February 3, 2019 sermon

Posted by on Feb 3, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

February 3, 2019

“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1)Those are the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah when he felt called by God to speak the Word of God to the people of Israel and was attempting to find a way to avoid this call. It seems that Jeremiah, like many people who feel such a call, was intimidated by it, felt anxious about it, and sought to escape from it. After all, often God asks such people to speak out against injustice, stand with the oppressed, proclaim freedom for those being held in bondage, and risk one’s own life for the benefit of others. At least that was how it was in the days of Jeremiah, and continues to be in many areas of the world today where speaking out against powerful rulers can lead to imprisonment, torture, and even death. Who wouldn’t try to get out of following such a call?

Thankfully, it’s much safer to answer the call of God here in Canada, although it is not always easy, as shown recently as Canada speaks out against human rights violations throughout the world. Doing so often comes with a cost. So, what does it mean to be called by God? Some might say it means a person has to become a religious leader or dedicate one’s life to charitable causes. Others might claim a person called by God to proclaim God’s Word needs to study scripture endlessly and spend many hours in prayer and contemplation. Still others may have other ideas about what the call of God means. But do we really have to make it more than it is?

In my opinion, most people feel the call of God at various times in their lives. When we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, those who choose to be baptized and those presenting an infant for baptism are feeling this call in some way. The call of God, in my opinion, is nothing more and nothing less than the call to love God and love one another. In the Christian tradition, answering that call means being baptized in the name of Jesus, who demonstrated love of God and love of others amazingly well. We teach that baptism helps a person to grow in love as the Spirit of God makes itself known in that baptized person’s life.

There is a song sung by Jackie DeShannon that says, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing there’s just too little of; no, not just for some, just for everyone.” In the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, the author writes: “And now, faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13) Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, God will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather God will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”

There are many other people who have spoken or written about love, both well-known and powerful people, and little-known and everyday people. It seems all people instinctively know that love is probably the greatest gift anyone can ever give and receive. Being called by God is simply a call to live one’s life with love. That is what we hope for all people baptized into the Christian faith. That is what we hope for all people of all faith traditions and all nations, no matter where they come from or live, no matter what they believe or don’t believe, no matter their race, gender, or anything else. As cliché as it sounds, love really is all that matters in the end. Sadly, too many people never truly grasp that truth until their earthly lives are about to come to an end. Some never do.

Paul’s letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth almost two thousand years ago is as important and valid now as it was then. He wrote one of the best known passages about love in that letter. He describes love as patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He claims love is not irritable or resentful and rejoices in the truth instead of wrongdoing. He goes on to say that love bears all things, endures all things, hopes all things and then makes an audacious claim when he writes that love never ends. Notice that he makes no claim that the things we work so hard to accumulate or the skills we have learned or the money we have put away or the accomplishments we may have had or the experiences we so much crave or anything else in this world and our lives never ends. The only thing Paul believes continues forever is love.

Love is energy. Love is spirit. We can’t buy love in a store. We aren’t able to point to something we build or create and say, “There’s love.” We can see and touch love in the things we buy and create but they are not love of themselves. It is only when people have put love into creating them that they become objects that appear to contain love. Take the love of those people away from those things and they become inanimate objects once again. But it’s so much different when it is not a thing but a person we are talking about. For instance, we all know how much a new baby is loved by his or her family and friends. Babies of all kinds seem to draw love towards them despite the reality that they can do almost nothing but eat, cry and poop. Why is it that almost all people love babies when those babies can do nothing for us but require us to do so many things for them?

I think the answer can be found in the error of my statement above – you see, babies can do something for us – they can accept us just as we are without any biases or prejudices or preconceived ideas about us. They need adults to survive and I think we adults need them to survive as well, or at least we need them to enjoy life and do more than just survive. It doesn’t have to be our own baby that gives us this gift of love. It doesn’t even have to be a human baby it seems, for some people. The innocence of new life has some great power in it that may remind us of how we all started out. As babies we had no great desire for anything except food, warmth, and love. Especially love. While all three are needed to survive, a baby who is feed and kept warm but not loved will always struggle in life.

Why do we think that would change as we grow in years? Why is it that we too often begin to desire and work so hard for things that are not able to give us love? What is it in us that sometimes leads us away from love and moves us towards something else? How is it possible that we lose some of that instinctive knowing that all we really need to fully enjoy life is food, warmth and love? Where does this craving for the things and pleasures of this world come from and sometimes begin to dominate our lives?

Whenever I am asked to participate in a baptism, I am thankful. It is one of those times in our faith lives that we get to celebrate the love of God calling somebody to a life of love. I have also noticed that this is one of those times when we see smiles on the faces of most people in church. Even though we can sometimes be a bit reserved in our Lutheran churches, even appearing to be unable to laugh at truly humorous situations, a baptism seems to allow us, and even invite us, to loosen up and be more like we would like to be more often. By that, I mean people who know how to laugh, how to rejoice, how to see the good, how to celebrate with others, how to give thanks, and how to love.

When the prophet Jeremiah claimed he did not know how to speak and was only a boy and could therefore not be expected to be called by God, what he was really saying was that he was afraid to proclaim the love of God to people who might reject his words and ridicule him for them. Jeremiah knew the kind of world he lived in and how those people with power might react to his message to clean up their act and act with justice and mercy. Jeremiah knew the history of prophets in Israel and the abuse and punishment they often endured at the hands of people who liked power more than they liked anything else. Jeremiah was, understandably, afraid. Yet, in the end, he responded to God’s call and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets. His words have continued to make a positive impact throughout the world, even reaching us here today.

Have you been called by God to proclaim God’s Word of love? Absolutely! I have no doubt of that at all. All of us have received this call, whether we realize it or not. At your baptism God called you to be children of God who, like Jesus, live lives of love. That can be done in our actions as well as our words. It can happen as we treat one another with respect, kindness, compassion and all the other qualities of love that Paul lists in his letter. It can occur whenever we put aside our own needs at times so that others can have their needs met. Love is known when we accept people just as they are, just as this young child being baptized today does.
So, let us rejoice in this baptism and in all baptisms in the name of the one who has created us, the one who has redeemed us, and the one who sustains us.