Scriptures: Jeremiah 1:4–10; Luke 13:10-17
Let us pray: O Lord, open our minds and hearts to hear the Spirit’s message, given to us today. Amen.
Students of the Bible have noticed over the years when God calls, there is a set of movements that are usually reflected in the scriptural stories of calling. First there is God initiating the call, then there is an objection, occasionally there is a chastisement for objecting but there is always a reassurance from God. Then there is a commissioning of sorts. Today’s passages contain elements of this sacred dance.
In today’s Hebrew scripture, God calls Jeremiah in verse 5. Jeremiah objects to being God’s instrument in verse 6, God in effect says “oh yes you are,” which doesn’t always happen in every call narrative but is evident here in verse 7. Immediately following this is God’s reassurance, here in verse 8, and then God’s commissioning to go and do what God wants done in verses 9 and 10…in this case Jeremiah is instructed to go and preach what God wants said to the people.
Turning to Luke, we see a different kind of calling, but a calling none-the-less. Jesus, while teaching on the Sabbath sees the woman who has been crippled for 18 years enter the synagogue. “12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”
In this case, since it is not a calling to be a prophet but a calling for healing from Jesus himself, there is no objection on the part of the one being called. But there is from a few witnesses. On her part, immediately she stands up straight and praises God!
However, indignant that the tradition of the law concerning work on the Sabbath has not been kept, the synagogue leader makes his objection known and, as they would say in fencing, he makes a feint toward Jesus. Jesus, engaging in the socially acceptable, and even expected give and take of gaining honor and putting to shame, parries the stroke masterfully by linking this miraculous healing to the Lord’s day of Sabbath! And, indeed, as the scripture says, “17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame…” To top it off, one might interpret the final verse of the pericope to be a commissioning of sort as we read, “and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that [Jesus] was doing.”
We don’t know, of course, other than praising God, what the healed woman goes on to do or be in her life of service and praise; but I would be willing to guess she continues witnessing for the rest of her life how Jesus cured her – on the Sabbath, even; and how she was set free from her ailment amidst a great prophet’s teachings in her home town.
Let’s turn, for a moment, to the question of contemporary contexts. Does God still call? Is the pattern still evident in such a secular age as we live in today? Have you been called to something particular? While you reflect on that, let me tell you another story.
The calling of Rev. Robert Booth, the Methodist circuit rider whose statue sits atop his marble horse on the capitol grounds in Salem, Oregon evidenced this pattern. He witnessed a Methodist gathering in Missouri in the early part of the 19th century and felt, as they say, “strangely warmed” such that he approached the district representative and asked if he, too, could preach the Word of God. The district superintendent made a trial of him to hear what he was moved by God to say, and upon hearing him, promptly gave him a license to preach.
It must have been too much, too soon for Robert, for his diary then speaks of running away, following his brother to seek gold in California; this being a failed adventure, one could interpret such to be a chastisement of sorts. Upon his return to Missouri, Robert gathered his family to go west to Oregon, embarking on the Oregon Trail. Along the way, he got severely sick, close to dying. His wife, Mary Minor Booth, prayed over him as they camped, bargaining with God to please let him live and she would make him preach the gospel. He lived.
They reached Oregon but he began to work as a lumberjack while Mary established and managed their homestead near what is now Yamhill. Robert soon had a lumbering accident and nearly cut off his foot. He himself agreed if he made a complete recovery that he would stop running away and become a circuit rider preacher. He did recover, traveling an immense circuit of the Oregon country by horse for many years, while Mary stayed home, continued to grow and protect their homestead from indigenous uprising, and raise their children, of which there were regular additions every year or so until the family offspring grew to a total of 12.
As I reflected on his life and began to see the pattern played out in it – a call, experienced by his feeling “strangely warmed,” an objection as he ran away for several years pursuing other worldly concerns, chastisements in his failed adventure, sickness and injury, and then what must have been some sort of reassurance as he recovered fully from each, as well as a commissioning clinched through the loose confederation of Methodists of this region during the middle years of Oregon’s pioneering days; I began to see the same pattern in my story as well.
I was a youth elder part of the Session of my home church growing up when we were tasked with finding and hiring our first part time youth director. When that was accomplished toward the end of my senior year of high school, the most incredible thought occurred to me. You could get paid and work for the church?
Despite knowing we had pastors and a secretary, it had never really occurred to me that it was a career-path job. Hiring our first youth director put it right in my face…youth ministry? I could do that, I thought. I liked working with kids. But I still had college ahead of me and an unknown path toward finding what would help me make a living and give me the most vocational happiness; one can’t live on a part time youth ministry salary. The high school magazine vocational quiz I took told me I should be a music teacher. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, so I went along with that at first, attempting a bachelor’s in music education, but actually ending in a fifth year teacher preparation program for general elementary education K-8 and my Basic teaching license.
Looking back, I wonder, since I never did get a self-supporting full-time teaching job despite three years of trying, if that could be considered a chastisement. In any rate, I moved on to my other prompting and went to seminary. But I loved working with children – and especially in the outdoors. So I tried to become an ordained full-time camping ministries professional. I was not able to pass all of the ordination exams my first, second, third, and even fourth tries. Although I got closer each time and despite the fact I had already been employed full-time by camps on a seasonal basis, then as a Christian Education Director full-time in Alaska, and finally a full time year-round camp professional in Michigan for two years followed by ten more years in Oregon, I was told I could not be ordained to do camp. Ordination was for chaplains or pastors who would be ministers of Word and Sacrament in traditional settings. Thankfully today there is more flexibility.
Through all that the nudge was still there to try for ordination, and so I tried one more time to pass my last ordination exam, and the rest of that story you know…in 2014 I finally did pass my last exam…but the position I held at camp would not allow me to serve as an ordained minister of word and sacrament; there I had to remain a lay professional. But serving a church I could be ordained. Was this the path God wanted me to choose, forsaking my love of outdoor ministries?
The assurance I have received has been continued confidence and encouragement that the work I am doing is feeding your souls and helping you grow in your spiritual life with God, even as I am exploring what God may have in store for me next. But have I been a prophet? Have I challenged you to the edge of discomfort? What about your calling here in this valley? Is there a clear sense of what this fellowship can be as an expression of Christ’s church in the world today? Are you listening to what are you called to do? How is God calling you?
What ministries of praise and service are yet waiting for you to embrace and give to the next generation of believers who must needs hear the stories of faith that have been kept alive by you and your experience of our Holy God in this place? What is needed for you to live into God’s great and mighty calling as a people? These are questions that now haunt me, looking into the future of the Church. For I am convinced, even if it is veiled from my clear sight, that there is ministry to be done, and our Lord is calling you to bear witness.
Luke tells us Jesus called her, and, “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:13)
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.