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Fourth Sunday After Epiphany - January 30, 2022

May God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah this morning, which tells the story of God’s call to Jeremiah to be His prophet to Judah, follows a familiar pattern in Scripture, whether it is the call of Moses, Gideon, Ezekiel, or Isaiah (spoiler alert, that is next week’s Old Testament lesson) – the pattern is this: Step 1 – God interrupts someone’s life – which is often well-planned out far in advance - and he issues his marching orders; Step 2 – the recipient REsists, and sometimes for very good reason, but nonetheless resists; Step 3 – then God INsists – rejecting any argument – as God reassures and God empowers, as only God can. I think any one of us clergy at St. Andrew’s can identify with this pattern as we discerned our own call to ordained ministry. I know that “I” certainly did – many, many times, and for many years. And because God’s calling is not reserved for ordained ministry, I challenge each of you to identify this pattern in God’s calling to you in your life.

To unpack this reading a bit further, Jeremiah first hears God saying to him, "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." So here we are at Step 1 – God is interrupting Jeremiah’s young life and telling him he is appointing him a prophet. What I love about this verse is that it speaks to the very intimacy of God’s relationship with all his beloved children, and I’m reminded of the declaration at our Baptism as the priest, with holy oil, makes the sign of the cross on our foreheads and says, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever!” (I have in the back of my head how forcefully Mother Jo says “FOREVER!”) And when I hear “forever,” I believe that began LONG before we were formed in the womb and LONG after we leave this earthly life – forever.

Jeremiah responds, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." Step 2 – Jeremiah REsists. He resists because not only does he probably feel ill-equipped for the job and does not consider himself an inspirational speaker, but he also recognizes that his culture values the wisdom of those who are older, and most scholars place Jeremiah’s age in his late teens or perhaps early 20’s, so Jeremiah is a very young man.

Step 3. God responds by saying, "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 INsists, rejecting Jeremiah’s argument as God reassures Jeremiah, while equipping him and empowering him by touching Jeremiah’s mouth (as I touch my mouth), saying, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” That’s why I intentionally began this homily by praying, “May God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard.” My prayer every time I am in this ambo, that I do not speak my word, but God’s words that he has placed in *my* mouth.

Now all this might sound like a sentimental story, but young Jeremiah knows all too well the gravity of what God is expecting of him. He understands that God’s word the true prophets speak are judgmental and dangerous. It will be Jeremiah’s job to point out where Israel is failing God’s plan for them and how they must turn their lives back into alignment with God’s will, and God’s call is also to the nations beyond – nations of kings and giants and other scary people who would much rather kill him than listen to anything he has to say, especially about GOD. But as Jeremiah’s story plays out in the rest of this scripture, he learns that his task is not to preach creatively but to proclaim faithfully. He suffers mightily for it. Many times, his audience plots to kill him, even throwing him into a cistern where he sinks up to his armpits in mud and left to die. In a scene reminiscent of Job, Jeremiah cries out to God, “you have deceived me, you have DECEIVED ME!” And just like with Job, God listens to him, and could take it from Jeremiah, and he handles it, and remained with Jeremiah until the end.

Many of the prophets I listed earlier were called into God’s service in very dramatic ways. And I can think of many in contemporary times who had a dramatic call from God – Bishop Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, or Sister Teresa come to mind. That should not take away from the fact that God calls ALL of us. Franciscan Monk and writer Richard Rohr often talks about the notion that God is constantly pursuing US, and I believe, pursuing us to proclaim his word – not only with our lips, but in our lives – as stated so eloquently in our Book of Common Prayer.

Christian calling is not reserved for those asked to do mighty things. It is the invitation to every Christian to witness to the Gospel by investing with radical grace whatever worldly roles God opens up to us. John Calvin assured, “No task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned in God’s sight.” As Martin Luther famously said about parenthood , when understood as Christian vocation, even changing dirty diapers is done for the glory of God!” I’m sure all of you parents out there can relate!

As I look back over my own life, I realize I answered many calls from God, some of them unknowingly at the time, but the three steps of the call were there. My life was interrupted, I resisted God’s call, and then He insisted and equipped and empowered me for his call. And I’m not just talking about the call I received to ordained ministry – I’m talking about the call to a 27-year old young woman to become a caregiver to my mom after a debilitating stroke, the call to my 41-year-old self to become a wife to the man of my dreams and to care for him following his cancer diagnosis just a couple of years after we were married, and most recently, at the age of 60, the call to leave a soul-sucking career after a series of failures and firings (see, I told you God is persistent!) to go back to school so I can become a counselor and help those who have lost loved ones or want to take their life in a different direction. Those are just a few of my examples, and the greater question is where have YOU answered God’s call in your life, and I think more importantly, what is God calling you to do today??... today… in THIS moment.

Perhaps you’ve had the gnawing feeling like I did, that you’re being called to discern holy orders and ordination in the church. If you are, talk to any clergy member and let’s explore that gnawing feeling together. Maybe you see an unmet need in our church community and feel the nudge – that little nudge – to start a new ministry to address that need. Again, get with any of us, we’d love to learn more. So you think you’re being called to a whole other vocation in life? Seek out members of this community whose knowledge and experience might help you or talk to us and let us help connect you. Do you feel like maybe you’re past your prime in contributing to this community? As long as any of us is alive and breathing, you can make a difference in God’s world, so let us help you find that place. Maybe your call is far beyond our church and city community? Please share and allow us to companion you on the journey to answer that call.

Of the examples I just gave from my own life, I can look out into this congregation and point to people here who helped me on my journey as I discerned each one of those calls, and I am so grateful to you and I thank you! We are blessed in this church community with people, contacts, resources, experiences, and connections. I’d like to think that the St. Andrew’s community is the perfect incubator for each of us as we discern God’s call. My prayer is that you listen to what God is calling you to do – because now, *more than ever before*, this broken, hurting world needs you and your manifestation of God’s love in this world. ANSWER GOD’S CALL! Amen.

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