Jeremiah 1:4-10, 18,19, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Feb 3, 2019
This morning marks the beginning of Interfaith Harmony Week. This United Nations initiative has a very brief history, going back to 2010 when King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed it to the U.N. It was officially adopted one month later and the 1st week of February has been observed as World Interfaith Harmony Week for the proceeding 8 years. A quick search online reveals events occurring across the globe all designed with the goal of furthering interfaith harmony. I am so proud of our amazing city and how the Surrey Interfaith Council has worked to further this initiative. Yesterday, the week’s events commenced as we hosted a large group of people for our Interfaith Celebration event. And through this coming week there are concerts, shared meals, and dialogue opportunities. And right now…at this very moment, a group of walkers ~ the interfaith pilgrimage ~ are winding their way to Northwood. Expected to arrive about 11:30 am and spend a brief time with us here.
As I am thinking of this wonderful group of pilgrims, it reminds me of another story of walkers. It was late in the day and three hikers were growing tired and concerned that they would not make camp before nightfall. Making matters worse, they had hit a roadblock: a raging river was before them. The hikers stood there surveying the mighty river, trying to decide the safest way to cross. The hikers were people of faith, so the first prayed “Lord, I ask that you give me the strength to get across”. Suddenly he grew large muscles and he swam across in just under an hour. The second hiker prayed “Lord, I ask that you grant me the strength and the tools to get across”. Suddenly, he grew large muscles and he found a boat at the river’s edge and he paddled across in just under half an hour. The last hiker was a woman. She pulled out her map; she hiked upstream past the bend in the river, and calmly walked across the bridge.
As we turn to the Hebrew scripture, we hear the call of one of the great prophets…the prophet Jeremiah. This was the situation for Jeremiah as well ~ a roadblock had been encountered...a decision needed to be made….a time of spiritual discernment was before him. When you think about it, all the major figures in scripture have call stories: Jesus, Paul, Simon, James, John, Isaiah, and before us…Jeremiah. (We will deal with this a little later, but I believe all people have a call story…but that is for later). The call is the beginning of one’s story. It is when one receives their guiding purpose, their sense of meaning, the blueprints for their life’s direction that lies ahead. I don’t know about you…but I find comfort as I ponder this awesome question in my life to know that Jeremiah feared his ability to fulfill his destiny and calling. Do you ever fear your abilities in fulfilling your calling…your destiny? Do you ever worry that you have ‘enough’ for what lies ahead? (I know I do) We know all the excuses. It’s always some derivation of not being ‘enough’: Me…I’m not special…I’m not gifted...I’m not right for this. For Jeremiah, he chose one we might all relate to ~ lack of experience. He said: ‘I’m too young, I’m just a boy’. Having been called to be a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah politely said to God: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy”. I’m too young. I’m only a boy. Sorry God, but you’ve got the wrong guy…But thanks for asking. But...God doesn’t make mistakes in shaping you, in creating you, in calling you…and God knows exactly who God is calling. To Jeremiah’s uncertainty, God offers four points of reassurance to him in the text. Firstly, it says that even before God formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, God already knew him. God knew what his purpose would be; God loved him and God shaped him into the person who God calls today. Secondly, it says that Jeremiah will not function alone, he will not be a lone-wolf or a self-appointed prophet. But, rather he will become a prophet who is appointed by God, blessed by God, and filled with God’s Spirit. Third, it says that God’s words have been placed in Jeremiah’s mouth. God will minister through Jeremiah. He need not worry about finding the right thing to say in his prophecies. The words he speaks will be God’s words and his listeners will recognize God’s voice of blessing, and love. Finally, it says for Jeremiah to not be afraid, for God’s presence will be with him delivering him. Much like the way the Hebrews were delivered, time and time again ~ from slavery ~ from suffering, God would be with Jeremiah to protect, guide and deliver him.
What we are delving into, of course, is a deeply personal conversation. This is a continuation from last week’s reflection on stewardship ~ the ways we are called to use our time, talents and treasure ~ this is the “call” part of that conversation. Spiritually, it is a private conversation between God and each of us. And it is, generally, not a one-time conversation that occurs ~ it is a conversation of a lifetime. One’s calling tends to evolve as their life unfolds. As we grow in years, in skills, in ability…as we change in ability, our callings are heard in various ways. For Jeremiah, he is hearing his as a young man. We have heard calls as a young person, as a person later in life, and this morning…God is still calling you. Yet while God calls, it is not a simple dialogue. You might find yourself to be much like Jeremiah…filled with excuses. I am ‘not enough’. I am just a boy’ were Jeremiah’s words. I wonder…what are our words of protest: I’m too busy? too old? too inexperienced? We all have our fears and doubts about God’s ability to work through us. I wonder what roadblocks we each might be experiencing in life?
These words of protest are like our ‘roadblocks’. In the humorous story of the three hikers that I began with, the stumbling block was the mighty river that stood in front of their path. I wonder what the stumbling block ~ the ‘river’ ~ that lays in front of each of us might be? For the three walkers, they all knew the destination that they needed to arrive at: they wanted to arrive at camp before nightfall. And I think that we all, sincerely, desire to follow the callings God offers to us. But there is an interesting difference in how the hikers go about arriving at that destination. The first two hikers seek to go about it on their own: one grows large muscles and swims across the raging river, the other paddles a boat against the current. But the third approaches the task differently. Taking out a map, she discovers that there is a bridge…just beyond the bend…there is a bridge that will easily take her across. She hikes up the bend. Crosses the bridge and carries on to camp.
For people of faith, we too have a map. And one such map is found in the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul. I love preaching on this text in its original context ~ how love is to be lived out in the context of community. The people in Corinth were struggling as to how to ‘be’ the church. Competing leaders for people’s loyalty now that Jesus was gone…competing culture, as they lived among the dominant Roman culture…and Paul reminded them of what Jesus’ life-teaching. Founding their lives upon love was the answer; seeking to be beacons of love was the answer; allowing their time, talents and treasure to ‘be love’ was the goal. I wonder what it might look like, if we began each asking God: ‘how might I be love today?’ How might your call continue to be realized ~ living love, being love, shining love…I wonder what might happen…as you lie your head upon the pillow each night, if you reflected back upon your day and considered ‘how was I God’s love today?’ My guess is that we would find some of these ‘roadblocks’ that get in the way of us living out our call might be lifted. They would be lifted as we are reminded, just like Jeremiah was, that we were shaped and formed with a purpose, we are guided and blessed by God, and we do not need to be afraid for the task we are called to.
As we think about World Interfaith Harmony Week, and our faithful pilgrim walkers due to arrive at Northwood soon, we are reminded that this call to ‘living love’ is not unique to Christianity. The Golden Rule to living love in community is one of the foundations for every religious community. And during the ‘Music for Reflection’ time, a image will be projected that reminds us of this wonderful unity amidst our diverse faiths. And so, as we go forth considering our unique calls that we experience throughout life, may we know that God doesn’t make any junk…God has created and shaped you to be a presence of love in this world through whom God’s blessed Kin-dom will truly unfold.