St Bride's: Sermons

A Crisis of Vocation

Jeremiah 20: 1-11 & Romans 14: 1-17

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Jeremiah 20: 1-11

20 Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the Lord, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things.

Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the Lord.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, The Lord hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magormissabib.

For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword.

Moreover I will deliver all the strength of this city, and all the labours thereof, and all the precious things thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, which shall spoil them, and take them, and carry them to Babylon.

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.

For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.

Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.

10 For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.

11 But the Lord is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten.

Romans 14: 1-17

14 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:

17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

A Crisis of Vocation

Father Daniel Berrigan

Both of our readings this evening reflect the challenges of vocation. I'd like to offer some reflections on these and share something of my own vocational journey.

Paul's letter to the Roman church reflects the difficulties he faces in his efforts to reach out to Gentile believers without alienating the observant Jews amongst them. The church threatened to tear itself apart on the basis of disagreements. The early church was not necessarily as harmonious as we might sometimes assume. Paul's message is that we are put right with God through faith alone and that differences in personal piety should not be allowed to divide us. We should act according to our conscience but also be careful that we do not behave in a manner that might encourage someone else to act against theirs.

This is challenging isn't it? It is because of the importance of faith in our lives that we care about how we understand it and its implications. Yet we can find ourselves at odds with other Christians be that over food laws or Sabbath observance as Paul observed or the role of women or same sex relationships as we see today.

I was brought up in the Church in Wales, my father was a churchwarden and I was a choir boy and server. In my teenage years I drifted from the faith, in no small measure as a result of realising that I didn't always wish to be associated with some of the views of other Christians which I found too, to be dismissive of other cultures and of science. The less contact I had with a Christian community the starker this became as my reference point became more extreme examples and caricatures of these views that I saw reflected in the media.

When I eventually returned to the faith it was through an experience of belonging to Christ, of having been claimed at my baptism. I recognised that the views I had found difficult did not define the faith and that Christianity is less conceptual and more relational that I had assumed. And I can now, sometimes at least, recognise in Christians with whom I might strongly disagree, that they can still be examples of integrity and of striving to live a Christ centred life in a complex world. Paul teaches us that it is the love and support that we share in our efforts to live Christ centred lives that should define Christian community, everything else is peripheral.

The Old Testament reading also reflects the challenges of faith. Having spent a night in the stocks at the Benjamin Gate in Jerusalem for prophesying its fall, Jeremiah reflects on the cost of his own calling. On hearing this perhaps we might have in mind those journalist held around the world who have sought to report from troubled or oppressive corners of our world. Jeremiah's lament can be considered an expression of a crisis of vocation. He is in derision daily, everyone mocks him and he fears revenge from those who reject his warnings. He knows that God's purposes will prevail and that Judah will fall to Babylon and the prospect is bleak. There is a sense that Jeremiah feels that he has been drawn into a vocation more intense and difficult than he has been led to believe. Significantly though Jeremiah addresses his lament to God. He may rail against his predicament but that doesn't change the fact that God is the centre of his life.

An American Roman Catholic Priest and poet, Daniel Berrigan, has recast Jeremiah's lament and provides a useful mediation on the passage I think, gathering new images in an attempt to make it fresh for us today.

Yahweh, you trickster,
with a flick of your finger
you whirl me about --
this way, that, a weather --
vane in your wild weathers,
whim, tornado, mood.

Never shall I countenance
this mad charade of yours!

You wound me, spur my flanks --
I must
under your whip
a cowering beast
neigh, whinny, roar --
"Root up, Tear down!"
On every side
ridicule greets me,
disdain, scorn.

In corners they gather,
like whispering spiders
weaving rumours --
"Malcontent, he sees
through a glass, darkness only."

Friends grown sly,
weave their spells --
"Only wait,
await his downfall!"

My soul beleaguered
whispers;
Peace, poor soul, peace --
let pass this awful
behest of His
in sweet forgetting!

Then
I swear it
your word erupts --
a fire shut in my bones
smoulders there, consuming --
I cannot contain, endure it!

Cursed, thrice cursed
be the ill-starred
night of my birth,
a mother's womb my tomb!
Cursed the gladdening word --
"A child is born, a son!"

Good news?
No. A plague --
sorrow, disgrace my lot.

Nevertheless,
You
cloud of unknowing,
of undoing --
I cling to You, fiery pillar cling to You, burn of you
and I sing, I raise
a song against the night;
my Scandal
my Love --
stand with me in the breach!

This captures something important about the nature of vocation I think. Vocation journeys involve the drawing onwards of a spirit from deep inside us, often from places of vulnerability and pain. Our efforts neatly to contain our callings merely distances us from the spirit working inside us.

My own sense of calling has been very much directed by a sense of the journey, of the path that I must tread, much less than any destination. I have felt the call to ordained ministry but also to remain loyal to my existing commitments. I work as a Consultant in Public Health in Local Government. My involvement in public health has always felt vocational but I now look forward to discovering what opportunities and challenges present themselves in exercising ministry in that secular workplace whilst my service to this community and its worship become the central point from which my vocation is directed.

My journey has thankfully not involved the sorts of tribulations that Jeremiah had to face but in his lament we see an example of how we may deal with our doubts, fears and even our anger. We take them to God in prayer.

Amen.

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