St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (January 31, 2016)

Liturgical Color: Green

Reverend Doctor Lyle E. McKee


I Appointed You

Grace to you and peace from our loving God, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, "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."

Jeremiah confronts us this morning with his personal call from the Lord—the call to be a prophet.

I am here this morning to tell you that this call is extended to you and to all of us here at St. Thomas Lutheran Church. We were formed in our mother's wombs for the purposes of God. We have been consecrated to the work of the Lord, and we are the appointed prophets of the Almighty.

Think for a moment about how you came to be here, both in Bloomington and at St. Thomas. Were you simply born to parents who happened to live here and brought you to worship? Was it because you sought a particular education that was available in this place? Or, did you marry your spouse in circumstances that made the city and this congregation suitable choices for the building of your lives together? Maybe a job or some other opportunity lured you to set roots into the soil of south central Indiana and the Lutheran faith.

Whatever your specific answer, with all of its complexities or simplicity, none of this is the real reason you are here. The reason is far more focused and important than any of these peripheral and relational considerations. According to scripture, you are here because God needs you here.

We don't do this much in the Lutheran Church, but I want us to take this biblical truth to heart this morning; and one way we can accomplish that is to say the words. If you will, please repeat after me:

"I am in Bloomington because God has called me here."

At a mission in Appalachia called Red Bird, there are banners and posters in almost every building that have these words on them: "The sign of God's presence with you is that your feet are where you did not expect them to be."

When the prophet Jeremiah affirms that his calling to the work that he has to do is from God, he is saying exactly that. He does what he does not because of the merely random or chaotic incidentals of ancestry and social standing. He, from the very beginning of his life and at the essence of his soul, is the recipient of the profound blessing of God we know as calling or vocation to a particular ministry in a particular place.

And, if we believe the holy Word of God, the exact same thing is manifestly and undeniable true of you, of each of us.

1 Peter 2:9 - "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you out of darkness into a marvelous light."

Do you hear those words? You are chosen. You are holy. You are entrusted and gifted with a holy purpose—to proclaim what God has done in you—to declare the light that has brightened the darkness of your soul through the power of Jesus Christ.

No less than this is why you are here. Thus saith the Lord your God.

Interestingly, we find Jesus this morning in the temple, declaring the same truth. He too is in that place because God called him there, with, again, the same calling to which we are called:

- anointed to bring good news to the poor

- sent to proclaim release, healing, freedom, and the favor of God.

Believe it. It's Gospel. It is, to put it simply, impossible to comprehend what it means to say that you're a Christian and not also recognize yourself as a minister (or prophet or priest).

Back to Jeremiah for a moment:

Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord."

Even Jeremiah did not feel worthy of his call. What, after all, would the God of all, the creator of the universe, need you or me for?

Again, if we look at scripture, we can see that the Lord had need of and use for creatures of less apparent worth than we. Once, the Lord even needed a donkey, a beast of burden and a symbol of stubbornness and stupidity. Still, Jesus took a ride on that donkey into Jerusalem. The common rather than the ostentatious are the tools that God prefers.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once told of an old Quaker farmer who would never use the name of the Lord in vain. But one day, when he slapped his mule's reins to get the animal moving, it wouldn't budge an inch. The farmer tried everything: coaxing, cajoling, even pleading, but without success.

Finally, he reached the end of his patience. "Mule," he said in a quiet voice, "thee knows that, because of my religion, I cannot beat thee, or curse thee, or abuse thee in any way. But mule, " he continued, "what thee doesn't know is that I can sell thee to an Episcopalian."

Regardless of our excuses, denials, difficulties, or stubbornness, we only run from the truth when we think of ourselves as anything less than called of God. And God always promises to be with us as we go about being faithful to that calling. "Do not be afraid...for I am with you...says the Lord." A promise to support the purpose.

And the purpose is given clarity in the Lord's words to Jeremiah:

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

When we can affirm with our mouths and our hearts that we are truly called by God, then we face the question of what it is we are called to be and do. In part, we already know the answer:

- 1 Peter tells us that we are called "in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you out of darkness into a marvelous light."

- Jesus tells us that we are "anointed to bring good news to the poor" and sent to proclaim release, healing, freedom, and the favor of God.

- And, Jeremiah is told by God, "today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

These are awesome challenges, but given in the context of an awesome gift—a calling from God.

We are called to proclaim, to let the light of Christ shine, and by so doing unconsciously give others permission to do likewise. Indeed, we fear not so much our darkness as our light, not that we are powerless but that we are more powerful than we could ever imagine. For we are also called to bring good news to the poor, to bring healing, reconciliation, and liberation to the world, with authority over nations to pluck up and pull down, to build and plant.

At a conference I attended, Dr. Robert Linthicum, an urban pastor and writer, shared reflections on the various aspects of how Jeremiah's call speaks to our own. What he discerns there are what he calls the "Five P's."

The "Five P's" are a summary of his answer to the question I posed a few moments ago: "What it is we are called to be and do" as called people of God. The "Five P's" are:

1) Presence - We are called to be present to the place to which we are called.

2) Prayer - We are called to pray for our place, its systems and leaders.

3) Practice - We are called to practice our faith in providing human service, working for justice, and developing community.

4) Proclamation - We are called to speak boldly the Word of God to the people who do not know the Lord and to the principalities of powers that might seek to oppose God's will.

5) Power - We are called to use the power of God's Word to confront, as Jeremiah does, the evils of the day.

Presence, prayer, practice, proclamation, and power. May these be our watchwords inspired in this season of Epiphany, when we both celebrate the light and seek to let that light be reflected in our lives. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life. Amen.

 

 

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