Message: Ordinary People
Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Date: November 3, 2013
The High School Sunday school class had been learning about the Disciples for several weeks. They had talked about their abilities, and their attributes and their call. And on the last week of the unit they had a discussion about why Jesus might have called each one of them. And when they got to Judas, one of the boys asked the teacher “Why did God choose Judas? Didn’t He know what he was going to end up doing?” And the teacher thought about that for a moment and then replied: “That’s a really good question. It’s a hard question to answer. But I have an even harder question for us to think about. Why did Jesus choose you and me?”
Why did Jesus choose me? Why, of all people that He could have chosen, did He call me to be a disciple? Why did He call me into the ministry? Why did He call me to be a follower? For me those are the fundamental and underlying questions of this Not A Fan Study as it relates to my life.
You see, I had always believed that God called people who were filled with wisdom to follow Him. Until He called me.
And I believed that God called people who lived an exemplary life, a life without blemish. Until He called me.
And I believed that God called people who were great speakers, powerful witnesses, outstanding leaders. Until He called me.
And I believed that God called people who lived in His word, studied it constantly, memorized it and could quote it for every occasion. Who knew all the right things to say in every situation. Until He called me.
I thought that all disciples had to be saints first, until He called me. And then I realized that what Christ was really up to was calling ordinary people like me, to do extraordinary things in His name. And so we come to the story of Jeremiah. You know there was nothing really special about Jeremiah. He was just a small town boy from a place called nathoth, a small village about two miles north of Jerusalem. The name literally meant “poverty”. An insignificant little ordinary place to be born. Filled with insignificant, ordinary people. His father was of a priestly family and the expectation would have been that Jeremiah would take over the priestly duties from his father. He was born to it. But at an early age, Jeremiah mad other choices for his life. He chose not to go the way of his birthright and moved from his poor village to go and try and make his fortune in the city. He was a rebellious and restless young man. And yet God called him. Not to be a priest but to be a prophet. And not just any prophet during any time in Jewish history. He called him to be the prophet during one of the most chaotic times in Jewish history, God called this boy to deliver a hard word to a people in the midst of chaotic, crisis filled times. And many dismissed his prophecies as just the boyhood imaginings of a poor kid from nowhere . Until his Prophecies began to ring true. The second vision that Jeremiah spoke about was of the Babylonian Army sweeping down from the north and crushing Israel. Defeating the army and carrying the people off into exile. But even though the Babylonians came, the people still struggled to accept Jeremiah as a prophet of the exile.
R.P. Carroll is a scholar who wrote a book on Jeremiah says that in scripture there are two types of persons who are called by God. Some are called to a more general ministry. He uses the Disciples as an example. They were called to minister to the whole world. And then he says there are those who are called for a more specific ministry. Moses to lead the people out of Eqypt. Jonah to go to Ninevah. They were called for a specific task and once that task was complete their prophetic career was done. And their call could be traced to a specific moment, that moment of calling that sets the person apart for the task. That divine confrontation that takes them from an ordinary, often mundane, kind of existence to great Saint of the faith. Followers, saints, are the ones who choose to embrace the burning bushes, rather than flea from them. But for Jeremiah there wasn’t that moment of divine confrontation. He was born to be a prophet – called, in fact, before he was even born. God always intended for Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.
I think that Jeremiah’s call and story has some important lessons for us today as we continue with our Not A Fan study and also as we think about All Saints Sunday and as we prepare to receive this sacrament. Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that God’s call only comes to us out of extraordinary circumstances. Flaming bushes. Fish’s bellies. Those kinds of happenings. But Jeremiah tells us that saints and followers are often called to step out of the ordinary circumstances of life and become something quite extraordinary. Saints are not always extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Saints are most often people like you and I, called out of the ordinary moments of life to follow God in Jesus Christ. Paul, in his letters, refers to all of those who make up the churches that he had started as saints. In terms of our church wide study then, saints are those who are followers and not just fans.
So Jeremiah’s story teaches us several things about being a saint, about following God. First of all, saints are those who are known by God. If you are following along in your Bible, look at the fifth verse of Jeremiah 1. God says: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Now to really understand what God is saying here, I think we need to unpack that word “knew” a little. Now you and I would probably say that we know a lot of people. When we see them we recognize them. Hopefully we know their name. We know who they are on the surface, but we don’t know who they are when we move below the surface. When God calls us He knows all about us. What we care about. What we are capable of. Our strengths and our weaknesses. In Hebrew, the word “knew” here can also be translated as “chosen”. God chooses us, because He knows us. Saints are those who are chosen out of their relationship with God. But there’s more to being a saint, a follower then just being known by God. Saints are those who live their life as though they are known by God. Those whose actions witness to their chosenness. God calls those whom He knows to act like they are known by Him.
And then, Jeremiah teaches us that God consecrates those He knows. One writer says:
God’s call sets us apart, consecrates us for a sacred purpose. We do not become special or extraordinary, but who we are does because we are consecrated by God for a sacred purpose.
God’s Kingdom is filled with ordinary people in ordinary settings, accomplishing extraordinary works because God has called them and consecrated them for a purpose. For Jeremiah that moment of consecration came when God touched his lips. In a sense, that is what this Sacrament is about. By breaking the bread and passing the cup, Jesus consecrated ordinary disciples to go into all the world. In fact, we call his words at the last supper which are a part of our ritual, the words of consecration. God’s Kingdom is filled with ordinary people in ordinary settings accomplishing extraordinary works because God has consecrated them for service. God consecrates those whom he knows and calls.
So followers are known by God. Called by God. Consecrated by God. And finally saints, followers, are appointed by God. Look again at that 5th verse. God says: I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Now if you think about it the idea of a follower being appointed to go is a little confusing. Followers aren’t sent as much as they are led. So how can we say that we are followers if we are appointed, sent by God. And if that’s not confusing enough, he uses that word appoint again in verse 10 when he says: See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. Sometimes God’s appointment is a difficult one. One of the most difficult things that I had to do as a District Superintendent was to send a pastor to a church that was in a great deal of turmoil. When I served in the Ashland District, I worked with a church that had a lot of problems. In the three years I was there, they went through three pastors. They didn’t like pastors. They didn’t like me. They didn’t like the Bishop. They didn’t like the people of the town because they talked badly about them. And they didn’t really like each other. If I had my way, I wouldn’t have appointed them anymore pastors. Because I knew what was going to happen. But that’s not the Methodist System. So a few weeks before I moved to the Lexington District, it came to me to tell yet another pastor that he was going to be appointed to the church. And I was honest with him about the situation in the church. I didn’t try to make the appointment into something that it wasn’t. Quite frankly, I felt like I was sending a lamb to be slaughtered. And I ended up by saying, I’m not sure this is what you had in mind on the night you were ordained and you said that you would go where you were appointed, where you were sent. But here’s where we are. I felt terrible for him. But he said to me, You know I never really promised that I would go where I was sent.
And I thought, Oh great, he’s going to turn down this appointment. Now what will I do. But then he went on to say, I really promised to go where God leads me, because I know wherever I go, God is already there. God was appointing Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. And that was a tough appointment. He was not going to be well received. But wherever he went God was going to already be there. Jesus said to the Disciples to go into all the world. That was their appointment, but then he said, I will be with you always. That was their assurance. Followers find assurance in God’s presence. In the late 1970’s, there did not seem to be anything special about Peter Storey when he was appointed pastor to Central Methodist Church a large white congregation in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a nation divided by Apartheid. Up to that point, the congregation had remained silent in the midst of the rising debate. But Peter Storey did not believe that he could be faithful to God’s call on his life and remain silent about the prejudice that dominated his country. And so he convinced the leaders of the church to open the doors of the church to those who were from different ethnic backgrounds and who had different colors skin. Immediately 200 of the most influential members of the church left and the church began to be embroiled in controversy from both the outside and the inside. The government stepped in and tried to close the doors of the church. On many occasions soldiers were dispatched to surround the pulpit when Storey was preaching and to keep others from coming and kneeling at the altar when he was praying. But through those years, Storey and the church became an extraordinary symbol and witness to God’s presence even in the midst of such terrible conditions. God had called and consecrated Peter Storey for service. And had appointed him to that place and that time. And when Apartheid eventually crumbled, he remained in the forefront of leading the country through the transition. Jeremiah I am appointing you as the prophet to the nations – which meant not just the people of Israel but to the Babylonians too.
Saints are followers of Jesus who are committed to go wherever it is that God appoints, wherever He leads. That’s who we remember today. And that’s who God calls us to be. Followers are appointed into different kinds of ministry. It may be to prophetic ministry. It may be ordained ministry, or mission work, or youth ministry, or music ministry. Or it may be teaching. Or it may be ministry in our homes or in the work place. Christ calls us to follow. Saints are just ordinary people, from ordinary places, called to do extraordinary things as followers of Jesus Christ.