“Following Your Calling”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, February 3, 2013
What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s a question my friends and I would explore together while sitting out on the curb after playing all of the “two-below” football we stand for one afternoon. The answers ranged from everywhere from “Catcher for the Texas Rangers,” to “Veterinarian.” One of my friends had his sights set high, aspiring to become a trash collector one day. I’m not sure, but I think he hit his goal early in life. It is a great question to ask each other, though, isn’t it? Did you ever ask that question or have it asked of you? It is an important question, even if one you are still asking it well beyond the years of your childhood. An even bigger and better question, though, is, “What does God want you to be when you grow up?”
A man named Jeremiah must have been sitting on whatever version of a curb for his time, wondering what he was to become, when he heard an answer coming from God. The implication there in our text today is that Jeremiah knew God well enough to know his voice, for he noted that, Now the word of the Lord came to me saying . . . He was aware of God’s voice, able to distinguish it from all others, even his own. He doesn’t mention here in Chapter 1 how it came to him, just that it came. It was an active voice, speaking to him with unforgettable clarity and warmth. A look through Jeremiah will show that God has a lot to say to Jeremiah, but where it all began for him was with a calling, much like Isaiah’s account of his “Who will go for me/whom shall I send?” calling in the throneroom of God. What God told Jeremiah is the much the same, but different. There are no shaking temple walls, no smoke, and no hint of flying seraphs with charcoal. Jeremiah’s calling from God came with these words of deep affection, 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. What incredible epiphany for Jeremiah! What a calling for his life.
As always with God, calling comes with directions, at least enough to take a few steps. That’s the way it was with Jeremiah. He was to be a prophet to the nations, to the places God would send him, speaking whatever God commanded him to say. God told him upfront that he had appointed him over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. Jeremiah was obviously overwhelmed not only by the affectionate tone of God’s words, but also by the responsibility of the calling.
Our gospel text for today, Luke 4:21-30, provides us with the second half of the story we heard last week about Jesus expressing his calling to his hometown synagogue. What we have heard today is that, while the people there were astounded at his teaching abilities, they were unnerved by it too, to the point that they formed a posse of sorts and tried to throw him off a cliff to get rid of him. His keen sense of awareness of God’s calling was so apparent to him that it put him in direct conflict with the calling other people would attribute to him. He knew what he was to do.
I like to read quotes about calling, as a way to challenge myself and keep on track. One I read recently is from Al Mandino, You cannot chose your calling, your calling chooses you. Another is by Emile Zola, If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud. [i] Or, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, reminding us that, When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
What would you say about calling? What quote could I get from you today? And what is there beyond the recognition of what God has specifically called you to be and do? I believe you have such a calling. You are just as important to God’s plan for this world as was Jeremiah. God knew of his plans for you while you were still in the womb of your mother, consecrating you there for a purpose. As David says in Psalm 139 at a similar point of recognition, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me . . . Have you had an occasion of such epiphany in your life? People who are living out their calling from God share in common the recounting of a particular moment in their lives when they discovered why they are here; when they hear the call of God. Have you had such an experience? Are you listening to the words God is sending your way these days?
After hearing God’s calling, Jeremiah quickly did his best impersonation of Moses, stuttering a bit, reverting to his best child-like whine, Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy. It’s almost like he had one of those iPhone apps that provides you with an excuse for any situation, perhaps, “I Won’t Be In . . . Work Excuses for Prophets of God,” ranking right up there on the charts with Angry Birds Jerusalem or Pocket God. He struggled not as much with God as with himself. His view of himself was not the same view God had of him. He would struggle with his view of himself throughout his career, providing excuses to God as to why He had picked the wrong person. These were excuses, however, and he found that God doesn’t take excuses.
Instead of writing off Jeremiah, or sending his best whale to suck him up like with Jonah, he gave him encouragement and assurance, Do not say, “I am only a boy” . . . and, Do not be afraid of them (the people to whom he would speak), for I am with you to deliver you. Jeremiah went on to state how God had touched his mouth with his hand and filled it with his words to speak. God just wouldn’t take no for an answer. No excuses. Just encouragement.
Sometimes we respond to God’s calling on our lives like Jeremiah. We can so easily go into whine mode, stuttering our excuses to God about why we are not the best ones for the job. We have times of great recognition of God speaking to us, but when the attention turns on us, we disbelieve God’s words for us. Has this been true for you in the past? Is it descriptive of you today? If so, you are normal. And, if so, you are in a great position to experience the encouragement and affirmation of God. You are significant, so much so that God knew what He would be doing with you before you took your first breath in this world. Knowing this means that you can no longer say, with Jeremiah, I am only a boy, or “I am just this or that.” You are not just a boy, just a girl, just small, just big, just poor, just sinful, just old, just young, just forgotten, just wrong, just one, or just here. There is an African proverb that serves to remind us of how significant we actually are in this world, If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.[ii]
You can also know that God follows His calling for you. He has never called someone whom He has not accompanied, even led, on the assignment. He is not an absentee god who creates and then leaves home. He has revealed Himself as one who delights in including us all in his amazing plan for our world. Like with Jeremiah and Jesus, God gives us words to speak to people around us. He gives us things to do, places to be, dreams to fulfill. Sure, God knows you are as imperfect as Jeremiah. He hears your grumbling. He knows your quirkiness, your fears, and even your secrets. Yet, God intends you and I to hear His words in the same way Jeremiah heard them, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you. No worries. No excuses.
So, the question we must ask ourselves as we sit here today is, “What does God want me to be when I grow up?” What’s your answer?