Monday, February 1, 2016

Sunday's Sermon - Being Called by God

Jeremiah 1:4-19
Luke 4:21-30

Last week, I talked about how we sometimes fail to see the gifts that God has given to one another and to ourselves, and how God has given us all of those gifts to use for God’s work of loving our neighbors in the world.  Today, I want to follow that through by asking you what think stops us from seeing another’s call as a chosen person of God?  What things stop us from claiming our identity as a chosen child of God called to specific tasks?
I think that one of the biggest things that both inhibits our insights into another’s calling and also inhibits our ability to claim our own calling is our “home” – our families, our upbringing, our sense of self that we develop by growing up as children, among other children, among regular, plain old people.  I mean, as I said last week, who are we to be called by God?  Who are we, to challenge the status quo and do what our hearts tell us is right?  Who are we?   I want to quote again what Marianne Williamson said about this as well… “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
But we also do just struggle with a fear of failure as well which can also lead us to fail to try as well.  I had a terrible dream last night that I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say in my sermon.  I dreamed that I was completely unprepared and I lost everyone’s attention.  Everyone was talking to each other and not listening to me and I knew I had failed.  Kind of like what happened with my children’s conversation this morning ;-).  And that fear, that fear of failing can keep us from even trying.
            As we heard in today’s reading from Luke, Jesus reminded the people around him that it is very hard for a prophet, and I might say, any person with a deep call, to fulfill that call amidst their own people.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus tell us, “truly I tell you no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  We know this.  And it affects us and the way we respond to God’s call in our own lives.  How many of us have chosen at one time or another to turn away and choose not to do what we believe in our hearts is best, or is our call, by our very fear of the rejection of our loved ones?  Or from a fear of failure?  Rejection from our loved ones hurts.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.  And failure sets us up at so very many levels.  But I think, this is one of those times when it is helpful again for us to remember Jesus’ humanity as much as his divinity.  Our theology tells us that Jesus was fully human, just as he was fully divine.  And to me that has to mean that he, too, experienced the pain of the rejection of those around him.  Not only that, but he also named right here, that he was not “successful” as a prophet in his home town.  He named it here.  And my guess is that he said this out loud not only to explain to those around him that he probably would not be able to accomplish for them what they were asking for him to do, or in the way that they were asking him to do it; but my guess is that he also needed to name this out loud for himself as well.  He needed to say, out loud, in front of others, that it is the case that those most loved will often have the hardest time supporting, seeing, understanding or even believing in our call from God.  And that because of their failure to believe in us, we often may find we are failing around them as well in our call, in our sense of doing what is “right.”  Still, in the face of that pain we are called to live and love as God has taught us – striving to do God’s work, no matter where we are.  No matter whom we are with.  And hardest of all – no matter what the results! 
            I used to watch and enjoy a TV sitcom that was on for a while that featured a woman who was a columnist for a newspaper.  In one episode, the main character ended up in a conversation with her three best friends in which two of them admit that they don’t always, or sometimes ever, read her column in the newspaper.  This was devastating to Carrie because she felt that her column represented her thoughts, some of the deepest and best parts of herself.  Her friends felt that they knew her through their time with her and so therefore didn’t need to read the column.  But she is truly hurt by what she perceives to be their lack of support, and wonders about her effective power as a columnist, as a writer.  It isn’t that they don’t love her.  They do.  But to her, how is it love if they don’t even know who she is?  It forces her to call into question her very call, her very vocation. 
            In “real life” I have seen this happen as well.  From a personal place, I know that not all, perhaps not even many, of my personal friends read my blog.  My best friend certainly doesn’t.  (Therefore I have no fear of posting this sermon on my blog, knowing it will never be read by him!).  But we find it mirrored in other ways as well.  The chance of divorce increases greatly when one of the partners goes back to school to get a higher degree or when one is successful in some dramatic way while the other isn’t.  We know the divorce rate among the rich and famous is huge.  And often that, too, comes down to a jealousy.  Somehow another person’s success or gifts makes us feel less than successful or gifted, and that is hard to bear.  We also see those we know best as the flawed, human people they are.  It is hard therefore to honor or lift up those whose flaws are so evident to us.  We remember Sammy when he was a kid, picking on his little sister.  How can we possibly envision him as a successful leader now?  We remember Suzie failing her math tests regularly.  How can we honor her as a wise person now?  It is for this reason that pastors are usually discouraged from serving as a pastor the church they grew up in!  Imagine my great surprise to find so many of my old Sunday School teachers sitting in this very room!  But the fact that you have accepted me as your pastor shows you to have a maturity, a self- confidence and a wisdom far beyond what so many of our congregations could have!
       Jesus told us that he would be limited in his gifts by those of his hometown, that he would be rejected by those in his home town.  Even so, he followed God’s call and did what he was being asked to do.  Again, we are called to do likewise.  We are compelled by faith to strive to live out and respond to God’s call in our lives, no matter the pain and no matter the results.  AND as much as that hurts, as much as it pains us, we are called to see the gifts and calling of others.
As we’ve also been discussing, in the Presbyterian Church we baptize infants.  And while this is controversial in many denominations and there are many Christians who choose to wait until a child is old enough to choose baptism for him or herself, there is a deep theology behind the Presbyterian decision to baptize infants.  We stand on passages such as the one I read from Jeremiah which remind us that it is God who has formed us in the womb, God who has chosen us before we were even aware of our own existence, God who has called us into a life of relationship with God, a life of service to God by serving God’s people.  We stand on passages like Psalm 71 that remind us that it is God who is the mid-wife who brought us through our birth and into life.   Psalm 71 reads “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.”  The gift of life itself is God’s calling to us.  And when we baptize infants, every time we baptize anyone who is unable to choose or understand the baptism itself, we acknowledge, we remember, we affirm that it is God who has chosen us.  It is God who has called us.  It is God who has formed us for true life with God before we are able to even understand that calling, before we are able to feel or appreciate the love that has brought us into being, before we are able to see or know. 
This is the same reason we also do not ever withhold communion from even small children.  It is a myth to believe that anyone fully understands the grace that is offered and given through communion.  A child may understand it less.  But compared to its mystery, none of us has a full understanding.  And still that grace is offered to each of us.  EACH of us.  So ALL are truly welcomed at the table.  That grace was given to all.  There was no test when Jesus fed the 5000, there was no test or even declaration of faith necessary when Jesus ate with anyone.  That is communion.  And that is the grace of sharing a meal with God, with Christ.
God chooses us.  What an amazing and wonderful gift that is!!  How awesome is it to know that God has chosen for us purpose, meaning, vocation, life, even before we are aware of our own existence!
Jeremiah tells us that he was called even as a young boy.  A boy who, out of fear because of his young age, did not want to answer God’s call.  But a boy who also saw that God’s call to him existed even before Jeremiah was aware enough to respond.
            I look at the children, our young people, I see them and I am touched by them to my core.  Through their witness of presence, of prayer, of song, of being here in this place they show us what it is to be loved and chosen by God.   We see in these young faces that the youngest among them, just beginning a journey of faith, is none the less a person loved and chosen by God.  Others of our young people have grown up in the Church, have spent time in prayer, in learning, in conversation with God.  And we see in them a matured response to God’s love and call.  None the less, it is not they who began their journey.  Again, we see in their growing relationships that their reaching back to God is a response, an answer, a reaching back in love to the God who has first called and loved them.
            The other thing that we must remember is that all we are called to do is what is in front of us to do.  We are not responsible for the end results.  We are responsible for the action of trying, of loving, of living into our call.  It’s like when someone plants an olive tree seed.  It takes 100 years for an olive tree to produce fruit, and yet people do this…they plant the seeds for future generations, knowing that they personally will never see the results.
            I want to end with a part of a poem entitled “Prophets of a Future that is not our own” written by Ken Untener:
            It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
            The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
            We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
            Nothing we do is complete: which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us….
            This is what we are about;
            We plant seeds that one day will grow.
            We water the seeds already planted,
                        knowing that they hold future promise.
            We lay foundations that will need further development.
            We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
            We cannot do everything
                        and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
            This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
            It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
                        a step along the way, an opportunity for
                        God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
            We may never see the end results,
                        but that is the difference between the master builder
                        and the worker.
            We are the workers, not master builders,
                        Minsters, not messiahs.
            We are prophets of a futre that is not our own.

            Listen for your call.  Look for the call of others.  And see God’s hand moving among you – it is awesome.