A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Only For God Jeremiah 1: 4-10 Epiphany 4, Year C, January 31st February 11, 2016

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“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.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

Some of you know that before I went to seminary I was a director of a Lutheran early childhood center. When I started the school in 2003, one of the visions for the school was to proclaim God’s work in the community around St. Matthew Lutheran located in a first ring suburb of Portland, OR, one of the least churched areas of the world. Surveys have shown that if every pew was full on a Sunday morning in Portland it would be only 4% of the population. It is a mission field indeed. We knew God was at work in Portland and we knew that proclaiming God’s word of love and grace was an important way we could participate with God. And so, in the DNA of the school were faith practices. Early on in the program we decided to teach the preschoolers the Lord’s Prayer and have the children lead the prayer in worship on Palm Sunday, followed by a potluck brunch, of course! We started teaching the Lord’s Prayer as part of our snack time prayer right away in September. We would sing our “Thank You” song and then pray the Lord’s Prayer. We used actions to help them learn it and our first Family Faith Night of the year was centered on the faith practice of prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.

In this diverse and mostly secular Pacific NW culture, curiously we would have about 80% of our families attend to play games, make remembrances of the scripture (otherwise known as crafts-but anything that is made with their hands and goes home is important) and of course, enjoy treats. We had diversity in the abilities of the children as well as diversity in the faith backgrounds: from the nones (completely unchurched), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, other Christian denominations to lifelong Lutherans.

One year, a family registered for the school in which the mom was a lifelong Lutheran and dad was a none. Their oldest child was an adorable three year old little girl named Ella. Mom wanted the children brought up in the Christian faith and dad frankly didn’t see the point. He was not thrilled to have Ella at an overtly Christian school and told me so. We began teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer and held our first family faith night. Dad did not attend with mom and Ella. Ella began to know the prayer pretty well and started insisting that they say it before dinner at home. Dad confessed he didn’t know it and Ella told him that they could learn it together. Even though Ella herself didn’t know it perfectly, Ella taught her dad what she knew of the Lord’s Prayer. She wasn’t concerned about details or exact words, she simply wanted her dad to pray with her because he didn’t know about God. Being only three didn’t stop her.

Palm Sunday arrived. The children were all excited and some parents were nervous as for many it was their first time in worship. We came to the point of the worship service where we had the children move up front for the communion liturgy. As we were organizing 60 three through five year olds, Ella began to call to her dad from the front. “Daddy, come up with me! You learned it too!” Dad gestured and shook his head no, of course, not wanting to take anything away from the hard work of the children. But Ella persisted, “Daddy you have to come up! You learned it just like me!” It was obvious that worship would not continue until dad came up. So, this six foot plus dad came and knelt beside his petite three-year-old daughter and together they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer, from memory, to God who was, who is and who will be forever. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable and everyone had tears in their eyes, including Ella’s dad. Pastor Eric choked his way through the rest of the liturgy.

We had all been witnesses to what our faith is really about: being together on the journey and learning from each other along the way. Life in God is this: God working through a child to open up an adult to the love and presence of Christ. An adult being offered hope through the ancient words prayed by children embodies the mystery of our faith. God did this, even though Ella didn’t have a theological degree; even though she couldn’t read; even though she was only three.

“Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I am only a parent; I am only a grandparent; I am only a new believer; I am only a teacher; I am only an IT person; I am only a pastor; I am only a real estate broker; I am only a child; I am only…” We get easily caught into thinking that we don’t have what God needs to really do wondrous things and proclaim God’s word of salvation and wholeness for the world. We come up with a list of “only’s.” If I only knew the Bible better; if I only prayed more; if I only went to worship more often; if I only could get the courage to invite my neighbor to bible study; if I only had eloquent and encouraging words; if I were only more giving; if I only served selflessly. We make faith practices into a to-do list, or a prerequisite for being able to participate in God’s redeeming work.

Jeremiah also fell into that trap of the “only’s.” He knew that he was inadequate, without the proper training or lineage, of a priest. He knew that left on his own, he had nothing. He was only a boy; if he only had the right words. But God didn’t call Jeremiah because of his education, his lineage, his age, his skill set, or his piety. God called Jeremiah because Jeremiah belonged to God. God called Jeremiah because God calls all kinds of people, a motley crew, if you will, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. God knows that in order to reach all people, not just the Israelites, not just the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, not just the ones who know the Bible, not just the ones who pray, but to reach all people, God calls all people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, stages, and abilities. God calls you.  God proclaimed to Jeremiah and to us that God removes our “only’s.” God proclaims that the only “only” that matters is that we belong and are beloved by God. Jeremiah was known by God before he ever drew breath. Jeremiah would have heard while in the womb the prayers from the temple, the words from the scroll of the Torah, the songs of worship and the promises of God. These faith practices didn’t qualify him for the work to which God called him, but rooted him in his only identity, a child of God who always loves us and removes our fear.

Faith practices remind us that with God, a boy can tell a whole nation that they must repent or fall to the coming army. With God, a boy can proclaim that God will not forsake God’s people. With God, a three-year-old can open up her dad to God’s love. With God, a baby giggling down the aisle to communion can point us to the joy in the Lord. With God, a retired person can help a youth uncover their God given gifts. With God, a congregation of faithful followers of Christ can reveal to a cynical and hardened culture that hope, faith and love are real, are here, and those promises from our ever present God will not fail. With God, death on a cross can be new life and with God, an empty tomb can be the end of all separation from God.

Faith practices aren’t so that we can know enough, but remind us that with God, we are enough. Faith practices connect us to what God is doing to transform the world through the love of Jesus Christ. Faith practices bind us, young and old, in community to share the journey that is not always easy. We are moved by the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the adult and marvel that God literally wired us for one another in all stages of life. Faith practices root us, nurture us and send us out bursting with love, hope and grace into a world that is desperate to hear that they too are known and loved by God, even if our words are imperfect. Like Ella, do not be afraid that you are “only you,” but go with the confidence that you are called and loved by the one and only God of all creation, who will remove all of your fear. Amen.

 

I have many issues-let me name one November 2, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 2:03 am
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Ok, I am following my friend, Andee Zomerman’s (natureofaservant.com) lead and doing the national blog posting month. It’s where people with a blog commit to posting every day for the month of November. I have always thought about doing more blogging but honestly, I harbor the fear that I have nothing to say (those of you who know me can quit laughing now) or perhaps more specifically, that I have nothing relevant to say.
Here goes nothin’…
Full disclosure for those who may not know me well or at all: I have many issues but my main one is that I think about my job ALL THE TIME. Not in a “OMG why do I do this work” sort of way, but more in a “I love my job, I want to be the best I can be at it and what if I don’t know enough, do enough or am effective enough” sort of way. You see, a little over a year ago I finished seminary and was ordained an ELCA pastor in youth and household ministry at a church in Lakewood, CO. Now I have actually worked in ministry for several years as what the Church calls “lay staff” (kinda like if you are not ordained you “lay” around waiting for the “real” leader-you know the pastor-to do the actual work) in early childhood and faith formation. I have a passion for stable, grounded and healthy families and my bias for that foundation is obviously Jesus Christ (if you disagree with me-cool but that is not the point here).

Families in our culture are struggling for many reasons, some that have been around since the beginning of time, and some that are unique to our time and place in 21st America. As a director of a preschool in a suburb of Portland, OR I was smacked daily by these struggles and was equally smacked by the impact of teaching daily faith practices to families who had never even considered darkened a door of a church except for affordable early childhood education. Families who barely knew about God suddenly wanted to know more about the prayers their children were learning, the Bible stories of dysfunctional families that sounded all too familiar, the unconditional love and support of community and, most of all, the idea that they were created in the image of a loving and forgiving God. In a society that remembers every wrong you have ever committed, where your credit history is a litany of all your youthful missteps, that judges you by your appearance or the appearance of your children (no mac and cheese stained shirts), and expects your home to look like the cover to Good Housekeeping, I noticed how when these families darted out of the Oregon rain through the glass doors with a big ol’ cross on it, they relaxed. They stopped and talked with one another and after some time shared vulnerabilities and the foibles of parenting and life in general.

They formed close friendships and daily life conversations on childcare, laundry tips, breastfeeding support (yes even from dads!), coupons and recipes for toddlers became an oasis in isolated and individualistic desert for these young families. It was so social in the mornings when the parents dropped off their child that we had to alter the drop off routine to accommodate this communal time. We intentionally did not do anything to curb it or shorten it but instead offered activities for the children that encouraged parents to hang out and connect. This chaotic, loud and beautiful community was the reason why I went to seminary. THIS is what the people of God are hungry for-authentic, unconditional, contextual, imperfect, non-demanding and messy community. Counter cultural, unpretentious and achingly marvelous.

Nearly every single second of my day I am thinking, dreaming and scheming about how to bring this to every family, every household, every person, every day. Obsessive? Most definitely. Could I use another hobby? Likely. Should I care that those things are true? Probably. But honestly, I don’t know how to do anything different.