In pm's words
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February 1, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one where God is there even when we feel inadequate...


Sermon from January 31, 2016

Text: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ!  Will y’all pray with me?  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

How many of you have ever made an excuse to not do something that someone asked of you? I remember being asked by my parents, probably at least one or two times – tops –  to ‘take out the garbage’ or ‘clean my room’ or any other assortment of chores. I could come up with any number of ‘excuses’ valid or not as to why I could not do what they asked.  The same thing would happen in school as well – hey Matt – do you think you could come to the board and finish this math equation or maybe complete this chemistry formula?  “Uhh… I don’t think I should!  There are others here far more qualified to do that than me.  Look, she over there has received 90’s+ on all of her tests, she would be better at it than me!”

I’m sure there were times in your own lives where these defenses popped up in an attempt to keep you from doing something that you might have been a little nervous about, maybe a bit unprepared for, perhaps a feeling of being unqualified to accomplish. Singing in front of others, speaking about an issue you have had great passion for, doing something ‘on your own’ for the first time, taking care of a child or a parent or a friend or a stranger in need, praying out loud, who knows what else. I think all of us have been thrust into those situations before.  Am I right?

In our first reading today we see another individual who had been ‘thrust’ into the service of God before he thought he was ready. I truly love the book of Jeremiah and especially the story of his call from God.  I think I enjoy it so much because I believe that most of us can place ourselves into the shoes of Jeremiah. We may not all have had the same call of God to be an instrument of God’s doing and Word in the same way as Jeremiah – you know being a prophet for the nations – but, throughout our lives there have been those opportunities – small or grand – where God kicks us into gear, yet we are at times unwilling to move.

What I find most interesting about this passage – and how much it resembles our own lives is that when the word of the Lord came upon Jeremiah the Lord details how much God knows about him. I’ve known you from the very beginning my child. Even before you were born I knew you, in fact I was the one that formed you. I consecrated you – I set you a part, now I appoint you to be a prophet to the nations.

Here, God is living into the promise that not only is given to Jeremiah, but in fact is given to all of us.  This is the promise of ‘presence.’ God sticks to what God creates and loves. Only out of love can God do this. To form, create, know, and be present with someone from the very beginning. It is God who is behind us every step of the way. It is God who has been with Jeremiah from the very beginning. God has known Jeremiah since before he was, as they say– knee-high to a grasshopper.

So, here is God telling Jeremiah that not only has he been ‘known’ to God from the very beginning, but it is implied that Jeremiah has never been without God – or more accurately, God has never been without Jeremiah. God has been present within his life from the very beginning and continues to be present in his life.

Yet, Jeremiah’s response is not the one that he ‘should’ give, but it is the answer that we expect since I think we do the same thing all the time. After being eloquently told that he has never been alone and that surely he would not continue to be ‘alone’ Jeremiah is hesitant to God’s call and desire. 

Lord, I can’t do that, I’m too young!

I remember having a teacher in school who hated that sentence and she would not take it as an answer to anything. She always reminded us that “I can’t…” wasn’t in her vocabulary and shouldn’t be in ours. It seems God is taking that same approach with Jeremiah, and truly does with us as well!

I am uplifted by God’s response to Jeremiah. It is out of love and compassion that God responds with, “Don’t say that you are too young, I’ll be with you. I’ll be guiding you. You will be my instrument.” God will not and does not throw Jeremiah or us out into the proverbial wilderness alone, cold, and without any sense of what to do. Instead, God promises that where we go, God will be present.

Of course, as we read in our Gospel lesson, those places where God may send us might not be the most popular. It might be to those places others would object to you going. Did you ever wonder why the people around Jesus so quickly moved from ‘saying wonderful things about him’ to wanting to throw him over the cliff?

Jesus states, rather bluntly, that the word he has come to proclaim is a message far greater than the walls of the temple around him can contain. This message isn’t ‘just’ for those around him, it isn’t even ‘just’ for those who are of Jewish descent, instead this is a message to also be given to those on the far reaches of society, those on the ‘other side’, those who are outcast, those who are ‘not with us’ now because of their culture, origin, or family ties. Jesus stretches the limits of love of those around him and it makes them uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough that instead of ‘talking’ in love about what Jesus means and calls for us to do with him they’d rather just throw Jesus and his gospel of radical inclusiveness off a cliff.

This is something that I think we can be a little familiar with. As we approach a new political season as primaries are fast approaching – that thought is ever present on our mind and upon the lips of those who would be elected. When we are confronted by the spirit of God we are always forever changed. Where we experience something new, we experience the Word of God as ‘different’ than what we would expect. You mean I’m called to go and help that person over there? I’m commanded by God through Christ to pray for those that I don’t like? You mean what you’re calling me to do may take me to places I might be unaccustomed with – far away from family, friends, and familiar settings? Well, if that’s what you’re talking about – I’m just going to drop it now – toss it aside and move on my own. Sound familiar? I know it’s pretty close to what I was thinking before going to Lutheridge as a counselor, or when I felt God calling me to be a pastor.

Jesus has come to give all of us, the entire world, a message that when those who first heard it (and really those who continue to hear his words today) would not expect. Jesus lifted up God’s word being brought to people outside of the Jewish faith in his talk with those at the synagogue. God isn’t here to ‘coddle’ us, but in love for us and through us call us all to reach out to those in need – no matter where they are. In Jesus’ words to those in the temple that day; he made it known that his ministry as the messiah was not just for those within Israel, but instead was for all of God’s creation. That his word and message of love and hope would be given and spread to all people, for all are created by God and all are children of God.

Many times, this is a message that we instinctively try to push away and over the cliffs of our lives. It is different; God calls us to places with words and actions that are unfamiliar. Yet, the words of God – those words of love, inclusion, prayer and service – stretch, pinch, and unnerve us just a bit too much. For the message we hear from those with loud voices around us is – ‘if you’re not one of us, then we don’t want you to be a part with us.’

But, God has a way of using those moments to fill in those stretched out spaces in our lives with love.  God knows that what we are called to do (and to actually do) are different than what we are accustomed to. God knows that where we are sent by the Word are to places ‘outside’ our familiar circles. Whenever we are sent to the unfamiliar or even to bring a new message to places and people we are familiar with can be downright scary. Yet, the promise that God makes with us is the same that God made with Jeremiah so long ago.  Because of Jesus Christ, God has promised to be with all of us. To be present in the message that is proclaimed through us. In the message that is proclaimed to all around us.

As God calls us to places unknown, ventures yet untrodden, God has promised to be with us. God has been with us from the very beginning, knowing each of us from the womb because we have been formed by this God of love. As God has set each of us a part because we have been washed in the waters of our baptism and marked with the Cross of Christ – we are called and sent to spread this message of God’s love to all of those around us. We are not called just to talk about God’s love and message for all – to those only gathered in this space – we are sent out with God as our guide and our rock to bring this message to all who we see. To stand up against the voices that stir and push us away from God’s love for all.

We are able to do all of this because of God’s love – that love that is patient, kind, and never ending. Without the love of God we really are just a noisy gong or a banging cymbal. But with the love of God – living in us and pouring through our words and actions – we are like musical instruments of amazing quality.  Where we are played with love, where we are ‘in tune’ with God’s call and will in spreading the message of the Gospel to all.

So, yes – God hears our numerous excuses and well-argued reasons as to why we would not be a good fit for what we have been called. God hears it, but doesn’t let us say, “I can’t…” Instead, God reminds us that we are not alone. God has set us apart, God has anointed us, consecrated us, and through our baptisms and the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is present with us.

The love of God – that love which makes us beautiful instruments of the one who created us – works through us so that all might hear and see and taste the Word of God who is Christ Jesus our Lord. We may be sent to places which are unfamiliar but, God does not send us off alone. God is present with us.  Through love God uses our gifts to spread this wonderful, prophetic message that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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