|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
February 28, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
I’ve always thought it an interesting coincidence that, when these lessons come up every three
years, they follow so closely on the holiday season – a period that also happens to be the time when
the airwaves are filled with films about family reunions and holiday dinners. In fact I saw what I
assume will be the last of those ‘til next Thanksgiving just about a week and a half ago – this one
called The Family Stone, starring Diane Keaton. These films are generally about a typical – though
certainly exaggerated for comedy’s sake – American holiday celebration, with all the joys and all the
stresses of those occasions!
This particular film is unusual in that it does deal with some pretty weighty matters, but the basic
elements are there, and I would defy anyone to watch the film and NOT identify with everyone in the
family – in both the laughter and the pain! It was so much like so many holiday family gatherings I’ve
experienced – and, I suspect, you’ve experienced – in both! And, of course, most of the stress and
pain in the film involves the kids, as, so typically, the adult children come “home” for the day, while
the younger ones have to STAY home and endure all the old folks!
It’s a situation that sets up the source of stress at so many family occasions, so many family
gatherings – as, rightly or wrongly, the “children” of whatever age feel themselves under the
scrutiny of “the folks” (which seems to them, so often, their DISAPPROVING scrutiny), and the
feeling of judgment that they just haven’t lived up to their elders’ expectations and standards.
And that’s why every three years these lessons make me think of these films – and vice-versa.
The conventional approach to today’s lessons is that they’re all about being “called by God,” and in
fact one Commentary I read about these lessons was entitled just that: Called By God. They certainly
are about God’s Call, but not only in the way the conventional approach thinks – and, in fact,
perhaps not even principally in that way!
Now certainly the first lesson – from the Book of Jeremiah – is about the call of a young man to be a
prophet. At the opening of his book Jeremiah relates how he experienced the word of the Lord
telling him the Lord had called him from the very beginning of his life to be a prophet, and when the
Lord tells him he is to be a “prophet to the nations,” Jeremiah, says, “Ah, but Lord, I don’t know how
to speak; I’m just a kid!” And the Lord tells him, “Don’t say that. You go where I tell you to go, and
say what I tell you to say. And don’t be afraid of them.” The Lord, of course, wins the argument, so
that commentary I cited says Jeremiah is made a prophet “not by his choice or personal inclination,
but by the eternal will of the Lord.”
The only problem with that assessment is it misses the whole point because God didn’t call
Jeremiah to do something that was AGAINST his “personal inclination” at all! He never does.
Rather, “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated
you,” said the Lord to Jeremiah – and so he says to all his people, all his children.
He never calls us to act outside of who and what we are – but only to be, truly and authentically, who
he has created us to be! And Jeremiah doesn’t resist the call because he doesn’t believe he can be
a prophet – doesn’t believe he is a prophet. He resists because he’s young – and being young, he
believes the people won’t listen to him, will reject him. But “Go where I tell you, and say as I tell
you… And don’t be afraid of them!” Don’t be afraid of them!
‘They’ were a problem for Jesus, too. The same people – the same kind of people – that Jeremiah
feared would deride him, would reject him for being who he was born to be, for answering the call of
God in his life, reacted the same to Jesus.
And Luke tells us, “The people (of Jesus’ home town) wondered at the gracious words which Jesus
spoke; and they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” And despite Luke’s comment about “gracious
words” Jesus which understands that what they’re really saying is, “Who in the world does he think
he is? He’s the carpenter’s son, for godsake and here he is, presuming to teach us about the Lord!
The nerve of this guy!”
And, again, the people react to this young man as folks always react to young people they’ve known
all their lives – including, and perhaps especially, to their children and grandchildren – who turn
out “differently” than they expected.
And, of course, Jesus reacts, in turn, as young people tend always to react to such comments by
their elders – out of pique; out of anger – so that suddenly the scene described in Luke’s Gospel
reminds me, on a more human scale, of the Holiday film I watched; reminds me of so many scenes in
so many homes and so many neighborhoods, as the elders react to what they consider the
waywardness of their youngsters – those young people who are simply trying to find their own way
in life, trying to discover for themselves where and who God calls them to be, and how they must
live their lives.
Of course, this Gospel scene is not just a spat around the family dinner table. But as so often
happens in our own families, it is the young person’s reaction to the criticism that escalates the
matter! Jesus turns on his detractors and likens them – the locals – to the people the Lord punished
in the time of the prophets and even compares them to the lepers spurned by Elisha! He gets them
so riled up that these villagers, these people who have known Jesus all of his life, actually try to kill
And, of course, Jesus has to leave the area. Has to leave home, again. Has to go someplace where
no one knows him from “back then,” and no one has expectations of who he ought to be, and how
he ought to live his life! Has to go where people can appreciate him for who he is and for what he
says and does, and not condemn him for his refusal to be what they think he should be!
It’s amazing how slowly human nature changes in its basics – like the relationships between
generations, between younger and older!
And it’s amazing how even the most profound and important events of scripture echo the themes
that mark our lives, today! The young prophet afraid of how people will react; the young person
made fun of and even rejected by his own family, friends and neighbors as he sets out to live his
own life – just like those young folks spending the holidays at home with the folks – only to find
herself under the microscope of their disapproval.
We all do it as families, as adults, as elders – even as just friends. We all judge the failures of others
to live up to OUR expectations; expectations of what and who WE think others ought to be!
But “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…, and before you were born I consecrated you,”
says the Lord to each of his children – to each of us.
Knew and consecrated some to be prophets, yes – a very few; some to be preachers and teachers
and healers – a few more.
But “knew and consecrated” everyone to be someone; everyone to be that person God would have
him or her be; everyone to live out her own being to the best of her ability; everyone to realize and
to manifest in this world the image of God in which we all are made; everyone to be the incarnation
of God in his or her own small corner of the world, however best he can.
And the people in those movies I began by describing all finally arrive at realization that the job of
any family is to help each of its members to become and to be that person he or she needs to be
and truly is – which is to say, in Christian terms, that person God creates and knows each to be – to
foster and support each person in love.
Which, of course, is precisely the same purpose the Church, as the family of God, exists to fulfill!
But the real key – and the real meaning of today’s readings – is that just as the task of Jeremiah was
to be Jeremiah, and not to give in to his fear of “them,” in fear of those who would force him into the
mold of the role they expected him to fulfill; that just as it was the task of Jesus to move out into a
world that DIDN’T know him so that he could be who he was called to be – so it is for each of God’s
children, each of US – of whatever age – to stand up against whoever the “them” in our life is, and
to strike out in discovering and in learning to BE the persons God has created us, and called us
from our very wombs, to be.
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.