Recall the words of the poet:
Sometime when the river is ice
Ask me mistakes I have made;
Ask me whether what I have done
Is my life.
Parker Palmer tells of the time he went to a college to lead a workshop on teaching. Early on, he was warned about the curmudgeonly Professor X. Professor X would come to the workshop, he was told, but likely only to debunk whatever was said. As the workshop began, Palmer asked the teachers to tell the group about a mentor, someone who had taught them how to teach. The teachers related many stories, moving stories. After several people had gone, Professor X began to speak, not in the cranky tones his colleagues were used to hearing, but in a voice full of sadness and regret. He confessed that for twenty years he had been trying to mimic his mentor's teaching style-the results had been disastrous. His teaching wasn't working because he was trying to be someone he was not. Twenty years into his career it was just starting to dawn on Professor X that what he was doing was not his life.
Ask me whether what I have done is my life.
It's a question that dogs the prophet Jeremiah his entire life. The book of Jeremiah begins with the prophet's call. Now we don't know precisely when in Jeremiah's life he became clear about his call. It could have been when he was a boy or perhaps when he was a young man. It could have been when he was an older man reflecting back over his life that Jeremiah saw with sudden clarity God's moving in his life from the beginning. We don't know when Jeremiah's call became clear, but we do know what became clear. In Jeremiah's call, we learned that God knows Jeremiah, has known Jeremiah since before there was a Jeremiah. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you," God says. And we know that God has called Jeremiah to a specific task. "I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Now we're told that Jeremiah is not too sure about this calling. Despite his misgivings, though, God promises Jeremiah whatever he needs to live into his calling. "Do not be afraid of them," God says, "for I am with you to deliver you." Then God touches Jeremiah and puts God's words into Jeremiah's mouth.
From his call we learn that God knows Jeremiah, has called Jeremiah to a specific task and will supply whatever Jeremiah needs to complete that task. But there's one more thing that we learn from Jeremiah's call. We learn that when he lives into his call, it will be good not only for Jeremiah but for all God's people, because, you see, God's people were in a pickle. They were losing what little political power they had. Their leaders, very shortly, would be taken into captivity into a foreign land, a place where they didn't have a clue how to worship God. They didn't know how to worship God outside of Jerusalem. They needed someone to show them how. They needed someone to show them how to live their calling as the people of God in drastically changed and frightening circumstances.
The people needed a prophet. God called Jeremiah to be that prophet. And so as Jeremiah lives into his calling to be a prophet, it enables the people to live into their calling, to be the people of God regardless of where they are. Thank God Jeremiah answers the call.
It's easy to put Jeremiah up on a pedestal. He is, after all, a prophet in the Bible. Of course, Jeremiah does complain a lot. If you read the rest of the book, you hear Jeremiah complain to God, to the people, to anyone who will listen. Jeremiah has complaining down to an art form, and we like that in Jeremiah, because some of us can relate to complaining.
What we have trouble relating to is Jeremiah's call. He was called to be a prophet to an entire nation. And a vast majority of us have not been called to be a prophet to the nation. Most of us haven't even been called to the ministry. So what does Jeremiah's call have to do with us?
I have been called to the ministry. I've been called to pastor a church, but I'm not the only person in my church community who has a specific calling from God. I see it over and over, people claiming their calls by God.
* Calls to work with youth or preschoolers or older adults.
* Calls to attend to the church's physical facility-thank goodness for those!
* Calls to work with the finances of the church.
* Calls to work not only in our church community but outside the church.
* Calls to work with the homeless and the hungry and refugees, and with the earth.
* Calls to be good accountants and bankers and teachers and doctors.
* Calls to be good moms and dads and grandparents and neighbors.
There is not one person in my church community or in yours who has not been called by God. All of us are known by God. All of us have been called by God to specific tasks. God will supply everything we need to fulfill our callings. And when we do fulfill our callings, when we live our lives, not only will it be good for us, but it will be good for the whole people of God. Now, that will preach, won't it?
Just live the life you are called by God to live. And many of us until the last couple of years were doing just that. We were happy in our jobs; we were living the lives God called us to live, and then the rug got pulled out from under us. The economy soured, our savings evaporated, our jobs disappeared, and, suddenly, we found ourselves unemployed or underemployed. And all of our time and all our attention of necessity turned to survival. Trying to live the life God has called you to live seems like a luxury when you're spending your time simply trying to live.
The people to whom Jeremiah preached were also in survival mode. Their lives had taken a disastrous turn. They didn't know up from down. They didn't know who they were anymore. But what was Jeremiah's message to those displaced and devastated people? The message was that while the people's location had changed, their calling had not. They were still called to be God's people. Yes, circumstances had changed. Yes, the world now looked terribly, dreadfully, drastically different, but still they were called to be God's people.
I met a woman a couple of months ago who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 32. As the disease began claiming her body in painful and disfiguring ways, she cried out to God, "I don't know who I am anymore!" As the ringing from her loud cry subsided, she heard a gentle voice. "I know who you are. You are my child and you are beloved." But God didn't stop there. God went on to ask, "Are you still my disciple? Because if you're still my disciple, I've got a heap more work for you to do."
Sometime when the river is ice,
Ask me mistakes I have made.
Ask me whether what I have done
Is my life.
We are all known and beloved of God. We are all called by God to specific tasks, regardless of our circumstances. God will supply everything we need to fulfill our calling. And when we live our calling by God, it will be good for us, but it will also be good for the whole people of God.
Ask me whether what I have done is my life, because the answer to that question means nothing less than everything.
Loving God, Creator of our lives, make us aware of the lives to which you are calling us and give us the courage to live them. Amen.