Monday, February 4, 2019

Sermon: "Places, Everybody!", Jeremiah 1:4-10/Psalm 19:7-14 (February 3, 2019)


Today in worship, we have a very full day ahead of us. We’re not only sharing Communion as we do every month, but we’re also ordaining and installing our new Deacons and Elders, which generally only happens once a year. It occurs to me that both of these events are celebrations of God’s call on our lives—Communion is a celebration of God’s call on all of us to draw closer into relationship with Christ, and Ordination is a celebration of God’s particular call on individual lives to specific ministries within the church. It’s pretty appropriate, then that the lectionary gave us this reading from Jeremiah where the prophet recounts his own call story. And every time I think about God’s call, it strikes me that there’s good news and there’s bad news.

Before I start with the good news, let’s get one thing straight: God calls ALL of us to the work of God’s kingdom. ALL. OF. US. Each of us has a different task, but none of us is exempt. If we imagine life as a stage play (or a musical, because if I’m going to use a metaphor I might as well use my favorite art form), all of us have been cast. Nobody’s been cut. It doesn’t matter if you think your singing voice is rotten, or you can’t remember choreography for beans, or if speaking lines make you break out in hives. God has declared that we’re all in. Some of us may have lots and lots of lines to figure out and memorize. Others of us may be supporting characters. But ALL of us have a role to play, and the show won’t be complete without each of us.

Okay, now that that’s settled…the good news. This show isn’t improvised. We’ve got a great script to work from! Psalm 19 tells us again and again where we should look if we forget our lines: The Lord’s instruction. The Lord’s laws. The Lord’s regulations. The Lord’s commands. The Lord’s judgments. This is what we turn to in order to figure out if we’re on the right track; these are our cues to guide our steps and give us our lines. And more good news—we can trust this script entirely! God’s Word is perfect, faithful, right, pure, true, and righteous, the Psalm proclaims. Now, of course, as actors in God’s production (as in any good musical or play) there’s room for us to interpret the script somewhat, as long as we’re honoring the spirit the source material. God isn’t a puppeteer; God’s a director. So, God provides the script and the guidance, and we share it with the world using our own faithful understanding and the unique gifts that God has given each of us. So, this show should be a piece of cake, right?

Well, that’s where the bad news comes in. We’ve got a bad case of stage fright, my friends! Jeremiah reflects our own fears right back at us through his protestations. God tells him, “Dude, you were literally BORN for this!” and Jeremiah responds, “But God, you CAN’T be serious. You don’t understand. I’m not equipped for this work! I’m a terrible speaker! I’m too young! You definitely don’t want me to have any part in this show!” Can you relate? Have you ever used any of those same excuses to tell God that you can’t possibly answer God’s call? Think about the times that you’ve turned down a request to do something for the Church: Were you paralyzed by the fear that you’d say the wrong words, or do the wrong thing, or simply just not be particularly good at it? Or that you wouldn’t even know that you were messing up—as the Psalmist says, “Can anyone know what they’ve accidentally done wrong?”[1] The risk of error is way too high, and it’s terrifying.

For many of us, this is why we say no to serving as an Elder or Deacon, or teaching Sunday School, or serving on a committee…or even just talking about our faith to someone else. Pay attention when we renew our baptismal vows in a moment, and when the new Elders and Deacons make their vows. Answering God’s call is the way that we follow Jesus, the way that we obey his Word, demonstrate our trust, and show his love to others. This is how we nurture Christ’s Church. These are things that we must do if we want to honestly claim to be God’s people. We must say “yes” to God’s casting call, and the show must go on in spite of our apprehension.

Now, because this is GOD we’re talking about, the bad news doesn’t get the final word. There’s no need to worry, because there’s MORE good news. Sure, there’s plenty that could go wrong, and there are plenty of reasons to be afraid. But the script is good, and our director will NOT lead us astray. God assures us that we ARE right for this role, and that we’re not alone. God says, “Don’t say that you’re too young, or too inexperienced, or too untalented; *I* will send you where you need to go, and *I* will give you the words…*I* will be with you to deliver you from any challenge you might encounter.”

Whether or not the audience likes the show, God promises that if we trust God’s script and direction, our “performance” will be exactly what it needs to be. There’ll be challenges, we’ll be stretched beyond our comfort zone, and yes, we’ll probably still be afraid. But when we finally arrive at the finale, if we’ve truly heard and heeded God’s call, we can look back on our part of the show—the role we’ve played, however large or small—and know that we’ve made a difference in bringing its message to the world. Even if we don’t hear cheers and “bravos” from the audience—that is to say, the world—when we take our bows, if we listen closely, we’ll hear the voice of God telling us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Søren Kierkegaard has a fairly well-known quote about the relationship between a preacher and a congregation that (fortunately for the purposes of this sermon) is theater-based. He says, “People have an idea that the preacher is an actor on a stage and they are the critics, blaming or praising [the preacher]. What they don't know is that THEY are the actors on the stage…[the preacher] is merely the prompter standing in the wings, reminding them of their lost lines.” *I* am the prompter; the Bible is our script; God is the director. Hear me today giving you your lines: You are called. You are needed. You are worthy and ready. You may not FEEL prepared, but if God has cast you to a particular role, then you are. Embrace it. Answer God’s casting call and help tell the most compelling story about the greatest love to the biggest audience you’ll ever stand before. But don’t worry—you’ve got this. God promises.

The final words of Psalm 19 are a prayer asking for help in this momentous undertaking of faithfully living out our call. Let’s pray a version of them now, together, as we prepare for the role of a lifetime: O divine guide, forgive us our hidden faults that convince us of our inadequacy, and save us from pride that keeps us unwilling to take risks. Don’t let these things define and restrain us. By your gracious mercy, we’ve been freed from the weight of our mistakes; help us to live out the roles you’ve planned for us boldly and without fear. O giver of purpose and call, as we go forth to proclaim your truth and live your kingdom, let the words of our mouths, which you have graciously given, and the meditations of our hearts, which we freely offer, be forever and always pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer.

Places, everybody! The greatest show is about to begin. Amen.


[1] Psalm 19:12, CEB.

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