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A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10

February 3, 2013

Jeremiah heard the word of God when he was somewhere between a teenager and a young man. In our time we might say, “He’s old enough to drive. He’s old enough to vote. He’s old enough to die in battle … but he’s not old enough to drink.” Where do you draw those lines? Jeremiah pleaded, “I am only a boy.”

Growing up, my elders used the word boy with an elastic sense, meaning one could be prepubescent and be a boy. Or, one could even be a big strapping young man and still be called a boy, likely meaning he could do most everything a man could do but somehow lacked the maturity to be called a man. For a God who called a young tweenage girl named Mary to be the mother of Jesus, calling a young man probably seemed like a smart decision.

Is there a shelf-life for how young or old one must be to be called by God? Apparently not, for God calls us all. The only stipulation is that we pay attention and to have the willingness to do whatever God calls us to do.

When Bill Leonard, Baptist historian, picks up the Bible to read in worship often says, “Listen for the word of God.” What he means is the Word of God moves off the page and then moves into our lives. The Scriptures were written in direct response to events or circumstances that took place centuries ago. In that respect, it can be considered a historical record of how God spoke or moved among a certain group of people or individuals. But if we slow down enough to listen, to really listen, we might hear God speak to us too just as God spoke to those in earlier times.

Thus the message came to young man Jeremiah through the Scriptures. We’re not given the setting or how the Scriptures came to him, but the prophet quotes Psalm 139 here:

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,

before you were born, I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Listen to the simplicity of the nouns and verbs:

  • I formed you
  • I knew you
  • I set you apart
  • I appointed you

In those words, Jeremiah heard the Word of God. It was one of those cases where the words of Scripture became alive and in the mystery of how the Spirit of God continues to speak to us, we are drawn to encounter a living Lord using the words of the ancients to speak a contemporary word to us today. Mind you, Psalm 139 wasn’t originally aimed at Jeremiah, but God took those words and gave them another life, God recycled those words, infusing them with power for young Jeremiah. God breathed a fresh wind of power and meaning into them and Jeremiah heard God speaking directly to him just as God does today whenever any of us hears God speak.

What Jeremiah heard made him uncomfortable. There were already prophets in the land. The prophets at work were more of the professional kind. They were paid for their work. They gave “prophetic” advice for a fee and spent tremendous energy jockeying for better positions and more influence in the religious hierarchy.  Jeremiah understood what demands and commitments were involved in being a true prophet of Yahweh and even at the early age of his call, Jeremiah knew enough to feel overwhelmed and disinclined to accept such a career choice.

The Bible and the pages of history are filled with God taking the ordinary humans, and tapping them on the shoulders to do what God asks them to do. It seems to be God’s pattern in the world to ignore our vain measurements of who is of greater value and who is of lesser value when God goes out looking for someone to do God’s work.

The idea of calling is an absolutely fascinating subject for reflection:  Some of you feel “called” to be an elementary school teacher, or an architect, or a mechanic, or a musician or composer. How did you come to that idea? What forces were at work in you to make you think so concretely about your life and your dreams?

I spent a few days last summer at Selahvie, an end-of-summer national conference for students who had come together at the end of their summer of service. Selahvie is a made-up word taking selah, Hebrew for “pause,” and the French word vie meaning life; thus, Selahvie = “pause life.”

Some students had stayed in the United States and others had crossed oceans or borders to serve in some country other than their own. Some worked with children, others worked with the poor, while others traveled around the country ministering to children and youth at week-long summer camps.

No matter … they had all given a summer of their lives in pursuit exploring what God might be calling them to do or be. Two hundred college students (including our own Bailey Durbin) gathered to tell their stories and to ask out loud, “what is it God might be calling me to do with my life?” I was enthralled by them.

Everyone needs a guiding thought, a central theme that seems to mark the boundaries around their world so they can understand it. James Hillman, Jungian therapist, has done this in his book, The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling. Hillman claims “each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.” What drives our need to become? In what ways can we suggest we are formed all across the arc of our lives to make ourselves useful as Irving suggests?

Hillman draws upon a dominating image or analogy of what he calls “the theory of motivation to become” to support his thesis and he draws upon the relationship between the acorn and the oak asking, “Is not ‘our inner motivation’ akin to the push in the acorn of the oak? Or better, is it not ‘the oakness’ of the acorn? Oaks bear acorns, but acorns are pregnant with oaks.”

“Each person enters the world called,” Hillman says with confidence. The acorn theory is thus “about calling, about fate, about character, about innate image.” How do we know this? How does this idea feel right? He claims: It comes from “reading life backward.” Reading life backward means that, “the innate image of your fate holds all in the copresence of today, yesterday and tomorrow. Your person is not a process or a development. You are that essential image that develops, if it does.” An old line says, “Children are not so much molded as they are unfolded.” Picasso said, ‘I don’t develop; I am.’”

What has God called you to do or be? Hillman tells us to look over our shoulders and pay attention to that which has been wooing us all along. Frederick Buechner says:  “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1] A gift is given and we have a life to live, now what will we do with it?

Eula Hall describes herself as a “hillbilly activist.” She’s an Appalachian woman with an 8th grade education and a burning sense of purpose. She’s been called an angel, dynamite, a force to be reckoned with and a living legend. As a child, she saw a need for better healthcare in eastern Kentucky and devoted her life to making it a reality. She has never backed down from a challenge or turned someone away who needed her help. Eula Hall has done more for healthcare in eastern Kentucky than any other single person. This year, Ms. Hall will turn eighty years old and she still works every day, not because she has to but because she wants to make a difference.

At the age of nine, Hall realized the difference in the way people were treated depended on their economic status. Being from a poor family in Pike County, Kentucky, she often witnessed the effects of not having available healthcare. She has seen babies die from dysentery; she’s seen young lives lost to tuberculosis and her own mother almost bleed to death during childbirth. In a place where medical care was scarce, praying was the only thing left to do for the sick.[2]

Years ago she founded the Mud Creek Clinic in southeastern Kentucky to provide health care for the poor. “I looked (around), and I said to myself, ‘taint right like this, no medical service here, taint right. Somebody needs to act.’ I guess that somebody was me.”

Indeed … that seems to be exactly how God does it when God calls us to something no matter who we are, no matter how old or how young we might be … no matter. It’s all up to the one calling us.

[1] Frederick Buechner, “Vocation,” Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC, New York: Harper and Row, 1973, 95

[2] “Eula Hall Story,” http://www.bshc.org/index.php?page=eula-hall-story

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