Water Bottles and Calling

Don’t put a glass over the flame.

I get enthusiastic about an idea, an enthusiasm that sometimes gets me carried away. When I was in my first senior year of college (I took the bonus lap fifth year) I got enthusiastic about a great idea. Well, it seemed like a great idea. I probably should have found a glass to put over the flame of my enthusiasm, but no, the idea took hold and I took a risk. 

I gathered the first-year students who lived on my hall. I was their RA. I told them I had this great idea. The girls floor, our sister floor as they were known, had been pranking us. Little pranks, but it was time to get them back. We gathered water bottles and went over to their floor. 

Quietly, as quiet as church mice, we crept up to their floor, each of us taking a room. I stood in the middle of the hall, everyone standing in front of a closed door, bottles of water in their hands. With everyone looking at me, I silently held up three fingers, then two, then one, then we simultaneously knocked on the doors! We knew the girls would be home and, indeed, almost every door opened. When the doors had opened, we threw water on them, sprayed them with shaving cream, and ran away.

This was tons of fun until I got a text from one of the judicial officers of the college, who also happened to be my dad. “What were you thinking?!” it said. The next thing I knew, I was in big trouble. Property damage had occurred, the RA of that floor was infuriated and demanding severe punishment. 

Fun fact: that same RA is my wife today.

Perhaps, I should have put a glass over the flame of my enthusiasm. 

But no, don’t put a glass over the flame. 

Risk taking is something I do naturally. It’s in my personality. But not so for Jeremiah, the prophet from the Bible. This morning, as we mark Senior Sunday and celebrate Holly’s accomplishment, we’re looking together at the call story of Jeremiah. Whether we’re in twelfth grade or in retirement or anywhere in between, God has a call on our lives. And quite often, our response to that is probably like Jeremiah’s: hesitancy to take a risk, saying back to God, “Ah, Lord God!” That’s not for me. 

Let’s hear Jeremiah’s call story together:

Scripture

Don’t put a glass over the flame. 

Jeremiah doesn’t want to take a risk. There he is, living his life, doing his thing, when God calls. In verse 5, God begins to speak to Jeremiah, telling him that not only does God know him, but that God has ordained that he would become a prophet, that he has been consecrated, literally set-aside for prophetic work. This sounds like a big honor, we might be tempted to think. We might think Jeremiah’s response would be: God has chosen me? For this big task? That’s great!

Imagine if you heard God’s literal voice speak to you in this way. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, I consecrated you, I ordained you to be whatever God has called to you to be.” I think our initial reaction would be to think this is absolutely amazing! God has chosen, God has called, God has made clear, and it’s me! I get to do something big! 

In fact, we might even wish that God spoke this clearly to us. Maybe you’re sitting out there today wondering how God has been calling you thus far and how God will be calling you in the future. Maybe you’re wondering if God ever did call you, or if you missed your call, or if you spent an entire career doing the wrong calling. It seems that this is one of the risks of life: that we’ll miss God’s call on our lives. So wouldn’t it be great if God spoke to us the way God spoke to Jeremiah?! With that clarity of purpose, with that focus on the right thing to do. If God was that clear about calling with us, we’d probably be deeply grateful and we’d merrily go off to do that work.

But no, Jeremiah’s not grateful. Clearly he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be us: wondering if we heard God’s call. Instead, Jeremiah uses that standard form of complaint in the Old Testament, “Ah, Lord God!” This is the Hebrew equivalent of that famous complaint, “But mom! I don’t wanna!” Jeremiah just said to God, “But God, I don’t wanna!” 

So ungrateful. If only we could hear God like this! If only God spoke to us like this! We wouldn’t put a glass over the flame God was implanting within us. No, we would let it burn a holy passion inside of us! But Jeremiah wants to put a glass over the flame, lamenting, complaining to God about this gift of a clear call.

Don’t put a glass over the flame. 

Jeremiah continues his ungrateful lament: I am only a boy, I don’t know how to speak. What do I know about being a prophet?! But God, I don’t wanna! He expresses grave doubts about this call. 

And justifiably so; he must know that to be a prophet is to be an agitator of the status quo. To be a prophet is to do things like walk around with a yoke around your neck, spend a few years naked in public, and buy some land that you know to be valueless and watch that land cause your financial ruin. And this is not to mention confronting powerful authorities like Moses and Pharaoh or Isaiah and the Kings of Judah. Jeremiah has lots of justifiable reason to doubt God’s call. 

As much of a risk taker as I am, I can relate to Jeremiah. I had lots of reasons to doubt God’s call to ordained ministry. Who am I, one who was an unbeliever for a long time? Who am I, one who rejected God and faith off and on for a decade? Who am I, one who despised God and criticized God? God called me? That’s crazy. 

Perhaps you can relate, knowing God’s call on your life but having grave doubts about it. Or perhaps you wish you did know God’s call. Or maybe you’re wondering if you’ve been living out the wrong call? 

There’s a call on our lives, all of us, just as we looked at last week in talking about passing our mantles to those we’re mentoring. God’s call on our lives is powerful and profound. It’s also almost always unsettling, scary, and outside of our comfort zone. 

It’s tempting, as it must have been for Jeremiah, to want to be complacent in the face of God’s call. We have plans and we’re eager to execute those plans. For those of us graduating from a program or looking ahead to graduation, we have plans for how we’ll use those degrees to further our education or to gain the job we really want. 

For those of us not graduating, we’ve lived here all our lives with our families and just want to enjoy them without the agitation of the fire in our souls. We moved back here for a particular job and we just want to do it without doubt. We retired here to be close to family or for the community we feel with others in this small town. We just want to live out our lives in peace, not bothered by the muss and fuss of life beyond the pretty walls we’ve constructed around our existence. But, somewhere inside of us, a flame burns that says, there’s so much more to life than this.

Don’t put a glass over the flame. 

Some of you, by now, might have recognized that lyric. “Don’t put a glass over the flame,” the band Mumford and Sons tells us in their song “Hopeless Wanderer.” “Don’t let your heart grow cold,” they continue, invoking the imagery of God speaking to us: “I will call you by name, I will share your road.” They say these words amidst a song of doubt, amidst a life they find they’re living as hopeless wanderers. As they begin the bridge from where this lyric comes, they say “so when your hope’s on fire, but you know your desire, don’t put a glass over the flame, don’t let your heart grow cold.” 

God’s call has a funny way of setting our hope on fire. We have our small hopes that we just mentioned: to live out our lives in peace, to simply do our job, to get a degree from college, or just to have a good time. And yet, there’s a fire within us that threatens to burn down those hopes by calling to us, telling us deep inside our souls that there’s so much more to our existence than our small hopes. 

God’s call has a funny way of setting our hope on fire. 

We look around us and see a world distressed, a world full of fear and reasons to fear, a world that scares us and makes us want to retreat into our safe little lives. And yet, somewhere deep in the recesses of our soul, a fire is kindled, longing to set us on fire with the message of the gospel first spoken by another prophet, Isaiah, and proclaimed by Jesus: “to bring good news to the poor…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.” (Luke 4:18-19) That, God’s gospel message, sets us on fire because we contain the hope that the world needs: the love of God that will heal us all. 

Don’t put a glass over the flame.

There’s a flame inside of you that wants to set you on fire. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us like a flame; it’s the fulfillment of the promise God makes to Jeremiah, “I am with you….” God says. As Mumford and Sons reminds us, God is with us, God shares our road, even as God calls us in ways that create grave doubts within us, just as Jeremiah faced grave doubts of his own. Even though we have doubts, even if it’s scary, we have awareness that God has called to us, saying, “there’s so much more to life than this.”

For, as with Jeremiah, the call of God is bold, which means it’s scary. It’s terrifying. And, yet, just as with Jeremiah, God is calling us still. It’s the flame inside of you; the one we’re tempted to put a glass over, the one that threatens to consume if we’d let it, the one that wants to burn down our small hopes.

And that call comes to us all. We might think that only a select few get the clarity of call like we hear in Jeremiah’s story, but this is simply not true. For the call of God on our lives is simple and yet profound: don’t put a glass over the flame; instead, let it consume, creating within you a burning passion to share the gospel. 

God’s call on our lives is to live a life that exudes the gospel message that sets people free from oppression, that opens the eyes of those blind, that makes the poor a top priority, that declares God loves us without condition just as we are. When we let the Holy Spirit live through us like that, when we let the fire consume us, we reveal to the world the very heart of God, becoming agents of healing to a world that too often feels like it went mad. 

The world needs us. The world needs us to let the fire consume. For when it does, we become a healing people who do indeed “bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

We become those healing people because our very lives express that this God who calls us by name and shares our road is the same God who will not allow evil to reign forever, who will not ignore the calls of the oppressed, who always acts for justice; who always wins, not by the means we might expect, but through offering healing to the world in the most unexpected of ways: through the lives of you and me. 

We can be agents of healing if we’ll kindle the flame that burns within us; the flame that is the the Holy Spirit. For healing to occur, for the gospel to spread, offering its freedom and love, all we need do is kindle the flame within us. 

Don’t put a glass over the flame.

We tend to think of God’s call as this grandiose, very detailed and specific, plan for our lives. That’s sometimes true as it was with Jeremiah. But those moments are far more rare than the general call of God on the lives of all who claim God’s name: don’t put a glass over the flame of the Holy Spirit. 

God has made you just as you are: a gift to the world. The Holy Spirit enables us to live out that giftedness into the world. The Spirit does that by convicting us of sin in our lives, turning our hearts to repentance. It does that through little calls: to write a card, to make a phone call, to check on someone, to volunteer for something, to help in some way. It does that by inspiring hope, not the small hopes we mentioned, but big hopes: that God will win, that evil will not last forever, and that we have a role to play in that eternal struggle.

Our world is in desperate need of healing. None of us today need convincing of that. But perhaps we do need convincing that we, people of deep faith, are the balm for the world’s wounds. The world needs people of deep faith, for it’s through faith, through you and I empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the world is healed. 

And that faith begins by accepting the call of God on your life: allow the flame of the Holy Spirit to consume you. 

Don’t put a glass over the flame.

Perhaps, this morning, you don’t know what it means to live out the gospel in your life. That’s ok. Start praying, start talking with mentors, come talk with me. And, in the mean time, take care of your faith: come to worship, spend time alone with God, for it’s through keeping up our faith like a discipline that we learn to hear God speak. Don’t put a glass over the flame, let it grow until it refines you and you hear God speak, telling you how to spread the gospel through your life.

But perhaps, this morning, you relate to Jeremiah, “Ah, LORD God; But God, I don’t wanna!” Is what your soul says. You know how God has called you to live out the gospel, but you want to squelch it. You’ve got a glass over the flame of the Holy Spirit. Lift the glass. Yes, it’s dangerous. But, like Mr. Beaver in The Chronicles of Narnia reminds us, God might be dangerous, “but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you!” There’s so much more to life than our small hopes.

But perhaps still, this morning, you find it difficult to relate to this sermon. “What fire?” you wonder. You don’t know about a flame in your life, you don’t sense the Holy Spirit. That’s ok. God is faithful to come to us when we ask. Ask God this morning to come into your life, declare to God your faith, and experience the power of the flame that won’t die; the Holy Spirit that is God’s very presence in our lives. Be bold this day; don’t choose to keep your small hopes, ask God to come into your life and set them on fire that you, too, might be an agent of healing.

The world needs you. The world needs us. The world needs people of faith: agents of healing. We, as a church community and as Christians, empowered together by the Holy Spirit, can spread God’s healing message to the world around us.  

So don’t put a glass over the flame. Don’t let your heart grow cold. God is calling you by name. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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