“I knew you” – 2016/01/31

Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Jeremiah 1:4-10


Video also includes deacon/elder ordination/installation

     There are a lot of kinds of preachers out there. There are good and bad ones, there are those who talk too long and those who talk too short, those who share jokes and stories and those who talk in-depth about the text. But I think that we can all agree that there’s one kind of preacher that everyone gets sick of, and that’s the preacher who talks about their kids all the time.
     I’ve heard preachers like that, and it can be immensely boring. “I came to hear you talk about God, not to hear you yammer on about your kid,” I think, whenever I encounter that situation. Fortunately, most of my pastors have been really good in this regard.
     So church, since Carissa and I are about to become parents, I will do my very best not to become one of those preachers. HOWEVER, even though we aren’t parents quite yet, I can’t help myself today. Today, I need to talk just a little about becoming a dad, and that’s because there’s something in what we read today that just knocked my socks off when I read it, even though I’ve read and heard it a thousand times before.
     We read two passages this morning, first from 1 Corinthians 13 (so you’re forgiven if you thought you’d somehow wandered into a wedding when you heard that one), and from Jeremiah 1.
     The latter of those two passages is the call story of Jeremiah. Now, brothers and sisters, if you’ve been in church the last few weeks, you’ve heard me go on and on about calling – it’s been the topic of my last three sermons, including this one. But it seems that, at this time of year, the lectionary can’t help itself. Just as a New Year begins and people are trying to figure out who they are going to be in the new year, it seems that the texts we’re assigned for these weeks are designed to cause us to look at who God is asking us to be.
     The first thing we have to understand is who Jeremiah is. He was a prophet in ancient Judah, about 600 years before Jesus was born. He is generally known as a doom-and-gloom prophet, because he was living in a time of tremendous political upheaval. Coincidentally, today in adult Sunday School, we’re going to be talking about Jeremiah – I didn’t plan that, by the way; it just sort of “happened” – and it’s going to be very brief, because I know people want to get to the pancake feed. Anyway, if you want more of the specifics, you should definitely stick around for that. For the time being, though, just know that there are a lot of things going on, and Jeremiah spends most of his time as a professional pessimist.
     However, he is not without his optimism, and that’s going to be more and more important as we look at the exact words of his call story. Jeremiah’s call begins, like so many call stories of prophets in the Bible, with God’s words to him about who he is, and those were the ones that stopped me in my tracks.
     “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.” When you’re expecting your own child, hearing these powerful words from God about another child is an important reminder. Even before we were in the womb, even before we were born, God knew us, anointed us, and gave us purpose.
     I had to sit back and marvel at the fact that, the little person growing inside my wife is actually already called by God; already appointed to a task. I keep thinking, “Man, that’s a lot of pressure on me, to not stand in the way of what God is trying to do!” But the truth is, as much as psychology likes to blame our parents and our upbringing for everything wrong with us, from a Christian perspective, it’s not really our parents that get in our way – it’s ourselves.
     Right after Jeremiah is told that he’s been appointed to a task since before he was even a glimmer in his parents’ eyes, Jeremiah objects. This is actually extremely common among the prophets in the Old Testament. From Moses to Isaiah to Jeremiah to Ezekiel to Job (and many others), a typical response to God’s calling is, “No thank you.” In fact, if you ever talk to pastors who came into that profession as a second career, they almost unanimously say, “Oh, I always knew. I just didn’t have the time or the energy or life got in the way. Now I’m finally able to do it.” But it just makes me wonder: what is God already asking of us that we aren’t listening to?
     Jeremiah gives good and logical objections to God’s choice of him as a messenger: “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Jeremiah says he’s too young. He doesn’t speak well. How many of us have those same (or related) excuses for not doing what God is calling us to do? I don’t have the time; when I’m a little older; I did that when I was young, so my service is done; there are other things I want to do now; I’m not sure I’m called to that; I don’t know how to do it. Those are all things that we say; excuses we give when we don’t want to embrace what God is asking of us. But sometimes, God calls us from those places and asks something of us that’s not necessarily what we’d expect.
     God tells Jeremiah, “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, do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” God is making it very clear: “Don’t be afraid of what you can’t do; I will be there for you. The limitations you see are not the ones I see.” God has a purpose for Jeremiah.
     And that purpose, God tells Jeremiah, is this: “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.” I mentioned earlier that Jeremiah is always read as a bit of a pessimist, and that’s true; God says right there that he is placed as the witness to the powerful, “to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.” That’s quite a lot to ask of the inarticulate youngster Jeremiah says he is.
     But the thing is, Jeremiah’s not being left with only those things. God doesn’t just leave him the doom-and-gloom. Church, sometimes, I think we hear God calling us to do something, and our response is “no,” because we only think of the bad things that come along with saying “yes.” We think of the work and the hours and the commitments. We don’t think of the joy and the life-giving that God has for us. Trust me, if Jeremiah’s call were only “to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow,” he’d be very legitimate in not wanting the job.
     But God doesn’t end it that way. The final task Jeremiah is assigned is “to build and to plant.” To make new; to bring new life where there was death. After everything is plucked up and pulled down, destroyed and overthrown, God doesn’t want to just abandon things and leave them in a state of disrepair. God is creating something new.
     For us as Christians, there is no more powerful image of this than Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. While Jesus’ death may be about bringing about God’s purposes, God does not hang Jesus up there on the cross and let the story end; Jesus returns. The dead comes to life; the weak and lowly are raised up; the humble are exalted; God’s kingdom comes to earth! This is the promise that we see on Christ’s Day of Resurrection. Christ’s return to life is a promise to each and every one of us that God is building and planting, not just overthrowing and destroying.
     Jeremiah’s call story has all of that. It can’t have been totally fun to do everything that God asked him to do. Preaching doom to his fellow Judeans would not have been an ideal job. But in the end, he also was able to preach the Good News of God’s restoration.
     Today, in our own worship service, we ordain and install deacons and elders. This special calling gave people a chance to say “yes” to something God is doing in their lives. It’s going to be work; there are going to be busy times, and it’s not all going to be perfect. But then we’ll have a day like our Mission Fest was in the fall, or we’ll see how much fun we have playing a game at one of our 3F events, and suddenly we see the purposes behind the blood, sweat, and tears.
     On this same Sunday, we were able to welcome Jason Wiedrich into our midst to talk about camping. It’s at camp that so many Christian kids all around the country first really start to think and hear about what God might be doing in their lives.
     Brothers and sisters, this is a joyful day, on which we can celebrate how God might be calling us into something new. It might mean that old things need to be plucked up or pulled down, but the things that are built and planted will be a great reward. In our faith, as we follow Christ, we know that crucifixion, death, despair – they are always followed by Resurrection. The pain may be real, but so is the hope and joy.
     Since this is the last day for a while that I’ll have the chance to talk about calling before the lectionary moves on to other things, I will leave you with a final thought. God’s first words to Jeremiah were these: “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.” Brothers and sisters, these are God’s words to you: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you ______________.” Something. I don’t know how that sentence ends for you. It’ll be different for each of us; that’s between us and God. That final command of what we’re called to do may change throughout our lifetimes. But however your sentence ends, be bold and of good courage, and seek out that which God is calling you to do! Amen.

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