The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
14th Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2016
It is absolutely wonderful to be back with all of you. Vacation was great, but I’m thrilled to be back here and to get things started on this very exciting fall. Now, over vacation, I watched a ton of Olympics. Now, you all know that I’m a pretty emotional guy. I may or may not have been yelling at my tv when Michael Phelps won his last gold medal. Watching Usain Bolt fly down the track as I was eating a popsicle on my sofa, I felt just a little bad about myself. And, I’m not ashamed to admit, I think a shed a tear for Spring’s favorite gymnast, Simone Biles. Wow.
I’ve been especially proud of Team USA. We have way more medals than any other country. Watching them during the Opening Ceremonies I was struck at our diversity. It was the rainbow people. Our athletes are different religions, different races, they come from different parts of the country and, even different ages. Our youngest athlete is Kanak Jha, he plays table tennis – that’s ping pong for me and you – for Team USA. He’s only sixteen years old. Our oldest athlete is Philip Dutton, he’s fifty two and competes in the equestrian events. So yeah, for some of you, it’s never too late to dream of a gold medal. Because once the Olympics start, you don’t compete on the basis of your age. The judges, the scoreboard, the clock doesn’t care how old you are.
And, God doesn’t care how old you are. God does not regard our age when we are called to follow Jesus; to do what God calls us to do. God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet though Jeremiah is just a boy. This passage we read from Jeremiah this morning is one that I have come to hold close to my heart. 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 a prophet to the nations.” Being a prophet back then was not a way to make friends and get ahead in life. As a prophet, Jeremiah will have to go before kings and tell them that they are sinners. He will call out the Jewish leaders for worshipping other gods. Jeremiah will be arrested, thrown into a pit to die. He’ll be exiled and dragged away from his home and will die in a foreign land.
You can understand, then, why Jeremiah is a little squeamish. He starts to come up with excuses pretty quick. Jeremiah says to God, “ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Surely, God, you must be mistaken. Can’t you find somebody else? Maybe somebody a little older? A little wiser? With a little bit more experience? You know, I’m just a boy and this job is a bit too big for me.
But God does not regard our human categories. God will not accept Jeremiah’s excuse. God has a mission that needs to be accomplished, Jeremiah is his chosen vessel, there is no getting around it. Jeremiah is not too young, Jeremiah is just right, because God has chosen him.
And God has chosen you. Yes, God has chosen each one of you for something. This is what Christians means when we talk about calling, when we talk about vocation, when we talk about discerning God’s call. Because each one of us has been baptized, that means that God has made his presence known in our lives and wants us to do something with our lives. Our calling. Maybe you’ve felt God’s call to go back to school and start another career. Perhaps you’re retired and you’re thinking about how God is calling you into the next phase of your life. Maybe God has called you to become a mentor for an at-risk kid or become a friend for an old person. Perhaps even some of you are being called to the diaconate or the priesthood. Yes, God is always calling us. This question is highly appropriate for the beginning of the school year: teachers, perhaps God is calling you to be Christ-like examples to your students. Students, God might be calling you to use your time in school to learn more about God and God’s world. And speaking as a parent, I know that God is always calling me to teach my daughter more and more about Jesus. Service in God’s Kingdom, answering the call of Jesus takes many forms.
When God calls us to do something for Jesus, the excuses start flying. I’m too old, too young, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too fat, too skinny, too busy, too retired. But God will not have it. You can try telling God that who you are will get in the way. You can try telling God that God has made a mistake when he has called you. Nothing could be further from the truth. God calls you because of who you are. Perhaps God calls Jeremiah precisely because he is a boy. We think that our human characteristics and qualities prevent us from following God, but it’s the other way around. God created you as you are, and it’s your qualities, your characteristics that God wishes to use in your life. God has a mission for you, there is something in this world that only you can do for Jesus, that is your call.
And our excuses. Oh the excuses. Let’s call them what they are. Our excuses to run away from God’s call in our lives are called sins. Sin is when we intentionally separate ourselves from God by coming up with excuses to do our own thing rather than doing God’s thing.
So here’s what I want you to do. Take a moment, take a big deep breath, invite the Holy Spirit into your thoughts, and then turn to somebody near you and share with them what you think God is calling you to do. And remember, no call from God is too weird, too out there, too much. You are not too old, too young, too new, too busy, too set in your ways. There are no excuses. So, what is God calling you to do?
I could sense some nervous laughter, some anxiety about answering such a difficult question. When I have discerned God’s call in my life, I use two questions in my prayers to guide my process. First, is this calling to serve others or to serve myself? If it’s to serve myself, then it’s not been from God. God is always pushes us outward to serve others. And second, if the call from God has seemed far too big, far too scary, for me to accomplish, then it’s definitely from God. God does not call us to do small things for Jesus. God calls us to do things that are far beyond our capacity so that when we reach out limits, God can step in to carry us along the way. That is the spiritual lesson in all of this. If we can do it ourselves, then it’s not from God. If we find ourselves daunted or intimidated, it is definitely from God.
This building project and this capital campaign for our church, it is daunting, it is intimidating. If it were a little fix here or there, if it was just about changing light bulbs or ripping up the carpet, that would be far too easy. God calls us beyond our capacity so that we can see that God carries us; that God will step into the gaps to provide for what we need. Am I intimidated, am I daunted by the task ahead of us this fall? To raise one million dollars for the construction of a new building? Of course I am.
But I have tried all the excuses. It’s too big, we’re too small, the economy is too slow, we’re fine the way it is. But God has been irresistible, continuously pushing us ahead to accomplish this grand vision.
This brings us back to our old friend Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s name could mean, “God hurls.” God hurls. God’s call is irresistible. When God has something in mind, God will find a way to accomplish it, even if it means hurling you forward.
Open your hearts. Open your minds. Open your ears to hear God’s call. And open your eyes to see Jesus in your life. Where you seem incapable, God is able. Where you seem weak, God is strong. Where you seem busy, God has all the time in the world. God is irresistible and unrelenting. That little bug in your ear, that little voice in your heart, if it is to serve others and if it seems too big, that is God. Listen, listen for God.