Celebration of Milestones
Today we have our whole ESM congregation here from our infants at the back, and toddlers, all the way up to our adults. And I think in some ways, this is how God intended for things to be – for us to all live in community together. And as we go through life, we share the milestones that we go through and we celebrate them. And so today is graduation Sunday. We celebrate all the milestones. I guess the preschoolers couldn’t handle it up here, so they’re at the back. We have our kids’ church graduates and our Hi-C graduates graduating from one stage of life to the next. I think for the grade 12 graduates, who are graduating from Hi-C, this is not just a graduation from high school into university, but it’s also a graduation into adulthood.
Living Out our Lives
So I had our grads in mind as I prepared today’s sermon. As from now on you guys as an adult, you must learn to make your own decisions, right? Think your own thoughts and become an individual. You must learn to live your own life and not one dictated by others. I think there’s some important things to learn from the call story of Jeremiah. That is today’s passage. Jeremiah was one of the most famous prophets that Israel had. He was present for some of the most pivotal moments in their history. In today’s passage though, it recounts the very early days where Jeremiah heard his call to be a prophet during these important times. I think when we read this passage today, we might wonder sometimes, right. How can we hear our call? I mean, is it like it’s written? Do we magically, sometimes hear this audible voice from heaven saying, “Hey you, this is what you’re supposed to do.” I don’t know. I don’t know that much about how this word suddenly came to Jeremiah, but when I think about it, I don’t think it was just all that sudden. I think the word came to Jeremiah over time, as he listened very closely to his heart. And I think there are some important things for us to learn.
Listening to Your Heart
I think the most important skill that you must learn as an adult is to listen to your heart. I mean, it sounds cliche, we hear this all the time. But, I think the reality is that most people go through life listening to other people’s voices instead of their heart. I think the voices of others are so powerful and it’s understandable. We’re so wired to live in connection with others, so we naturally become influenced by voices and opinions of others. I mean, I was just talking at the wedding about how once your kid enters junior kindergarten, you see all these parents enrolling their kids in this program and that program. It’s like “Oh my goodness. If I don’t do that, then I’m falling behind, right?” The power of others’ opinions. There are many other reasons not to listen to our heart. Sometimes we feel like we owe it to others to listen to their voices instead of our own. But if you only listen to what others say, then you’re not living your own life. And I believe that is what being an adult is: to live your own life. Life and society is also full of distraction and noise. And our pace of life is relentless, but you must learn to carve out space to listen to your heart. I believe that when you listen closely to your heart, the word of God will come to you. When the word of God came to Jeremiah, this is what Jeremiah heard, “Before I formed you in the womb. I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you.” When the word of God comes to you, it does two things. The first is it affirms you as one who is known by God. And secondly, it affirms that you have a unique purpose for your existence. That is what consecrated means, it means to be set apart by God and dedicated for a unique purpose.
How many people truly live life believing that they are worthy and significant? I think our confidence often stems from how esteemed or valued we are by others. And so we spend so much of our time and energy to be acceptable and respectable. I mean, this has been a common message that I’ve always preached to the Hi-C, right? And as you go into university in life, you’re going to feel more and more of that pressure. As people start getting into professional programs, into getting their jobs and careers, it will be so tempting to tie your worth with what others deem to be worthy. But that is living someone else’s life. When you listen closely to your heart, you will come to see that you are okay just as you are. You have been known by God and valued even before you were conceived. And I want this belief, in your own worth and value, to be the bedrock of your confidence as you grow into adulthood. How many people truly live life believing that they have been created for a unique purpose?
Created for a Unique Purpose
I think the irony of adulthood is that as life progresses, this belief in our unique purpose often fades, right? You know, it’s difficult to get and hold onto a job. It’s hard to pay your bills. Once you become a parent, the sacrifices that we must make of our own desires for the sake of our kids. All these things start to diminish our belief that we have a unique purpose. And in this world, listening closely to your heart is the only way to resist this erosion of your value and purpose. I truly believe that each of us have been created for a unique purpose in this world. A purpose that only you can fulfill in your own unique way. I mean, it may not always be grand, but there is a unique purpose for you and I. This belief in your inherent value and unique purpose will keep you going when you’re struggling to figure out what your life is about and where it’s headed. You may not know right away what that purpose is, but believing that there is a purpose is what keeps us going.
It’s a struggle to discern life’s purpose, and it must be done always while listening closely to our hearts. When you are in tune with your heart, then the seeds of your calling are born and discovered. And that is what happened to Jeremiah when the word of the Lord came to him. He said, “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah didn’t really know what that looked like at the time, but the seeds of his calling were born. You know, when you listen closely to your heart, it will begin to tell you things. And I believe that the seeds of calling come with little things that give you energy, that excite you and that make it seem like it’s not work. So pay close attention to those things. These are hints and clues to your life’s calling. So I hope that during this next stage, you can learn to do that.
I hope you all realize how important listening to your heart is. And that’s why for those of you who are interns this summer, I mean, as Paul said in the video, “Never in my life before, have I reflected so much.” That was a cornerstone of the internship, right? I made you guys reflect and write so much because reflecting and writing is an excellent way to delve deeper and really listen to your hearts. So no matter how busy you guys get with tests, assignments, friendships, girlfriends, or boyfriends, just remember to listen to your heart.
Facing our Fears
So listening to our heart is how our life’s purpose starts to take shape, but it’s not an easy journey because if you really listen to your heart and discover the seeds of your calling, the first thing you will face is gripping fear. It will be a soul wrenching fear of inadequacy and great self doubt. I think anyone who’s caught a glimpse of their calling has faced this fear. This is what Jeremiah faced when he responded, “Oh Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak for I am only a boy.” I mean, the essence of being a prophet is to speak, right? But he was racked with feelings of inadequacy. I think this is similar to Moses when he met God at the burning bush and heard his calling to liberate his people. He was racked with self doubt about his ability to speak and to lead.
I understand this fear. I think the essence of being a minister is to be up in a pulpit and preach. Before ministry, I was very comfortable speaking; advocating for issues or speaking in a courtroom. But I quickly discovered that preaching is something else entirely. Reverend Kim would say in our staff meetings that on the pulpit, there is nowhere to hide. You become exposed for who you are, and who you are is revealed. And so after a few of my early sermons, Deb, my wife, said she could boil down my sermons into one of three things: authentic self, abundant life, and capitalism.
Oh man. I realized how narrow and shallow my perspective and preaching was, and I began to really fear. I mean, I’d be smiling in front of the Hi-C every week, but deep inside, I started to fear that maybe I really don’t have that much to say about life and faith. And there are many times I just wanted to crawl into a hole. You know, when we doubt ourselves, when we feel inadequate, we want to run away from that fear into something more safe. But my friends, do not run away from that fear, or at least don’t spend your whole life running away from it. We may all run away from it for a while. I mean, I ran for 20 years, right? But a big part of the adult journey is to confront and wrestle with our fears. So I hope you can find the courage to face and confront your fears. All of us.
Taking the Leap
A famous person wrote this, “The true meaning of courage is to be afraid. And then with knees knocking and your heart racing, take the leap anyway.” There comes a time in our lives when we just have to take a leap. But we’ll find this courage as we become more in tune with our hearts; when we can honestly acknowledge our fears. And when we listen closely to our hearts, we will hear God’s voice. The one that said to Jeremiah, “Do not say I am only a boy. Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.” From within the depths of your heart you will hear God’s voice of assurance. And from that, you can find the courage to take that leap and live out your life’s purpose. When you take that leap, and often only when we take that leap, a vision will begin forming. A vision for what shape your life is to take. When Jeremiah finally took that leap to be a prophet, he heard God say this, “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.”
This really was to be the shape of his life to come. He would speak truth to power. His words were judgment against corruption and injustice to those in power. And he paid the price many times for these words. But in the end, when his nation was taken over and its people deported into exile, he also spoke words of hope and new beginnings. Words that would become a source of strength and encouragement for every generation to come. See, the vision and shape that your life and calling takes is deeply rooted in who you are and what you’ve experienced. It is a unique vision and shape that no one else can replicate. When I look at Jeremiah, I think that his background shaped how his vision was unfolded. He was a descendant of a priestly line that fell out of favour and power. His line was banished from the center of power in Jerusalem and to a marginal place far away. I think that gave him a different perspective than those in the centers of power. He could see more critically what was wrong. And it’s also why when all the elites were deported, he chose to remain behind and spoke words of hope from there. As you take that journey of listening to your heart, everything that you have experienced in your own life and who you are, will form and take a shape. This shape will become a unique vision for your life. That’s where purpose and vision meet.
Let Us Experience This Gift of Life
I think life is a wonderful journey. My wish is for all of you and all of us to experience the great richness of this gift of life that God has given us. At the back to the parents of Nolan, Lauren, Isabel, and Katelyn, may you encourage your children to be those closely attuned to their hearts instead of swayed by the pressures of those around them. To Harinna, Jaiden, Nicole, and Liam, I pray that your journey into Hi-C is a time where God touches your heart. And to David, Maddie, Kaitlin, Matthew, Jono, and JRho, it’s been such a blessing being your pastor for the past three years. I’m doing my best to compose myself up here. As you venture into university, I pray that you find your identity as one who is loved. You will know that you were created with a unique purpose in this world. And I pray that you will discover the seeds of your calling. Yes, you will all develop great fear, but the word of God in your heart will give you courage. And there, a vision for your life will take shape. So for all of us, the journey in our hearts never ends. We are called again and again, to listen to our hearts instead of running from it. May God bless you all in this journey of listening, and may we be a community that blesses one another in that journey.