Sermon on Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Matthew 28.16-20 for Pentecost +14 C August 21, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 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.”

Matthew 28.16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.   When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.   And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are a science-friendly church.  Today is the Sunday before our children and youth go back to school where they will learn to understand the world scientifically.  Eventually some of them, like my son, may even become science majors in college.Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.24.32 PM

We all benefit in many ways from the long, sustained, dedicated work of scientists who have studied the human body, diseases, medicines, and the technology that keeps saving and prolonging our lives.  We are thankful for science.  We do not live, anymore, in a world that fears that diseases and accidents are caused by curses or malevolent invisible spirits or evil eyes.

On the other hand, we do not believe that science can account for all of the experience of our lives.  We do not believe in a purely mechanical universe of complete randomness and chance.

Meaning and Purpose

Almost all people believe that their lives mean something; that there is a purpose to life.  I Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.29.50 PMhave watched cattle out in the field grazing grass, or just standing there looking vacantly into the distance.  We cannot live that way.  Even though our lives are busy with mundane details, from shopping to doctor visits, from school work to jobs and even recreation, we believe that our lives are not only about those activities.  Life is about more than that.

We believe that there is a depth dimension to life.  Science does not have the tools to investigate this dimension.  It is part of the human spirit.  There is a ground of being that supports us and sustains us, as scripture says, one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (see Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief)

We encounter this depth dimension of life in our sense that our lives do have meaning and purpose which a purely mechanical universe cannot provide.  We also encounter this depth dimension especially as that mysterious connection we feel with other persons.  In fact, we experience this depth dimension itself as personal.  Probably more than what we mean by personal, but certainly, not less.Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.33.15 PM

So, we believe that personality is of ultimate significance in the constitution of the universe which we touch, uniquely, in personal relationships.

So, when we go out and look at the silent stars at night, or gaze up into he infinite blue above us, we believe that we are being encountered by that ultimate reality that is a personal ultimacy.

Our belief, moreover, is that this ultimate personal ground of our being is best defined by love.  In biblical language, “God is love.”

As one author as put it,

“Love is the ground of our being to which we ultimately ‘come home.’”  (J.A.T. Robinson, Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.37.39 PMHonest to God, p. 49)

We “come home” to Love, when we come to embrace, by faith, that we have been called by God.  We have been accepted, in spite of our condition of lostness and alienation.

Jeremiah’s Call and Doubt

Today we are looking at two texts that lead us to this understanding.  The first is from the prophet Jeremiah.

We are not prophets, and many aspects of Jeremiah’s sense of being called were unique to him.  Nevertheless, we share with Jeremiah this profound sense that we are known and accepted, and even called into life with a purpose.

Jeremiah’s language about his sense of calling and purpose is poetic, filled with fantastic imagery.  He imagines that even before birth he had a life purpose (which could not be literally true, unless you believed in the pre-existence of the soul, which we do not).

His sense of call came with a deep confidence, but also with doubt.  Was he up to it?  He says,

“I am only a boy”

To which he hears the reply,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.40.12 PM
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”

Throughout the stories in the scriptures, from beginning to end we hear that word “with”.  From the creation myth of the Garden of Eden where God meets with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening breeze, to the mysterious encounter Moses had with the God of the dark fire, who showed him a glimpse of his glory, the with-ness of God is a constant theme.

So, we need not fear.  The God who grounds our lives in love, who is the very love behind all specific personal loves, is with us.  Even if we are but boys, or girls.  Even if we are but mortals, standing at the abyss of our finite lives.  In the classroom and in the waiting room, God is with us as love, calling us to know that we are accepted in love; calling us to trust; calling us to courage, enough to walk forward into whatever life has for us.

Jesus’ Call and Promise

Abstractions are difficult, but for us, we have a concrete example of one who showed us Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 6.44.34 PMhow to live completely grounded in love; Jesus, the Christ.  In Jesus we see one whose trust was so deep that he could live life entirely for others.  In Jesus we see one who emptied himself of self, to the point of death.

This brings us to the gospel story.  Matthew depicts Jesus after his resurrection on the mountain with his eleven remaining disciples.  Matthew includes the reference to eleven, not twelve, to keep our minds on the fact that discipleship is hard, not easy.  Even one of Jesus’ disciples decided Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God was not for him.

Doubt is even present there.  Our version of Matthew says,

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Actually, the word “some” is not in the original.  It was supplied by translators who seem not to have been able to understand that you can worship and doubt at the same time.  Literally Matthew wrote,

they worshiped him and they doubted”. (cf. Mark Allen Powell, Loving Jesus, in Stoffregen’s crossmarks.com).

So the eleven meet with Jesus, and in this story, they hear him voice the call that calls all of us.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”

It is a call to a mission; a purpose.  We, who have encountered the transcendent God, in Jesus, the person who lived his life completely for others, are called to be people who go into the world with that message.

We are called to commit ourselves to a life for others.  We are called to go out and be communities of people who enact that drama of death and rebirth, which is what baptism does; death to a life lived for self alone, and rebirth into Christ’s life; a life for others, a life grounded in the ultimate reality of love.

But who has the courage to live that way?  Who has enough faith that love will win, to trust, in the face of life’s challenges?  Who can live without being overwhelmed by doubt?

We need help, and so again, we hear the promise, this time on the lips of the risen Christ, saying to all of us:

“remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”

What does this mean?  It means that God is with us; always with us.  With us at the joyful prospect of a fresh new year of school, and with us in the painful process of walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.”  With us, giving us the courage to trust, so that, grounded in love, we can live our lives for others.

This is what he means when he calls his disciples to teach fellow disciples, as he says “to obey everything that I have commanded.”   That is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To turn the other cheek.  To go the second mile.   To forgive when someone sins against us.  To forgive even 70 x 7 times.

It means to learn the lessons of the beatitudes, that it is the poor who are blessed with the kingdom.  The peacemakers are the children of God.  The ones who hunger and thirst for justice are the ones who will be filled.  That the meek are the ones to inherit the earth.

Who can commit to such a life?  Those who hear these words:

“remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

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