Struggling with God's Call

Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Isaiah 6:1-8
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Silence in us any voice but your own, that hearing, we may also obey your will.

What do you want to do when you grow up? We ask that question of children and teenagers. We now ask it of unemployed college graduates. What do you WANT to do? We should be asking, “What are you CALLED by God to do?” You see, we have a lazy understanding of what it means to be a Christian. We think that belonging to God is all about our being blessed with the security of the knowledge that God loves us, rather than our being claimed for God’s purposes.

Truth is, we are not really free to do whatever we want. God has a claim on your life and mine. “In life and in death we belong to God.” So opens A Brief Statement of Faith. “We acknowledge one God alone, whose demands on us are absolute.” That’s how A Declaration of Faith opens. Peace’s faith statement is this: “Our Faith is rooted in the One Triune God to whom we belong in life and death.”

So we say that God has a claim on our life, but do we really believe it? What if God asks us to do something difficult? What if life does not go as WE planned it? And the most significant question of all, “Are we actively involved in seeking God’s will for our life daily? Are we trying to fulfill God’s call?

Two prophets, who lived in different time periods, about 150 years apart, were called. They were overwhelmed, felt they could not do it, made some excuses,but God had a plan for them, and was determined to fulfill it. God promised to provide what they needed – words, courage, clean lips and lives, that they might fulfill God’s purpose. That promise is yours too.

Hear the story of Jeremiah’s call: NRS Jeremiah 1:4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 "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."6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." 9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 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."

The call of God on Jeremiah was consecrated while he was still in the womb of his mother. Could it be that God has had a plan for you from before you were born? Can we ignore the plan of God? Sure we can. We can run away from God as Jonah did. “Preach to Ninevah” God said and Jonah jumped on a boat, but God used wind, waves, and sea creatures to bring Jonah back to the plan. So that story goes.

Jeremiah was never particularly keen to be the prophet. He did not enjoy it. You can still see him struggling with the call in old age as painted here by Rembrandt.

Jeremiah was not a confident speaker. Moses made the same argument. So did I. I live for Sunday night when the preaching is over, and I have six days before I have to stand here again. You might think I’m joking, but I can honestly say after twenty years I still don’t really LIKE preaching. Yet I’m glad for what it does to me. I don’t need to like it. It is good medicine for my soul. It doesn’t have to taste good. It makes me listen for God and lean on God more. It forces me to do what I might not do on my own -- struggle with how scripture informs life for the purpose of faithfulness.

Passion is a popular word these days, inviting us to do what feels good. Find and live your passion. That’s a primary message in our day. But the witness of scripture is often that our calling as children of God is not easy, that it is often not desired, that it is taken on reluctantly, not embraced with passion. Abraham and Sarah were called to leave their country and go to an unknown place. Moses was called to lead his people out of slavery, a bold and dangerous adventure. The disciples were called to drop their nets, leave their families, and follow Christ. Last week we heard that God gives us particular gifts. This week we learn that sometimes God pushes us to do things that we don’t really want to do, but which are good for us and good for others. Sometimes God forces a little spiritual spinach and says, “Eat it. Do it. It’s good for you.” (image) In Chagall’s rendition of Jeremiah you feel the angst. You’re not quite sure what Jeremiah sees, but we can tell he’s uncomfortable, worried.

And God says, “Stop saying you can’t when you can. You can because I’m going to help you. Don’t be afraid because I’m going to be there with you.”

Are you listening to God’s difficult call? You are not put here to do what feels good, but to become like God, to be faithful to God, like Jesus was, like Jeremiah and Isaiah were. God will touch you and make it possible for you to do what you’re called to do. Your job is to listen to God, not to your own wishes and fears.

The world tells you to do what feels right, what your mind and your friends tell you is right. The world says you should be comfortable with what you’re doing. God calls you to be faithful and grow in Christ-likeness, which is not easy. Growing in God’s ways requires knowing God’s ways. Are we in worship regularly to be fed at the table of our Lord? Are we studying our Bibles? Are we praying with discipline? The sooner in life that we realize our purpose is not to make ourselves happy (that’s called selfishness) or to make other people happy (that’s called people pleasing) The sooner in life that we realize that our purpose in life is be a God pleaser, then we will be moving toward fulfilling our calling.

What is your chief aim? Presbyterians have been saying since 1647 when the Westminster was written, that our chief end in life is “To glorify and enjoy God forever.” What is God’s purpose for your life? For the last decade Presbyterians have said our purpose is this: “To live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the love of God, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.” (The Study Catechism) The sooner we realize our purpose, the more we will be in the right. Note I did not say it was easy or that we’d be comfortable, but that we would be where we need to be. And there is a certain fulfillment in being in the right place with God. St Augustine said back in the 4th Century, “Our hearts are restless ‘til they find their rest in God.

Hear the story of Isaiah’s call: NRS Isaiah 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I aid: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Jeremiah’s call was tame compared to this. Seraphs with six wings, calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts” The thresholds shook. There was smoke in the air. Sounds a little like an earthquake. Some of us have more dramatic experiences of the presence of God. Moses saw burning bush. Paul was blinded by the light. Mary, mother of our Lord, was visited by an angel.

Do these dramatic experiences of God’s presence happen less frequently these days or are we simply blind to spiritual realities by our over-zealous rational understanding of the world? I have a hard time relating to this story of Isaiah, except for the part about feeling unclean when faced with the holiness of God and asked to speak for God. I do think that IF we are aware of God’s presence as keenly as Isaiah, we would be overwhelmed with God’s holiness. I believe and only sometimes apprehend with my mind and emotions that God is more present than we can possibly imagine. Isaiah sees things most people do not see and as quickly as he feels overwhelmed by God’s holiness and his unworthiness, the seraph flies toward him with the hot coal and purifies him with it. You see here Michaelangelo’s image of the seraph touching Isaiah’s lips. And once forgiveness of sin is offered, Isaiah can hear God saying, “Who will go for us?” Notice God does not demand that he go. God allows us to respond freely, “Yes, I am willing. Here I am. Send me.”

We sometimes live with the faulty notion that the amazing forgiveness given to us by God is just for our peace of mind, for our reassurance. God loves us, forgives us, and calls us to be the faithful people of God. God is calling you to be healed. Your healing involves moving forward to work on God’s will in your life.

It is not easy, but it is good and right, and we will not be satisfied in our inner spirit, until we are doing what God wants. It is a long process of learning to receive God’s call and live according to it. It is a daily struggle. Every day we have the freedom to ignore God or listen to God. Every day we have the opportunity to grow more and more into the people God intends us. Though it happens through God’s grace, it does not just happen. We have to work at it – not to achieve God’s love, for that we have, but to become like God who loves us, to become like Christ. Growing up physically just happens. Growing up emotionally happens with the right influences. Growing up spiritually happens by God’s grace when we are in the right environment and are intentionally engaged in it.The fancy word is sanctification – increasing in holiness. It happens when we experience God’s call and respond, saying “Here I am. Send me. Yes, I will speak your truth.”

Will you re-commit yourself today to struggling with your call from God? Will you listen carefully to God, participate in activities which increase your spiritual depth? Will you discipline yourself to live according to what you know of God’s will and way for your life? That’s what it means to be a Christian – to be continually engaged in spiritual growth, more and more able to respond obediently to God’s call. That what it meant for Jeremiah and Isaiah, prophets of God, called to speak challenging yet hope-filled truth to the Israelites, God’s people. It is not easy. It takes great effort and self-denial. It takes unflagging courage and persistence. And it is the life we are called to live, meant to live, created to live.

John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace once said, “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Let us pray with St. Augustine:
Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the life to come enjoy you for ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.