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A God Who Calls

Jeremiah 1:4-10, 18-19

Delivered by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

This is the third in the series of sermons exploring the way the prophets have portrayed God.

In the first week we discovered in Hosea a window into the heart of God, and found there the fierce Mother-love of God who refuses to abandon or give up on her wayward children, no matter what.

Last week, Isaiah came along and smashed that window, portraying instead a God anguished beyond belief because God’s special people, whom she had blessed to be a blessing in the world

 – whom he had nurtured like a vinedresser caring for his vines, hoping for a fruitful harvest – produced nothing but sour grapes.

Isaiah’s image was hard to look at because he refused to portray the Anguished God
as a ‘there- there’ Soft-Touch, Fixit God.

This week it’s Jeremiah’s turn to open a window into the ways of God in the world.

Isn’t Jeremiah the so-called “Prophet of Doom”? Isn’t it Jeremiah’s long, vitriolic diatribes against the ills of the world which have given us the word “jeremiad”?

True, Jeremiah was not known for outbursts of jollity. I won’t deny that Jeremiah’s long book is a hard read, but given the circumstances of his career this isn’t so surprising;

after all Jeremiah was around to watch the dying of his nation, the destruction of its centre of religious life, and the forced exile of its people into Babylon.

But it is also a compelling read; a mirror into the turmoil of life and faith like no other.

There are moments later in the book where he outright accuses God of deceiving him,
of overpowering him like a schoolyard bully, of forcing fierce words into his mouth,
and of burning up his guts when he tried to keep these brutal words of judgment to himself rather than kick the people in the teeth.

There are other moments when it’s not easy to tell where God’s anguish and anger ends and Jeremiah’s despair and rage begins.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I want to focus on these opening words of the book. The moments, when Jeremiah was ‘only a boy’ when he first heard the call of God. You’ll note from the opening verse that Jeremiah was a preacher’s kid. Born into a professional priestly family, this kid was weaned on the stories of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, of Moses and Joshua,
of Eli and Samuel, and of David and Nathan.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that, growing up above the shop, Jeremiah would expect to follow Dad’s footsteps into the priest business. Except that prophet-ing and priest-ing in those days weren’t the same thing. Priests hung around the temple, kept the lamps lit, sacrifice the right animals at the right time, were custodians of the liturgical calendar.

Prophets on the other hand were “God-intoxicated voices of radical social criticism and advocates of God’s alternative vision.”[1] Definitely not the cultural icons of the religious and ruling classes.

When God came along in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign and called on young Jerry, God was calling him away from the relative safety of the family profession into a hornet’s nest. Now to be sure, this call from God starts off well enough, beautifully in fact. What could be more beautiful than God lovingly, gently recalling Jeremiah’s conception, not only in his mother’s womb but in the heart of God?

To know that we are loved into being, created for a purpose in God’s world,
is one of the greatest testimonies Scripture can give us of the loving purposes of God.

It can also be one of the most daunting. Scripture, is full of stories like this one, of God who calls people.

-Abraham called out of Haran to father a nation as numberless as the stars. -Moses, called to bring out the slaves from Egypt. -Gideon was called from his wheat fields to lead Israel in battle.

-Isaiah (if you recall) was scared out of his wits by six winged seraphs and God calling, with the help of burning coals. -Samuel, also only a young boy, called from his lamplighting to become prophet to Saul and David. -Or Jesus himself, born to a call of living God’s love in the flesh,- and his own disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, Paul, Silas, Timothy.

What’s striking about every blessed one of these call stories is, not just that God calls – striking enough when you think about it, but that everyone whom God calls seems somewhat –to very – reluctant to take on the dubious honour of being God’s called. Why is that do you think? We love to be loved by God. We enjoy praising a Generous God, We need God to protect, we need God to heal, even, especially when cure is impossible, we need God to forgive what we find impossible to forgive. But are we so happy when this loving, generous, protecting, healing, and forgiving God calls? It seems not, and for good reason.

Looking at all these call narratives, we can see that God calls not to some holy set-apart, spiritual spa, but calls us into life in all its messy, nasty, chaotic, sometimes frightening fullness. It’s precisely in those places that God’s love, generosity, healing and forgiving is most needed, so it’s precisely there that God calls us.

When God calls, it’s usually a summons to get off the sofa, off the fence, and choose. And almost always, choosing the ‘better way’ is not the same as choosing the ‘easy way.’ For Jeremiah, the call was both a gift of grace, and a burden almost too much to bear.[2] His call was to speak painful truths to a world unwilling to listen. Not just in this opening call narrative, but time and again throughout the book, the words “pluck up” “overthrow” “destroy” and “pull down” issue forth from Jeremiah’s sometimes reluctant lips.

God’s response to Jeremiah’s initial and recurrent reluctance is worth noting. God doesn’t take “No” or “maybe” for an answer. The reason God doesn’t take no is not because God is an almighty bully, nor is God petulantly judgmental, nor off the divine deep end. God doesn’t take no, because God has a greater “Yes” at stake.

We have to go back to the Genesis story to remember how God created this world; God took the matter of chaos and created with it a world of amazing beauty, of interconnectedness, of harmony and balance, a world capable of majesty and awe, and of intimacy and delight. God’s world was created “Good, very good.”And, Genesis tells us, our place in this world is as partners with God in tending, planting, cherishing, caring for its delicate balance, protecting its weakest, glorying in its strengths, and above all, loving it and all it contains.

When God calls, it is a call to live out our place in this world as God intended.

When God rails at the injustice, at the hypocrisy,at the poor stewardship that blights the earth and hurts its creatures, this is precisely the moment when God’s call is issued, to the Jeremiahs of the world. Young, or old, timid or bold, God’s call is a summons for world-building according to God’s dream.

This sort of call is not just ‘biblical.’ I think of a young woman choosing not the “easy” seat on the back of an Alabama bus, but choosing the right seat of racial equality. I think of an Al Gore, risking all to speak an ‘Inconvenient Truth.’ I think of nameless people choosing justice over comfort, even when it costs. I think of seemingly simple acts, like choosing to buy fair trade goods.

I think of Leo’s ‘blessing cups’ as a way to reorient ourselves to gratitude and abundance. I think of Youth Groups like the one at CPUC, choosing to spend time raising funds to build schools, water wells, and hope for children they’ll never meet.

World-building according to God’s dream is a profoundly prophetic act that is not reserved for the few, but as the writer of Acts tells us, is the call of God to old men and young women, to slaves, and children, to everyone.[3]

Oh yes, there’s one other, very important reason why God doesn’t take “No” for an answer; it’s because God when God calls, God also equips. “Don’t worry” he says to Jeremiah, “I’ll tell you where to go, what to do, what to say. I’ll be with you, no matter what.”

Just before his own death, Jesus echoes God’s promise to Jeremiah; Jesus said to his disciples, and to us,

“When they persecute you for following me, I will give you words and wisdom strong enough to endure.”[4]

Whatever barriers we believe are holding us back from answering our call to prophetic partnership in world-building according to God’s dream, remember this is a God who loves this world, who loves us, who heals, who forgives, who equips, as well as a God who calls.

Amen. 


[1] Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. 127.

[2] Henry Langknecht . Workingpreacher.org. Aug 22.

[3] Luke 2:17-18, citing Joel 2:28-32.

[4] Luke 21:15; Mk 13:9-13

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