Several weeks ago, I planned what I might preach about during my first month or so here at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, and when I read these passages from Jeremiah and Luke, I thought “perfect.”
Jeremiah is being called by God for the ministry.
In Luke, Jesus has begun his ministry and is preaching is first and his second sermons.
How perfect is that for my second sermon here at Grace Covenant?
Listen to what Luke says about the first sermon Jesus preached:
Jesus “began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”Not bad.
And then, after Luke describes how Jesus preached on a passage from Isaiah, everyone was beaming with pride. This, after all, was the home town folk of Jesus. I suspect that Jesus looked around the room and saw his Mom. Brothers and sisters. An uncle or two. Probably his pastor and his kindergarten teacher – or whatever they had back then.
You can hear the pride in the words Luke records,
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
But read further in this passage from Luke and you have to wonder, “What was Maynard thinking? This is an awful passage to preach from for one’s second sermon in a church.
Because when Jesus preaches the second sermon, this is what happened in Luke’s Gospel:
When the people heard Jesus, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and led him to the top of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might throw him off the cliff.”
Things did not go well for Christ’s second preaching experience, so what possessed me to think that this would be a good text for MY second sermon?
The one saving grace in this is that I haven’t seen any hills here, and I haven’t seen a cliff since I left Georgia!
What drove me to these two texts was obviously not how that second sermon ended for Jesus, but the fact that in both of these texts the common element is being called by God.
In Luke, Jesus is called prior to the section of our reading – Jesus is called, he is baptized, then he is tempted by the devil, and then he comes out of that experience and begins to preach. The first text he selects comes out of Isaiah about that Old Testament prophet’s call – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
In Jeremiah, God calls the then-young prophet:
“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.”
Now I firmly believe that all of us are called by God – not just preachers and pastors, but teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, volunteers who work with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts – we are all called by God in life, and we are all called to be and do many things.
I am called to be your pastor. I am also called to be a husband, a father, and many other things in life.
And because I have just moved here – I have been pondering what it means to be called here – to this place, or to any place.
I shared with some of the members of your pastor nominating committee my experience in being called to my first church.
I was in Seminary and graduation day was fast approaching. I was beginning the process of being interviewed by Pastor Nominating Committees.
One Sunday I visited a little church in Sumter SC – Faith Presbyterian Church.
The moment I walked in, I knew beyond any doubt that I was being called by Almighty God to come to this church and serve as their pastor.
Strangely, the Pastor Nominating Committee didn’t get the memo. They called someone else.
Well, that person turned them down!
Of course – because God had called me to be the pastor of the Faith Presbyterian Church of Sumter, SC.
Strangely, the Pastor Nominating Committee still didn’t get the memo! They again called someone else.
That person, like the first one, turned them down.
Now this went on for weeks and weeks.
Finally the Dean of my seminary called me into his office. “Maynard,” he said, “I know you’ve had your heart set on going to Faith Presbyterian Church in Sumter SC, but their Pastor Nominating Committee has just called Bill Davis, and Bill is in trouble at his church and he will take ANYTHING. There’s no way he will turn down that church. So start looking elsewhere!”
I looked at my Dean and told him, “God has called me to go to that church. I know it. I feel it. I believe it. But if that Pastor Nominating Committee doesn’t see it, then I suppose God will call me somewhere else.”
Surprisingly, Bill Davis turned down the call to serve that church.
FINALLY, the Pastor Nominating Committee scrapped the bottom of the barrel and decided that instead of an experienced pastor, maybe they should look to the seminary and get someone without any experience.
So scrapping the bottom of that barrel, they called one of my classmates – Gary Jones!
Lo and behold, Gary turned them down. He said there must be something wrong with that church because with everyone turning them down. He said only an idiot would go there.
FINALLY, the Pastor Nominating Committee, after having scrapped the bottom of the barrel and come up short, looked at me.
YES! There I was, ready, willing and eager. They called me to serve as their pastor.
I have always been blessed when I go from one church to another with a very clear sense of God’s call.
There was another time when I was interviewing with a church in Washington DC. It was the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. What a great and historic church. Just a few blocks from the White House, Presidents often worshipped there. Abraham Lincoln worshipped there. It would have been so neat to have been the pastor of that church, but this time it was me who said no. When I told the chair of the Pastor Nominating Committee that they needed to look elsewhere, and that God was not calling me to serve that church, there was a long silence on the telephone. Finally the chair of the committee said in disbelief, “Do you who we are? We’re Abraham Lincoln’s church!”
Apparently, one did not say “no” to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
But I knew without a doubt, that God had not called me there. I’ve always been blessed with a clear sense of where God wanted me to serve.
That’s the way it was when I came to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.
I came across information about this church and that it was looking for a pastor, and immediately I felt a quiet calling that I needed to be in conversation with the Pastor Nominating Committee of this church.
Now, I don’t know what sort of reaction the committee had, but in the end they did contact me for an interview, and that led to an invitation to come and visit.
When that visit began, I simply felt a clear call to be in conversation with the committee, and I was not sure what the future held. But within the first couple of hours of our visit we were sitting around a table eating lunch, and that is when I clearly knew - I am called to be their pastor.
It would still be a few weeks before the committee felt that call, but in the end, here I am.
To be called by God, one must have a sense of that calling.
No one who is called by God will be unaware of that calling. One might ignore a call from God. Run away from God’s call. Or reject it. But you will have a sense that you are called to be a pastor, or teacher, or counselor, or to go into the military – or whatever the calling may be.
Beyond the sense, there is also a struggle that comes with a call from God.
Accepting a call from God does not come easy. Even when there is a clear sense of a call from God, there will still be doubts.
Jeremiah struggled with his call.
God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you … ”
To which Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But God reassured him and said, “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.
Moses also struggled with his sense call.
Like Jeremiah, Moses struggles with this sense of call from God. “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Even Jesus had a struggle with his sense of his call – unlike Moses and Jeremiah who tried to get out of the call, the struggle Jesus had was with the temptation that came immediately after his baptism. His struggle was with a devil who kept saying, “IF you are the son of God, IF you are called… IF…”
And the struggles do not just come at the beginning of the call – but throughout the call.
How many of you here have been called to be a mother or a father?
Those of you with children will understand me when I say that the struggles of that call are not restricted to the very beginning.
Pregnancy is not easy. It is hard to be expecting a child’s birth. It’s agony. It’s exhausting. It’s a time filled with anxiety and fear and pain.
I’m told, although I do not know this for certain, but I am told that pregnancy is also difficult for the woman.
Then there is infancy.
And as soon as you master being the parent of an infant they become toddlers.
Then they become teenagers!
And that is when the struggles of being called to be a parent begin!
Anything you are called to do in life, is difficult.
There are struggles.
So when you are called by God to be something or to do something – be it a pastor, or to be an elder or deacon in a church, or to be a spouse or a parent, or to be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, or whatever - you will have the sense of being called AND you will also have the struggles of being called. And you will also have one other thing.
Along with a sense of a call, and along with the struggles of that call, you will have the support of the Spirit of God.
One of the times of struggle Jesus had with his call was in the Temptation – and it was then that the angels of God came to minister to Christ. He also struggled with his call when he preached his second sermon, and we remember how badly that turned out for him.
The people heard the first sermon and praised Jesus, then they heard the second sermon and they got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the top of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might throw him off the cliff. But Luke’s Gospel says, Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
In the midst of the struggles of our call, God provides support.
In the case of our Old Testament lesson, when God called Jeremiah, he said, “I’m only a boy.” God supported Jeremiah and said, “Don’t say ‘I’m only a boy… Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
When Jeremiah said, “I don’t know how to speak,” God gave his support and said, “You shall speak whatever I command you, I have put my words in your mouth.”
God has called us. Each of us.
I’m called to be your pastor. And I’m called to be a husband, a father, a member of the Kiwanis, an astronomer, and many things.
What are you called to do?
Some are called to be elders and deacons in this church. Some are called to be husbands, wives or single. Some are called to be volunteers with the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, and we have several of them here today on Scout Sunday.
Whatever you are called to be, there will be struggles. Hopefully, no one will lead you to the edge of town, to the top of a hill, and threaten to throw you off a cliff! But there will be struggles. There will be difficulties.
But rest assured, God will give you support.
When God calls, God provides!
Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
Ministers may use all or part of this sermon in their own ministries.