Sermon: "God is Calling - Don't Hang Up"

Delivered November 11, 2000 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: God wishes to use us in spite of feelings of inadequacy.

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Let us pray. Lord, we would be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus today. Some come confused. Some are not sure of what is happening. But we know that you walk on the road with us. We ask that you would open our minds so that the Scripture might burn in our hearts; at the end that we will realize that you walk with us and that you are guiding us and that you are filling us. We pray your Holy Spirit would do that very thing now in Jesus' name, Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10. Listen to God's Word today. If you would like to follow in your pew Bible it can be found on page 533 and I am reading from the New International Version.

"The word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.' 'Ah, Sovereign Lord,' I said, 'I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.' The Lord said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant'."

Some people think we are facing a national crisis. But if you want a national crisis, you really have to go back about 50 some years to a time (in fact, the anniversary date is going to be celebrated in about two weeks or so) when this nation was cast into the worst of wars. It was a difficult time and during that time of true national crisis, there was a famous poster. I Want You poster I know you can see it in your mind. You know the one where Uncle Sam is kind of sternly pointing a bony finger, and what does it say on the top of that poster? "I want you." Because it was a difficult mission. It was a stern mission. It was a hard mission and there was a passionate expression to that poster. You are needed. In the same kind of way, Jeremiah was being asked by God to go into a very difficult mission. If you know anything about Jeremiah, you know how hard his ministry and his mission was. What makes someone say "yes" to a difficult mission? You guys are going to be third service guinea pigs now. I want you to take 15 seconds, turn to your neighbor and answer the question, "What makes somebody say 'yes' to a difficult mission?" and then I want the three best answers. You have 15 seconds. Ask the question to one another, come up with the answer and if you think you have the best answer raise your hand and I will ask you and you will tell the whole congregation......Okay, three more seconds.....

Okay. What makes somebody say "yes" to a difficult mission? Somebody who thinks they have one of the best answers of the day. Yes, Mark, Money!!! I don't know how much they were paying the people back in World War II, but that may be. Okay, yeah, Jeremiah and Paul, they were compelled to do it and if they didn't do it, it would burn in their bones. What else? Some more. Yes. Carrie. When you would be worse off if you didn't. Yeah, that the end is greater than the risk involved. It can be an honorable mission. Thanks, that was pretty good. How about if you save people? If people are saved. Their lives are changed and in spite of the difficulty or the danger that we encounter, it means such an incredible difference for those whom we encounter. But I have to confess, part of me doesn't want to do what is difficult and if I am not missing my guess, that is probably true for you too. Sometimes I feel like "let somebody else do it." Let somebody else go on the front lines. And I think Jeremiah felt that way. He said it in verse 6. "Lord," I mean I'm paraphrasing but he said, "I really don't feel up to this Lord, I am not really very excited about the thing you are calling me to do." But when God calls, it is not wise to hang up or even put God on hold. Because it's God who's the one who calls. It is not like God is trying to sell you on the idea like the Navy recruiter. Join the Navy and see the world! You know, back then they drafted; today, they recruit. And you have seen the commercials on TV. They show everybody on all corners of the globe. Join the Navy and see the world. That's not the way God does it. God is not doing that. God tells us you have been drafted. I want you.

I remember in my sophomore year in college, I was just merrily going along a few credits behind where I should have been. And I got a letter and it said you are 1H, which meant student classification has been changed to 1A. Now for those of you who are not aware of what that means, it means you are now actively being asked to join the services. College student or not, and I think it was because I was behind a couple of credits, I got that letter. So at 5:00 in the morning one February day I had to get onto a drab olive green bus and bounced along from Clemson University over to Columbia, South Carolina. By the way, Clemson won yesterday 16 to 14 over University of South Carolina with a last-minute field goal and I am really happy about that. But anyway, I got there at 7:00 in the morning and went through all of the induction physicals. I mean I am just as nervous as a cat. I am thinking what is going on. I do not want to be here. When I got back, I spoke with a major in an ROTC program who I know. They worked it all out and the classification went back from 1A to 1H and I breathed a sigh of relief. And let me just say for those of you who weren't so fortunate, any Vietnam veterans here, I want to thank you for what you've done on our behalf. But what I am trying to get at is this: It is just easy to respond by saying, "Please let somebody else do it. Let somebody else go." And it is understandable because it is tough to stand up for God. It is tough to be a mission for God. I don't know how many of you pray at mealtime in public, probably most of you I would think, but even sometimes praying in public seems a little tough.

When God calls, it is like the army. I don't want you as you are. I've got a spiritual boot camp in mind. And on the other end of this spiritual boot camp, you are going to be vastly different than when you went in. And you are going to feel more equipped to answer the call. So I want you to think of the points of this sermon as God's loving, sometimes challenging, prodding to get us into shape because Jeremiah was called to be a prophet. And the word prophet - "nabe" -- means "one who has been called" and God has called you just as clearly as God called Jeremiah. So think of these three encouraging thoughts or reminders about God's call on your life. And you know, God's call on your life can change many times. It's not just one call and that's it. God may be calling you to something new or different or a new challenge that you never thought that God would be calling you to. So, whenever God calls, listen to these three thoughts and reminders as a way of moving to boot camp to prepare you to answer and respond:

The first point is this: 1) We are called intentionally by a God who knows us intimately. Look at verses 4 & 5," the word of the Lord came to me" Jeremiah says. "Came to me." That is a personal address... "saying before I formed you in the womb, I knew you before you were born, I set you apart, I appointed you as one who is called to the nations." I knew you before you were born. I set you apart. I appointed you, and anyone who is in Jesus Christ the same things are true. Think of Ephesians Chapter 2:8-10. I am just going to read them to you. If you would like to turn you can, but just listen. Think how this parallels Jeremiah's call. "For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do." God has called each one of us to an incredible ministry and works. So if anyone here today is tempted to feel insignificant, I want to ask you a question. Why? Why on earth would anyone feel insignificant in light of these texts? You are unique. God knew you before you were born. Before you were good for anything. God said you are good for what I want to do. I appointed you. I gave you. That's what the word appointed means. I gave you to others. And that makes sense because God is a God who gives. "For God so loved the world that he gave", and God has given you and me so that others might be encouraged and brought to him. Your place in God's plan is not based on having enough votes. It is not based on an entrance exam. It is not based on having a certain personality. You have been chosen to bear fruit for God by God's grace. You have been chosen for God's purposes.

I had a dream last night that I was standing in front of the pearly gates and there was St. Peter and he had his clipboard and he said, "George, you get 100 points, and if you get 100 points, you can get in. And he said, "Let's hear some of your works." So I said, "Well, Lord, gee whiz, I became a Christian 30 years ago and for about 25 of those years I have been in ministry or actively preparing for ministry. I'd say 25 years of ministry up to this point." Peter said, "1 point." I said, "1 point? That's it?" He said, "Yes, just one point." "Well, let's see, in those 25 years of ministry I think I have visited lots of people in the hospital and lots of people in prison and other places, a lot of visitation." "1 point. That's 2." Now my palms are starting to sweat and I said, "Well, I've tried to give financially and in other ways to the Lord's work." "1 point." I was really starting to scratch my head and I'm thinking, "Okay, okay, here's one, a good one." "I have moderated Presbyterian church sessions." (laughter). He says that's just 1 point too. Now I'm out of things. I'm like at 4 points. I said, "I feel so helpless and inadequate right now, Lord. Except for the grace of God, I don't have a chance." He goes, "Grace of God=96 points, come on in." The actual reality is "grace of God=100 points, come on in."

You and I are called to ministry not because of anything other than God's grace has chosen you. "I have chosen you. I have appointed you," he says. If you are in Jesus Christ, he is calling you to do something and many of you are doing it. He may be calling you to something new and you have to see that. God's grace is the reason for being in ministry. That's point #1.

Point 2 and this is found in the next verses. It is very normal to recoil at the thought of God's calling us to the ministry or to a certain task or certain time. It is normal to recoil and not want to do it and verse 6 is very clear " Ah, sovereign Lord," I said "I do not know how to speak. I am only a child." I am only a young person. It is very normal to site an excuse for not wanting to serve and I have heard of people, maybe you have too. Maybe you know somebody that actually injured themselves so they could go for 4F when the service was calling. I remember too a situation that happened at the university. This was around the time of the draft lottery. Do you remember draft lottery back in the late 60's? They put 365 dates in a barrel and they started drawing dates and if your birthday was one of those dates, you were put into a certain order to be drafted. I remember this one guy down in South Carolina, he was psyched. He was feeling lucky that day like a guy with a wad of bills in his hand going into a casino; he just was feeling lucky. He got a six-pack of beer and he got his pretzels and he called a party to his room and he said, "This is my day." No joke. Guess what happened? His birthday was picked #1. I couldn't believe it. And it is really normal to say again, "Let somebody else be it. I don't want to be first in line." Jeremiah pled the excuse of inexperience and inability. He said, "I am too young and I can't talk too good, Lord." And in verse 7, the Lord says, "No. Wrong answer." Verse 7, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you." No dice with God saying inability and inexperience. He is intimately aware of us. He is investing in us because of his grace.

I can imagine God saying, "Boy, here were go again. I asked Moses and he said he couldn't talk either. I asked Gideon and he said, "I am the least in my family." I asked Solomon and he said, "Who me be king? I am just a child." You read enough of these accounts and you start to think that God doesn't know how to dial a phone. "Oh, sorry Jeremiah, I thought I was talking to your dad, Hezekiah. I didn't realize that you had answered." God doesn't dial wrong numbers. God wants stuttering Moses. God wants Solomon's rule. God chooses the weak and the unexpected on purpose to shame the wise.

One day, a young man asked Muhammed Ali for advice. In his classic way, I can't do it, but you know the voice. He said, "Stay in college, get the knowledge and stay there till you are through. If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, then they can sure make something out of you." That's the way it is with the Lord. It is normal to recoil, but God takes the weak and makes something out of it. So don't use that excuse because the Lord won't hear it.

Third point: God will supply what we lack so that we might fulfill his divine call. And that is found in the last three verses of the text -- 8, 9 & 10. The Lords says, "Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of them. The people I am sending you to. The situation I am putting you in. Don't be afraid for I am with you and I will rescue you declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me Now I have put my words in your mouth." Boy, I tell you what. That is the prayer of every person who ever tried to speak for God. "Lord, put your words in my mouth." He says, "See today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot, tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plan. Don't be afraid. Don't use the excuse that you can't speak. My words are in you. I will give you my words." And he says, "This mission that I am calling you to, it is not some rinky dink thing. It causes nations to be in the balance. The Israel nation, the destiny of Israel is in the balance on your mission." I wonder if that's not true of our own commitment to God in this time and place in our country. That's why God gave Jeremiah his phone number. Do you know God's phone number? It's Jer-333. That's God's phone number. If you flip to Jer, Jeremiah 3:33, you will find this "Call to me and I will answer you and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not know." That's God's phone number. That's why God had to give Jeremiah his phone number because he says, "I will supply to you that which you lack." And when we draw near to God in prayer, we gain strength. God will supply what we lack. It is like the saints of old who said, "Lord, grant that your heat in my heart might melt the lead in my feet." That's the kind of praying. That's what happens when we pray. That God will move us to another place.

Now listen to me. You are not an accident. You are not an afterthought. You are God's agent in this world. And so I ask you, "Are you tired?" Call God's phone number. Are you cynical? Remember that God has a plan that affects the destiny of nations and people and you are part of it. Are you despairing over the size of the task that God is calling you to do? God will sustain you. Do you fear lack of ability? God will touch you at the point of your weakness. Did you see in the text how God touched Jeremiah's lips right at the point his weakness? He says, "I don't know how to speak," and God touched his mouth. God will touch you. He just wants you to be available. Do you need strength? God says, "I am with you. I am all the strength that you will ever need." Do you lack assurance? God says, "I want you. Do not be afraid." If you don't understand these three things -- that you have been called intentionally and intimately by God, that it is normal to recoil at God's call and that God will supply what you lack -- then you will be rendered ineffective in the kingdom.

You know, I have never seen a mother bird force a chick out of its nest, but I have read about it. It goes something like this: When an adult bird knows it's time for its babies to fly, it starts to push. Now if the chick doesn't get it, the adult bird starts to peck at the talons or the feet of the baby. And it gets to a point where it becomes more painful for the little bird to hold on than to let go. You see, the adult bird knows there is no danger in making the baby bird do what it was designed to do. Bird have feet and they can walk and birds have talons and they can cling, but walking and clinging was not what they were designed to do. And the mother bird knows that it is no big deal to force its babies to do what they were designed to do, which is fly. Flying is what birds do best and so like that, God knows that giving ourselves to his work and his kingdom and to others is what we do best. That's the design of the universe. And some of us look pathetic clinging to the dead branch of this world. The dead branch of bank accounts, and of things. Clinging to a nest of selfishness. We don't think we can risk because we have never let go and God is calling you today to let go again. And when you do, you will be amazed at the experience. You will soar. You will soar in God's grace. You are given. Throw yourself into it. Because God wants you.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, we thank you so very much that you have looked with favor upon us and I do pray right now Lord for any here today who are not confident that you are in them. I ask that you would open their hearts and minds. Help them to know that you are the Savior of the world and the great hope of God and help them to open their hearts and receive you. Lord for those who have received you, we pray that you would remind us again that you never call us to that which you don't equip us to perform and as we prayed earlier Lord, forgive us for those times that we just cling on to our thing, whatever it may be. Help us to let go even as we worship you in this time. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

© 2000, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org