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Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (2019)

Aug 25, 2019

Passage: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (2019)
August 25th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Jeremiah 1:4-10          Hebrews 12:18-29          Luke 13:10-17

After last week’s sermon, which I began with an awful pun, someone reminded me that there’s a reason why the confession of sin usually comes after the sermon. So I do not plan to open this morning with another groan-inducing pun. But I do want to start this morning talking about plays on words because there’s a detail from the reading from Jeremiah that I think it’s worth pointing out. And most of you will be thoroughly unsurprised to hear me say that the detail only comes through in the original language of the text. 

The detail I’m referring to is where it says, ‘The word of the Lord came to me saying, "I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy.’

The Hebrew word for prophet is na’vi. And the word translated for us as “boy,” is na’ar. I won’t go into the way the passage rhymes when read aloud in Hebrew, but basically the conversation between God and Jeremiah goes like this: God says, “You’re going to be a na’vi.” Jeremiah says, “I can’t be a na’vi. I’m a na’ar.” And God says, “Don’t say you’re only a na’ar. You’re going to be a na’vi.” So there’s this sort of cleverly disguised play between na’vi and na’ar. 

A rough equivalent in English might be something like, An unmarried young woman having a conversation with God, where God says, “You’re going to be a missionary.” And she replies, “I can’t be a missionary. I’m only a miss.” And God says, “There’s nothing amiss about being a miss. But you are mistaken that you’re only a miss. You’re going to be a missionary.” 

But it’s not just puns that make the reading from Jeremiah so great. There’s also a lesson for us about owning who we are as the people of God.  

Now, you may have noted when I said it before, but I said that the word in the passage translated for us as “boy” can also mean “servant.” And there are some commentators who make the argument that Jeremiah’s protest against God’s call isn’t about his being too young. Jeremiah was the son of a priest and would have been in line for priestly service himself, so Jeremiah’s protest might have been about him feeling that he was already doing his duty as a servant and didn’t want to do anything more than that. As in, “You want me to be a prophet, God? No can do - I’m only a servant.”

And I wonder how many of us think in the same sort of way. Especially when it comes to being witnesses for Jesus. The thinking can go like this: “I’m a faithful Christian. I come to church on Sundays. I say my prayers. I give to the poor when I can. But don’t ask me to do anything else.” 

Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with just going to church and saying one’s prayers and helping the poor. Those are all good things in and of themselves. Nor am I making a case that setting boundaries isn’t necessary. 

But if you’ve ever felt the nudging of the Holy Spirit to share the good news with others, or if you’ve ever felt drawn to grow in your knowledge of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, then think about what it would sound like to say to God, “Thanks for that invite, Lord, but I’m already doing everything I need to be doing for you.” Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it? Yet I think many of us struggle with responding positively when God calls.

So the lesson I think that we can learn from this way of reading the passage from Jeremiah is that when a genuine call from God comes through, saying “I’m already doing enough,” is probably not going to work. God can be pretty insistent, as Jeremiah discovered. 

But even if you don’t go with that interpretation of Jeremiah’s protest and instead go with the idea that he was saying he couldn’t be a prophet because he was just too young or inexperienced, there’s still a lesson there for us. There’s a popular saying in church-circles, and I am sure that many of you have heard it. The saying is, “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.” As pithy sayings go, it’s actually pretty good. Because it conveys a truth that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. 

The truth is that we are all called to be messengers of the gospel and builders of the kingdom; no matter where we go or who we are with. But what’s sad is that we can all come up with a host of excuses about why we are not worthy or well-enough equipped to be messengers of the gospel and builders of the kingdom. “I’m too young,” “I’m too old,” “I don’t know theology,” “I don’t know the Bible well enough,” “I’ve done so many bad things…” 

I could go on listing the reasons we come up with in order to avoid having to answer God’s calling on our lives - and I’m sure you all could as well. All such excuses have to do with the idea that we lack something that would make us worthy of being God’s chosen people. But the reality is that there is nothing lacking. And the myth that so many of us grew up with - that we are totally unworthy of God - is something that we need to set aside. 

I know I’ve drawn your attention to it before, but once again, be aware of what we say in the Eucharistic prayer we’re using this morning. In that prayer, we say that in Christ, God has “made us worthy” to stand before him. It’s a short line in the prayer and so it’s easy to gloss over, but if you think about it for a moment, what that prayer does is it casts aside all of our excuses of unworthiness. It’s saying that through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has once and for all cast aside any argument that we might make about how our unworthiness prevents us from answering God’s call. Christ’s worthiness is extended to us, and as a result, we can rejoice and celebrate in God’s presence instead of cowering in fear. 

So I invite you this morning to consider your own Jeremiah-like excuses in the face of God’s invitation and call upon your own life, and ponder what it means to hear God tell you that in spite of your protestations, you ARE worthy.  

My hope is that in thinking about these things, you will all be more willing to own your identity not only as a child of God, but also as a messenger of God and a bearer of this good news to the whole world.