Monday, August 26, 2013

Speak Up

             A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on August 25, 2013. The texts were Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Hebrews 12:18-29
             I find that it’s easy to forget my identity, my true identity…a child of God, a member of a royal priesthood, a minister of reconciliation.  Sometimes I find myself lost on the sea of my own failures, my own shortcomings, dwelling on my inability to change the world. And when I have a moment of boldness, I often seek to change the world through the sheer force of my own will.
            My will.  Not God’s.  It’s easy for me to forget who God has called me to be…that God claimed me and sealed me as Christ’s own forever in my baptism.  Easy to forget the One who nourishes me weekly in the Eucharist.  I wonder if it’s easy for you to forget who God has called you to be.  For all of you in this place are children of God, vessels of Christ’s transformation and saving grace.  Like me, do you ever struggle with looking into the mirror and seeing a child of God, and not just a flawed human being?
            If you find yourself in my company this morning, you can relax.  Take a deep breath.  We are not alone in our struggle to understand who God is calling us to be.  Jeremiah had the same doubts.  The very word of the LORD came to Jeremiah and revealed that even before birth, the LORD was journeying alongside Jeremiah.  The LORD consecrated Jeremiah, appointed him to be a prophet to the nations.  Here is a person with whom the LORD has been intimately relating even before his birth.  The LORD has been a constant companion in Jeremiah’s life.  Yet, when Jeremiah encountered this truth, this beautiful and life-affirming truth, he simply couldn’t accept it: “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
            “I am only a boy.” Words of doubt.  Words of fear, perhaps.  The LORD has just given Jeremiah a new understanding of his identity, has given him a mission, but something within Jeremiah wasn’t able to accept this reality.  For Jeremiah, he simply couldn’t accept the fact that God might call a boy, younger than other prophets and teachers, to be a consecrated prophet to the nations.  And yet, in spite of Jeremiah’s inability to accept his God-given identity, the LORD still declared Jeremiah to be a prophet.  “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.” The LORD didn’t treat Jeremiah like the flawed, incompetent prophet Jeremiah sees himself as.  Embracing Jeremiah’s full humanity and Jeremiah’s own flawed self-image, the LORD gently rebuked Jeremiah but once again commissioned him to speak the LORD’s words of truth with a promise that the LORD’s presence will abide with Jeremiah.
            Now, I’ve never thought I am unfit to preach on account of my age, but my own flaws and shortcomings are constant companions, like a sad song echoing in my ears that, try as I might, I can’t seem to forget.  But here I am, standing in this pulpit, dressed in these wonderfully archaic robes, preaching to you about the goodness and love of the LORD.  With all of my flaws, all of my shortcomings.  But I’m preaching nevertheless.
            Perhaps it’s with a strange sense of humor that God commissions flawed human beings to preach the transformational message of grace and forgiveness.  Or, more profoundly, it’s because God, in spite of our flaws and shortcomings, loves us more truly, deeply, and passionately than anything else and desires us to abide in our identity as the children of God, a royal priesthood, ministers of reconciliation.  God desires each and every one of us to know who we truly are: human beings, once estranged, now brought near to the heart of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            The letter to the Hebrews offers a powerful reflection on what it means to be a redeemed child of God: “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.” 
           Through powerful imagery and metaphor, Hebrews assures us that we have a place in God’s city, at God’s side, with the saints who have gone before and the saints who have yet to walk this earth.  We have come to the place where Jesus dwells, and nothing, not even those things about us that we consider broken, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Embrace who you truly are.  Embrace your identity as a beloved child of God made righteous in Jesus.  Embrace who you truly are, and share that redeeming love with the world around you.  

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