08/21/2022 ~ Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 16 ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/742717072
“Then Yahweh put out a hand, / touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Look, I am putting My Words in your mouth.’” — Jeremiah 1:9
I think those of us who are ordained types perhaps too often talk about our calling in the ordained ministry. I have only one defense for that proclivity.
In the course of, the process of, both education and ordination a very specific demand is made on ordained types. We are invited to state what that call, our call, is, what it feels like, how we first might have recognized its presence and even if we are comfortable with it. Please note: I don’t know an ordained pastor who is fully comfortable with their call.
However, it seems to me that society, generally at least— and way too often this is also true of pastors— people want to sanctify a call to ministry, make it special, make a call to ministry some kind of holy. I beg to differ.
I think we can be called to many things in our life. I will, for instance, tell you I am called not just to the ordained ministry but I am clearly called to be baseball fan! That may not be particularly holy but it is a part of me, a part of who I am. To turn that thought around, I think a call, any real call on a life, and not just a call to ministry, is holy— any real call on a life, and not just a call to ministry, is holy.
Let me explore that for a bit. The late Rev. Michael Himes was both a Jesuit priest and Professor at Boston College. Himes laid out some thoughts concerning a call in a lecture.
But this lecture was not given to those seeking ordination. Himes gave this talk to incoming first year students at Boston College— all first year students— no exceptions. The title of the lecture is: “On Discernment: Three Key Questions.”
The first question is about one’s call in life, one’s vocation: ‘is this call a source of joy?’ The second question: ‘is this something that taps into your talents and gifts, engages all your abilities and uses them in the fullest way possible?’ The last question: ‘is this role a genuine service to the people around you and society at large?’
Then Himes restates those questions in a more vernacular way. Do you get a kick out of it? Are you any good at it? Does anyone want you to do it?’
Coming back to the question about a source of joy— Himes says there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness changes from moment to moment and is affected by external factors— everything from sleep to illness to chance.
Joy is deeper and more central. This Jesuit defines joy as feeling a sense of the rightness in the way in which one lives one’s life.
The second question: ‘are you good at it?’— is not something an individual can or should decide about themselves. Himes insists other people have to tell us, help us discern whether or not we are good at what we are trying to do.
Last, ‘does anybody need you to do it?’ Put another way, I may be good at herding sheep. But if I live in Boston, the community in Boston does not really need someone herding sheep on the Fenway, case closed. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as Jeremiah: “Then Yahweh put out a hand, / touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Look, I am putting My Words in your mouth.’” (Slight pause.)
This passage has been referred to as “The call of Jeremiah.” There are a lot of what we refer to as “call stories” in Scripture. But I think there is something we moderns tend to overlook in all the call stories.
When people listen for and then hear God, there is an implicit admission about the reality of God. After all, how can someone experience a call from God if God is not real?
In this passage there is also something seen in many call stories— a reluctance on the part of the one being called. (Quote:) “I do not know how to speak for I am too young.”
For me these two somewhat opposite ideas— acknowledging the reality of God and a reluctance to listen to God— intertwine in exactly the way Michael Himes suggests they might with the second question: ‘are you good at it?’ Others have to help us discern whether or not we are good at what we are trying to do.
To be clear, if we hear a call it is likely God is inviting us to do specific work. And yes, God is the one insisting the call is valid. But God always acts through the people around us. They tell us we are good at something, act as messengers from God.
There’s also this to consider (quote:) “Do not fear anyone, for I am with you to protect you…” God walks with us on the journey.
Last, God says (quote:) “Say whatever I command you.” You see, a call on our lives is not our call, our possession. We do not own it. No single person owns it.
A call from God means one works collectively among the people of God, listening to the people of God. And the invitation God offers to us is that we participate in the work of God with others. There are no lone rangers in God’s realm.
There is one more thing to note. Jeremiah is presented in the context of the events, the experiences of a specific time and place.
Thus, both the history of the community and the biography of the prophet are joined. Therefore and as Himes states, the call is addressed in a community and by a community who needs your talents.
And so a call is not about what you think the community needs. It’s about what the community really needs. And how is that discerned? By the whole community, not by one individual. So the whole community needs to be listening for what God says. (Slight pause.)
As you heard it said earlier, after a vote next week it is expected a Pulpit Committee will be in place— talk about a call. And we need to realize while this committee will do the heavy lifting in the task, the whole community needs to be listening. The whole community will need to support, to help, to assist, cooperate with and not hinder the Pulpit Committee. (Slight pause.)
That list of how to proceed with, how to work with the Pulpit Committee brings me back to Himes. This professor says many of us live our lives as if we were a star and have the leading role in a movie. Therefore, many people see themselves as being a star while everyone else around them only plays a supporting role— Joe Connolly— the Movie!
That does not work. We need to see others as people, real people, not as tools, not as actors in our movie. We should see others as if we were in their shoes.
Himes then says this: “There is only one vocation that embraces all our other vocations: we need to be human. We are, thereby, called to be as intelligent, as responsible, as free, as courageous, as imaginative and as loving as we can possibly be within the context of what we do.” (Slight pause.)
So, if our one and true calling is to be truly human, what does that entail? (Slight pause.) Let me speak for myself. First, I am flawed. (Check with Bonnie if you don’t believe me!) And yes, I think we need to realize and admit we are all flawed. Noone is perfect. After all, church would be superfluous for the perfect.
Second, to be truly human we need to rely not on ourselves but on the reality of God. Third, we need to rely on the grace of God. Fourth, we need to rely on the love of God.
This is obvious: that list is all about God. Further and as you can probably imagine, that lost might be endless, go on and on and on. It might go on and on and on. Therefore, we should not think of a call, our work, as a goal, as an end.
Why? A true call, a real call is a process. It is the process of relationship with God and with one another.
Now, there’s a highfalutin theological word, a theological term, which describes this process of relationship with God and with one another. The word is love. Love is a process.
Most often in church we hear the theological description of the process called love said this way: love God; love neighbor. Loving God and loving neighbor is our one, real, true and only call. And love is a process, a continuing process, not a goal.
And so, let us continue to be in and to maintain the process of loving God and loving neighbor. Let us never let barriers separate us, for we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “There are two quotes Professor Himes used in the course of that lecture. The first from St. Augustine— (Quote:) ‘Dissatisfaction— restlessness— is not a bad thing… indeed it’s the best thing about us.’ The next quote is from The 20th Century poet Marianne Moore. (Quote:) ‘Satisfaction is a lowly thing. How pure a thing is joy.’ Then the Rev. Himes chimes in: ‘Contentment is an obstacle. Joy always pushes us forward. It’s a impulsion, a pressure to move forward, to do more, to expend oneself more deeply, more richly, to open one’s talents even more widely than one had before.’”
BENEDICTION: May God bless us and keep us. May the face of God shine upon us and be gracious to us. May God look upon us with kindness and give us peace. May the God of joy fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may abound in hope. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.