Monday, February 29, 2016

Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, and Rubio walk into a bar...

Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, and Rubio 

walk into a bar...

Click here to listen to sermon

Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio walk into a bar...They all sit down and look over the menu.
As they decide on their drink orders, the bartender makes his way over to this group.  The bartender looks vaguely familiar to everyone but they cant quite put their finger on it—maybe theyve seen him at a campaign rally before. 
At once, the candidates start to call out their drink order each thinking the bartender will take his/her order first.  The bartender cant decipher what they want through all the screaming and yelling and says, “Now, now children please be quiet.  You’re not making any sense.” 
The bartender tells the candidates that he is out of everything on the menu.  The bartender continues, “I’ve seen all kinds of people try every kind of drink and none of them solve all their problems.” He says, “Sure, the drinks might start out tasting pretty good but everybody ends up getting sick later.”
Seeing the dejection in the eyes of the candidates, the bartender lets them on a secret.  The bartender whispers, “I’ve been holding something under the bar for years and think this is just the time to uncork it.”  Reaching under the bar, the bartender grabs a dusty old bottle of wine.  One of the candidates asks, “What year?”
The bartender explains that it is a well-aged wine.  He goes on to explain the terribly complex fermenting process that took generations to perfect.  He said, “This wine is different than all other wines.  This wine contains a special ingredient that makes it stay good forever.”  Eager to learn about this magic ingredient, one candidate asks, “What makes this wine so great?” 
The bartender looks deeply into the eyes of these candidates and says, “Love.  Love is the special ingredient.”  The bartender continues by saying, “Can you drink this bottle of wine, a wine that is saturated with true love?”     
Imagine what might happen if the good news of Jesus confronted the chaos of the political scene in America.  What might happen if everyone, not just the candidates, stopped and let Jesus say to us, “Drink this wine.  This wine contains the necessary ingredient to make your heart well.  This wine works because of my great love for you and the whole world.”
While I am firmly convicted that it is not my job as a preacher to use this pulpit or this church to raise up a particular candidate or agenda, I do believe it is my job to articulate how the good news of Jesus impacts our national and civic life just like I articulate how the good news impacts daily living in our homes, schools, jobs, and communities. 
You might say I learned this tip about preaching from Jesus.  Jesus never lifted up a particular agenda or candidate, in fact he went as far to say that we should not trust the rulers of this world.  But the good news of Jesus was constantly crashing into the political scene.
So I say to you, do not be fooled by those who claim to possess the magic formula that will save our country.  Sure, some agendas might be better than others but none of them will save our country and no matter how good the agenda none of them will make it if we continue to be so divisive.
In particular I want you to ask yourself, how is the good news of God’s kingdom confronting all of the broken and abused systems of society including politics?  Let’s consider this question by taking a look at today’s gospel lesson.
In todays gospel lesson (Luke 13:1-9), people come to Jesus asking him who the worst sinner of all is.  These people try to justify themselves by comparing themselves to others.  They say, “At least I’m not as bad as that group of people.”
Jesus foresees this tactic of self-justification and redirects the conversation.  Jesus is good at redirecting the conversation isnt he?  Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.”
Jesus redirects the conversation and asks those present to consider the sin of their own hearts.  Jesus challenges those present to take a good look in the mirror and says, “Unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.”  In other words, if you continue to justify yourself by comparing yourself to others, anger and envy and hardness of heart will consume you and leave you for dead.
Jamie and I often reflect on a quote that says, “comparison is the thief of joy.”  Comparison is the thief of joy because comparison creates a dangerous and false idol in our life.  This false idol is created when we assess the value of others based on human standards, standards that are flawed, standards that are biased, standards that are short sighted, standards that don’t allow us to stand in someone else’s shoes.
By measuring our worthiness by the worthiness or unworthiness of others, we are prevented from looking at the world with love.  Comparison leads to judgment and prevents us from seeing anything through the lens of love or compassion.  Mother Teresa said, "If you judge people, you have no room to love them."
But the good news is that Jesus comes to shatter this illusion.  Jesus comes to reveal the hideous nature of this false idol of comparison and give us a new lens in which to look at the world through.  Jesus comes to show us what the kingdom of God looks like.  Jesus comes to show us the way to love but before we can see the kingdom of God, before we can begin to trust the way of love, we must leave the old world and old way of living behind.  First, we must turn and repent.
We must confess that we are no more or no less deserving of Gods love than anybody else.  We must confess that we are filled with just as much anger and hypocrisy and sin as anybody else.   And when we confess, Jesus meets us with the greatest words on love—forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. 
When we turn away from the ways of the world and look to Jesus for help, we meet the one who is opening up a new way of living.  And no we arent taken up in the rapture to escape evil when this happens.  Instead, this new way of living that calls us right back into the storm of the world including the political storm.  But this time we arent fueled by anger or hate or despair.  This time we arent fueled by convictions that lead to divisiveness.
Instead, we are fueled by a new wine.  We are fueled by a wine that has been fermented by a God who is endlessly pursuing his people with love.  We are fueled by a wine whose main ingredient is love.  We are fueled by a wine that helps us look at the world differently, a wine that helps us see the kingdom of God that is built on love, built on giving up our lives for the benefit of others especially the less fortunate.  And when this wine is poured out for the sins of whole world this wine looks like forgiveness and mercy and compassion.
I don’t know if our politicians will take the bartender up on the offer to drink this new wine.  Maybe they already have and maybe they never will.  But we need not put our trust in the rulers of this world.  Instead, we find our salvation by trusting the wine the bartender is giving us to drink. 
We drink this wine not in hopes that it will fix all the worlds problems.  Instead, we drink this wine with the hope that our world may know a little more compassion, a little more mercy, a little more forgiveness.  We drink this wine so that we and the whole world may know what it is like to be loved by God, so the whole world will know what it is like to be a part of the human family.
We drink this wine with the hope that God is healing our hearts and the heart of the world with a generous love.  I know this might sound like an outrageous hope, an unrealistic hope.  You arent alone.  Consider the parable of the fig tree.
The man in the parable believes that it is ridiculous that the gardener still thinks this fig tree has a chance to bear fruit.  It has been three years.  Theyve tried every possible strategy, every possible remedy to ensure the tree will bear fruit.  But the tree is still useless.  The man says there is nothing left to do and orders the gardener to cut the trees down, they are only wasting space. 
The gardener replies, “You know, there is one thing we havent tried.  Ill dig around the trees and fill the soil with manure.”  I know it might sound like a bunch of crap but maybe, just maybe all of this crap about God’s love might do the trick.
After we have tried everything else, after every other solution has failed, can we finally accept that God’s ways are better than our ways?  Can we finally admit that we are just as much a part of the problem as those sinners?  Are we finally ready to give God’s love a try? 
I sure am.  But don’t take my word for it.  Try the love of God that you know in Jesus for a year and if it bears fruit, thanks be to God.  If God’s love doesn’t bear fruit, then cut it, whatever it is, down.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Sin Boldly" Really?!?

       In the Dave Matthew’s Band hit song, Tripping Billies, Dave sings the refrain, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we’ll die.”  Dave is, of course, quoting a notable verse in one of the parables in Luke’s Gospel. 
          And at this point you might be wondering why is our preacher subjecting us to cruel and unusual punishment by quoting a song that says, “eat, drink, and be merry” on the 1st Sunday in Lent, a season of fasting and self-denial, a season of repentance.
          Well, as much as I love Dave Matthews, he is doing what many of us are prone to do and that is taking a piece of scripture from one context and trying to apply it to a completely different context and in the process the meaning gets lost in translation.
          Misapplying scripture is not the only thing that gets Christians in trouble but also misapplying the teachings of the Church.  Take the teachings of Martin Luther for example.  Yes, he is that guy who posted the 95 thesis as a corrective for the Catholic Church. 
          In a letter to one of his colleagues Luther says, “Let your sins be bold (Sin Boldly).”  As you might imagine, like the “eat, drink, and be merry” verse, people have taken this “sin boldly” phrase to live every day like it is Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Well, sad news, this is not what Luther intended for his colleague to take away from this letter.
          We have to remember that Luther’s work was primarily a response to a medieval Catholic “works-righteousness” theology.  This kind of theology leads us to believe that our own good work can absolve our sins and make us holy.  We are convinced that if we pray hard enough, work hard enough, serve hard enough, and stay away from notorious sinners long enough then we can stamp our own ticket to heaven.   
(Martin Luther)
          Imagine what this way of living might look like to God or even to non-church people.  Think about that person who tries just a little too hard.  Think about that person who can’t help but to embarrass themselves by pretending to be something they are not. I believe God and non-church people see the same thing when looking at people who prescribe to a “works-righteousness” theology.
          I believe God is trying to tell us “Stop trying so hard!  Be who I made you to be.” In other words, recognize your sin not as a measure of your self-worth.  Instead, look at your sin with boldness, look at your sin with the hope that God is making all things new through Jesus Christ.  Look at your sin and trust that God is making something beautiful with the mess you have made—not because God is OCD but because God loves you and the world he created perfectly.
           If one applies “works-righteousness” to everyday living, what happens when one sins?  It might be tempting to say, “Well, at least I didn’t break the law.  I only committed a small sin.  God can handle that one.”  As if God sent Jesus to die a shameful and terrible death on the cross for only the small sins. The bad news is that all sin, no matter how big or small, no matter if we get jail time or not, diminishes the truth that all people are made in the image of God.   
          The writer of 1st John says, “If we say we have no sin, we make him a liar and the word is not in us.”  While it is one thing to believe this on an intellectual or theological level, it is another thing to live our lives like we believe God’s saving help saves us from our sin. 
Wonder with me for a minute.  Do our lives reflect the truth that Gods grace is far greater than even the worst human sin?  Do we believe that the path to salvation is about bringing our sins, both big and small, to the light of God trusting that God absolves all sinners through Christ? 
Or do we try as hard as we can to avoid sin trusting in our own righteousness?  Do we sometimes fall into the temptation of believing that “A little sin never hurt anybody.  At least I didn’t murder anybody or commit adultery.  I just told a white lie.  Gossiping is just fun and games. No one will find out!” 
Are we choosing to live according to the law, measuring our self-worth, our identity, our salvation by how “good” or “bad” we are, measuring the salvation of others based on their “goodness” or “badness”?  Or are we choosing to live according to the gift of grace? Can we accept the truth that no matter how “good” or “bad” you are, your identity, you self-worth, your salvation is totally and completely wrapped up in the righteousness of Jesus Christ?
The medieval Catholic Church is not the only church to get trapped by this “works-righteousness" theology.  I believe every Church in every generation is tempted to live by this moralistic adherence to a law.  In fact, every other religion, except for Christianity is about following a moral code. But Christianity is not about following a set of rules. 
Instead, Christianity is about taking on the life of Christ by consuming his Word, by being immersed in his death and resurrection in Baptism, by taking on his flesh through his body and blood at the Lord’s Table. 
Christianity is about putting away the old life of sin by taking on the new life of Christ, by taking on the life of the One who knew no sin.  Christianity is about taking on the salvation story of Christ, a salvation story that we are given not through our own good efforts but a story we are given by the mercy and grace of God.
I am about to say something that might startle some of you.  Christianity’s primary function is not to make you a better person.  There I said it.  Some of you might be thinking, “But if Church isnt about making me a better person, then what is the point?  Why am I even here?” 
Beloved, you are here to grow in grace.  You are here because of all places the Church should be the place where you are free to admit that you are a sinful creature, of all places the Church should be the place where you let go of the burden of trying to be good all the time.  Of all places, the Church should be the place where broken and wounded sinners can come to find refreshment and renewal in a love that is far heavier than even the worst kind of sin. 
For this reason, many people who attend AA meetings say that those gatherings are more like Church than any church they have ever attended.
When you kneel before God in Church, you are not met with the consequences of your sin—Jesus, the one who knew no sin, has already experienced the destruction of your sin and the sin of the world on the cross.  Instead, in Church you kneel before a God whose property is always to have mercy.  You are met with a God who says again and again, “Your sins are forgiven you.  Go in peace, you are free to live again.” 
Todays Gospel lesson, the three temptations of Christ, isnt simply a story that reminds us how strong and good Jesus is in the face of temptation.  This is not a story that ends by saying, “go and do what Jesus did.”  When we read this story, we are reminded of our great weakness in the face of temptation. 
We are reminded that when are given the choice we are weak to take the easy road, a road that is masked with the lies of Satan, a road that is glittered with false propaganda, propaganda that is full of empty promises.  We are weak to take the more convenient road only to find that the easy road leads to a dead end.
When we read this story, we are also reminded of the One who was tempted in every way as we are but did not sin.  We are reminded that Jesus took the more difficult road for us. We are reminded that while the more difficult road may lead to pain, lead to a hostile world, lead even to death, that is the only road that will lead to eternal truth and eternal life, a road that is ultimately paved in a love that never ends.    
During Lent, the Church drives her people out into the wilderness.  We aren’t not driven into the wilderness to prove to ourselves and to others that we can overcome even the strongest of temptations.  Instead, we are driven out into the wilderness to discover how weak we really are.  We are driven out into the wilderness to discover that the only possible way to choose the road to eternal life is by choosing to consume the life of Jesus. 
The eternal truth of Gods love in Christ is the only vehicle that can navigate the wilderness.  The eternal truth of Gods love is the only power in this world that can overcome the temptation of taking the easy road, the road of lies. 
And believing in the boldness of your sin is the only way that you can find the grace to believe in the boldness of the road that Christ’s paves in the wilderness, a road that is wide enough for even the most notorious of sinners, a road that is wide enough for you, a road that leads to abundant life.  Amen

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday Homily

Ash Wednesday Homily
Audio Version of Sermon

During my time as a college student at the University of Alabama, I noticed that the most well attended service by college students was the Ash Wednesday service.  This was surprising to me because Ash Wednesday might be the most sobering service we attend all year.  And let’s just say college students aren’t necessarily known for being sober. 
On Ash Wednesday, you are marked with a cross of ashes and reminded that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  This statement from our liturgy is a nice way of saying, you are mortal, you are imperfect, you are wasting away, you are temporary, you are going to die. 
Why would anybody especially college students who are young people, people who have their entire lives ahead of them gather to hear a message that reminds them of their mortality?  Why do you gather today to hear that kind of message?  In a culture where we are bombarded by news of sin and death, why do we gather in a church to hear about sin and death?
You can’t open the paper, turn on the radio or TV, or look at your phone without reading or hearing about sin and death.  Just yesterday while I was writing this sermon my iPhone alerted me that a child went missing in Brewton.  I was notified about the funeral plans for a young 9-year old girl who was accidentally shot and killed by her 3-year old brother.  CNN told me about a train collision in Germany that left 8 dead and many injured. 
It seems that every day I find myself reading about a teacher who is caught having improper sexual relationships with their students.  I read about how gang culture claims yet another life.  We’ve seen the terrible of images of Syrian refugees, many of whom are children, who have drowned in attempts to escape the threat of persecution.  Every day, I read, we all read, about someone or some group of people who are crying out from a proverbial rubble of ashes desperate to find hope. 
Haven’t we all seen enough sin and death?  Isn’t it time to turn off the TV, cancel our subscription to the paper, block all breaking news notifications from our smart phones?  I am afraid that if we do that then we have let the powers of sin and death defeat us.  If we ignore the sobering reality of sin and death, then we deprive ourselves from seeing how the loving touch of Christ is healing a broken and sinful world. 
Ash Wednesday is about confronting the heartbreaking reality of sin and death in our world and in our lives.  Ash Wednesday is about acknowledging that we are a broken and sinful people living in a broken and sinful world.  But Ash Wednesday is also about receiving the good news that Christ comes to give dignity to sin and death, Christ comes to redeem sin and death, Christ comes to take on the terrible reality of sin and death and turn it into something new.
I believe one of the reasons that people file into churches on Ash Wednesday is because somewhere deep down inside of us all exists a hope that our world will one day wake up from the nightmare it seems to be living.  Somewhere deep down inside of us we know that sin and death can’t be all there is to life.  Somewhere deep down inside of all of us there is God crying out from the rubble of our ashes saying, “Behold, I make all things new.”
When I paint ashes on your forehead in just a few minutes, I will paint the image of the cross.  This smearing of ashes into the image of a cross is an outward and visible sign of how God is taking on sin and death in Christ and turning it into something new.  The ashes will include the same oil that you were anointed with in baptism, oil that is a reminder that you are marked as Christ’s own forever. 

Ultimately, these ashes remind us that while we are a broken people living in a broken world, we are destined for something more, we are destined for life eternal in our God who lives life beyond the grave.  Even sin and death are temporary, but God’s enduring love in Christ is eternal.   
Today we are reminded that we cannot outrun sin and death no matter how fast we run.  Today we are reminded that ignoring sin and death won’t make it magically disappear.  We are reminded that we can’t minimize evil and expect everything to be OK.  We can’t pretend death isn’t a reality for all of us even for college students.
Instead, you are invited to look at the nightmare of our world and see how God’s love in Christ can bring order, bring dignity, bring redemption to any story of despair.  You are invited to look at the most damaged people in this world and trust that God’s love can transform even the most broken hearted.  You are invited to look at your own broken heart and see how God is turning you into a person who believes in a story of hope, a story of love, a story of redemption.        
Above all, you are invited to look to the One who did not back down but instead took on the full force of evil and death.  You are invited to look to the One who transforms a story of death into a story of life by following the way of the cross.  You are invited to look to the One who killed the story of sin and death with a story of love and kindness, a story that outlives despair, a story that never ends. 

And best of all you are invited to follow the One whose story is marked by a cross of ashes and discover a new life that is marked by a love that never ends.  Amen.       

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"It is Good for us to be Here, but..."

"It is Good for us to be Here, but..."

“At the heart of the Christian experience of God there is a mystery, and the only possible response to such mystery is worship…Worship is a response to beauty, love, to human need, to our deepest fears, to our greatest joys.”  This quotation is taken from one of the books (Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its Faith, History, and Worship) that we are using for our Episcopal Church 101 class and seems especially appropriate as we consider the implications of today’s story of Jesus’ transfiguration.
            I find this quotation that claims that worship is the only response to the mystery of God appropriate because of all lessons in scripture the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is possibly the most mysterious.  As a preacher, I could preach on this text every Sunday for a year and still have plenty of material.  Don’t worry, I plan to only preach one sermon today!
            The story of Jesus’ transfiguration draws from the tradition of the law and the prophets through Moses and Elijah and points to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The transfiguration is evidence that the same God who tapped Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery into the land of promise appears on the mountain today.  And that same God who called to Moses appears with the One who will deliver all from sin and death by his dying and rising to life again.  The same God who said Elijah’s appearing again would signal the coming of the messianic era speaks today, through a cloud and says about Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”
            All of the things that God has promised through the law and the prophets are revealed in great spectacle on this mountain.  But the disciples almost miss the moment.  Scripture says they were sleepy.  And with their eyes half open they recognize the great mystery of this moment.  And with his eyes half open, Peter suggests that they set up camp on this mountain.  He said, “it is good for us to be here.”
            But as scripture says, Peter didn’t know what he was talking about.  Peter’s greatest strength is perhaps his greatest weakness.  His enthusiasm often causes him to get ahead of himself.  Peter misses the point.  While it is good for Peter and his disciples to be here on the mountain, it is not the permanent dwelling place of God.  The end of our journey with God is not on a mountain top at least not in this earthly life.
            The next day Jesus leads his disciples back down the mountain where they are immediately met by a father who is pleading for the disciples and Jesus to heal his son who is possessed by a demon.  After the disciples fail to bring healing, Jesus says some pretty startling words, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 
This almost sounds like the end of an argument between family members.  I can’t believe you haven’t figured out how to work that by now after all these years.  You’re doing it all wrong.  Just let me do it! 
But this statement (how much longer?) also seems to carry the entire weight of the salvation story behind it.  The God who parted the Red Sea and remained with Israel in the wilderness and led them to the land of promise, the God who stuck with the people when they insisted on having a divine monarchy, the God who watched his people fail again and again is crying out through the humanity of Jesus and says, “how much longer?!”  And then that same God, through Jesus, does what we have failed to do—bring healing not only to this boy but to the world.
The mystery of God’s great love for his people and his creation does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  And the mystery of how God’s love does what we cannot do is summed up in the heart of our worship when we proclaim the mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  God’s long-term project to bring healing to the world is accomplished once and for all through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If we are not willing to live into this mystery, then we are in great danger of missing the point of why God sent Jesus to live among us.  If we are not willing to engage in the mystery of the transfiguration, then we will fall into the same trap as Peter and the disciples. 
On one hand, we will fall into the trap of believing that God sent Jesus to keep us insulated from the sin and death of the world by calling us to dwell on the holy mountain forever.  We will fall into the trap that many Christians have fallen into and believe that we are simply to hideout in our sanctuaries and keep our hands clean from an otherwise dirty world and wait for Jesus to scoop us up to heaven in the rapture. 
On the other hand, we will fall into the trap of believing that we can heal the world through our own good efforts, through our own righteousness.  While we might be inspired by the good works of Jesus and think we can save the world, we are not God and Jesus is more than a good example for good works. 
It is God working through the flesh of Jesus that brings healing to the world because the flesh of Jesus does what we cannot do.  The human flesh of Jesus is subject to the same broken world as we are but Jesus’ flesh lives without sin.  The human flesh of Jesus can do what we cannot do despite our best efforts and that is act without sin.  This is important because the only righteousness that can really be trusted to bring healing in this broken world is the righteousness of God in Christ—the only one who overcame sin and death by his rising again.
I’ll say again the only response to the mystery of God’s salvation in Christ is worship.  Our worship of God draws us closer to the heart of Christ and his mission to heal a broken world.  Our worship of God gives us a vision of that holy city where there is no sighing or pain but only life everlasting.  Our worship tells that a host of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven stand night and day to praise the only one who is able complete the plan of salvation—the Lamb who was slain.
Friends, it is good for us to be here.  It is good for us to respond to the mystery of God through worship.  But the worship of the God that we know in Christ calls us down the mountain.  The God we worship in the beauty of this place, in the beauty of our liturgy and hymnody, in the beauty of holiness calls us out those two front doors to witness to how the living God is healing this broken and sinful world through loving touch of Christ.
Everything that we do from here is about pointing to the One who does what we cannot do.  Everything that we do from here is about encountering the father whose son is possessed by a demon and showing them the glory of Jesus.  What we do from here is about encountering the many, many people in his world who do not know love and the many, many people who do not know how to love and show them how the loving touch of Christ can transform even the most broken hearted.   
God calls us forth from this place where we are illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments to go out into a broken and sinful world and shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.  And it is the radiance of Christ’s glory that will bring healing to the world.  It is the radiance of Christ’s glory shining on each of you that will draw people to worship the God of all truth.  And by our worship of God Almighty, we will grow in the mystery of faith, we will grow more and more sure that God is reconciling the whole world to himself through the touch of Christ’s unending love.  Amen.     

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Words in Your Mouth"

As the prophet Jeremiah struggles to accept his appointment as a prophet over the nations the Lord says to him, "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."
Jeremiah has every reason to struggle with this new appointment.  First of all, he says that he is only a boy.  Several things can be assumed from this statement.  One being that Jeremiah didn’t have any particular standing in the community.  He is a nobody.    
One might also assume that since Jeremiah is only a boy he won’t dare challenge the established government, a government, no doubt, run by his elders who have always done it a particular way. Who is he to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant?  Even if Jeremiah is taken seriously, the leaders of these enemy nations might easily figure out a way to shut him up. 
Even more, there is no evidence that Jeremiah has the credentials to even do the job God asks him to perform.  No seminary training.  No study in the art of public speaking.  Just a boy who is fearful of his life.  But none of these things that seemingly disqualify Jeremiah from this task matter to God.  God chooses Jeremiah for this work, and God puts his words in the mouth of this young prophet. 
It is tempting to look at this passage and simply reduce this call story to a history lesson.  It is tempting to look at this story and say, “I’m no prophet.  I’m just a regular person trying to get by in this world.”  It is tempting to say, “I’m really glad God chose Jeremiah and not me and just go on with our lives like we always have.”
You might be right in assuming that God has not called you to be a prophet.  As we learn in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, only some are called to be prophets.  I certainly don’t presume to be a prophet.  However, we must take seriously what happens to our lives when God puts his words into our mouths. 
Look at what happens to Jesus when God puts his words in his mouth.  He speaks to a crowd gathered in the synagogue, a crowd that is initially excited to see their homegrown hero.  But the excitement turns to anger after Jesus gives his sermon.  What did he say in his sermon to make people so upset?
Jesus’ words remember how God used the prophets Elijah and Elisha.  Elijah and Elisha, like most prophets, were also unpopular at least unpopular in the eyes of their own people.  Through Elijah and Elisha God healed those outside the nation of Israel. 
While widows in Israel were suffering, God called Elijah to heal a widow outside the boundaries of Israel.   While many lepers suffered in the land of Israel, God called Elisha to heal the leper Naaman who was the leader of the enemy army.  And through his sermon Jesus also says he will carry on the truth of God’s Word and give “release to the captives, sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.”
Like the prophecies of Jeremiah, the words of Jesus will upset the establishment.  Jesus’ words will call into question the false assumptions of his people, assumptions that believe because they are chosen of God then they are the only ones who deserve God’s favor and goodness, assumptions that mistake Divine favor for license to consider everybody else as less than worthy. 
But in reality, Jesus’ words are no different than the original calling God gave to the people of Israel—to be a light to the nations, to be a light to the enemy, to lead all people into the land of light and life.  And Jesus continues this message throughout his ministry, a message that is crystallized when he says, “If any want to become great in my kingdom, they must become servant to all.”
In case you haven’t picked up on it, the truth of God’s Word is most concerned with freeing the poor, the oppressed, and the lonely.  As the old saying goes, we are only as strong as our weakest link.  Even more, God’s truth tells us that the weak become our masters in the kingdom of heaven.  In other words, if we intend to live in the kingdom of heaven, like we promise to do in baptism, then we must take seriously that the oppressed and the outcast and the poor are those whom we spend our lives in service to.
I want to remember another servant of God whose life was inspired because God put his words in his mouth.  While this man does appear in a few history books, his life and witness isn’t canonized in any official way.  After all, he only died a few weeks ago.  His name is Miller Childers.

Before Miller was elected district judge, he served as a young lawyer during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  After witnessing first-hand the lengths that some would go to just to ensure that blacks couldn’t vote, Miller was convicted to live the faith given to him through the Word of God. 
If one were to call Miller a prophet, he would go down as one of the most unassuming.  He didn’t stand on podiums giving passionate speeches inspiring thousands.  He didn’t write letters to the editor.  He didn’t put himself in the middle of the public square.  Instead, he worked quietly behind closed doors to witness to the truth of God’s Word in this church, in the courtroom, and in the community. 
And in the process, he lost his standing as a lawyer at least in the established community.  Members of his family were targets of discrimination.  But you never heard Miller speak words of ill-will towards anybody.  He didn’t vilify anybody because he saw the child of God in every heart.  He knew that God’s great love can transform every heart because God’s love transformed Miller’s heart.  Miller knew that the truth of God’s Word would set both oppressed and oppressor free.
In ways that he might not have imagined, Miller was a force God used to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  The Word of God working through Miller did, in part, destroy and overthrow a system corrupted by power and fear.  And because of this God had the opportunity to build up and plant the kingdom of heaven at St. Paul’s and in Selma.
Brothers and sisters, children of God, the Word of the Lord has been put in our mouths this day.  The Word of God is written on your hearts and transforming you into a people who are called to serve not simply the members of this church but even more, the poor, the outcast, those with no voice.
We, too, once were a people who did not how to speak, but God has given us words to speak.  Through the life of Jesus Christ, God gives us words to say that the only way forward as a people, the only way to experience the kingdom of heaven on earth is through death, death to the old way of living, death to systems and intuitions that corrupt and destroy the creatures, death to pride, and death to fear. 
Scripture tells us 365 times, “Do not be afraid.”  For every day of the year, God says, “do not be afraid.”  God says, “do not be afraid” because God is making all things new.  In Christ, God has created a new world where all have been set free, a world we are free to live in right now.  And God has given a way for us to live in this world now by following Jesus Christ.
Do not be afraid if the crowd tries to hurl you off the cliff for speaking God’s Word.  More likely, do not be afraid if people talk about you behind your back, do not be afraid if you are hated because of Jesus’ name, do not be afraid if the Word of God comes between you and a friend, or co-worker, or family member for we know that God’s Word is the path to salvation.  Today’s scripture says that Jesus escapes and makes his way through the angry crowd and goes on his way.
Jesus made a way for the Hebrew people through the waters of the Red Sea.  Jesus made a way for the people to get to the Promised Land by calling the walls of Jericho down.  Jesus made a way for all God’s children through the waters of baptism.  Jesus made a permanent way through death and resurrection. 
People like the prophets Jeremiah and Elisha and Elijah, people like St. Paul, and people like beloved Miller have followed the way Jesus paved by passing through seemingly insurmountable odds and by following the way God’s glory has been revealed through them.  And Jesus makes the same way for us and has given us the words to use on our way, words of hope, words of righteousness, words of love for all people.

May we have the grace to follow the way of Jesus so that the glory of God may shine upon the face of all people in every time and place.  Amen.