August 25, 2019
Our opening verses of Jeremiah say a lot about God's place in his life from the very beginning. “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.” Listen to the action words in that sentenced, what God did: formed, knew, consecrated, appointed. Jeremiah's calling was made loud and clear.
A little boy came home from church looking visibly upset. His mother asked what was wrong.
"We learned a stupid song in Sunday School today."
"What was the song?" the mother asked.
"It says Jesus wants us to be his sunbeam."
"What's stupid about that?" said the mother.
"Because," the little boy fumed, "I don't want to be a sunbeam. I want to be a Fireman."
Jeremiah didn't want to be a prophet. As a prophet, he could plan on being mocked, humiliated, beaten, imprisoned, and threatened with death. Certainly not his first choice. For as we continue reading, Jeremiah was not sure he was the right man for this calling, “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." This calling to be a prophet was not his choice. His excuses may sound familiar, many of us have used them when we've been called on to serve. We don't have enough experience, we aren't good at speaking (or whatever it is we've been asked to do). Jeremiah says I am only a boy; we may limit ourselves with similar thoughts, I am only a new Presbyterian, I am only newly confirmed, I am only a mailman, homemaker, retired person.... In our little church, we need everyone. Look around, if you don't help, who will. In our form of government, in the reformed tradition of faith, we believe that God works through church leaders. When you are called on to serve, we consider it a calling from God. Your call is consider every bit as valid as Jeremiah's call. This is an imperfect analogy, for as much as the church leaders and the nomination committee here seek to find and follow God's will, we are all merely human and God is no longer speaking directly as in the calling of Jeremiah or Isaiah or Moses.... And so we are called to do as Jeremiah did, put aside our insecurities and our doubts and serve. We don't get to hear it, but the promise of God to Jeremiah is there for us to claim, “See, today I appoint you.” And so please, when you are called, don't make excuses, claim God's call in your life.
But God does not just call us to church duties. We can fulfill God's will for our lives in many ways; our jobs, our families, our neighborhoods, our friendships, our social activities; God is not solely focused on church but on every aspect of our lives. And we are to seek to follow as God's lead us.
I have a book on my desk with a rather challenging title. It is a book by Steve McVey called “52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday.” 52 chapters detailing common ways churches misdirect or misunderstand the teaching of scripture. The chapter I want to look at today is titled, “You need to Find God's Perfect Will for your Life.” Now what in the world makes that a lie? Don't we each want to live in God's perfect will? Here's how McVey begins the chapter, “Finding and fulfilling God's will for you life is one of the greatest mandates laid on us by the modern church world. We must find God's perfect will. It all sounds so good, so noble. There's just one thing wrong with that popular belief. It's not biblical.”
I read that and so I went to my online Concordance to see what God's word has to say about God's will. Jesus makes only a few references to God's will, mostly in John's gospel. He stresses obeying God's will, but trusts that we will know it from his teachings. In John 7: 17 he tells his listeners, “Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.”
So I turned to the Epistles. There were more references, but again, not as many as I would have expected. Most of the references are by Paul and about the fact that he became an apostle by the will of God. But as I read through those verses, Mr. McVey is not entirely correct. If he means that the importance of to studying and learning God's will is not in the bible, he is wrong. If he means that we need to discover God's will in every detail of our lives, he may be correct.
A couple verses to share, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12: 2) This clearly says that we need to learn, to discern God's will. It doesn't say that there is one certain path that our lives are intended to take and if we don't find it then we are in trouble. From McVey again, “Many Christian live in almost neurotic fear that they have missed (God's will for their lives). They live in terrible self-doubt about past choices, racking their brains in self-analysis: 'Did I marry the right person? Did I go to the right college? Did I go into the right profession?... They are paralyzed in their present decision making in the same kind of self doubt.”
We are an older congregation and many of those choices have already been made in our lives. God's will was not always that clear when we had to make those decisions. And we can read that God's will can be known, but when a big decision has to be made, God's will may not be all that clear to us. And we are blessed when we look back, we see God's hand in retrospect. But there continue to be big decisions in our later years of life. Housing, when do we leave our house for assisted living? Transportation, when is the point when we need to quit driving? A decision that should be considered before it is too late. Our work, when do we retire from our jobs, a decision I made a year ago. To share my process with you, I am a list maker, pros and cons. I was seeking God's will but understood that I would not get a visit from God like Jeremiah received. So I made a list of pros and cons of retiring early. Here is my actual list. It includes as pros more time for grandkids, more time for church, my health, work on the house, bug Julie. Cons include less money for kids, for trips, for bank accounts, how I'd fill my days, and bug Julie. A list helps, but the final decision must be a combination of facts and God's leading. Prayer time is a big part of big decisions. But again, no audible voice....
We do need to discern God's will, but God is pretty good at working in our lives in such a way that God's will is found. Another place in Romans Paul wrote this, “who can resist God's will?” (Romans 9: 19) That's a pretty good promise to claim. And I read this on Friday morning in my devotional God is...I am..., quoting Tony Evans: “Don't worry about finding your purpose. If you are seeking after God, your purpose will find you.” I think this is well said. It echoes what Jesus said, if you honestly seek to follow God you will know the truth, God does not ignore our honest seeking. And as I look back over my life it does seem that God's will has found me more often than I have found God's will. We can rest in that promise. And we believe that this life is not all there is, so we turn to this promise from Hebrews 10: 10, “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” For when all is said and done, God's will is for each of us to dwell eternally in the presence of our Lord and Savior. 1 Thes 4: 3 tells us, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” If you want to be sure we are in God's will, make sure you have aligned yourself with your Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah had a tough life as God's prophet. God told him he would never marry so he spent a very solitary life. At one point, he was beaten and put in stocks for a day. He he was put in prison, there were plots to have him killed. In fact, Jeremiah the prophet earned a nickname, anyone know what that nickname was? The weeping prophet. For the reasons I just named, but more because he knew that God's judgment was coming and that the people would not listen to him; they would not change their ways. And so he wept for his people.
So what kept Jeremiah going through all these troubles? Perhaps it was the words God used when he was called, “ Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Isn't that a wonderful message? And it is a message I believe we can all claim. We are a holy creation, known by God and loved by God. The psalmist echoes this good news in Psalm 139 addressing God, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;” Like Jeremiah, we can gain the strength and stamina we need by remembering that we are made by God, we are not an accident of nature, we are fully known by God and God loves us.
Jeremiah also kept going because he had a purpose in his life. “before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Now most of us do not have the calling that Jeremiah had, but we do have a calling. First and foremost, we are called to faith in Jesus Christ. But faith in Jesus also includes knowing him as Lord which means we are to obey his call to serve. You have a purpose and a calling, to love God and love your neighbor! We are never done being called by God to serve. Prayer, random acts of kindness, giving, caring for family, allowing others to care for us are all part of that calling; and you each have very specific calls in your own life.
You are called by God. You are known and loved by God. These are not two separate facts. You can be both a fireman and a sunbeam. You can love God with all your heart and soul and strength and you can love and serve the people in your life as Jesus has called us to do.
I had a friend tell me once, “I'm trying to be a Christian.” That sounds like being a Christian is something we do. It is not. Being a Christian is a relationship. Loving, knowing, be known by Jesus is what makes us a Christian, not the things we do. But... I understand what she meant. Trying to be a Christian means trying to live as Jesus would have us live. Jeremiah had a very specific calling. Ours can be a little less specific, a little less clear. But as we seek the things of God, God's will has a way of finding us. So seek after God, know the great love that is yours that God demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus. Go forth to “be a Christian” in the sense that we are called as children of God, and that we are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, and that our lives demonstrate the love we have experienced. You are not an accident. You were made and called for a very important task: to glorify God and reflect God's image to others. Amen.
Hymn: Lord, I Want to be a Christian 372 PH