Why do you do what you do? What is it that motivates you and drives you and gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you do what you do?
I was reading this morning’s Jeremiah reading and thinking to myself, “the calling would have to be pretty blatant, pretty obvious to grab people’s attention these days, the calling would have to be something pretty vibrant and compelling. You’d have to have this scar on your forehead, or this ancestral link to the God’s of Olympus or being Darth Vader’s son or something like that to get people to follow their callings these days.”
One of the things I like about Jeremiah is that he follows even though he doesn’t want to, even though he laments his calling and is often found griping to the God who called him in the first place. Even when Jeremiah gives thanks for his very life, he cannot help himself and is found saying, “yeah that’s nice of you, but couldn’t you have left me alone? I was happy back then!”
For the most part, I think in the modern era we have been driven by money. I don; think that’s either good or bad it is simply a thing. Our culture values progress and progress requires growth and growth requires effort and so we are all called into participation in that effort. We work we achieve, we earn we buy we live we die.
But that being the case, I’m not so sure that the reward in the end is, on balance, worth the effort we put into it up front. After all, all of that effort ought to earn us a little more time, a little more life to spend with the fruits of our labor but while we have managed to forestall death with machinery and wizardry in the medical field, we haven’t managed to make the last five years or so a time of leisurely reveling in our stuff.
But we all make calculations and we all decide what we want to be and who we want to be and what we want people to think of us and then we get to work making our dreams come true.
Not so Jeremiah and so I think that most modern folks may have a hard time understanding what it is that drives someone like him, someone who hears the call and just follows.
Because the reward Jeremiah seeks is not something he can spend, or something he can see even, something he can turn into comforts for himself or his family. Jeremiah doesn’t have some image of God as being the benevolent, loving father figure we have had given to us, after all a benevolent, loving father figure wouldn’t drag us out of our homes and out of our careers and make us walk the earth yelling at people that they were doing evil in the Lord’s sight. Not a great way to make friends, I assure you.
No, Jeremiah merely seeks to do the will of the one who created him, nothing more than that. God is God and Jeremiah is not and so Jeremiah does what God commands because that is what you do when confronted with the vast sum of all of your not-God-ness when all of God’s majesty comes and gives you your marching orders.
Nowadays we seem to think that only the chosen ones are called like that, only Harry and Luke and Percy have the mantle of a calling laid upon their shoulders. They do their heroic bit and fret their hour, or more likely ninety minutes upon the screen and we get to feel relieved that someone is minding the store.
Heroes serve the purpose of letting some of the pressure escape, they relieve the pressure on the rest of us to do the hard things, the things that need to be done, we all admit that at least, but you need a Captain America to selflessly throw himself into danger, that way the rest of us can watch in safety.
They don’t do it for the accolades or the rewards; I don’t recall Captain America ever living in a mansion. Plus, I don’t know how many of you remember this or even knew it in the first place, but Captain America is his military rank.
Captain America is a soldier. Like the other veterans in this room. Captain America is only special as a hero because of his strength of body. His strength of character is in common with all of the other people standing there, signing up to fight and perhaps die for something they believe in. A calling.
As a generation, I’m not at all sure that folks my age understand that as well. Maybe that’s why we see fewer of them in the pews. And if we don’t understand it, it is difficult to teach it to our own children. Maybe that’s why we see fewer of them in the pews these days.
Our media points to the chosen ones and tells us that they are the ones who act out of altruism, they are the ones who do the right thing because it is the right thing, the rest of us can sit back and play the game, someone else, the chosen one will come along and make things better.
They tell that to folks my age, and we, whether or not we mean to, repeat it to our children.
But I have a secret for you. Don’t tell anyone just yet.
Jeremiah was not crazy. Nor was Jeremiah the chosen one.
He was just a son of a wealthy family who heard the voice of God one day and followed where it led. He was just a guy, just a person who thought that the word of God was reward enough, perhaps even more than enough to leave everything and hit the road, speaking the word of God to the world.
He was an actual hero. My favorite by a long stretch because you hear how much he’d rather be lying on a beach getting a tan with shocking frequency and almost maniacal anger. Jeremiah is not a superhero who comes in and saves the day with straight teeth and the heroic pose.
He sounds like so many people I’ve heard over the years resisting their callings to be heroes.
“I don’t have time” meets “I’m not good at public speaking” meets “I’m not comfortable talking about things like that” which then holds hands with “Isn’t that your job?” and merrily down the road they go, waiting for a superhero to come and save them, save you, save the church, save the world.
As if Jesus was going to come and make everything better, as if Jesus was going to come and make all of the sin and death we fear in the world go away, as if Jesus was coming to save us.
Oh, yeah! Mission accomplished already. Jesus already did come and save us, taking away the sin and the death. You have been saved, you are free.
But it didn’t really happen that way, did it? It didn’t fall on you like mystic rain or some voice from the sky, a column of fire by night and a column of smoke by day.
A hero came into your life and spoke the words of salvation, the words of eternal life to you and let them settle in. They taught you what it meant to follow in Jesus footsteps and to live as His disciple. It wasn’t any easier for them to do it that it is for you to do it but, like heroes do, they did what they were called to do without counting the cost or awaiting their payment.
They had been paid already, you see. They had themselves received this gift from someone else, who heard the word from another pair of lips even farther back. They knew the story of salvation and they told the story and they told it to someone else and the cost wasn’t so much and the reward was eternity so it seemed a good bargain.
You’ve already been paid as well. Out of all of the real things there are to be afraid of in the world, death is no longer one of them, being alone is no longer one of them, being without God and the family of God is no longer one of them.
Your life’s meaning is no longer only to be found in money and possessions, it can have flavor undreamt of by others because you know the will of God and the joys of sharing God’s love with those who have not heard. You know the pleasure of a community that will not abandon you, that will lift you when you fall, and be your family whatever comes along.
We have a variety of gifts and a variety of joys and we are profligately generous in sharing them.
So why is it that we think that sharing the story of our faith requires some kind of chosen one? Why is it we become all shy when it comes to sharing the blessings we have become so accustomed to?
People have joined the military to defend something that they hold dear, the notion of what this nation can be, not so that they can be heroes but because they believe in what they are doing, that it matters. Maybe that’s the definition of a hero, a real hero: someone who takes what they believe and lives it out, come what may.
It doesn’t even matter what they do. They may be called to public service or simply tom serving the public, they are not always the same thing, you know. They may be called to what seems like a backwater of the universe, inserting widget “A” into slot “B” on an assembly line or testing the consistency of circuit “J” before handing the board to someone else.
Maybe you are a cop or maybe you are a shoemaker, there is no job description of a hero when it comes you your faith, it is just something you are inside of whatever you do.
So go and do it, whatever it is and know that Christ is with you, that whatever happens you do not stand alone and when you are called upon to do the hard thing, to apologize when you don’t want to, to speak honestly of your faith when it is difficult and you are embarrassed, to keep your eye on the ball to be sure but also to keep your life in the shadow of the cross, just do it.
Some days will be great and some days will be just awful and none of them will be as bad as they would be if you didn’t already know the truth.
That Christ died once, for all, so that we might be alive in His name, brave enough to do the things that need doing and say the things that need saying and willing to give our loyalty, our very lives to the one who made it all possible, who makes it all possible each and every day, giving and forgiving us for the sake of nothing more than what Jeremiah knew to be true, God is who God is and we can only sit back in wonder and then follow where we are led.
Not because we are the chosen one, the one who can do what no one else can do but for exactly the opposite reason, because we are all the chosen ones, the ones who can do what all of us can do and what all of us must do so that the life and death of Christ will be more than the founding of a private preserve, a club on a hill where the saved gather.
It can be the gas station for the faithful, the place where we come to discover why it is that we do the things we do, what our calling is and why it matters. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, lawyer, teacher, investment banker it really doesn’t matter. Luther said that a Christian shoemaker was not one who sewed little crosses into his shoes but rather one who made good shoes and sold them for a fair price. You can do anything in Jesus name.
And when you do, when you are brave enough to do what is hard, after all, Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword because it isn’t always going to be easy and it isn’t always going to pay off; but when we are brave enough to do much and more, perhaps even all in His name, then everything we do and everything we touch will carry the same blessings we carry, the knowledge of salvation, the assurance of faith and the world will be blessed because we have been blessed.