Jer. 1:4-10 / Lk. 4:21-30

Both the readings from Jeremiah and from the Gospel for today have something to tell us about vocation. The passage from Jeremiah tells us about the call of God to the reluctant young Jeremiah to become a Prophet.   The Gospel reading tells us about Jesus proclaiming to the people of Nazareth his vocation to be a prophet. Jesus did this by asserting that his ministry was the fulfilling of the prophecy that he had just read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  The passage that he had read showed what the signs of the Messiah would be.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19)

After Jesus had given the scroll back to the attendant and sat down he addressed the congregation saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (vs. 21)  The people were amazed and began to speak well of Jesus.  But Jesus then began to warn the people not to expect him to do the things there in Nazareth that he had already begun to do in Capernaum. He quoted a well known proverb, “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” (vs. 23)  He went on to give examples from the Hebrew Scriptures of miracles done in earlier times by the prophets Elijah and Elisha in lands outside those of the Israelites.  This was to show that God’s grace and mercy were not confined to the people of Israel.  This enraged the people, who thought of themselves as the only chosen people, and they drove him out of the synagogue and rushed him out to the edge of the town as if to force him over brow of the hill upon which Nazareth was built.  But Jesus evaded them and went on his way.  (Those of us who have been to Nazareth can remember how Nazareth is built up a steep hillside. The town has been rebuilt many times, so no one knows the location of that synagogue.)

In Jeremiah’s case we heard how it was when he perceived God’s call he protested that he was only a boy.  He was too young.  He didn’t know how to speak God’s word.  But God rebuked him for speaking that way, and assured him that he would be able to go to all to whom God would send him, and speak whatever God would command him to say.  (Jer. 1:6-7)   Then it says that God touched Jeremiah on the mouth.  That assured the young prophet that he would be able to carry out the vocation to which God was calling him. (vs. 9)

Jeremiah wrote that the Lord came to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) I think this reading from the Book of Jeremiah shows us that there is a sense in which there can be some kind of foreknowledge of vocation to God’s service. This is balanced by the gift of God that is called free will.

The call to God’s service can come in many ways. Those to whom it is offered are free to accept it, or reject it.  Sometimes, though, it is put it off by the person to whom it is given until “the time seems right”.  When the choice is freely accepted, then God’s grace is given to enable the one accepting the vocation to fulfill it, no matter how many earlier reservations or hesitations there might have been.

When Jesus gave those examples of God’s grace bestowed in miraculous ways outside of the nation of Israel, it offended those people in that synagogue in Nazareth because it went against their belief that they were God’s only chosen people.  But when we look at our reading from Jeremiah we can see that Jesus’ words were  in agreement with God’s words to Jeremiah when he said, “”I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5c)  Again, after God had touched the mouth of Jeremiah, he said, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (vs.10)

As I prayed with these last words from Jeremiah I came to feel that they are not to be taken literally.  I think that plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, should not be understood as referring to people and buildings.  It is the work of a prophet to pluck up false ideas and to pull down wrong concepts; to destroy and to overthrow dangerous ideologies and wrong thinking.  It is even more truly the work of a prophet and teacher to build right concepts and plant true ways of thinking.  Would that modern day political leaders could understand these words that God gave to Jeremiah in this same way.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, there are many vocations in the Church.  “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift….The gifts that he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” (Eph. 4:7 & 11)  These words were written for the Church in Apostolic times.  As we look at the history of the Church down through the ages we can see that many other kinds of vocations have developed as calls from God to do the work of the Church in succeeding generations.  Monastic communities are a way of life that is a special vocation from God that began to develop in the next few centuries after the apostolic age.  This we should remember; the vocation to the monastic life does not come to everyone.  It comes to those whom God has chosen to call.

There are many other vocations that strictly speaking are not specifically for the Church, but are for life in general.  Some of us are called to the celibate life.  Others are called to married life.  Some are called to single life, and others to some form of community life.  For some the work of technicians or artisans, carpenters, or farmers, school teachers, doctors and nurses, are vocations that we can consider as coming ultimately from God.  So also the callings for those in business, finance, and many other endeavors can be considered as true vocations.

Pray that God may bless each and every one of us who is here today as we respond to whatever vocation God has called us for the fulfillment of our lives and those whom we serve.        Amen.

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  1. DLa Rue on July 26, 2013 at 06:13

    I’m glad to see this reference, I’ll be sure to look for it!

  2. Martha Holden on July 23, 2013 at 22:39

    Following up on DLaRue’s lamentation about the diminution of support for joy in our work, I offer the book The Space Between Church and Not-Church: a Sacramental Vision for the Healing of Our Planet. It opens the floodgate of the Spirit for celebration and nurturance in the intersection between Church and Not-Church. The author is Caroline Fairless, an Episcopal priest. Hamilton Books, 2011. Energizing.

  3. DLa Rue on July 22, 2013 at 07:14

    Returning back to this sermon in its turn, or almost….the theme is still apt.

    Practical issues of basic income are hard to resolve with the call to some kinds of service. Some vocations go in and out of fashion, leading groups to support them or not as whim or interest dictates.

    Most recently, it has seemed to me, that the joy with which the liturgical arts and social justice were blended in recent decades has faded….the deontological burden of social justice is felt for its own sake, but the dimension of pleasure in serving with others and the celebration of such actions in the visual and other arts seems to be lost, as if only “serious” work were to be done….none of that frivolity, thank you….

    This in turn makes it harder for those dedicated to working in that vocation to fulfill their calling, and seems to make more dreary and same-y the fulfillment of other callings in which the arts function as impetus and encouragement.

    We know Paul worked at tentmaking for a living, but the means of support for others serving God as prophets and preachers is clearly tenuous throughout their lives.

    That’s a flaw in the system that many of us would like to see addressed, I think–but support in itself can coerce complicency…a prophet’s word should not be bought, or offered for sale, either.

    It’s a tricky case of the worker being worthy of their hire…the vocational hazard of prophets in the practical sphere, as it were.

  4. Anders on July 21, 2013 at 08:29

    When I read that Jesus accepted ministry passed down from Isaiah, I’m struck by how straight-forward it is, and how little it is reflected in the modern day Christian church. The to do list is: 1) bring good news to the poor 2) proclaim release to the captives 3) proclaim recovery of sight to the blind 4) let the oppressed go free and 5) proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

    I question if Jesus’ mission is to tear down walls and boundaries, and if the purpose of modern day religion is to reinforce them, such as by not only allowing gross economic inequality, but by creating systems to further polarize society.

    In my own vocation, I feel that I have lost my way. Thank you for this reminder that it is the calling which comes first, and then the system and landmarks constructed around it. My calling is not defined by the labyrinth of often misguided values I find around me. It is to build and plant something new.

  5. jane goldring on February 1, 2012 at 14:42

    thanks david for that message. i do believe we are not given more than we can handle. i really believe you receive back what you have sown. All we can do is the best we can with Gods help. jane

  6. Steve Cobb on January 26, 2012 at 21:34

    Wonderful message…please check citation for second paragraph.

  7. DLa Rue on January 26, 2012 at 05:22

    Thank you, David. Grappling with the results of a call is something that does indeed go on through all the days and years of ones life.

    I’ve been reading through the Hebrew Scriptures lately, finishing Deuteronomy and starting Joshua. I’m struck by the number of times the phrase, “Be strong and resolute,” is repeated in conjunction with God’s orders to the Hebrews, who are about to answer the call to become Israelites.

    I think the idea of “possessing the land” is also one that can be taken metaphorically, and that moving forward into a new vocation, or into a new phase of an old one, is one of the situations to which that image can be applied.

    May we all be faithful in seeking to obey God’s leading in our lives, and to find support in faithful friends who will help shore us up when we are unsure. The image of the waters parting not once, but twice (the second time when they crossed the Jordan) is an encouragement in that regard.

    Because God is also a faithful friend.

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