The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
4 Epiphany, Year C
I would like to begin this morning by pointing out that God does not tell Jeremiah to go think up a sermon; instead, God puts his own words into Jeremiah's mouth.
Yep. Still waiting, boss....
Jeremiah is a wonderful story of vocation and calling. Like most calling stories, Jeremiah tries to point out that he is far too young and under qualified for the position of prophet. All his objections are brushed away: God gives clear marching orders, "Go to all whom I send you. Speak what I command you. Do not be afraid". And God lays his divine hand upon Jeremiah, and lights that unquenchable flame in his heart, and Jeremiah the reluctant prophet takes on his new role.
Now, it would be easy to point out that since I'm a priest, I had a very clear calling process. I mean, in the Episcopal church, we literally call it The Process, capital P. Bingham, Nancy, Nancy, Ann, Tom, Ted, Penny... all our clergy had to go through a very formal process to become ordained. We all have actual documentation of this, including stories of how we first felt our calls. I bet that more than one of us probably had this reading read at our ordination. But this would be a very boring reading if it only applied to ordained people, because then it would let everyone else off the hook. And I'm very sorry, but that just doesn't fly here in St. Mary's. I don't mean to brag about my congregants, but we have some of the strongest, most involved group of laity I have seen in my church career. Vocation is not just for clergy or for people in the bible. Vocation, and calling, is a universal piece of the life of all gods people. God calls you as well, to some amazing work. Just as Jeremiah was called as an untried youth, so does god call us today into places we might not have imagined. Vocations call us into the unknown. God promises, "Do not be afraid" to assure that we will find what we need to do the work we are given to do.
And Jeremiah makes an excellent point when he explains to God, quite politely, that he is actually entirely unqualified to be a prophet. "I am only a boy", he says. He is young, green, untried. Jeremiah's reaction is quite natural: how would any of us feel if a stranger were to walk into our lives today and explain that we had been destined for a given job since before we were born? Our culture and society simply doesn't think in those terms. We like to believe that we make our own destiny, that we can decide what we do in our lives and that we make our own decisions. We like to believe that we train and prepare for our vocations. The idea of vocation means that we choose to risk surrendering our control to the unknown, trusting that god will protect us. We are fortunate, then, that god doesn't call us based on our degrees or life experience. God does not call the most qualified person to the work ministry, but all of us, assuring us that we will be supported and prepared along the way.
Hopefully, this shared burden of calling lightens our load, because Jeremiah seems to describe vocation as something that is very frightening and scary! Indeed, God Godself confirms that calls can be terrifying. He talks about plucking up and pulling down, and overthrowing. But he ends with he assurance that the work of gods people is to plant and build up. We are called into the unknown so that we might take part in the work of building new things. We create new works, find new life in the crevices. Think of the work of vocation like a garden- I am no great gardener. In fact, this is the last plant someone tried to give me. It grew a flower, and then I kept giving it water and I came to work one day and the flower was slumped over and dead. I kept watering for four months, until some kindly soul trimmed away the dead flower, and left me with just the bulb. I kept the dead bulb on my windowsill for the last year, mocking me with its deadness. But here’s the cool thing… I just brought this in so we could all laugh at what a horrible gardener I am. But as I showed this to the last service, I noticed something odd… in the middle of all the straw of the dead bulb, there’s an actual little green thing in there. It lives! Perhaps cutting away the dead stuff and letting it lie is what was needed for it to grow again.
God promises to give us that our primary work does not end at the breaking down, but that our lives work is realized in the building up. The chief work of gods community is to build up and create new. We are a people whose chief work is to be co-creators of gods joy and hope.
Yesterday, Circle Service shared a poem that could have been a commentary on God and Jeremiah. It is called Ode 74' by Rumi.
If you never searched for truth
come with us
and you will become a seeker.
If you were never a musician
come with us
and you will find your voice.
You may possess immense wealth
come with us
and you will become love's beggar.
You may think yourself a master
come with us
and love will turn you into a slave.
If you've lost your spirit,
come with us
take off your silk clothing
put on our rough cloak
and we will bring you back to life.
When we walk the path of vocation to which God calls us, we very well may leave behind all that is known and comfortable. But we are called into life itself. We are called into the work of creation, and into hope for a future in which all people are named and known as God’s people. As we pursue our vocation, enshrouded in the love of God, we become vessels bearing the actual light of Christ, living in us. I wonder what looks like, in the hoping, open spaces of your life? I wonder what it look likes, as new growth takes place.