedekiah and there was a major geographical upheaval in the Ancient Near East.  Nations were in conflict with one another and the Assyrian Empire was in major decline.  There were battles between Egypt and Babylon for the Fertile Crescent, which, of course, was crucial to viability of a people.

Poor geographically and politically small Israel had no chance as they were being attacked by the Babylonians and we know that the ensuing demise of Jerusalem and the temple was not long to follow.  People were whisked off into exile but a few remained like Jeremiah in this hotbed of political strife.

His message to the remnant: uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.  That is to bring the prevailing system of injustice to its knees and to replace it with one that will uphold the kingdom of God, one that will present a worldview of justice and equality for each person.  That is, folks, we have work to do.  He had his work cut out for him.

And so do we.  As you know, we, as a nation, are on the precipice of a decision that could potentially spark an even greater racial divide in this country, in St. Louis, and particularly in Ferguson, Missouri.  We wait for the grand jury’s decision on whether the Police Officer who fired on Michael Brown will be indicted on criminal charges.   Whether you will be lamenting the decision or rejoicing in the decision, or just flat out ignoring the whole thing you cannot disregard the fact that racism is just as virulent today as it was back in the 60’s. We think we have come so far but sadly it appears we have not.  

There is so much that most of us take for advantage because of the color of our skin.  I was never more awakened to certain privileges than when a co-trainer of mine from the ADL’s diversity training told me how fearful she was when her two sons went out on a daily basis, to the store, driving along the street, to school.  The color of their skin made them targets of suspicion and potential injustice.

Mine did not, in fact I realized then that I never feared for their lives when my sons left the house.  I didn’t have to worry that they would be pulled over for no apparent reason or that they would be watched like a hawk at Stop ‘n Shop or looked over while they were in line at Dairy Queen. Racial injustice occurs in the slightest of ways that we can’t even imagine.

It’s hard living here in Orange to think what all of this has to do with us, with 94% of the population being white. What could possibly erupt here over this case that is so far away?  It’s hard to think that violence, rioting and looting will happen here because of the decision, that it would touch our pastoral green, be present down at High Plains, or even happen on Route 1, as crazy as that gets at times. 

Then why do we have to think about this?  Well, you could turn a blind eye, or you could see the ways in which God has called you to a specific moment in time to make some sort of difference.  A few of us gathered the other night for the Taize service and included a very special prayer for Ferguson, for all parties involved, for peace and justice.  A couple of us stayed to talk quietly afterwards and while we surmised there really was not much we could do here, what we could do was pray and to make a difference in the way we lead our own lives in fairness and love.

The aftermath of this case will be dicey at best and very bad behavior will occur, but so will upright, peace upholding behavior and we mustn’t loose sight of that.  Good behavior will occur because of those who have heard God’s call and have done something, anything!

Part of our mission as followers of Christ is to expose and dismantle prejudice, racism and the hideous face of injustice.  It is at very special times like these that we are called for a purpose much larger than ourselves.  Like Jeremiah, we are called to uproot the old ways and norms that keep people down and build up that which recognizes the decency and  value of each and every human life.  Every life is precious.  Every human is a child of God and we are connected.  When one child of God hurts, we all hurt and that is what binds us together regardless of our skin color, our gender, our zipcode.
Being called by God doesn’t necessarily mean a life that is easy.  But it does mean awakening others to God’s love and impartiality and fairness by the life you lead. 

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 who we are.  And we are called to do what we can for others who cannot.

We have an awful lot to be thankful for. But most of all we give thanks to God for the abundance of love given to us through Jesus Christ and his message of hope for peoples lives; and this is the message we are to tell too. 

Will you, through your actions, tell the Gospel that you have been called to tell?  Because when you hear that call, “Who Me?”, and you will.  God will inevitably say, “Yeah!  YOU!”


[i] Origin of quote unknown.

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