SERMON TEXTS FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 21, 2016
“Briefly It Enters, And Briefly It Speaks”
By Jane Kenyon
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two
hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . .
When the young girl who starves sits down to a table she will sit beside me. . .
I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .
I am the patient gardener of the dry and weedy garden. . . .
I am the stone step, the latch, and the working hinge. . . .
I am the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white before the rest. . . .
I am there in the basket of fruit presented to the widow. . . .
I am the musk rose opening unattended, the fern on the boggy
summit. . . .
I am the one whose love overcomes you,
already with you when you think to call my name. . . .
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 word of the Lord came to Jeremiah…”
File this under “for what it’s worth”
and see if, like me,
you think it is worth knowing.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah
in 627 BCE (Before the Common Era).
Saying “627 BCE” is like looking with the naked eye
at a star in the sky –
there are gazillions of them
and they seem to be free-floating
and who knows how near or far they are.
So allow me to fill in around the neighborhood
of 627 BCE.
627 BCE was 773 after Moses was born.
627 BCE was 148 years before Confucius was born.
627 BCE was 62 years before Siddhartha Gautama,
the Buddha, was born.
627 BCE was 624 years before Jesus was born.
Anyway, you get the idea,
627 BCE was a long time ago.
In 627 BCE
the boy Jeremiah
felt a current running underneath his life
and it reached up from under the surface
and pulled him into its depths.
“Help! Help!” he cried out in desperation,
utterly convinced he would drown.
“Relax, move with me,” the voice assured him,
“Be not afraid.”
(What story do we remember that from?)
What the boy, Jeremiah, did not know
is that King Ashur-ban-i-pal was about to die.
What Jeremiah didn’t know yet
because he was just a boy,
is that when God speaks to us,
whether in a whisper or a yell
or simply brushing up against us in an ever-so-subtle way,
there is always something important we do not know.
If you don’t remember anything else from this sermon,
remember that point please:
Just when we think we are in the catbird’s seat
because we have a sense of being called
or tapped for a mission,
there is always some humongous piece of information
about which we are completely oblivious.
Just count on it.
The boy Jeremiah
had no way to know that King Ashurbanipal
was about to die.
Who was Ashurbanipal, you might ask.
He was the very last strong emperor
of the Assyrian Empire.
In other words,
the entire world as it was known
was about to change.
There was about to be a global earthquake
in terms of human civilization at the time.
Just to put it in historical perspective,
the fall of the Assyrian Empire
was far more significant in world history
than Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo,
or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989,
or the twin towers in NYC in 2001.
The death of Ashurbanipal would mean
that within the lifetime of that young prophet Jeremiah,
his own nation would fall,
his own city would be destroyed…
his own Temple would be burned to the ground,
his own family would be enslaved.
In fact, his own religion would face extinction
because its God…
the one that had just called him by name,
would be revealed as powerless in such a way
that it would make all of that god’s previous promises seem like lies.
At least that is how it would look
to a lot of people
for a good many decades.
But here is the bigger point,
and the one we need to understand
if we are going to make sense of this story.
When the voice in that boy’s life
said to him that he, Jeremiah, was called
even before he was formed in the womb;
and that he was consecrated as a prophet,
even before he was born;
it meant that without him –
without that boy,
that particular boy –
then the whole history of the world
I know that most of us won’t believe a claim like this
but here it is, believe it or not:
Upon that boy rested the cosmos,
the very orbit of planets and stars,
not to mention nations and peoples.
On top of that one small boy
rested the course of history.
I didn’t make that up,
it really comes form the Hebrew Testament scholar,
Walter Brueggemann who says
that without the prophecies of Jeremiah
the succeeding generations of Judeans
who were exiled and enslaved in Babylon,
would never have had the metaphors or visions of faith
that allowed them to survive their holocaust –
the holocaust in Jeremiah’s day, not the Nazi one.
Think about that for just a moment.
Without Jeremiah’s prophetic poetry
that came to pass in a particular moment of history,
Judaism may well have vanished.
What Brueggemann means by that is,
the people of Israel were carted off and enslaved
by the Babylonian empire
and brutalized in ways even more merciless
than what we read and hear about around the world today.
And so Judaism as a religion may well have collapsed
without the poetry and the prophecies of Jeremiah.
So grasp that thought.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam
all rest upon that one boy’s decision
to enter into the current of his life
when he was called to do so.
It begs the question,
was it an historical accident
that Jeremiah was there in which
to plant the seed of recovery
at the very moment of destruction?
It could have been serendipity, right?
It could have been pure coincidence,
or someone else might have stumbled along
and done the same thing Jeremiah did, right?
But either way,
coincidence or God’s intent,
an entire universe of events
rotated upon that boys’ decision.
A universe of possibilities,
a veritable cosmos of orbiting lives,
rested upon one small boy
listening to the calling in his own life.
Listen to me now, please listen to me.
I do not care how old or young you are,
how well ensconced in your life you are
or if you are freshly cinched
to a new saddle of events –
your life is calling to you now.
Your life is reaching up
and it is pulling you down
and you may think that if you go with it
you will drown,
but that turbulence you may feel is life not death.
The thing I want us to stop and consider
is that somebody,
and maybe it is even an entire universe of somebodies,
is depending upon us entering into the depths
and moving with the current
that our lives are calling us into.
There is no difference
between Jeremiah and you or me.
Just like you, and me
Jeremiah was just an ordinary little kid
who grew into his life.
We cannot be so arrogant or ignorant
as to assume we have no role in the universe;
that it all floats right by or over our heads.
We cannot be so unimaginative
as o take for granted the rut that we walk in
when there is a current pulling at us to enter it.
You and I matter
more than we have ever been brave enough to imagine.
God has a dream for your life,
even for those of us who might imagine
that our lives are almost over.
Into every life God dreams,
and the supreme joy and opportunity of every life
is to live into God’s best dream for us.
God’s best dream for our lives, yours and mine,
may not be a prophetic call like poor Jeremiah
who suffered great anguish in his life.
But whatever it is,
there are countless other people
waiting for each of us to get into the game.
We may die before we come to recognize
how anyone else ever came to benefit from our small life,
but, as Jane Kenyon imagines,
“we are the blossom pressed into the book,
found again after two hundred years…
the food on the prisoner’s plate…
the water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills…”
The decisions you and I make,
or the ones we refuse to make,
will leverage a tremendous universe of other events.
We do not know how,
any more than Jeremiah knew what to expect when,
as a young boy, he responded.
But now, right here,
I am going to call on you
to do something.
As I do, it is in ignorance of what difference it will make,
but as your preacher,
and as the priest-in-partnership with you,
I am making a specific call to you –
those of you who are members of Trinity Geneva
(and anyone else out there listening).
In the constellation of your life,
there is someone who is struggling
toward a spiritual awakening.
They think they are alone.
Someone you know has kept their yearning
and their fear, silent.
Meanwhile, they do not know
that you are engaged in a spiritual awakening yourself.
They do not know it
because you never told them.
The person you have never shared this part of you with
does not know you have a safe haven
that connects you to a vast underground railroad
of spiritual wisdom
and spiritual community –
and by that, I mean Trinity Church.
It is likely that the person you know
who you have not shared your spiritual yearning
or awakening with,
thinks that Trinity Church
and other places like this,
are just stone buildings
with antique glass windows
and stern, prejudiced judgments.
They likely think that a place like this, and people like us,
are just waiting to condemn them
and humiliate them
and change them.
They probably do not know
that Trinity is a house of prayer for all people,
and a community of nurture
that could be a resource for them.
They do not know that,
because you have not told them,
because you haven’t opened your own yearning
and your own questioning
and your own wondering to them.
But what if you did open yourself to them?
Who else might be impacted because you did?
What universe of lives might be changed
because you did?
What incredible historical event
might be shifted and influenced because you did?
You don’t know.
You simply do not know the potential impact
of you opening your life to someone else,
any more than Jeremiah did.
There are powerful things that you, and only you,
were born to do.
There are powerful things that you, and only you,
were born to say.
There are powerful people that you, and only you,
were born to know and be known by.
All of them depend upon you.
“YOU are the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .
YOU are the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .
YOU are there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .
YOU are the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .
So I hope you will answer this call
and open your life
to someone who is waiting for you to do it.