Sermon for Sunday, August 21, 2022 || Proper 16C || Jeremiah 1:4-10
If you go back in my sermon archives on my website wherethewind.com, you will find several sermons like the one we are about to share. It’s a sermon about God using us, not in spite of our perceived shortcomings, but because of them. I find I need to preach this sermon to myself about once a year so that I can hear God’s promises anew. I need to preach this sermon because the marketing departments of the world are so good at targeting our perceived shortcomings and selling us things to make up for them. But that’s not how God works. So, to start off this version of the sermon, and inspired by Katy Roberts’s personal sharing a few weeks ago, I’d like to tell a little story about me and the Prophet Jeremiah.
As many of you know, I had a tumultuous relationship with the Church as I was growing up. My family was basically kicked out of the church my father was rector of when I was in sixth grade. We moved all the way from Rhode Island to Alabama to rebuild our lives; needless to say, I was wary of the new church, despite their overwhelming love for my family during my middle and high school years. I continued to attend church, but I always set myself a little bit apart because I was afraid of being hurt again.
So it was a big surprise to me that I felt God calling me to priesthood during the second semester of my first year of college. I was all of nineteen years old – literally half the age I am now. Thankfully, my college chaplain took my discernment seriously and walked with me all the way to my meetings with the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of West Virginia at the beginning of my senior year of college.
The meetings took place on a solitary Saturday morning at a windswept retreat center in the mountains. Four one hour meetings among a joint session of the Commission and the diocesan Standing Committee would form their recommendation to the bishop about my place in the process towards ordination. Thankfully, I had met many of the people on these committees while serving as a counselor at the diocesan camp the previous summer. I was feeling naturally nervous at the outset of the meetings but not entirely terrified. The first two meetings went fairly well. They asked me to open with a prayer – that was weird, because it seemed like my prayers were being graded. Then we just talked about all sorts of things.
But then I went to meeting Number Three. I sat down in the chair and immediately felt my back start sweating. This meeting was being presided over by the Commission on Ministry’s resident curmudgeon, a crotchety old priest who could make you shrivel up with a glance. He didn’t ask me to pray. He didn’t even begin the meeting with a question. He just said, “So, you’re twenty-one.”
It felt like an accusation, like I somehow had control of my age and had set it purposefully to twenty-one years just to aggravate him. I squirmed in my seat trying to think up an appropriate response. And that’s when the Prophet Jeremiah came into my mind, specifically the passage _____ read this morning.
God appoints Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations. And Jeremiah responds: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
God says to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
Then God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and puts the word of God on the new prophet’s lips. Jeremiah thinks God has made a mistake choosing a child with little experience. But God disagrees. “I chose you, Jeremiah,” God says. “Believe me, I know how old you are.”
This story meant so much to me when I was discerning my call to priesthood. I was so young, so lacking in experience, but I felt a call on my heart. Perhaps that call did need more time to gestate before germinating. Or perhaps God was calling me as I was, just as God called Jeremiah, a boy with a lot of learning to do, but still someone God could use in God’s mission.
“So, you’re twenty-one,” the old priest said.
The story of Jeremiah unfurled across my mind, and all I could think to say in response was, “Yes.” And then the meeting continued without fireworks.
In the nearly twenty years since that meeting, I have joyfully witnessed how God has used my relative youth in service to God’s mission. I have formed deep relationships with children and teens, often using our mutual love for LEGOs or video games as a starter. Because I was young, I never felt the need to fake experience that I didn’t actually have, which has helped me learn the business side of running a church from people much more knowledgeable. And the big one: at the start of the pandemic, I leveraged pretty much every one of my hobbies to move St. Mark’s fully online. Many of these hobbies – video game streaming, podcasting, YouTube video editing – did not exist for previous generations, but for a Millennial like me, they were second nature.
I believe that we are always the people God desires to partner with in God’s mission, no matter our perceived shortcomings, and sometimes because of them. Jeremiah and I both might have been seen as too young to serve God, but that’s just nonsense. At any given moment, we are the people God calls, warts and all. You are never too old or too young or too inexperienced or too fragile or too not-put-together or too doubtful. No one is ever too anything to serve God because serving God happens at the intersection of who you are now and who you are becoming. We are who we are now, and God has no desire for us to wait until we grow up or clean up because the very act of serving God brings that growth. Following God transforms us into better versions of ourselves, the versions God always sees even if they are not apparent to us at any given moment. If we waited until we somehow became those versions, we’d never start.
This week, I invite you to pray with God about what holds you back from following. What about you do you think disqualifies you from partnering with God in mission? Why do you think that? What past experience or what voice in your head is telling you you’re not good enough to follow God? In your prayer, listen for God’s voice speaking to that voice in your head. Listen for your version of the words God says to Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you” to be my hands, my feet, my heart in this world.
You. Yes. Even You. Especially You.