Sermon, Epiphany 4C
Sunday January 31st, 2016
“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.”
Living this Christian life can sure seem like climbing big mountains – like that Little Red Engine in the children’s story by Reverend Charles S. Wing (1906). ! Life can feel like we have to keep geeing ourselves up with pure determination and grit; “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can…….”. Somehow we are all supposed to be positive all the time and will ourselves up that mountain.
We all have mountains to climb.
• I want to be the most loving and effective parent I can be to give me kids the best possible start in life that I can. I will not ever hurt them. I will always listen. I will not make mistakes. I will protect them from all harm and danger so that they never experience any pain or sorrow……. impossible expectations!
• I want to maintain a healthy body –I want to be fit, never get sick, avoid all disease, be able to leap building in a single bound and be cool enough to wear my red underpants on the outside of my blue tights!
• I want be a faithful person of God. I want to love and serve. I never want to hurt anyone. I never want to disagree with anyone. I want to be clean living and morally perfect so that God can’t lay a finger on me. I want to know my bible so I can win any arguments about creation or God. I want to relate well to everyone all the time without any problems or personal challenge. I want to be able to make the right decisions all the time about my job and family……
What’s your mountain at the moment – You might qualify for the “Little Red Engine” award!
But, was Reverend S. Wing right? Is living life really a matter of being like that little red engine that could? Are we really meant to get it all done by more effort mined from within ourselves from somewhere? I hope not.
I am sure that this is not the way of Jesus. I am sure that we do not have to always be positive and convince ourselves that we really can do the impossible tasks he has set before us from our own resources. This is not how he has ever worked for the person of God. Just look at Jeremiah.
God calls a young man (maybe 16-18yrs old. Young Jerry can’t handle it. Jerry says, he cannot speak well enough to speak God’s words. He says he is too young, lacking in experience and lacking respect from elders.
All of these things are true I am sure, and yet with the Lord, they are also not the clincher when it comes to him calling Jeremiah for his good work among others.
Note to self: You probably are inadequate for the mountains in your life.
Message to self: It’s okay to be inadequate for a mountain. That’s pretty much how God intends it to be. Why? Because God is not inadequate.
In Jeremiah we hear how this usually works.
1. God calls a person
2. The person objects and focuses on his/her inadequacies and the enormous impossibility of the calling.
3. God responds to the person’s fear, doubt, unbelief and self-focus by giving a gift for the calling – a reassurance that the task actually is humanly impossible with the truth that the person is inadequate for the calling and also the promise that this is how it is meant to be because God’s is a very good mountain climber!
4. God follows up by giving the person a sign of his promise and presence in their life and reaffirms the person in his/her call.
Here’s how it worked for Jerry.
God calls him to be a prophet to all nations – and particularly to the under pressure, faithless people of Israel.
• In his lifetime, Israel will seemingly come to an end when in 587BC, the capital city is razed to the ground and its leading people taken off to exile in Babylon by King Nebbedkednezzer.
• Quite a task to call a nation back to God in repentance and faith in God. Just ask Jesus as he goes to his home town and they try to kill him!
• They tried to kill Jerry too. In fact, every prophet was quite reluctant when God showed up with that Calling! None of them wanted the job. Remember Moses at the burning bush? Remember Isaiah? “Woe to me a man of unclean lips” – a profound sense of personal sin and inadequacy for the calling.
God does not give up. He is actually the little red engine that can – because he can!
“Well Jerry, you say you cannot speak well and you don’t know enough; you have not got enough experience for the job? I know. I will speak my word through you. It will be me working in you in this calling. You’re not the little engine that thinks he can. I am the One who knows I can and so, we with your many brothers and sisters can”.
God goes further. In Jerry’s doubt and fear and ducking for cover, God gives Jerry a gift. He puts out his hand and touches Jerry’s mouth. This is the sign that God’s words are in Jerry’s mouth for this impossible calling.
God completes the picture and the call: He reaffirms his call on Jerry’s life; but now with this special gift to take into it. “See, Jerry, 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.”
How is it working for you?
You have been called and commissioned by God.
• If you’re not sure about that, reflect on your baptism. That’s the commissioning ceremony where God touched your lips and put his Spirit Word in you. You are called into God’s family and ordained for a life of service to him and his people and his world.
• Recall those moments you have had when God gave you a specific nudge to do that thing in that place with those people.
• Reflect on the day you got married or the day your child was born, or the day you got that job or the moment when it was handed to you to steward for the next generation…..
Whichever way you look at it, you are called and commissioned by God to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1)
God is responding to you today.
• Don’t know enough? “No. You don’t. But I do”, says the Lord.
• Want people to like you? Yes. Everyone does want this. This is impossible. Not everyone will like you and being faithful to Jesus will cost you at times but the reward of His approval forever outweighs that.
• “I like you”, he says. “I love you. I love you a lot. I formed you in the womb and have known you since birth”. (Psalm 139)
And what of a sign for you of God’s continued calling?
• Signs can be many and varied. A visible spiritual experience, like Jerry received. A palpable dream that was more than imagination. A word of scripture that is enlarged to fill your being for a moment and you just know. A quiet word from stranger or fellow traveller in faith that creates a ripple effect in your life.
• And let’s not forget those visible signs of God’s presence that he gives – that visible moment when the Holy Spirit came to free you and live in you – baptism – a sign that was real, that happened in your personal history and on your physical body when water and Spirit flowed. “Be opened that you may hear and speak the Word”. And then that sign of Jesus’ continued healing, encouragement, power and peace – the holy meal of his body and blood in bread and wine shared with his body, the church.
Friend, you are called by God to be his mouthpiece and presence where you are. That is the truth of who we are and what we are.
No need for excuses. No need to be a Little Red Engine. No need to try and get ourselves over the mountains before us. Only a need to seek the Spirit and receive his gifts, his love, his power for any mountain.
The psalm writer gets it. He utters are prayer of the heart for the called person of God living in the world today – a prayer for every lived day in the call of Jesus for every mountain.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.