Called and Challenged
Fifteenth after Pentecost - Year C
September 9, 2007
Fifteenth after Pentecost - Year C
September 9, 2007
Let us pray: O God, may these words tell of your good news. Guide them and use them. Amen.
††† So how does it happen that good news can seem so bad? Thatís the first thought that came to mind as I looked over the scripture passages for today. In other places in the scriptural record, the image of God as potter is a very helpful one, but Jeremiah uses the metaphor to describe just how unhappy God is with the Hebrew people. We all know however, that these words are not just meant for them. These words survived many centuries of time because they have impact beyond the original audience. The same goes for the reading from Luke - warnings from Jesusí lips about how difficult it will be to be a follower. Unless we are willing to let go of family ties we canít really be considered as disciples, he says.
††† Hard words.
††† Since the lectionary repeats itself every three years, there is always the option to go back in time to see what I had to say the last time this Sunday came around. In 2004 I said the passages described a ďgrumpy GodĒ but even if you are not willing to accept that, you might be persuaded to consider Jeremiah as the grumpy prophet - of that there does not seem to be any doubt - and certainly there seems to be a certain amount of grumpiness on the part of Jesus. In the reading from a few weeks ago, he went even further and put the conflict between family members even more starkly† - saying that they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother etc.
††† Sometimes you can just wish that you didnít have to deal with such hard words. Fortunately, this week there was one redeeming passage - the letter to Philemon. A breath of good news amid all the other readings that seem to cast such a dark shadow on our past acts as people of God and the challenge of being disciples of Christ on the journey forward. This is particularly good news for Onesimus - who perhaps was a runaway slave. Was it good fortune or bad luck that he ran into Paul? The letter by Paul, written to his former master, invites Philemon to reconsider his relationship with this man who had been so helpful to Paul in prison.
††† Yes, there is good news to grasp hold of in this passage, but thatís all I am going to say about it.
††† Here is why...
††† Today I was recognised formally as chaplain with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Mark Crowther suggested a couple of weeks ago that I might want to do some reflection on this role in the words I spoke today. I wasnít sure that I would, but it was there in the back of my mind as I started to plan worship.
††† The word that kept coming back to me was challenge. Those were challenging words from Jeremiah and from Jesus. In that 2004 sermon, I seized on the idea of challenge - suggesting that we sometimes need to hear challenging words.
††† The other theme that presented itself was that of the church at work - different people, different gifts - all working together to create a community of Godís people pooling their gifts to do Godís work in the world.
††† Iíve had people come to me at times expressing appreciation for the work Iíve been called to do as a minister and their added appreciation that they donít have to do it.† I have the same attitude about police work - I am extremely appreciative of the work that police officers have to do and I am glad I donít have to do it.
††† This attitude has taken a more personal level for us these days. Only four days after their wedding this summer, our son Steve and his wife Coral, set off for a cross-country drive from Edmonton to Ottawa where he was to begin his training as an Edmonton police officer. A few weeks into the training and we are already finding out from Steve about the challenge involved.
††† There is something here to be learned about being called. A couple of weeks ago we began our series of readings from Jeremiah with a protest from the grumpy prophet - perhaps this was his first fit of grumpiness - that he could not be a prophet because he was only a boy. We learned then that God would give him what he needed to do the work he was being called to do. I know that we can endure the things we are given to do when it is part of our vocation - our calling.. Keeping the goal in mind allows us to handle the challenge and the hardship we meet along the way. What would be extremely difficult for someone not called to a certain kind of work is just regarded as just another step for a person who has the ultimate goal in mind. Thatís why we need all kinds of people.
††† However, thatís only one part of challenge. Challenge comes about in other ways as well. Challenge can come to as an accounting for past acts. That certainly is what is behind the words from Jeremiah today - the people have messed up and God is challenging them with their past acts - they need to shape up and remember the promise and the ways that God has been with them in the past. In other words, they owe God something for that which God has done for them.
††† We all know that the bad acts of a few can spoil the reputation of many. The proverb is that one bad apple can spoil the whole basket. RCMP morale has been affected by just that situation over the past several months. The actions of a few can result in the questioning of the actions of many. It is challenging to live in that kind of environment, but it is one that must be faced. It is not all bad - a renewed effort to restore confidence and trust can have a result that helps everyone. Of course it is unfair to single out a particular organisation. In what ways are we as a church community being challenged by God - and how can our work as followers of Jesus be done with more integrity and sense of purpose in response to the challenge. As hard as Jeremiahíw words are to hear, we know there is a ring of truth in them.
††† In other words, and it should not be surprising, Jeremiah and Jesus knew what they were doing. Their word, hard though they may be to hear are important - inviting us to keep calling and challenge in creative and holy tension. Itís hard to be prophet and pastor at the same time - but both roles are important - speaking hard words when needed, but also caring for people without preference. We all need to hear the challenge from Jesus and Jeremiah - reminding us that there is work to do within ourselves, keeping the greater goal, the greater good in mind, but I also need to hear the words of the promise I make as chaplain to the RCMP - to care for people regardless of their faith and their circumstances in life. It is a calling and a challenge. Thanks be to God, Amen,