This coming Sunday I’m mostly preaching on the fantastic gospel reading from Luke, but there’s a really great story in the first reading that I won’t get to mention. After reading all the day’s texts, browsing through some commentaries, and listening to some scholars talk about the bible texts in a really wonderful podcast, I wanted to share some thoughts. So I’m borrowing a practice from a colleague and releasing a “Sermon B-Side.” It’s the part of my Sunday sermon that will end up on the cutting room floor. It’s not finished, and it’s not polished for public proclamation, but it’s a way to preach twice while only preaching once. Anyway, here’s the text of Jeremiah 1:4-10 (CEB).
The Lord’s word came to me:
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I made you a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
because I’m only a child.”
The Lord responded,
“Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
Where I send you, you must go;
what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them,
because I’m with you to rescue you,”
declares the Lord.
Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
touched my mouth, and said to me,
“I’m putting my words in your mouth.
This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
to dig up and pull down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.”
Earlier this week I was updating my professional biography. I tried to take out all the fluffy stuff that no one really cares about, and instead tried to shape the bio in terms of a faith journey. Once I started looking at this week’s Jeremiah reading, I noticed some striking similarities. Whenever I felt called to ministry, I ran the other way. Whenever I thought God was pushing me in a certain direction, I always had an excuse.
Then I ran out of excuses. And through several years (and joys and tears) I’ve gotten to a place where I believe with certainty that God has called me, and my labor in the Lord is not in vain (h/t to the Rite of Ordination). And while my life and ministry can feel shaky from time to time, I’m pretty confident that, every-so-often, God uses my gifts and passions to do a pretty neat thing in the world. But there’s still a fair amount of guilt for all those excuses I made.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one who insisted on running away. Moses wasn’t skilled in public speaking, Gideon was weak, Isaiah was unclean, and Jeremiah was young. So many prophets, so many messages, so many excuses. In each of these examples, though, God refuses to take no for an answer. God helps Moses speak. God gives Gideon strength. God cleanses Isaiah. God gives Jeremiah the right words.
Thinking about all this led me to a question. What’s your excuse?
I don’t intend for that to sound rude or dismissive. There are very real fears in uncertainty. There are burdens God calls us to bear for which we just don’t have the strength. And let’s not forget that the world constantly reminds us of our shortcomings — not having enough, not being enough, not being good enough, not being old enough, not being young enough, not being worth enough… I’ll admit, sometimes running is much easier.
Think about it. What is the thing that keeps you from responding to God’s call? What is the weakness that makes you feel incapable? What is the fear that cements your feet to the ground? Or, put more crudely, what’s your excuse? And how does does God find a way around it?
The good news we find in our Jeremiah reading this Sunday, I think, is that in each of these examples God has an answer. And that’s not just true for Moses or Isaiah. It’s true for us.
When we think we don’t have enough, God makes it enough. When we think we aren’t strong enough, God gives us strength. When we don’t have the words to speak, or when just can’t bear one more burden, God enters in the silence and makes us whole. And, perhaps the most important one at this point in my own life – when we are terrified of what is to come, God says “Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you.”
God calls to you each day, inviting you to participate in this world’s redemption and reconciliation. And it’s okay if you feel the need to run sometimes. That’s part of being human.
Just remember – God’s really good at keeping up.