Two weeks ago, I asked you to meditate on your talents, your spiritual gifts, the manifestation of the Spirit in you. Last week I asked you to look over the various ministries at Saint David’s, and to prayerfully reflect on what God may be calling you to do with your time in 2016.
Today I am inviting you to fill out the green commitment card. Check off the things you feel called to do this year. There is space to write in things that we failed to list.
Please return the completed card next week. We will renew our baptismal covenant and dedicate the cards as a way of offering our intentions up to God.
Our readings for this morning can help us as we think about what God may be calling us each to do.
In our Old Testament reading, Jeremiah receives his call as a prophet of God. God says to Jeremiah, “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.”
The call is clear enough. But it is scary. Jeremiah does not feel up to the task. So what does Jeremiah do? He tries to get out of it.
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I cannot do it. Appoint somebody else as prophet to the nations.
I am guessing we have all felt that way at some point. I do not mean that we have all heard a voice from heaven commissioning us as a prophet. But even apart from a really clear divine call, we sometimes know what we need to do. That is God calling.
We know what we need to do, but we are afraid. We are afraid that we will fail. Or we are afraid that the cost is too high. Or we are afraid that people might not like us. For one reason or another, we feel incapable of doing whatever it is that we know we should do.
My own clearest experience of that fear was actually a lot like Jeremiah’s. As a young man, I felt called to teach or else to preach. But like Jeremiah, I was afraid to speak in public. In school, I would not talk in class, even just to ask a question. And yet I felt called to a pair of professions that both required constant public speaking.
God’s response to Jeremiah could have been addressed to me. God’s response to Jeremiah can reassure all of us whenever we are not sure we can do whatever it is we need to be doing. God says to Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you to deliver you.” God promises to give Jeremiah the gifts Jeremiah needs to respond to God’s call.
That is God’s promise to us too. God gives us the gifts we need to respond to the call that God makes to us. We may be afraid. The cost may be high. But God will be with us.
God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gave him the words to speak. My experience was considerably less dramatic. I had to work hard to overcome my fear of public speaking, and it was several years before I learned to enjoy public speaking.
But as I look back at that time, I can see that God was gently leading me on. God helped me to face my fears in little baby steps. God did not do all the work for me. But God helped me as I worked at it. And without God’s grace, I would not be standing before you now in answer to God’s call to the priesthood.
My guess is that all of you have had to face your own fears at some point and that, looking back, you can see that God was at work helping you along.
So here is a first lesson from our readings about answering God’s call: God gives us the grace to do what God calls us to do. Our task is to heed God’s call and step out in faith, relying on God to see us through.
But there is more to say about Jeremiah. Jeremiah did, in fact, prophesy boldly in God’s name. We have fifty-two chapters of Jeremiah’s prophecies in the Bible.
And it was not easy. At times, Jeremiah had to go into hiding. More than once, Jeremiah was imprisoned and threatened with death. At the end of his life, Jeremiah was taken, against his will, into exile by his own people. And yet Jeremiah kept prophesying.
As a kind of thought experiment, let’s put ourselves in Jeremiah’s shoes. After decades of prophesying, Jeremiah surely got past his early anxiety. Jeremiah got used to proclaiming the word of God to a people who did not necessarily want to hear it.
How would you feel if that were you? How would you feel if you were exercising your spiritual gift in answer to God’s call in order to serve the common good, and all you got in return was resistance?
I suspect I would become pretty arrogant about my own righteousness, and pretty judgmental about the sin and folly of everyone else. Sometimes our own righteousness—and I really do mean righteousness—sometimes our own righteousness makes us arrogate and judgmental.
Enter Paul and one of the most famous passages in the New Testament. It is routinely read at weddings, including at mine. But Paul is not talking about marriage. Paul is talking about how Christians use spiritual gifts for the common good.
And here is what Paul has to say to any prophet who begins to feel arrogant and judgmental. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
The same is true for all the other spiritual gifts too. It is not enough to use our spiritual gifts in answer to God’s call. Whatever gifts we have, we have to use in love. Whatever call we hear, we have to answer in love.
Indeed we might think of love as itself the greatest spiritual gift of all. And we might think of love as our ultimate calling. God calls us to act in love so that we can grow in love. As we grow in love, we grow in the image and likeness of God, who is Love.
Back to the commitment card. Pray about how God is calling you to use you talents and your time in 2016. Be bold. Answer God’s call in love. And, together with our brothers and sisters in every land, we can change the world.
In the name of Christ. Amen.
Passage: Jeremiah 1:4-10