A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (1:4-10)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “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.” 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’; 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, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:18-29)
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (13:10-17)
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
By this weekend, almost all students have started a new school year. Those who haven’t will have their first days very soon.
The first day of school is always a time of excitement: seeing classmates again at the end of the summer, meeting new students and new teachers, fixing up and maybe decorating your locker. It is also a time for some nervousness and uncertainty: not sure how you and some of your new classmates and teachers will get along. For those who are moving to a new city and having to change schools, it is a time of even more anxiety: not knowing anybody, not sure how to find your way around the school, not sure how or if you will fit in.
But the beginning of a new school year is also a time of new resolve and of great intentions: “This year, things are going to be better. This year, I’m going to pay attention and keep myself organized. This year, I’m going to study as I go along so that I don’t have to panic so much before each test. This year, I’m going to start my projects right away instead of letting them go to the last possible day.” And on and on and on.
But it doesn’t seem to take very long before students fall back into at least some of their old habits. And it doesn’t seem to take very long for the excuses to start. I don’t know if anybody still uses the old “the dog ate my homework” approach. That seems a little outdated. More than likely, that canard has morphed into “a computer virus ate my homework.” Then there is always: “My teacher must have forgotten to tell our class about that assignment” or the ever-popular “I’m sure she told us that it was due next week; she must have made a mistake!”
Young folks growing up can devise a variety of excuses for not doing what they know they need to do; but so can we adults. And if you ever need to come up with an excuse for not doing something, whether that excuse has to be a plausible one or not, I suggest that you look to some of the major characters in the Bible. There you can find them using a great assortment of excuses, a wide variety of approaches to try to get out of God’s call to them.
Some excuses seem perfectly reasonable. Take Abraham and Sarah, for example: nobody in their right mind would try to start a large family (as many descendants as there are stars in the heavens or grains of sand on the seashore) with a man who is 100 years old and a woman who is 90; like Sarah, we would laugh out loud at the absurdity. The same is true much later on with the elderly parents of Samuel; and with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.
Then of course there are also the more questionable excuses. Moses tried several different pretexts to try to talk his way out of his commission to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. “Who am I? I’m a nobody. No Pharaoh is going to listen to me.” “I would, but I can’t represent you. I don’t know your name, so I can’t even tell the Israelites who sent me.” “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a terrible speaker. You obviously have the wrong person.” Centuries later, Isaiah protested that he had “unclean lips.” Ezekiel was so overwhelmed by God’s presence that he literally fell flat on his face. And Jeremiah, in today’s first reading, protested that he was just plain too young for such a job. Their varied attempts seem to have one common denominator: they were all protesting that they simply were not qualified.
Like some of the excuses used year after year by students, that “I’m not qualified” approach to God’s call is one that God’s people keep trying to use from generation to generation. The contexts may be different, the embellishments may be different, but they are all basically the same. And God’s answer is always the same, too: God just doesn’t buy it.
Not only that, but God seems to go out of God’s way to find people who clearly are unqualified. Writer Madeleine L’Engle has suggested: “If you think you’re qualified, you might believe you did a good job. If you know you’re unqualified, you realize you can only accomplish something because you’re empowered by God.”
Were prophets like Jeremiah qualified to do the work that God gave them to do? Of course not. Are we qualified for the work God has given us to do: transforming this community and world into a place of hope, justice and love – as God intends it to be? Of course we’re not qualified either! We’re naturally overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task; and that’s good. As N.T. Wright has observed, if you’re not overwhelmed by the size of the task, you just haven’t been paying attention!
So how then did those prophets do the work that God had given them to do? How then have the people of God throughout the ages done it? How then can we do it: accomplishing the work that God has entrusted to us in our time?
Probably the most frequent promise made in the entire Bible is the one that God made to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses, to the prophets including Jeremiah, and to countless others. It is the simple promise “I will be with you.” They didn’t have to depend on their own qualifications, their own abilities, their own resources; and neither do we. And that in itself is really good news!
No, we are probably not qualified to do all that God asks us to do. But as we leave here this and every Sunday to do whatever the work is that God has placed in our hands this week, we do so with confidence: not confidence in our own abilities, not confidence in our own resources, not confidence in our own qualifications; but with confidence in the God who has called us, as unqualified as we may be. For God has promised to be with us, too. And it is by placing our trust in God that we can stand here and pray together with confidence: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work that you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” May God, who has entrusted this great work to us, enable us to accomplish it by the power of God’s Spirit.