What does it mean to be “called by God?”
I think I say those words a lot, “called by God,” but like anything else that we say a lot, the meaning can be taken for granted. Or the meaning is lost, just one more tumble of over-used words. Worse, words can be used without giving them any thought, without really thinking about what is being said. Maybe that is the end result of the furious pace of social media? All one has to do is watch television or follow a long stream of “notifications” in one’s “newsfeed” on Facebook, and one is inundated with words being thrown around without any real thought as to how hurtful they might be or how uncivil they might be or how unkind they might be. Sometimes I shake my head, it all can seem so stupid.
Jeremiah, the prophet who speaks through the first reading we heard this morning, certainly wrestled with what it meant to be called by God. First he pretended he didn’t hear. Then he said no. Then he said, God, you must be mistaken, it’s not me you want. He protested. But, ultimately to no avail.
Being called by God begins first with God. God chooses us, each one of us, like God chose Jeremiah. And God is persistent and tenacious and eventually God get’s God’s way.
Because God sticks with us, regardless of where we wander off too, no matter how stupid the direction might seem. Then God makes use of what ever it is we do, helping us to bring forth God’s hope for the world. God created everything, called everything “good” and has expectations for this creation. God hopes.
What is God’s hope for the world? Well, we hear this over and over in scripture. Today’s Psalm says a bit about this, God’s hope for the world is that we will recognize God in one another. The ancient Hebrew people who wrote this Psalm and sang it first in their temples and homes believed in a God who was present in a physical way, a rock, a whirlwind, a force that separated water, an angel who wrestled and broke hips, a hand that held the broken hearted and the lame. By the time we get to the Gospel of Luke and to Paul and his letter to the Corinthians, God has taken on human flesh, Jesus. God is indeed physical, calling all the parts into a whole.
Last week the reading from 1 Corinthians made it clear what it means to be a - flesh and blood - body. It means all the parts, eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, heart - every part - works together for the whole. One cannot say, I have no need for you, for one part needs all the rest in order to be whole. Any scientist who studies the earth learns that each organism, each creature, each plant, every single component of the earth and the solar system is part of the whole, interconnected in a cosmic way.
For example I was surprised to learn just how valuable prairie dogs are. It’s true that most ranchers despise these creatures who burrow underground and leave holes on the surface that trip their cattle and horses, breaking legs and losing profitable animals. So the ranchers kill of the prairie dogs, poisoning them in their dens underground. But it turns out that prairie dogs are vital to the sparse ecosystem of the wild west with its tumbleweeds and sage and ragged mountains. Because when the prairie dogs are killed off the fragile land loses its aeration and the little bit of fertility in the soil is gone and it all turns to dust and blows away. Without the prairie dogs there is no usable land for ranching. The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you. The rancher cannot say to the prairie dog, I have no need of you, at least not if he really wants a ranch.
Paul wrote this letter to the people in Corinth because they were being self centered - beginning to think that one person, or one kind of spiritual gift, or some achievement was greater than another. As if the person who made the most money was the best person in the community. As if the person who could speak most eloquently was the best person in the community. As if the person who was made the most elaborate meal was the best person in the community. As if any one person was the best person, to this Paul tells them to knock it off. No one person is the best, it takes all of them together to make a whole.
But it’s not just being together that makes them whole. No, they need to be much more aware of how they are being together, how they are called to be the body of Christ. Being called it turns out means learning how to love and being able to express God’s love into the whole body, the whole world. All the time.
I woke up yesterday morning with an ear worm, a song lyric rumbling around in my head. I have no idea why it was this particular song, I can’t remember when I heard it last: Something Stupid sung by Frank Sinatra, and this line
And then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like: "I love you”…
That line in the song stands in stark contrast to God’s love. Maybe that’s why it was in my head, as a sharp distinction between God’s love and the way we humans can be sometimes?
God’s name for you, for me, for all of us, is love. God’s work for us is love. Love is more than a noun, it’s a verb, an action. Called by God. Called to love, and there’s nothing stupid about it.
a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 4C: Jeremiah 4:1-10, Psalm 71, 1 Corinthians 13