Saturday, February 6, 2010

January 31, 2010 - Called by God

Not Driven by Circumstance but Called by God
Jeremiah 1:4-10

[Thanatopsis]
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged by his dungeon . . . [William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “Thanatopsis"]

You caught the image, didn’t you: “Like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged by his dungeon . . . ” Bryant suggests that each of us have a choice about the way we will live. And, of course, no one would choose to be a *quarry slave*. Although some have had such slavery forced upon them, it is the last life we would choose for ourselves.
Television and other media provide us with many other possibilities for seeing human life. Often, we find them in the commercials; they suggest other images of life to entice us to buy their product . . . which owning and using will somehow usher us into that desirable lifestyle.
+You’ll be young and smart if you drive this car;
+You’ll be hip and sexy if you drink this soft drink;
+You’ll get hired for a great job if you use this hair coloring to cover your gray.
We Americans have always used what we own and what we consume to define the lives we live and the sort of persons we are. Ask yourself: what is the definition of your life? What image of life are you striving to claim for yourself?
There is an alternative - a deeply satisfying one. It comes from the scripture: Imagine yourself *called by God.* Imagine yourself spending your life and your energies in the service of the eternal purposes of Almighty God.
+Adam and Eve began that way, though they were soon tempted to turn away from God’s call.
+Moses was called by God to lead His people out of Egypt and slavery.
+The judges like Deborah and Gideon and prophets like Anna and Simeon were called to speak the Word of the Lord in their time.
+And, as you know, Jesus knew himself to be called.

[TASK] We are going to explore the call of Jeremiah the Prophet this morning. We will learn about the prophet’s call, then let it teach us about Jesus’ call. Then, we will consider what it means for us to live a life as those who are *called*.

I. In this reading from chapter-1, Jeremiah tells how he became a prophet. It was the call of God, you see. There are jobs for which we volunteer. Or we take a test to discover our aptitudes, then find a job which works to our strength. So, any of us might become
+a doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief,
+grow up to be President,
+or enter a particular kind of work because it runs in the family.

A. But, the prophet knew himself to be CALLED. It was a job that he did not seek, but rather God sought him and placed this work on him. In this sense, Jeremiah stood in the great tradition of the Old Testament prophets. God told him this clearly; he was destined before his birth to this calling.

5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you . . .
As we read beyond this short passage through the rest of Jeremiah, we will find that he did not welcome this calling. His given message was uncomfortable. It made him unpopular, even unwelcome in the community. Still, he felt as obligated to live out this calling as a bird is obligated to fly or a fish is obligated to swim.
Geo Martin said in his article on this passage:
Calls from God are scary. Tell someone God spoke to you, and you might be locked up. Maybe your call is not exactly a voice. It could be a thought you cannot shake–an idea that seems crazy or irrational. You try to ignore it, but it seems to be there again and again. (1).

B. Like many in the Bible who were called, Jeremiah objected that he was not the right person for this task. 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
+Moses also objected that he did not know how to speak well.
+Isaiah objected that he was a man of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips.
But, God swept all these objections away:
7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.

The task of the prophet is not to speak out of his own abilities or his own message; his call is to speak the word which God has placed on his heart and in his mouth.
The work of a prophet by definition is not comfortable for anyone. To speak the Word of the Lord, the prophet must call into question the assumptions and convictions that everyone shares. He must challenge the bedrock principles upon which communities and nations are founded. It is uncomfortable because such challenges are not popular. People object to such impertinence. People do not want to hear the negative voice when people are already struggling. But, mostly it is uncomfortable because the prophet must challenge the cherished principles and convictions in his own heart. It is uncomfortable because the prophet must stand apart from the community which is most likely to listen to him, and even from himself. Prophecy is not comfortable work.

THE SIGN A couple of Saturdays ago, Celia and I went to Pigeon Forge for the day. On the way home, coming through Sevierville, we noticed a sign at a busy intersection that said: "Your G.P.S. is wrong. Keep straight for I-40."

I thought: Now that sign is doing what the church should do. It is warning people that they are going the wrong way.
+To call out a warning when what everyone believes and assumes is wrong.
+Then, to point people in the way that God would have us to go.

This is the calling of the prophet.

The fact is that nobody wants to hear the bad news. Oh, we can take our medicine along with the rest of them. But, when the bitter taste washes away, it is time to go back to more pleasant stuff.
God said to Jeremiah: "You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you." The downside of this calling is that you must proclaim an unwelcome message not your own. The upside of this calling is that you proclaim a message not your own, but Word of God.

C. This is a decidedly *political* voice for Jeremiah to raise. You can hear it in the words of his call:
10 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.

This is not a call to teach Sunday School down at the Methodist Church.
1. He is to speak out against nations and kingdoms. His is specifically sent to speak to the political forces of his day.
2. His message is decidedly negative: Four words of destruction describe his call:
+to pluck up and to pull down,
+to destroy and to overthrow
3. Only two words speak of building:
+to build and to plant.

[POLITICS] - Don Ratzlaff said: Too many of us Christians confuse political convictions with spiritual conviction. Insecure with ambiguity, we assume people of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism must also promote one political agenda. That assumption leads the church into trouble. First, it prompts us to make judgments about people that ought to be left to God. Second, when the church confuses spiritual and political convictions it is tempted to use political power to forward a "spiritual agenda." (2)


Forty years ago, it was the liberals in the church who were speaking out on political subjects. The conservatives grumbled: "Those liberal preachers should stick with spiritual matters and leave politics to politicians." Twenty years ago, it was the religious right that became politically active. So, the liberals grumbled: "Those on the religious right have no business in politics." Well, the voice of the church on political issues will always be uncomfortable and even add to the controversy.
The problem is that the Bible belongs to all Christians – Christians who may or may not share the same politics. While I can ignore some opponent shouting his *particular opinion*, I cannot ignore someone who uses my Bible to make his/her point. When someone uses my Bible to do their politics then I have to work harder to figure it out. I can't ignore it as just someone else's *opinion*; I have to wrestle with it like Jeremiah wrestled with the Word of God which he was given to preach.

II. Well, what does this story of Jeremiah's call tell us about Jesus?
It tells us that in part Jesus was also called to the work of a prophet. Jesus was called/sent
+to preach Good News to the poor, which often hit as judgement on the rich;
+to challenge business as usual in the religious establishment of his day; he did clean out the temple, you know.
+to challenge the politics of purity in the Temple; Jesus offered compassion as an equal claim of God on people of faith.
A good indicator of the strength of Jesus' challenge is the reaction of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. It was they who conceived the plan to kill Jesus.
We have to remember that Jesus was not killed for feeding hungry people with a few loaves and fish out in the country. He was not killed for healing the sick. He was not killed for stilling the storm and saving his friends from certain shipwreck. He was killed for challenging those who were comfortably in power. He was killed for challenging the systems of purity that kept certain people in their places of poverty and others in their places of comfort.
Jesus filled many roles in his years on earth:
+healer and teacher,
+preacher and miracle-worker,
+Savior and Son of God,
+and Prophet.

CHRIST the PROPHET
In his play, Green Pastures, playwright Marc Connelly has the angel Gabriel walk on stage with his horn under his arm. He approaches the Lord who is deep in thought. God is troubled about what is happening on earth: So much anger and fighting, so much pain and sadness, so many people blindly ruining their lives. God is very troubled because He has already sent any number of prophets and special messengers, but His people just can't hear them.

Gabriel offers to blow his horn and bring the whole sorry mess to a quick end. But God takes his trumpet away. Gabriel presses the Lord about what He's going to do. And finally the Lord answers, 'This time,' He says, 'I'm not going to send anybody. This time I'm going myself!' (3)

And that is exactly what God did . . . "In the fullness of time." God sent no more messengers. God came to us in human flesh. No longer would God stand at the edge of the universe and lament the darkness on earth. God came to earth in a burst of light and angels' songs to forever dispel the darkness. God came to us as the prophet with the message: "Your G.P.S. is wrong. Let me show you the way."


III. Now, that we have explored Jeremiah's call to prophecy and Jesus' call, what does all of this teach about the possibility that God might call any one of us?
One of the great challenges presented by the story of Jeremiah's call is that it tempts us to think of *God's call* as something reserved for great figures of religious history: prophets, evangelists, and missionaries. But, you must know that God calls every Christian to live the radical gospel of Christ through faithful obedience in the world. For some, that faithful obedience may require powerful witness, heroic measures, or world-changing actions. For others of us, it is by fulfilling the tasks of our social, political, and family roles that we stand as prophets in the world, testifying to God's intentions for the world in the way we live our lives (4).
+Martin Luther King, Jr spoke on the Washington Mall and shouted: "I have a dream . . . " Rosa Parks, on the other hand, just kept her seat on a bus in Montgomery.
+Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world; Mary and Martha just offered their home as friendly place for Jesus to teach and to rest.
+Billy Graham often preached the Gospel to one hundred thousand persons; my childhood Sunday School teachers never had more than a dozen at a time.
It makes no difference whether our call is grand or small. If we hear the call of God, it is our invitation to serve eternity.


[MONSTERS, INC.] - In the Disney movie, *Monsters, Inc.*, the truth about monsters is revealed. Monsters are in the business of scaring children because it is their job. In a parallel world to our own, monsters tote their lunches and punch a time clock while they work at a factory called Monsters, Inc. The factory contains thousands of doors that lead to the back of children's bedroom closets in our world. Doors are brought to the monsters on conveyor belts so that the monster can simply walk into the bedrooms of children to scare them.
The monsters are ultimately harmless. In their world, they are fuzzy and loveable creatures merely trying to make a living. The only reason they scare children is to capture the energy contained in their screams. Their entire world operates on this energy – much like our electricity and gas. The monsters capture the screams and compress them into a tank similar to a propane tank. One of the main characters is Sully, and the plot centers on his quest to have the highest production of capturing screams.
The greatest secret of the monster world is this: While children are afraid of monsters, the monsters are even more afraid of children. Outside of the job of retrieving screams, the monsters want nothing to do with children. They would never touch a child or anything a child has touched for fear of contamination. If a monster so much as touches a child's sock, he must go though an extensive decontamination process.
In the movie, a little girl accidently enters the monster world through the door in the back of her closet. Sully went to her bedroom to capture her scream but botches the job. She jumps on his back and clings to him as he returns to Monsters, Inc. After Sully discovers the toddler, he is terrified because he had been taught to fear children. He cannot return her until he finds the correct door to her bedroom. In the meantime, he begins to take care of her. In the process, he slowly overcomes his fear. Sully actually begins to like the little girl.
And then, after a while, Sully decides to give the child a name, Boo. This is of great concern to Sully's best friend, Mike, who also works at Monsters, Inc. When Mike hears Sully has named the child, he exclaims, "Oh, no! Not a name! When you give it a name, that's when you get attached to it! That's when you get changed by it. You'll never be the same" (5).

So it is when we hear God's call on our lives. It comes hard oftentimes. The job is difficult or even unwanted. But, the time comes when we grow fond of it. That's when we are changed by the call of God upon our lives. We thought we knew what life should be, but then God called us to some necessary task. And little by little that call changes us – never to be the same again.
Think about it: What is God calling you to do or to be in this world? When you heard God's call, what did you respond? Today, when you hear God's call, what will you respond?




Notes:
1. Martin, George. "Pastoral Perspective" on Jeremiah 1.4-10, Feasting on the Word, pp. 290f.
2. Ratzlaff, Don. Quoted by Edward Rowell in Leadership Journal.
3. Connelly, Mark. Green Pastures, a play first performed in 1930.
4. Davis, James Calvin. "Theological Perspective" on Jeremiah 1.4-10, Feasting on the Word, pp. 290f.
5. Monsters, Inc. Walt Disney Movies, 2001.

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