January 31, 2016
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Two years ago, I attended a youth summit meeting in Detroit. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Rozella White, the program director for young adult ministry in the ELCA. Sitting with a group of youth leaders and high school youth, she addressed vocation…calling…and what it means in our everyday lives. She talked about how we have passions…things that we do that feed our souls. And we have gifts, things that we can do without even thinking about it.
It is when we are able to combine the two…our passions and our gifts….that we are able to live out our vocations in life.
When I think about combining passions and gifts one name immediately comes to mind: Pete Nelson. That name may not be familiar to you unless you find yourself watching Treehouse Masters on the Animal Planet channel. You see Pete builds treehouses for a living. How cool is that? But it’s more than just that…you can see the gifts he has for planning and building and the joy that emanates from him as he meets with families, designs these tree houses and helps build them. He has a great team that he leads to complete these great builds and lots of laughs and fun are had during the build.
My favorite part, though, comes at the end of the show with the ‘big reveal’. He walks the couples or families to the tree house…but they can’t look up until he tells them. And when they do, he loves watching their response to their new treehouse. It’s so much fun.
Pete takes his passion for building treehouses and the gifts that he has of leadership and planning and building and combines them to live out his vocation. Good stuff.
Another way to think about it is this:
Vocation is when you take what you love and give it to what the world needs.
Let me say that again, vocation is when you take what you love and give it to what the world needs.
We can take that the next step, to hear that Vocation…comes from a voice ‘in here’ or from others, that is calling us to be the people that God created us to be.
Today in our readings we hear about two people being called to serve and it begins with Jeremiah, which echoes, the calling of Moses.
God’s providential rescue of Moses as an infant eighty years before preceded his commission. God likewise refers here to Jeremiah’s prenatal calling. Like Moses, whose many objections include his own ineloquence, Jeremiah protests that he does not know how to speak.
As with Moses, God does most of the talking, describing sending Jeremiah and giving him words to speak, though not yet mentioning that Jeremiah would be addressing rulers. Jeremiah is appointed the task of nation building. He is given a preview of the rough path ahead. As with Moses, a foreign oppressor will figure prominently in the story. But whereas Moses’ God fought the Egyptians to free the Israelites, in Jeremiah’s time God will use the Babylonians as tools in a conflict with the Israelites themselves. Ultimately, though, Jeremiah’s calling serves to bring the nation to a better place.
This passage, as we hear it today, accompanies the story of Jesus’ own announcement of his ministry in Nazareth. We hear Jesus saying that the scripture is fulfilled in their hearing and at first the crowds are amazed. But as he takes the time to outline what his vocation, his life of service will be in the world, the people around him get upset. They are frustrated, actually downright angry that he brings a message of healing and reconciliation to ALL people, including the Gentiles.
They are filled with rage that the expectations they had of God were not the expectations God had or has for God’s people. The people are so upset, they drive Jesus out of town and are ready to hurl him off of a cliff. Somehow he passes through the midst of them, unscathed and goes on his way.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus is understood as a prophet. Like Jeremiah, he is questioned and rejected by his own people, who attempt to kill him, though he survives to continue preaching. Like Jeremiah, Jesus gets into trouble over foreigners.
In essence Jeremiah’s calling distinctly echoes the story line of Moses, and is in turn echoed by that of Jesus. At least according to one prominent biblical stream, therefore, to speak prophetically is to follow God into a calling one would not necessarily have chosen, saying and doing things that anger one’s own neighbors, things that, though supported by God, will only be seen as fruitful later on, following trials and tribulations.
We hear the stories of two individuals called to give their lives in service to God. Sometimes when we hear these passages, there is a sigh of relief. Phew….I’m glad God didn’t call me as a child….how would I have answered? Would I have made excuses? Would I have tried to get out of it?
But the reality that strikes us today is that we are all called to give our lives in service to God. We all have a sense of vocation, a sense of a voice calling us to be the amazing individuals that God created each of us to be. Just as God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb, God knows us. And whether or not God approaches us through a burning bush, a voice in the night or through the voices of our friends and family, God calls each of us to a vocation in this world.
That call to vocation isn’t just reaching for one prize, but hearing and accepting who God has created each of us to be….to see the gifts God has given us and using them in service to others as part of God’s mission in the world.
Again, maybe you haven’t heard a calling in the night, or haven’t set foot on holy ground by a burning bush, but God has called you. We remember those words of calling as we celebrate a baptism...God makes a promise with us…and calls us to task. In the service of baptism, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to see that these questions are answered…but as the child grows older, and as we affirm our faith at our confirmation we answer these questions:
To live among God’s faithful people,
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
No pressure, right? But this is our call. This is our response to the amazing and unending love that God has for each and every one of us.
The question that remains for us this day…and all days…is how are we living out God’s call in our lives? How are we seeing the gifts God has given us and listening to the needs around us? How are we responding to the world around us as baptized children of God?
Think about your passions…things that feed your soul.
And look at the gifts God has given you.
Take time to prayerfully see how you can combine your passions and gifts to care for others around you and all of God’s creation.
May all that we say and do be a reflection of God’s amazing grace and love at work in our hearts and minds.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.