God’s Love, God’s Call

Jeremiah 1:4-10     Fourth Sunday after Epiphany     February 2, 2019


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.”

These are such striking words, from the prophet Jeremiah!  They are words of how intimately God knows us: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”  They are words describing how God has work for us to do: “before you were born I consecrated you.”

Out of God’s love for Jeremiah, God called Jeremiah to speak to the last kings of Judah around the year 625, to warn them that the Babylonians would destroy the nation if the kings did not lead the people to return to God’s desires for their worship and, out of that worship, to respond with care for the poor and vulnerable.[1]

Do you remember Jeremiah’s response to God?  Jeremiah said, “I’m too young!”  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.”  (In fact, when we read through Jeremiah, you will find plenty of instances when Jeremiah thought God was not with him to deliver him!  At one point, Jeremiah even calls God a liar for making that promise![2]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.”

God loved Jeremiah intimately – in the womb! – and God called Jeremiah to work that would be very difficult to do, and that even turned out to be impossible.  Fortunately, that’s not true for you and me.  (Right?  At least I hope so!)  But God has loved you and me intimately as well, since we were in the womb, and God calls us to work that advances the kingdom of God in the world.  What is that work for you?

*  *  *

I just finished a captivating memoir by a friend who was a tenured college professor, and who felt called to seminary, and who was ordained, and who then spent seven years as pastor of a dying congregation with members who were not at all interested in her leadership towards revitalization.[3]  The work burned her out.  She resigned without any other work to go to, wondering what was next for her.  What work would God call her to do next?

God loves you and me, and has loved us intimately since we were in the womb, and God calls us to work that advances the kingdom of God in the world.  What work does God call you to do?  In fact, isn’t it true that your calling has changed, with changing circumstances and experiences during your life journey?

It’s not at all unusual for a College student to ask my help in discerning what work she is feeling led to do after school.  But, as you well know, there are very few who finish school, and begin a career, and pursue it for their entire working lives.  Much move frequently there are significant changes in direction.  Technology changes and your job is obsolete.  Or your company is bought and your job is eliminated.  Or you get caught in a crossfire: you discover an unethical practice, and when you raise what’s happening with your boss, you find yourself without a job.  Or, your energy for your work simply runs out, and you find yourself called to do something completely different.  What stories can you tell?  (Have I told you about my son, who majored in English and worked for several years for a human resource company that was bought by a bigger company, and you know the story.  After a period of unemployment and job searching and being offered various jobs but turning them down, Nathan announced, “I’m going to enter the next Police Academy in Chesterfield County!”  What a surprise for his wife and his parents!  Over the past eight years, I have been moved to see how police work is a deep calling for him.  It is much more than a job.)

What stories can you tell, of needing to discern what work God is calling you to do next, as circumstances have changed during your life journeys?  For many of you in this room, didn’t retirement call you into discernment?  What is God calling you to do, now, with your energy and your time?

*  *  *

Your calling from God is your vocation.

Your vocation may be the work you are paid to do, but not necessarily.   Your calling, your vocation, is work that deeply fulfills you because you are advancing God’s kingdom on earth.

Vocation is a distinctively Lutheran concept.  Luther was the first one to teach that all of us who are baptized are called into vocations that are God’s work.  In the excellent book that many of us are studying – By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism – Derek Nelson connects the First Article of Creed (about “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth”) with our vocations.  Nelson quotes Luther, “that God’s creation includes provision for ‘all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life,’” and then writes,

“Behind and within these ten little words lies an enormously influential and important theology of vocation.  Think for a moment, as concretely as you can, what it takes for ‘the necessities and nourishment’ of your body and life.  What comes to mind?  Food?  Family?  A job?  Transportation to get to that job?  How about a police force and sound government to make your community a safe place to live and work.  A system of parks.  What else?

“Think of what it takes for there to be an economy, agriculture, parks, police, roads, hospitals, and all the other things that make life possible and delightful.  Besides all the physical infrastructure, this takes people.  God’s creative Word spoken in to the darkness of the voice that there be light commands the support systems for life.  The concrete form that my response to God’s creation takes is my vocation.”[4]

*  *  *

We read two stories of vocation this morning.  God calls Jeremiah to work that will not be pleasant and, in fact, will prove impossible.  And we read of Jesus declaring his vocation![5]  During a worship service in his hometown synagogue, Jesus reads the appointed reading from the prophet Isaiah, which gives voice to what God desires:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

            He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

                        and recovery of sight to the blind,

                        to let the oppressed go free,

            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And then Jesus tells the worshipers that this is the work he has been sent to do.  In fact, Jesus tells them, in his flesh and blood, he fulfills these desires of God!

What is your vocation at this point in your life journey?  What opportunities do you have to bring God’s liberation and good news?  It’s often not at all a big deal.  I remember, one time, in a cafeteria line, watching a fellow make my sandwich, when I asked, “How are you today?”  He stopped.  He looked up.  He said, “Thank you for asking.”  He was doing well that day – but my genuine interest had brought him joy!

Could you find opportunity for vocational work in the midst of work you’re paid to do?  One of our folks, who works in retail, recently told a story of a customer who just needed to hear some genuine wisdom for a dilemma she was facing, and our member heard herself speaking those words of wisdom!

What is your vocation at this point in your life journey?  Is it raising children?  Two of the children in our Preschool are being raised by grandparents who hadn’t planned to do that work, but they have found that it is the work God has called them to do.  Often, in my monthly notes to parents of very young children in our congregation, I will write, “Blessings to you in your vocation as parents.”  Derek Nelson writes, “Luther…thought that a mother nursing a child, a father changing a diaper, a baker at his oven, and a carpenter in his shop were all doing something as God-pleasing as a monk.”  Luther wrote: “‘God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling – not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.’”[6]

What is your vocation at this point in your life journey?

What is the work God calls you to do: God who loves you intimately; God who has loved you since you were in the womb; God who has baptized you?

In the name of that God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (HarperCollins Perennial Classics edition, 2001), pages 130, 132.

[2] Jeremiah 20:7

[3] Barbara Melosh, Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018).

[4] Derek R. Nelson, “The Apostles’ Creed” in Timothy J. Wengert, ed.: By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2017), page 84.

[5] Luke 4:14-30

[6] Ibid., page 85,

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!