I was minding my own business in Geometry class, comfortable in my daydreams. Twenty-five other fifteen year olds sat at their desks with the same glazed look on their faces, paying no attention to the proof that Mr. Olshevsky was writing on the board. Suddenly, we came to attention. “I need a volunteer to come to the board and solve this simple problem.” Everybody sat up straight, became deeply involved with our books. Eyes focus on a page, any page. None of us dared make eye contact with the teacher. “Mike, what about you?” he asks. “I know you can do this.”
My heart sank. “Why me?” I thought. “I can’t do this. I’ll be humiliated in front of everybody. He must have it in for me.” As quickly as I could I sorted through a list of excuses:
· first day back from being out sick,
· couldn’t walk to the board because of my sprained ankle,
· my persistent chalk dust allergy,
None would work. So I dragged myself to the board.
“Come on, I’ll be up here with you,” he encouraged. “We’ll get through this together.” So I picked up the chalk, and my mind went blank.
All of us have shared that kind of an experience at least once. We were challenged to accomplish something that required more than we thought we were able to give. Each of us may have a prepared list of excuses for just such occasions like I did. Each of us may remember when we couldn’t just say no.
That was about as it was for eighteen year old Jeremiah in 627BC. It was God, not a geometry teacher that startled him. It was not to solve a single geometry problem. It was to become a prophet to nations in great political, military, and religious turmoil. He was to “go wherever God sent him and speak whatever God told him to say (v. 7). “Wake up everybody, God told Jeremiah. “Break down, destroy, and overthrow.” As he spoke, he would incur the anger of government leaders almost everyone who know him as he tried to plant” seeds of renewal and change. This was an impossible job as Jeremiah saw it.
Jeremiah lived in troubled times. So do we. Things were radically changing in the Middle East. Assyria (Iran) had overextended itself in its empire-building. Egypt was regaining military strength. Babylonia (Iraq) was conducting border skirmishes. And there was tiny Judah in the middle of it all. Violent change was on the horizon with no hint of an outcome. Sound familiar?
Governments tried political treaties. Religious leaders incorporated foreign worship practices into their own. All to avoid the inevitable. Jeremiah was asked to speak the word of the God in all of this. He tried the best excuse he could think of: “Ah, Lord God, I’m just a kid, what I do know?”
God reminded Jeremiah that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (v. 5). God “knew” him intimidate-ly and lovingly and set him apart for a holy purpose.
Belief in afterlife is common for many Christians. But do we believe in preexistence with God as indicated in these verses of Jeremiah? What have we been chosen for by God to live out our lives in a unique partnership and journey? When we were baptized we were launched by God word for a holy mission. Jesus told his disciples, and he tells us too, “You did not choose me, I chose you, that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).
· Excuses don’t work when God’s standing there in front of you. They didn’t work for Jeremiah either. But he wasn’t going to be alone on his mission.
· Are you afraid of rejection and suffering? “Be not afraid … for I am with you to deliver you, says God” (v. 8).
· Are you frightened and uncertain about what to say or do? God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “See, I have put my words into your mouth.”(v 9).
The vital power of God was with Jeremiah and, it is with us too.
In the next verse following our morning reading, God asked Jeremiah “what do you see?’ It is important to see the big picture that God has revealed to each and any who are called, be it a person, a congregation or a nation. Understanding how it may fit into a larger context promotes success. Any risk taking becomes easier when a clear vision is before us.
Vision has its own momentum. Vision is like a magnet. It draws us to where we are supposed to be. That’s how life works. We need vision to reach where we want to be in our faith, our relationships, our vocation and our physical and mental health. Without it we don’t move forward. God created us to build a lifelong momentum guiding us back to Him.
During last Sunday’s confirmation class, a student and I were getting acquainted by asking one another questions. I was stopped in my tracks by one that nobody had ever asked me before. What did it feel like when I was called by God to be a minister?
I remember the locations, and there were more than one: one in my home congregation in Bennington, VT and the other at the Ocean S. Wellfleet, MA. But the feeling was the same. Something reached down inside me or maybe it was something already inside me that reached out to connect with the God’s presence there in my pastor’s words or in the sunrise. I felt the rush.
With the visions it made no differences what the sacrifices I might have to take: financial or otherwise. I just felt the call. The vision happened and the momentum set forth a chain of events that still continue until this very moment. Listening for God, whether small and still or LOUD and VIBRANT means pausing, praying, listening and sharing.
This is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah who perpetually wrestled with his fear and believed unworthiness. Sometimes his anxiety got the better of his mission. (chapters 9, 12, 15, and 20). But he prayed and found energy and strength. God is always with us. “Be not afraid … I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (v 8).
God has already delivered us from the confusion and hopelessness in the past. Jesus Christ has entered our lives and he offers us the power to cast a vision that will become the momentum of our lives and individuals and as a congregation.
Before I forget . . . . during that difficult moment in front of my tenth grade class, something happened. Maybe it was the pressure (more likely it was God), but I learned how geometry worked. I later on tested into an advanced placement track in my math and science classes during my last two years of high school.
I suppose I really wasn’t afraid and need not have been. Mr. O was there just like he said he’d be. And we did get through it together.
Let’s not be afraid to accept a holy mission in our lives. It is, after all, a matter of faith. And faith is, as Paul tells us, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.
May God bless us all our faith journeys this week. Amen.