Duty Calls

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
This American Life Episode 334: Duty Calls

When I was kid, in classrooms, it wasn’t hard for the teacher to find a volunteer. As soon as she said, “I need someone to…” plenty of kids had their hand up in the air ready to do whatever the teacher wanted. As adults, it seems we are not as eager to volunteer. I’ve sat on board meetings where the moderator asks “who is willing to do this report?” No one answers immediately; sometimes you’ll hear 3 or 4 excuses before someone reluctantly volunteers, or worse, gets appointed to the task.

But sometimes, we don’t even have a choice. No one asks us to volunteer. Rather, we get told – voluntold as I’ve heard many people say. And sometimes, the excuses still come up – I’m too busy; I don’t know how to do this; I’ve tried it before; and so on. And sometimes, no matter how good our excuse is, we can’t get away from doing what it is that we need to be doing.

And so is the story of Jeremiah – called just like Isaiah or Moses. But unlike Isaiah and much more like Moses, Jeremiah responded with an excuse – “I’m too young and cannot speak.” To which God responds, “Yeah, you’re still doing this.”

The fear burning in Jeremiah’s mind and body was not enough to get him out his obligation – God’s call for the people to repent and put down their idols. Many times today, just like Jeremiah, we find ourselves knowing that we must do something. Often, it is not something we want to do, similar to jury duty – we do not want to do it but sometimes the sate calls us to serve in that capacity.

Joshua Bearman, writer and frequent contributor to This America Life, tells his story in episode 334: Duty Calls. As a child, his parents divorced; he lived with his father and brother in California while his mom and half brother lived in Minnesota and Florida. The two family halves, as Josh explains, are very different. His dad is a physicist and his brother is a classically trained musician. His half-brother in Florida, however, has had many run-ins with the law while their mother spends a lot of time drinking.

The situation for Josh’s mother and half-brother gets really bad. So bad that Josh decides to go to Florida for several months and help them out. It’s not something Josh wants to do, in fact, he hesitates. Ultimately, he knows that it is up to him to help out his family because he is all that they have.

It is not easy for Josh. Throughout the story, Josh explains how he has to travel with his brother, hopping from government office to government office to acquire all the necessary papers so that his brother can finish his probation sentence and stay off trouble. His experience with his mother, however, proves to be more difficult. She spends time in a nursing facility after a trip to the hospital during a near-death experience. Josh wants her to do better but he is afraid she will return to her drinking. He tries to put her up in a rehab facility but she refuses. After long arguments, she reluctantly goes into rehabilitation but only lasts a short few weeks. Josh’s message to his mother constantly remains: do not go back to your old ways; it’s dangerous to back to what you were doing before.

Josh’s story ends with his mother back at her home, not doing perfectly great but doing better. His half-brother seems to have turned his life around; he finds work, pursues his dreams and plans to get back to school. Josh returns home to California and frequently visits his family in Florida. He knows, just like his brother and mother know, that if he had not intervened, the situations could be much, much worse. And so, the job he did not want to do proves to be one necessary for his family to do well.

Often, we are called just like Jeremiah or Joshua Bearman. Many times we do not want to do whatever it is that we are called to do. We know, however, that it is still our responsibility. We might have excuses but those will never be enough to get us out of our obligations. We have to step in, we have to help others, we have to tell them to turn around unless they witness much worse times. And sometimes, we are the only ones who can do just that.

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