It can be easy to look at Jeremiah and seen nothing of ourselves in this passage.
I mean, Jeremiah is one of the great prophets of the Bible, so of course God comes to him and tells him of his call directly. Now, if you would continue reading this book, you would quickly realize that Jeremiah has a lot of qualities we can relate to. After all, he does complain a lot. Jeremiah complains to God, to the people he is preaching to, and basically to anyone who will listen to him. Jeremiah has complaining down to an art form, and I think we can like that in Jeremiah, because some days all of us want to complain.
Yet, when we come back to this dramatic calling of Jeremiah, we have trouble relating. How does the story of this great prophet thousands of years apply to our lives today? God tells Jeremiah, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant,” which is a lot for him to handle, but not something that we really run across in our lives.
And yet, God really does call us all. We aren’t called to the same things, and very few of us are called to overthrow nations, thank goodness, but we are all called. We hear from God’s word in Acts 2:21 where God says, “All of my people are prophets.” Young and old, male and female, strong and weak, rich and poor, all of us are God’s prophets. We are called to different works, different goals, but we all do have a calling.
Now, God called me to the ministry. I’ve been called to teach, and preach and to be present for others when they need me. And as a pastor, it is commonly accepted that it is a called position; that God must have had something to do with the decision. But the reality is that ministry is far from the only call from God. Some of you are called to teach Sunday School or volunteer to help with fellowship hour. Some of you are called to help lead worship through music.
Some of you have been called to fix and paint and care for this beautiful building we are lucky to have. Some of you are called to work in missions outside the church, at Halifax Urban Ministry’s lunch program, or Grace Episcopal’s food pantry. Others of your are called to share your faith with those around you, inviting them to join you at church. And others are called to support our church financially so it can offer the classes and ministries that make up our mission. Still more of you have been called to raise children in the faith. All of these are callings by God and they are just as worthy as any other calling. That doesn’t mean that we hear or accept God’s call right away, of course.
After all, Jeremiah didn’t. Instead he immediately responds to God’s call with an excuse. “Oh, no God. You can’t possibly mean me. I’m much too young.” And we all have our own versions of that excuse when we hear God’s call. “Oh, I never went to seminary.” “I don’t have much to give.” “I wouldn’t know how to work with kids.” “Oh, I am far too busy to ever be able to help out.” We know lots of reasons why we shouldn’t agree to whatever God is asking us to do this time, and it is sometimes easier to ignore the call, or to make the excuses. But God keeps calling. God never lets up on this invitation.
There is not one person in here who has not been called by God, and all of us have been called by God to specific tasks.
Alright, but how do we know where we are called? I mean, there are lots of things in the world that need doing and so few of us have something as concrete as the voice of the Lord coming to us and telling us what to do. How do we know where we are called?
I think Frederick Buechner says it best when he says “By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”
If you hate every second of public speaking, you probably aren’t called to be a preacher. If you loathe cooking, than helping out in the kitchen is not for you. If you think flying across the world to go help people in undeveloped countries sounds like torture, then I’m guessing God isn’t calling you to be a missionary.
And on the other side, just because you love curling up on the couch and reading all day long, doesn’t mean that is your calling. It might be nice and certainly should be pursued during free time, but it doesn’t meet a need in the world. It isn’t helping anyone but yourself.
We know when we are following God’s calling, because it fits us and it fills a need in the world. After all, we are all known by God. God knew us before our birth. God shaped each one of us and created us into beloved children. God can call us, because God knows us. God knows who we are. Where we are called is to the right place for us, because God knows how we think. God knows our longings and our strengths and our gifts and calls us to the right place for us.
Now, this doesn’t mean your calling will always be comfortable for you. Because, more than knowing who we are, God knows all we could be. Part of God’s call to us is for us to seek out the fullness of our being. To not just settle on who we are right now, but to grow into all that God knows we could be. God does not call us to be “merely” who God knows us to be, but instead, built into our call, there is a sense of “be what I know you could be if you really put your mind to it.” Growth isn’t always comfortable, but it is important.
There is a woman named Mary Temple Grandin was born in the United States in 1947. When she was two she was diagnosed with autism, and declared to be ‘brain damaged’. She didn’t start speaking until she was four. When she got to high school she was teased constantly by the other children because of her habit of repeating what she had heard. But in spite of this she went on to a school for gifted children – and gained a whole line of university degrees.
She became famous for her insights into how to look after animals, introducing lots of new ideas. She realised that curved enclosures were much less stressful for animals, and that they could be calmed down by being held very tight – because she knew that that worked for her. She became a great advocate for animal rights, and for the rights of people with autism.
Now, the people around her might not have expected much from Temple. But she truly lived out the fullness of who she could be. Because she followed God’s call for her, Temple made a difference in the lives of many.
When we follow the fullness of God’s calling for us, not only can we help the lives of those around us, but we can also enrich our own lives in the process.
Still, I do know what it is to feel Jeremiah’s hesitation when he voiced his reluctance, “Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Sometimes God calls us to places and tasks that seems daunting. Yet, God will be there, offering us what we need to follow our calls. “I have put my words in your mouth,” God said to Jeremiah. Do not be afraid, for I will be with you.
God formed us and created us and then calls us to go and serve. And part of the calling includes what we need to follow. Yes, it may stretch us and grow us and be uncomfortable on the way, but God calls us to a life that is richer and fuller and greater than we could ever have on our own.
God calls us as we are. We are only us, and God calls us anyway.
God calls. How will you answer?