Toorak Uniting Church

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Discerning our calling

Psalm 71: 1 6     Jeremiah 1: 4 10     1 Corinthians 13
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
1 February 2004

Reading Psalm 71 my thoughts went to that beautiful statue we have here in our Church of Mary with the Christ child in the folds of her robe. It is a lovely statue and if you’re not familiar with it I can recommend you go and have a closer look at it or spend some time with it when it is convenient.

There is a frailty about her, and at the same time there is strength and determination. A mother protecting her child full well knowing what a terrible place the world can be and how little she can do to ward off evil from the life of her child. And there is the child snug in the folds of its mother’s clothes, close to her body, feeling her breathing, smelling her smells, feeling safe and as if no ill can come to it. They together are, for me, a picture of God.

God who is like a mother who wants to protect us, enfolding us in the folds of Gods robes with love, care and understanding. Supporting us and encouraging us to go out into the world but keeping an eye, just in case.

At the same time however, God is also the child, born among is, part of our existence, vulnerable, open to hurt and pain and all the terror that life can bring.

In you o Lord, I take refuge says the psalmist. Be to me a rock I can build on, a fortress where I will be safe. And when there is anything threatening me, please be there with me and help me. From the womb of my mother you’ve been with me and my praise is continually with you.

God here is like the figure of Mary in that statue, caring, strong, safe and reliable. The psalmist finding himself in the position of the child: vulnerable, trusting, finding warmth and security, enjoying the intimacy of the relationship and praising the Lord for it. There is a going back and forth, a give and take that goes both ways, a closeness that is moving in its sincerity and trust.
To live with God like that, in closeness and trust, held safely in the folds of his robes even though the world is raging out there, shouldn’t that be the goal of every religious person, every devoted Christian?
A life of inner peace and serenity, a life as solid as a rock, never to be shaken by anything? Isn’t that what it is like when we’d live close to God?

That’s not how it works though, is it?
The paths we travel along in life are often rocky, and we then are not always able to hold on to the feeling of being safe in Gods hands, are we? Such is the stuff we are made of. Insecure, vulnerable, easy to unsettle. We live with contradictions in our lives and difficulties and it is only tentatively that we dare to entrust ourselves to God and the love and safety He offers. Because we find it scary to trust, because we would rather just live our lives and be left alone where he is concerned, because being with God and trusting him makes us vulnerable and leaves us out of control.

It is with those feelings I think Jeremiah was wrestling when the day came where he discovered God wanted him. Wanted him to go out and talk to people about the purposes of God and how things weren’t going the right way.

His first reaction was not an enthusiastic "yes Lord, I feel honoured to speak for you" but it was a rather evasive "I am no good at talking and too young to be taken seriously anyway".
God has answered that even before Jeremiah gets to his feeble protest. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." is what God says.
A daunting thought. That there is somebody out there who has known us before we were in our mothers womb and has had his eye on us ever since. More than a mother is there, and a knowing that goes deeper than any of our knowing ever can. God knows who we are and what we are capable off, better than we do ourselves. He knows what our weaknesses are but he also knows where our strengths lie. He knows who we are, he has intimate knowledge of our possibilities and very patiently tries to manoeuvre us into place. Tries to manoeuvre Jeremiah into place. I have meant you to be my prophet, that is what was put into you from the start, that is what I want you to become. To speak in my name, to challenge, and pull down all that is wrong and build up what is right in my name.

And we might wonder at this stage: "What is it that God wanted me to do from my very beginnings? What is it he built into me from the start?" Where am I in God’s scheme of things? What part of me has been touched by God to serve his purposes?

That is not always easy to determine. Not all of us have the clear sense of call Jeremiah received when he was still young. Most of us just muddle through, trying to mix what we are with what we have to be because of necessity into something that doesn’t feel too uncomfortable. It is not often we come to that point where we feel at one with what God has meant us to be.

That is perhaps also because what we expect from that is far more than it actually has to be. Not all of us have been called to be prophets you see, or great preachers, or famous do-gooders. Most of us have been called to share from where we feel God has touched our lives with others. Share what God opened our eyes to, speak words that through God have been spoken to us. Nothing more and nothing less. And the growing to peace with God a lifelong process of a trial and error of surrender and trust.

There is being with God in that too, in the wavering faith, the fear and uncertainty we are at times open to. Because when God came in his Son Jesus Christ he came as a vulnerable child, as human being with fears and tempers, feeling weariness and times and impatience, experiencing deep moments of doubt and despair.

Sometimes there will be moments where we do know, and feel like the child safely sheltered in the folds of his mother’s robe. Sometimes we will know that it is this we have to do and not the other. Precious moments of clarity and peace.

Sometimes it won’t be as straightforward as that and still at other times we will find ourselves evading God’s call, finding excuses, trying not to be what he wants us to be because it doesn’t suit us and we’re not comfortable with it. Like Jeremiah who’d rather not thank you very much when he is called to be Gods prophet for the first time.

Life with God is not only the seeking of a peace of mind and a rock solid basis to live on, it is also searching, living a vulnerable life, experiencing all the hurt and pain that is around.

Coming to our calling is not about getting comfortable. Coming to what God meant us to be or do not per definition the easiest way to go. It rarely is when we read scripture. Most of the time it is very inconvenient for the peace of mind of the people concerned to be Gods servants. It is hard work.

And Jesus Christ, the child that was most certainly in the folds of God’s robes is the clearest illustration of that.

The guiding principle however, the one sure benchmark for when we wonder if we are heading in the right direction when we, each for ourselves try to discern our calling and where God wants us to be or go, is love.

Love for God first of all, love for the one that loved us to life in the first place, and because of that, flowing from that love for all that is Gods. Gods world and Gods people, Gods laws and Gods purposes. A love Paul wrote some beautiful words about with which I want to conclude my sermon.

Read 1 Corinthians 13.


© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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