Old Testament: Jeremiah (1:4-10)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “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.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “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. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
The Response: Psalm (71:1-6)
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
The New Testament: Hebrews (12:18-29)
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
The Gospel: Luke (13:10-17)
Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
This summer and fall, during Year C of our three-year cycle of Sunday scripture selections, our first readings are taken from the books of the prophets. Last month, we had readings from Amos and Hosea. The past two Sundays, we had brief excerpts from the first part of the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah was about as close as we come to a “volunteer prophet.” In what is probably the most familiar passage from Isaiah, the prophet, who is also a priest, is serving in the temple. There he has a vision of God seated on a throne. God is surrounded by mysterious beings who sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” God has a critical mission and asks: “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?” And Isaiah steps forward and replies: “Here am I; send me!”
You would never hear those words coming out of the mouth of Jeremiah, the story of whose call we heard this morning. We will continue readings from Jeremiah each Sunday for the next two months. From the very beginning, Jeremiah tried his best to avoid being God’s prophet, giving excuses and begging God to take away the role and the responsibility that he had been given. He never wanted the job, and he grew to despise it even more as the years went by. In a moment of extreme frustration, he eventually protested (20:7-8): “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me… The word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” Jeremiah hated being God’s prophet – and with good reason.
Job descriptions often include a reference to the nebulous “other duties as required.” For Jeremiah, those “other duties” proved to be overwhelming. His call to be God’s spokesperson came at a time of what appeared to be a strong, national revival, when life seemed to be going well – at least for those at the top. But Jeremiah recognized that, beneath the surface, an attitude of self-serving complacency among the nation’s leaders was dragging Judah toward destruction unless a dramatic change was made. Yet, at the time of Jeremiah’s call from God, he could never have foreseen what that call would ultimately mean and what it would ultimately require of him. The needs were constantly changing, and so his role in addressing these needs was constantly changing as well.
That is perhaps the most challenging and frustrating thing about God’s call to us as well – and about deciding to accept that call. It rarely, if ever, comes with a clear set of instructions, spelling out exactly what it is going to require of us, exactly what we are supposed to do. Circumstances change; people’s needs change; and so our response to those needs has to change as well. Among other things, that means that we have to pay attention – don’t you just hate that? We have to pay attention to the changing needs of the world and of the people around us, and then take the first steps in figuring out what we can do to begin to meet those needs.
At our recent Vestry meeting, I provided our elected leaders with copies of a document listing many of the ministries outside the parish in which I have been involved over the years. Many of them arose in response to changing needs and to new opportunities for service in our local community and in other parts of the diocese.
And quite a few of them reflect as well the response of other people at St. Mark’s to some of those same changing needs and opportunities. Over the past few decades, for example, many of you have participated in service ministries such as Home Sweet Home; Habitat for Humanity; Rebuilding Together Dayton; the annual St. Mark’s Christmas Project; tutoring and providing other services at Kemp Elementary School; CARE House; Canterbury Court Retirement Community; and contributions to and working in the Food Pantry at St. Paul United Methodist Church. Later in that August Vestry meeting, members began discussing and forming a parish Crisis Response Team to address emergency needs as they arise in the greater Dayton community.
In many cases, that is the way that Jesus proceeded in his own ministry. In today’s gospel reading, for example, notice that the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years did not come to the synagogue to be healed; she came to listen to the scriptures and to pray – just like everybody else there did. She didn’t ask Jesus to heal her or for anything else. She didn’t even approach him or talk to him when he entered. But he was paying attention. He recognized her suffering and her need, and he responded with the abilities that he had.
God’s call to us – as Jeremiah discovered and as countless other faithful people over the centuries have discovered – is an open-ended thing. It rarely, if ever, comes with a clear set of instructions: with a specific list of what the needs are that we are called to address and of what we are supposed to do to address them. That would, of course, make things a lot easier; but it just doesn’t work that way. We can’t put our confidence in a clear-cut set of tasks to be performed.
Instead, we are called to pay attention to our community and to the many individuals that comprise that community, to recognize their needs, and to respond to those needs as we are able. And, as we do, we are called to put our trust in another, in the Ultimate Other, in the one whom we call “God,” allowing God to set the agenda and to empower us to fulfill it.
If you look at all the various call narratives in the bible, the most frequent promise that God makes to those who are called is the simple “I will be with you.” That’s God’s greatest gift to us: the divine presence. It is there that we are called to place our trust: not in a carefully formulated agenda, not in what we want to do, not in what we think we are most capable of doing, but in God.
As we prepare to bring another summer to a close and to begin in just two weeks another “program year” in the life of St. Mark’s Church, our scripture readings remind us where and where not to put our trust. And we join with St. Paul (Philippians 1:6) in praying that the One, who began the good work in us, will bring it to completion by the power of God’s Spirit, working in and through us.