sermon for August 21, 2016

Sermon Jeremiah 1: 4-9

It happened to me again the other night.  I was at a party, chatting away to a couple of people I had just met.  One of them says, “And what do you Ray?”  At which I take a deep breath and plunge in, “I’m a minister with the Uniting Church”.  Now, whenever it gets to this point it can go in two directions.  Either the person drops their eyes to the ground, notices their glass is empty and quickly makes for the bar, with the words, “Nice talking, think I’ll get a drink now” – or, and I think this is actually the more common response they say something like, “You don’t look like a minister”, or “Oh, I used to go to SS”, or “I’ve been meaning to ask someone…. or “Gees, how did you end up doing that”.  Very often if we keep talking the stories will emerge. 

And I am amazed how often these people have something in common.   There was a point where their faith went into the deep freeze.  Might have been a specific incident with a SS teacher, youth group leader, abusive priest,  or one of life’s inevitable tragedies struck, but more often just that the rest of them keep maturing and growing – their intellect, their capacity to make relationships, their knowledge of how the world works. And it outgrew their faith which remained at the SS level. Realising that science could not support a literal reading of the Genesis creation account or that terrible rotten things  happen to good people in this world there seemed no means of reconciling their lived experience with what they thought it meant to be a person of faith.  At that point many people felt they no longer could hear God’s voice in this world.

Already in saying what I have said I have touched on the two things we in the church mean when use this term “call of God” – it refers to two things.    The first and great call that is the basis of all other calls – God calls to the universe – and remarkably, each individual’s name is spoken by God.  Today in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah God says, I knew you from the womb, before you were even born. God has something to say (now that is an outrageous statement to make!  Could it be true?)  In the Creation story God speaks into the numbing desolate outer darkness and light appears.  In the Christian story God has something to say and then the Word is incarnate, made flesh, and Jesus Christ is born.  God has something to say and will not leave us humans alone, but comes seeking, speaking, hoping for restoration oneness and redemption.  And paying the costly price.  There is no other theme of the Bible.

And sometimes in our lives we have a niggling persistent voice in our heads or our hearts that will not let us alone.  A sense there may be something we should be doing, or a direction our lives may follow or something we should be attending to in our lives. We also call that a sense of call. Sometimes this sense of call can be quite specific and even dramatic. The Bible loves a good call story – heaps of them – Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Paul –not forgetting the exquisite story of Mary, Jesus mother,  and of course one of the most beloved by SS teachers the world over – call of Samuel the young boy.-  It is good to have them but dangerous in the sense that we may be tempted to hold too high these often spectacular accounts of burning bushes that are not consumed, visions of winged creatures in the temple, nocturnal audible voices.  As someone has said they set the bar so high most of us walk around feeling short. Now I have to say, while I do not rule out the possibility of someone hearing the direct voice of God; in my experience such experiences are extremely rare.   Most often it is a sense of

But the Christian gospel is not that we can have spectacular spiritual experiences, but that all of us are the called people.  Each of us is called into the presence of God, is bought at immense price by god and God does not buy junk.  Each and every one of us here today, each person in your household, in this city, in this country, on this globe we call earth, can say “My name is…. and I am a called person”.  I am called into relationship with the Creator of all that is and all that ever will be.

Just an aside here while we are on the topic of being called. Another trap we must be wary of falling into when thinking of this topic of call. But I cannot speak of call without saying something of the danger of thinking of a particular group, whether ethnic, cultural, religious as “the called” (or the chosen) then not too much of a jump to begin to see everyone else as “the uncalled”, and once you made that step pretty inevitable they shall end up being viewed as “the rejected”.

The other sense of this term “call of God” refers to what you do with your life in response to God.  It is a question of vocation – even wider than paid employment, but what excites you, what are you passionate about, where do you see you can make a difference.

So that brings us to the second part – having heard we are called to God –  how to Live out our call – whatever it is. It is a question of Vocation – may be your paid employment; you are most fortunate then.  May be what gives you that deep satisfaction, what do you believe in; how have you decided how to live.

A time management expert was doing a demonstration for a classroom full of students. He showed them a large glass jar. Then he put some large rocks in the jar until he couldn’t fit anymore. “Is the jar full?” he asked. “Yes,” said the students.

No” said the teacher. And he poured some gravel into the jar. When he shook the jar, the gravel settled into the spaces between the larger rocks. “Is it full now?” he asked. The class was pretty smart. They caught on quick. “Probably not,” said one student.

“Good,” said the teacher. And he poured some sand into the jar, and the sand trickled into the spaces left by the rocks and gravel. “How about now?” he asked. “No,” said the class in unison.

“Right,” said the teacher. And he poured water into the jar and filled up the remaining space. “What’s the lesson we learn from this?” he asked.

One of the students raised his hand, “No matter how full your schedule is, if you try hard enough you can always fit more in!”

“Wrong,” said the teacher. “The point is, you have to put the large rocks in first or you’ll never get them in at all.

Met a young guy, well young … early twenties I reckon.  We were at a party (another one, hey being a minister is one long party!) and we were sitting at the table about to start the meal.  I don’t know whether I noticed he had only selected the vegetarian options or what, but the conversation turned to meat eating… or not.  He said yes he was a vegetarian and I said something like I hope sitting next to all this meat is not putting you off, some vegetarians I have met get quite turned off in the stomach.  He said, no, not at all.  Then he said something funny.  I love meat he said.  I could eat all your food and go looking for more steak and sausages and bacon and all the rest.  So how come you are vegetarian we asked.  Well I believe it is the right way to live.  The climate change, the shortage of water, the destruction of forests, all this persuades me this is the responsible way to live and eat.  I would eat fish or some white meat but I also believe part of what it is about is the witness, the incarnation of the message and me eating some meat would mute that and dull it and confuse some people.    I was speaking to one of the leaders of Oaktree Foundation.  Oaktree Foundation is inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela – some generations have the call of greatness placed upon them.  Given the immense issues facing our world at this moment – and the possibilities of making a planet saving, extreme poverty eradicating response some have heard the call to take up the cause and give themselves to this cause.

For too long the Christian church has been timid, scared off by placing these huge demand before its young people for fear we would be seem as too demanding, asking more than people are prepared to offer.  I believe we have short changed them; deprived them of the challenge and the thrilling satisfaction of partnering God in the remaking and transforming of this world. The time has come when again the church needs to dream some God sized dreams, to learn to talk again about the vision of a transformed world that God has given us and trust that some young adults will be claimed by this vision and respond.