Saturday, December 15, 2018

“God the HR Director” - November 25, 2018

Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Darden Caylor was a pastor here in Iowa, now in Missouri.  He recalls the day he decided to become a minister.  He was sitting in a chair at his grandma’s house when he heard a Voice.  At first, it was kind of muffled, but it became clearer.  “You should become a minister,” the Voice said.

He couldn’t believe it!  Was God speaking to him?  Just then, he heard the voice again, but this time the message was confusing.  “If you build it, they will come.”

Then he opened his eyes and saw his grandma standing over him.  “You should become a minister,” she was saying.  In the background, the movie Field Of Dreams was on TV.  In his mind, the movie and grandma’s words had gotten mixed up.

God’s call comes to us in a variety of ways.  God spoke to a young man named Jeremiah and called him to be a prophet.  But in the great tradition of religious leadership going back to Moses and carrying on to our Nominating Committee work of the present day, Jeremiah was reluctant. 

You may remember that God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and asked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses said, “Nobody will listen to me.  Who should I say sent me?”  God said, “I am who I am.”  Then God told Moses to throw down his staff.  It became a serpent.  God said, “Pick it up,” and it was a staff again.  God would give Moses power, give him whatever credibility he needed.  Moses would be heard.

But still, Moses complained.  “I’m not a public speaker,” he said.  “I stutter when I get nervous.”  God was getting impatient.  “Your brother Aaron is a big talker, he can be the spokesperson.”  Moses went on to lead the people, but initially at least, he was a reluctant leader.

It wasn’t just Moses.  You’ve got Gideon, called to lead the army of Israel despite long odds.  He had a hard time believing what God was asking and asked for a sign from God – three times.

Then there is Esther, who becomes queen of the Persian king and has the opportunity to save her people, the Jews, but is reluctant and afraid – and Mordecai tells her, you may have come to your royal position for such a time as this.

You can even look to the apostle Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, who is blinded on the road to Damascus and becomes a follower of Jesus and is always a bit reticent of his qualifications because of his past.

The pages of the Bible are littered with folks who doubted their ability or worth or value or calling.  You can add Jeremiah to the list.

God tells him, “Before you were even born, my plan was for you to be a prophet to the nations.”  Pretty powerful stuff.  But Jeremiah questions the wisdom of God’s plan.  “Lord, I’m not the person you want.  I can’t go speak to others - I’m just a kid.”

I wonder: where did Jeremiah get the idea that he couldn’t do something because he was young?  Who taught him that his age limited what was possible?   

“Lord, I am only a boy,” he said.  He had to learn that somewhere.  From his teachers or parents or neighbors or the people at the synagogue.  And now, here he was trying to teach it to God.

I wonder sometimes whether we do a better job of giving folks reasons to say no than encouragement to say yes.  If we are looking for reasons not to answer God’s call, not to use our gifts, there is no shortage:

•    like Moses, we can say “I’m a poor speaker.”
•    or like Jeremiah, “I’m too young.”
•    maybe “I’m not smart enough”
•    or “I’m not spiritual enough” (whatever that means).
•    “I’ll have to face people I don't like.”
•    “It’s too hard.  It’s asking too much.”
•    “I’m too new.”
•    “I need to get my life straightened out first.”
•    “This is an inconvenient time.”
•    “What would my friends and family think?”
•    ..and on and on…
People don’t just cook up excuses like this.  They learn them, and these kinds of messages can be very hard to unlearn.

Two parents seemed to be mismatched.  The father was unemployed with no formal schooling.  The mother was a schoolteacher.  The child, born in Port Huron, Michigan, was measured to have an IQ of 81.  He enrolled in school two years late due to scarlet fever and respiratory infections.  His emotional health was poor.  He was stubborn, aloof, and considered backward by school officials.

He liked mechanics.  He also liked to play with fire - and he burned down his father’s barn.  He showed some manual dexterity, but had very poor grammar.  But he did want to be a scientist or a railroad mechanic.

Do you want to guess who the child was?  It was Thomas Edison, one of our greatest inventors.  We may label and categorize others and pre-determine their worth, but we can’t really see what is inside a person.  What we do know is that the way we speak of others and to others can be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

There was a story in the Wall Street Journal about Harry Lipsig.  Lipsig, at age eighty-eight, decided to leave the New York law firm he had spent most of 60 years building up.  He decided to open a new firm.  Eighty-eight years old.  So at an age when most people have long since retired, Mr. Lipsig decided to try his first case in a long time.

Here was the situation: A lady was suing the city of New York because a drunken police officer had struck and killed her 71-year-old husband with his patrol car.  She argued that the city had deprived her of her husband’s future earnings potential.  The city argued that at age 71, he had very little earnings potential.

They thought they had a pretty clever defense until they realized that this woman’s argument about her husband’s future earning power was being advanced by a vigorous 88-year-old attorney.  The city settled the case for $1.25 million.  The message was, “He was only a senior citizen,” but thankfully Harry Lipsig didn’t buy that.

So many of the limitations we put on ourselves are learned.  I love the story Molly Marshall tells.  Many of you know Molly, who has preached here at our church.  She is the president of Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City.  Years ago, while in seminary, she was pastor of a little country church in Kentucky, Jordan Baptist Church.  She was the first woman pastor this church had ever had.

But for the young children, she was the only pastor they had ever known, and one day in the nursery they were playing church.  One of the boys in the nursery wanted to be the preacher, but the girls knew better.  “You can’t be the preacher,” they said, “Only girls can be the preacher.”

There are 100 reasons to say no, but we only need one reason to say yes: God has called us.  And along with God’s call comes the strength and power necessary for the task.

Now in a certain way, Jeremiah’s reluctance may have been a blessing.  He was well aware of his limitations, and going in, he knew that he had to depend on God.  And God gave him the strength and power he needed.  Verse 9 says “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.”  God equipped Jeremiah and gave him the words to speak.

If Jeremiah’s response to God had been “Sure Lord, no problem, I can take care of that.  Easy peazy, don’t you worry about it” - and then went off to preach to the people concerning the impending doom of Judah--I have a feeling it would have turned out rather badly for Jeremiah.  Humility is a necessary quality for prophets, and maybe no one should become one unless they are dragged kicking and screaming into the job.

Like Micah, whom we looked at a couple of weeks ago, Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.  By this time, there was no northern kingdom – it had been overrun by Assyria and the population largely taken away.  Judah awaited a similar fate by the rising power of Babylonia.  The handwriting was on the wall.

Given the situation, it is no wonder that Jeremiah’s calling was described as it was.  “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 building and planting sounds a lot better.  But Jeremiah was called to pronounce judgment on the nation.  He famously took a pot and smashed it, saying this is what is going to happen to Judah.  And yet even within the message of judgment, there was hope.  With real estate prices plunging and a bleak forecast for the nation, Jeremiah bought a field to show that he was banking on God’s future – literally.  And he gave God’s message: “I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

The call to Jeremiah is one that is still needed – a call “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

That destroying and overthrowing part sounds pretty harsh, but like Jeremiah we are called to overthrow pretensions and to destroy illusions about ourselves – about our piety and religiosity and invulnerability as Christians, as good church people, as Americans, as middle class folks.  That was essentially what was going on in Judah.  And we are to plant – to plant the will of God, to build up care for our neighbor, to promote goodness and righteousness.  We are to plant seeds of hope and love.  This is something that everybody can do.  This is something we are all called to do.

As a middle school student in Pella, Maria Rose Belding was volunteering along with her Sunday School sorting cans in the food pantry at her church.  One day, she saw thousands of boxes of macaroni and cheese arrive at the food pantry.  It was well-intentioned, she said, but they couldn’t store it, and milk and butter are needed to make it.  Months later, she had to throw away hundreds of expired boxes as people waited in line for food. 

“I remember just crying and being so angry,” said Belding, now 23. “It was clear we couldn’t communicate with our food donors or other food pantries.  We needed a tool.  I remember thinking, ‘The internet — why aren’t we on a network?’”

That thought stayed with her.  As a high school student, she had this idea of a way to match donors and food pantries and organizations that served meals to people in need.  She created a website, but it never really got anywhere.

Then the summer before her freshman year of college, she had a fellowship in Washington DC.  She was temporarily staying with a friend’s brother and it turned out he knew how to code.  She was persistent and got him to make an app – it was an online instant sign-up board to distribute food that would otherwise go to waste to those who need it.

It was an immediate success.  Now at American University, she was sitting in class when the first donation came in.  It was a large quantity of dry beans, a common donation but tough for panties without kitchens to distribute a large amount.  But within minutes, an organization that housed a population of mostly Hispanic clients claimed it.  The donor and recipient organization were two miles apart and did not know of each other’s need.

More than 3000 organizations in 49 states now participate in the food sharing program.  Run largely by high school and college students, the nonprofit Maria created has helped redistribute more than 1.8 million pounds of food since 2015.  She has been named one of 10 CNN Heroes of the Year.

She was just a kid.  Just a middle school student.  But Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me,” and she didn’t let her age hold her back.  She joined a long list of Biblical figures, people like Joseph, Miriam, Joshua, Samuel, David, Mary and Timothy who were young when they answered God’s call.

We are all called by God.  We are called to follow Christ, we are called to be faithful, we are called to use our gifts in service to God and others.  I gave the sermon title a couple of weeks ago because Janelle needed to print the bulletin last week.  God the HR Director isn’t exactly right – maybe God the Recruiter would be more like it, or God the Vocational Guidance Counselor – but the point is that God is probably not as worried about qualifications and experience as we are. 

I don’t know what it is God may be speaking to you about.  Maybe there is a decision you know you need to make, but you are hesitant.  Maybe there is something you have known you need to do for a long time.  Maybe there is a relationship you need to mend.  Maybe God is speaking with you about a place of service in this church or in the community.  Maybe it has to do with priorities in your life.  Whatever it is, if it is important, if it will make a difference, chances are it will not be entirely easy.  It may mean making some hard choices.  It may mean risking in some way.  

The good news is that when we answer God’s call, God promises to always be with us.  God said to Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.”  Do not be afraid.  I am with you.

God calls us.  Each of us.  And whenever God calls, God gives power.  God is with us.  What wonderful words to hear: “Do not be afraid.  I am with you.”  What about you?  Will you say Yes to God’s call?

No comments:

Post a Comment