Truth be told, I did a few rounds with Jesus in the synagogue with his former neighbors in Nazareth before I flipped the page and decided to start at the beginning with Jeremiah. Oh, in the end we do wind up in pretty much the same place, but even so, it was through the initial call to Jeremiah that I began to find entry to the gifts we are privileged to share this week. Indeed, how can one hear God’s Word to the young prophet without hearing God’s call to one’s own self? Perhaps even one’s own very young self? And how can one follow the trajectory of both Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ ministries without wondering at how very much the same it can be for each and for all of us?
For me, at least, the call came young. So much so that as I first discerned it, I surely could not have begun to comprehend the depth of its meaning in my life. If I’m honest, I have to say that I followed this call in part because the fit seemed safe and familiar. For I had been a part of a congregation my whole life long. The one that nurtured me when I was a child encouraged my gifts when I was still very young. Indeed, in spite of the fact that when I was a child in my tradition there were no women pastors whatsoever to look to as role models AND in spite of the fact that nearly from the time I was conscious, the congregation I called home was roiled in conflict for many of my growing up years, I loved the church and I loved its people and I sensed I wanted to devote my life to this work.
It was a ‘call,’ I do believe. And it was planted in my heart and in my imagination when I was as young as Jeremiah must have been. Even so, my answer to this call was naive. Perhaps that is why for me it has been a call which has changed and evolved through the years…
Indeed, what I could not have expected then was that every individual call I would answer to every congregation I would wind up serving would be so hard. Beautiful and meaningful, yes, but hard all the same.
For this is how it has been:
- I have followed the misconduct of the pastoral leader more than once —- although in one instance I did not hear of it until after I had moved on and in another it had been several pastors before.
- I have stepped into places where conflict had caused powerful division before I arrived.
- I have wept plenty of tears of frustration and yes, fear, along the way.
- And in every instance, every place, I have experienced the powerful gift of witnessing healing take place. More than this, I have gotten to tag along as mission beyond ourselves was rekindled.
- Through it all, along with all of you, I have been called to do so in a time when the gifts we are called to share are deemed of less value by the larger community than perhaps they once were.
- And this is also so. For a very long time the basic messages of Jesus and Jeremiah both would likely not be wholly or at least easily embraced in any time or any place where people of privilege fill our pews. And at least up until now, those are the only places I have served — where Jesus’ word that the gifts of God may just be meant for someone else… where Jeremiah’s calling out of the repeated failures of God’s people — cast in terms meant for today would be — are — hard words to bear.
Indeed, I do not know that I have ever displayed the sort of bold courage Jeremiah surely did. In the same way, I expect I have not yet fully availed myself of the powerful promise that God will give words where needed and that God’s own presence would be my protection from forces without and within. Indeed, I only ever knew to tackle what was in front of me and to try to keep my ears and my heart open to where God might just be calling next in any particular time and place. And as I have done even this, my call has evolved, it seems to me. For God keeps placing hard things in my path, some of which I have had no choice but to speak about. To this point, I have not yet joined Jesus on the edge of a cliff or Jeremiah as religious leaders called for his death. But that day could yet come, I imagine.
In fact, in these last days I have heard the echo once more of the wisdom of a seminary professor. (I wish I could give credit where credit is due. If any of my classmates remember who said this to us, please chime in…) Many years ago I heard this word:
“The job (the call) of the preacher is to walk right up to and look over
into the abyss of human ‘mess’ and then to step back and speak of it.”
- It is as simple as that.
- It is as difficult as that.
- It is also, I expect, every bit as dangerous as that.
And so yes, these days I am wondering at how to speak of the messes all around and within us — in our life together in congregations and with our collective life in the world:
- With regards to race relations and immigration reform,
- With the lack of mental health care and a justice system which bears little justice for so many,
- Where we have ignored the call to care for the earth and where even now those on the margins suffer as a result,
- Where the vulnerable are left to fend for themselves instead of being given a fair chance to be and do and have what I take for granted,
- And on and on.
- And on.
Oh, what does it mean for the preacher and for the person in the pew to walk with God right up to the abyss of the results of our human ‘mess’ and speak of it?
What does it look like for me to look out upon a people I deeply love this next Sunday and along with Jesus wonder at who in this world God is choosing to bless besides us, perhaps even instead of us?
And what does it look like to do so, painting a picture with the real story of a neighbor, a stranger, a friend?
For that is what Jeremiah did. That is surely what Jesus did. And it is the very same call which has been placed on each and all of our hearts…
Indeed, how might the whole world begin to change if we just started by looking and speaking, knowing that God’s love and power protects and that when we are without words, God will give them to us as well?
I surely do not yet fully know, but this is the direction my call is leading me this week. How about you?
- To your ears and understanding do the ‘calls’ of Jeremiah and Jesus go hand in hand this week? Why or why not?
- Though I sensed a ‘call’ when I was young, that call has been ever evolving depending upon the challenges and situations and people God has put in my path. Would this also have been so for Jeremiah? For Jesus? How has it been for you?
- Although many hear the words spoken to Jeremiah and think they find their parallel only among pastors or preachers, my sense is that it is much broader than that. How might this certain truth that we are all called to trust God in the hard places we are led into and to speak words of truth to those who will hear, be conveyed among your people in the days to come? If you are among those who will step into a pulpit next Sunday, how will this ‘preach?”