Eleven years. That is how long I worked, in some way, in the media profession. I started when I was 16 as a part-time sports reporter for the newspaper in Beckley, W.Va. I would later work as a writer for newspapers or policy organizations in Morgantown, W.Va., Clarksburg, W.Va., Shelby, N.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C. I was able to do a lot in my journalism career. I interviewed a governor after he admitted to an affair, was yelled at by a number of coaches, and had NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick leave an interview with me and a few other reporters. It wasn’t my fault.
Though I have many great memories from my journalism career what often defined my career was a feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t fulfilled deep in the core of my being. Sure, I wrote well and could cover any topic from high school wrestling to state budget negotiations with ease, but it wasn’t me. This was a frustrating realization for someone who from a young age wanted to do nothing but work as a writer.
It was this realization, along with several things that were going on in my life at the time, that led me to finally ask God, “What am I called to do?” The answer to this question led me to leave my comfortable life in North Carolina to take on the challenge that God has set before me in Kentucky. The realization was that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. I was called to do something else with my life. This calling to be a pastor was one that I had run from, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.
The nature of calling is central to Christian discipleship. All of us have been called by God in one way or another. At its most basic element, a calling is essentially how we are to live in response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Author Gordon T. Smith speaks of each of us having three specific callings. The first is to love God. We are called to love God in response to the love God has shown us. The second is our passions. We’ll talk more about this in a bit, but when we think of passions we are thinking about those things that God has gifted us to do or has broken our heart about. It is those things that stir our emotions. Finally, the third calling is how we live out the first two in our lives. Our third calling is about the ways we will love God and uses these gifts and passions each day.
None of us are exempt from being called by God in some way. We may not have recognized or known it, but, yet, God has called us for a specific purpose to fulfill a specific thing in the kingdom of God. With this, we can relate to the prophet Jeremiah. Our passage is a recounting of his calling by God to serving as a prophet. Jeremiah would go on to serve as a prophet who challenged the people in how they lived in response to God’s ways in the days and years before the Exile.
What this passage is, then, is Jeremiah looking back and remembering God’s call upon his life, a call that was often difficult and placed him with few supporters. This sense of call comforted him in those difficult times. Jeremiah’s remembrance of his calling says something to us today. What exactly calls us to look deeply within these words. We might even be willing to ask ourselves this question: What might God be calling me, us, and our church to today?
The remembrance looks back to Jeremiah’s youth, but even well before that. We are told that before Jeremiah was born that God created in him certain gifts and talents that would be useful in fulfilling God’s purposes. Think about the meaning of this statement. Before Jeremiah was born, God knew Jeremiah, loved him, and gave him gifts, skills, and talents, that would benefit the kingdom of God. The Lord also consecrated him, which mean that God had prepared him to do this specific task. God’s grace was with Jeremiah well before he knew who God was in forming him to being the person the Lord needed him to be.
All of us have had this experience. Before we were born, God formed in each of us various gifts, talents, and passions. Some of us are gifted with great abilities in financial stewardship. Some of us are gifted with passions for children and youth. Some of us are gifted with talents of writing, teaching, building, and so many other things. No matter what our talents are they come from God to be used in service to Christ and to all the world.
Our identity as followers of Christ is defined by this very truth. We are called to love God and serve Christ and others out of this love. God didn’t gift us so that we would become rich by the world’s standards, but so that we might become rich in the Lord’s love in sharing the Good News through our words, actions, and deeds to the world.
It is an overwhelming reality to think God loved us enough to create in us gifts and talents to be used within the kingdom. It was overwhelming for Jeremiah. As the call narrative goes on, Jeremiah tries to find every reason why God has the wrong person in mind. Jeremiah says that he doesn’t know what needs to be said. He also says that he is too young. Jeremiah’s objections are similar to those we read from Moses when he learns of God’s calling upon his life. Jeremiah did not feel capable of the massive responsibility God had entrusted him with.
We can relate to this. The desires God has for us are overwhelming, challenging, and difficult. It is not easy to follow what God asks of us. So, much like Jeremiah we come up with excuses why God is not really asking us to do the overwhelming, challenging, and difficult. Do any of these excuses sound familiar? God, I can’t do what you are asking, because I am just too busy. God, I just don’t have the training to do what you ask. God, you have the wrong person.
These same excuses echo within the halls of our churches. God, we’re not big enough as a church to do the mission you have called us to. God, our budget is way too small to do what you desire. God, the community around us is just too difficult to reach, so you must be mistaken.
We all have made excuses to God. Here’s the thing: God does not want our excuses. Instead, the Lord desires a willing heart. With a willing heart, God can do so much in and through us to change the world. What might God do in us, in our church, in Latonia, in Covington, and throughout Northern Kentucky, if we let down our guard, let go of our excuses, and say, “Here I am Lord … send me.”
If we are willing, there is a promise within Jeremiah’s call statement for us. God will prepare us and guide the way. That is the message given to Jeremiah and us to not be fearful of what God asks of us. God tells Jeremiah to not be afraid and, even more, that he would protect him. God’s guidance would be with Jeremiah and us as we go out into the mission field to serve Christ and others. God goes with us in place we go and in every way we seek to use our gifts and talents. Yes, the mission is difficult, but with God’s presence with us we have nothing to fear.
Something else is comforting for Jeremiah and us in these words. Jeremiah recalls that God touched him and put the words in his mouth. God’s guidance never left him and he equipped Jeremiah for the mission to speak the difficult words to the people. What Jeremiah said was spoken to him first by God. The same is true of us. God speaks in us the things to say, the missions to undertake, and the people to love. God equips us to do the work of the church. We do not have to go to seminary to be in ministry. We do not have to know everything there is to know about church leadership. All that is needed is a desired to be used by God, a willingness to learn and grown, and a desire to go out and serve Christ by the way we love and serve others.
In your bulletin, this morning, you received a copy of our Lay Leadership survey for the coming year. It is a tool that will help us to pray and discern about our leadership needs for 2014 and beyond. Admittedly, it is easy to look at this process as a mere formality, to check the box, and fill in all the spaces and move on to something else. This would be easy to do, and, admittedly, something I have done in the past. What if we did something courageous, something unique, something challenging? What if we used this time to ask God what he might be calling us to do? What if instead of simply filling in the blanks, we asks God how we might enhance the ministry God seeks to do here at Trinity? What if we asked ourselves how we might help in making disciples of all people in the name of Jesus Christ?
There is something for each of us to do, out of our talents, to serve Christ, the church, and love others. All of us have a part to play in helping the church to be the living witness of Jesus Christ in Latonia, Covington, Northern Kentucky, and throughout the world.
God forms us. God calls us. God equips us. Yes, the work is challenging. Yes, the work is overwhelming. Yes, the work is costly. The work and the mission of serving Christ through the gifts God has given us is holy, powerful, and life changing.
God has given each of us gifts and talents to serve the mission. We have been formed for a purpose. What is your part? What has God been calling you to do that you’ve made excuse after excuse in order not to do? What is God calling Trinity to do in Latonia?
Truly God has called us. Where are we willing to do for the Lord in response?