4 Epiphany C St. Patrick’s/ Smyrna Fr. Ray Kasch February 3, 2007
Lessons – Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-17; I Cor 14:12-20; St. Luke 4:21-32
Many times over the years I have had the privilege of being with a couple just after the birth of their first child and blessing that child in their hospital room. The parents are filled with wonder and excitement, a little fear but mostly love. What is unique about of this kind of love of a parent for their child is that it doesn’t begin at birth. Moms in particular experience a bonding with the baby, while still pregnant, which means that they don’t need a warm up time once the baby is born to decide if they are going to be happy with the child. The baby’s birth is hope fulfilled, not love begun. They loved the little rascal even before they laid eyes upon it.
In the Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah we see something similar. Here too is love BEFORE first sight. God expresses a parental love for Jeremiah. It informs him who he is and what he was created to do. Some might argue that this relationship with God, this kind of calling, is unique for men like the prophets. But as I read the Scriptures I see many different kinds of calling narratives. The way in which they were called may have been unique but the idea that they were called is not. I think of Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Samuel, David, Isaiah, each of the Apostles, Timothy, the list goes on and on.
So I want to suggest that receiving a calling, being offered an intimate relationship with God so that you know His direction for your life is not unique to the famous people of the Bible. Peter says in his sermon in Acts, “This promise is to you and to your children and all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” While I will admit that in this case the calling refers to salvation, I maintain that the calling does not stop at salvation. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks to the Church of its calling. Here is how Peterson puts it in The Message. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and get our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” So all of us who are in Christ are called of God and if we look carefully enough, we can see how God the Holy Spirit has worked and is working in our lives to help us to fulfill our calling. To get a clearer picture of this lets look at the various aspects of Jeremiah’s call and then look for a similar patterns in our own lives.
First let’s look at the call itself. What stands out to me is that the call is not some afterthought nor was it a matter of God showing up at a street corner full of guys and asking if anyone wants to work. He says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” The connotation here is more than simply an intellectual knowledge because He adds, “before you were born I consecrated you.” This brings to mind the imagery of the Potter forming the clay for a particular purpose. It also brings to mind St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
God’s justification for calling Jeremiah is twofold. First He calls him because HE formed him. He has that right as a Potter. There is a story of a little girl who asks her mother where she came from. Her mother had been dreading this moment for years but she gathers together her nerve and launches into the tasteful explanation of the birds and the bees. As the mom finishes the explanation, she notices that the girl looks a little confused. So the mom asks, “Wasn’t that clear?” The little girl, “I just wanted to know if we came here from Detroit.”
Modern people make the mistake of thinking that because we understand the biology of where we came from that is all we need to know. But nothing could be further from the truth. We may understand the mechanics of life but that is not the same as knowing the meaning of life. We will not get the whole picture until we see God before, in, under, through and after the whole process of life. In fact I believe that an important question is being overlooked in the abortion debate going on in our country. The question is not when I believe that a fetus is a human being, at conception or at viability. The question is when God believes a fetus is a human being and I suggest that this passage in Jeremiah answers that question.
This is not a theoretical matter because as we move away from seeing God as the source of all of life that life becomes cheap and even meaningless. It is when we no longer see one another as image bearers of God that people become commodities and the unborn or the elderly become inconveniences. If you don’t believe God made you; if you believe that that you are merely a product of a set of biological sequences, then the idea of a call seems like something from a novel. But if you do believe that God is your Creator then you realize that you have been, in the words of the Psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are His people and the sheep of his pasture.
The Jewish Publication Society Translation of vs. 5 reads, “Before I created you in the womb I selected you.” Think about that concept for a moment. God selected Jeremiah long before he was even born because God had placed his love upon him and made him his chosen vessel from eternity. As almost unbelievable as that is, the same can be said about each of us who belong to Christ! We may not be called as prophets to the nations, but like Jeremiah none of us are afterthoughts or mistakes. We probably can each think of reasons why God should not have chosen us, but the fact is that He has. How do we know that? Because if we have any love for him at all, it is because He first placed His love upon us. As St. John puts it, “We love because he first loved us” and that did not just happen in the last few days or weeks or years. He has loved us from eternity and that love selects us to serve Him in the world.
God not only called Jeremiah, God consecrated him. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” To consecrate something means to make it holy, to set it apart for God’s use alone. This is done in the Old Testament when priests and sacred items were set aside for service in the temple by consecration. The Church continues to do this today when Bishop’s ordain people to do certain ministries or when the Bishop blesses items to used only for the worship of God.
The prophet was going to need all of the authority and support that a consecration would provide for because he was not going to have the relatively easier job of the priest who offered prayers and sacrifices in the safety of the temple. The prophet was called OUT of the culture but then returned to it, often to stand against it where it was wrong. It was a tough job and often resulted in the prophet’s death.
Jesus Himself fulfilled this role. You can see Him in this in the gospel lesson today as He declares that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. As long as He was healing folk and feeding them, He was a hero. But when He confronted them with the truth, they led Him out of the town and tried to throw him off of a cliff.
As the Body of Christ, we need to see that we too have been consecrated of set apart to have a prophetic role in our culture. We are to follow the examples of Jeremiah and Jesus and as the people of God call the culture back to God. We are called to confront the culture where it has deluded itself with lies that have been repeated so often that they think it is the truth. It is not an easy task. When you speak on God’s behalf and confront people with the truth, you are going to be called holier than thou, judgmental, and mean spirited. Whatever it is that you oppose you will be called you will be called phobic and they will dismiss you. It may even cost you to stand up for the truth. But you can take comfort that this places you in good company because this is how they reacted to Jesus. What we must NOT do is shy away from this part of our calling because we want to avoid criticism or because we are unwilling to pay the price. Always remember that the retirement benefits for being faithful are out of this world.
The third aspect of Jeremiah’s calling is that he was commissioned with a specific task. “…before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” One of the proudest moments for our family was when my father became a commissioned officer in the United States Navy. He had joined the Navy as a seaman recruit during World War II and over the years became a Chief and then a Warren Officer but eventually he went to Officer’s Training School and was commissioned as a Lt. J.G. As an officer he specialized in Transportation. He knew his job and he did it well.
As Christians we are not just set aside to God be we too are given specific roles to play. We have been reading about that in our New Testament lessons. I will be the first to admit that it can be an onerous thing to consider yourself called and commissioned. It is one thing to know that you are called but it is another thing to walk in that calling. There are days that you may feel that you are way out on a limb. There are other days that you may feel that you are way out on a limb with a chain saw. But as overwhelming as it can be to step into your calling you must know that as I said before, you are in good company.
Jesus gave the first apostles an impossible task. Here is this rag tag band of brothers, in a little conquered country in the middle of nowhere and He tells them that they are to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all the nations. From the human point of view that must have felt to them like an impossibility. But Jesus promised that He would be with them to the ends of the earth and to fulfill that promise He sent them the Holy Spirit. And He was and they did.
When my father was commissioned he didn’t just walk around the house and show off his new bars. Actually he did some of that but he did so much more. With those new bars he was given an assignment and expected to accomplish his mission. He used his commissioning to gather people and resources and they worked with one another to fulfill their mission.
In the same way we are not given the gifts of the Spirit to walk around the Church and show them off. That was the corrective that St. Paul was giving to the Corinthians. We are given those gifts not for personal aggrandizement but build one another up and to serve in Christ’s Name. The more clear we are about what gifts the Spirit has given to us, and what service we are called to perform, then the more likely we are to rally the people and resources and be unified to accomplish our mission for Christ.
So God’s call to Jeremiah is not unique. Just as he was called consecrated and commissioned so has everyone else who calls upon the name of the Lord. And just as God called Jeremiah from eternity it absolutely amazing to consider that each of us has been on God’s heart forever. Our task now is to hear His call and obey what He tells us to do. I came across a prayer of a leader in the Orthodox Church that he prays daily and I want to pray it for us. It is the simple expression of one who knows that they have been called, consecrated and commissioned by God. Let us pray
Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on Your Holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me.