Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Sermon delivered by Shirley Lin on Oct. 17, 2010 at Taiwan Presbyterian Church of Greater Chicago
Ah, Jeremiah. You know, none of the prophets really had it easy, but Jeremiah REALLY didn’t have it easy. To be a called by God may be a great honor, but it is not always an easy task. Yet, there is something about the call of God that compels.
In Jeremiah’s case, God did not need to push him, kicking and screaming, to follow God’s call. Rather, it seems that God has decided to make things different. The prophets were important because people are not always good at following the will of God. During Jeremiah’s time, Israel had been conquered, presumably because the people had been wicked and God wanted to punish them.
We have seen this over and over and over again throughout the scriptures. I must say, as the “intelligent” animal, human beings are not super quick. We make mistakes—most of the time, the same ones, over and over and over again. What we see here is that the Lord is saying that the old covenant, the one that was received by Moses isn’t working anymore. It had been broken so many times, that God is tired of it, so that God wants to make a new covenant with God’s people. Putting God’s laws on stone tablets brought to the people by a leader might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but clearly, people needed more. Leaders can be ignored, teachings can be forgotten—and they have constantly been. What people need is to be reminded of these laws constantly. In other words, these laws needed to be a part of us, in us—written on our hearts. But it wasn’t merely the law that needed to be remembered. We needed to remember that we belong to God and that God belongs to us, and THAT is why God keeps coming back, calling to us.
Our relationship with God is not just about what we are supposed to do. Our relationship with God starts and ends with God’s love for us and God’s creation of a place of belonging for us. The feeling of belonging, if you have ever experienced it, is an incredible place to be. This is a great gift that only God can bestow upon us. God has offered us complete forgiveness, so that we can belong. And when it happens, there’s just this feeling that you can’t quite explain, but you know that incredible things will happen at that place and in that time.
My first year went well, but it was not really that memorable or that exciting. I had originally gone into Divinity school because I wanted to learn more about my faith and how to put that faith to practice. I was hoping to work in some sort of international non-profit or something that would “make a difference.” A master of Divinity has a field work component, so you can get to actually practice ministry, instead of learning about theories. I wanted to work with a lobbyist, but that was not in the cards for me. The field work director never heard back from the lobbyist, so she gave me the option of choosing another opportunity.
Out of the pile, one thing struck me. It was a position available at a hospice—a place where people go to die. Though it did not sound like it would be pleasant, not to mention, I have had NO experience with death up until this point or with ministry or even taken a class, something told me that maybe I should think about it. So I took the application and went with it. I showed up at Connecticut Hospice, and it all just fell into place. I felt I belonged there. Even though the nun who was the supervisor suggested that I may not want to take this position, that it may not be appropriate for me, I knew it was the place for me. I knew that God wanted me to be here. My supervisor gave me a chance that day—who knew why she chose to do it, but she opened the door for me to become an intern at hospice, to learn through observation and experience, what ministry was like.
That day was the beginning, you could say, of the rest of my life. I became a chaplain after that and became ordained in the church. When I entered seminary, I had no plans to be in a ministry, let alone be ordained. But God’s call is like that. Once you feel that sense of belonging, you know that there’s nothing else in the world that can be as fulfilling. The thing I love the most about God and our faith as Christians is that God comes to us as individuals to have relationships with us. It is an individual relationship and it does not matter who we are. God loves us, every single one. No matter who we are, what we have or have not accomplished, we belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, in life and in death. Yet, we have to remember, that God isn’t only about individuality. It is not just about God’s relationship and me. It is about God’s relationship and US. While God had decided that a new covenant was to be made, we would not have known this had the prophet Jeremiah not shared this information with us. While I felt immediately at home at Connecticut Hospice, it would not have been a place that I belonged had I not been welcomed into it.
Our relationship with God is not so individual that we ignore others. That would be selfish. Our relationship with God is one where God calls us to reach out to care for others as God has cared for us. To extend a welcoming branch of friendship and support to those who have yet feel the belonging of God.
How do you act for the glory of God to open up to allow others to feel a sense of belonging in the different places in your life, including your church?
In my case, my call to be at hospice was a call to serve others—to serve the patients, their families and friends, and the staff as well. It was not a call to say, oh, Shirley, here I am! I chose you. And that’s really a lesson that we should take to heart. That’s really the reason that we are here today. Sure, we’re here to worship God, experience God, and perhaps encounter God in a different way than if we were alone, but we are also here because we gather in community—a place where we, the sons and daughters of God belong. This is an open community where we welcome all to belong to God with us. When a minister does this, it’s called pastoral care, but, really, it is up to all of us to care about each other. It is up to us to welcome new people into the house of God, to allow others to experience God, even if they are different than we are, to not only ask the question of how are you, but to stay and listen carefully to the answer, even if it is hard to hear, even if you don’t know what to say or do, to lend a shoulder not only to our friends, but to strangers when its needed. To make a long story short—to give people a sense of belonging is to show them love.
The hardest thing about care is that we over think it. I see and hear all the time the discomfort people have when dealing with someone who is having problems. We wonder about what the right thing to say, the right thing to do, how to make things better. We struggle with it so hard that sometimes we end up doing nothing. But we know that God does not require us to be perfect. God has said that our sins and iniquities are left behind. All God wants us to know is that we are loved and belong to God. Likewise, to give people care is for them to know that they know you are there. Sometimes, that’s as simple as just being there, even without saying anything at all. Really, all you need to do is to be there and to be willing to continue to be there, even if things are hard, like God is always there for us. Hearing God’s call can happen anywhere, while you’re doing anything. God is always with us, in our hearts. There isn’t anywhere we can go to escape from the love and grace of God. May you always feel that you belong to God, but even in those moments when God feels far, may your family here, in the body of Christ, be where you belong.