The Rev Cynthia KR Banks: The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost—PR 16—Year C; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
“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.”
The call of Jeremiah. The call of a 20-something who definitely did not want to do what God was asking of him. Remember, the memory of the northern kingdom falling was very much in the collective memory of the people of God. And Jeremiah is watching Judah and Jerusalem fall into utter decay. They have chased after other gods, oppressed the alien, the orphan, and the widow [Je 5:5-7]. Exile is coming if they can’t straighten out their ways. It’s a pretty ugly scene. And into this moment, God comes to Jeremiah, God comes to Martin Luther King, Jr., God comes to me, God comes to you, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Brothers and sisters, how is that sitting in your soul right now? I would imagine about as comfortably as it was for young Jeremiah. He played the age card. “Uh, me Lord? Truly, I don’t know how to speak, for I am only a boy. Really God? You want me to go talk to kings and priests and people in power? Have you heard what they say about millenials? TIME magazine called us the “Me, Me, Me Generation.” What on earth makes you think that I will get a hearing? What on earth makes you think that I have something to say? I am only 10, or 20, or a young parent, or middle-aged, or way too old. I don’t know how to speak. What do I have to offer into this moment?”
But the Lord said to Jeremiah, and to Martin, and to you, and 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.”
Oh no, are you ready to surrender to that? Are you ready to go to all to whom God will send you? Are you ready to speak whatever God will command you to speak? Are you ready to be fearless? Do you understand that God is with you to deliver you? Do you understand that when you feel like you are about to be overwhelmed by this situation, do you understand that God has promised to snatch you away, that God will not let you let you be consumed by it, that God has you in God’s sights every minute of every day? Do you know that?
You don’t get to play the age card, or the inexperience card, or the wrong kind of experience card. As Jesus shows us so clearly today, you don’t even get to play the this-breaks-the-law card, or the this-messes-with-tradition card, or the it’s-just-going-to-be-so-disorderly card. I heard a quote a few months back from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail that is still haunting me. King was writing to white liberal clergymen, and he says this, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Ouch.
Jesus healed a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. But the leader of the synagogue was indignant
, indignant because Jesus had cured her on the sabbath. That leader proclaimed, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Jesus was appalled, and it was his turn to be indignant. “You hypocrites! You untie your ox and donkey and lead them to water on the sabbath. And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
You don’t get to play the age card, or the inexperience card, or the “good order” card. God formed you, God knew you before he formed you, God has consecrated you, God has appointed you. What are you going to do with that?
And if that isn’t enough, God puts out God’s hand and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, and Martin’s mouth, and your mouth, and my mouth, and God says to us, “You don’t know how to speak, but I do. Now I have put my words in your mouth. And today, today, I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow systems and structures that hurt and oppress my beloved children, my beloved creatures, my beloved creation. That is your task, oh prophet, that is your work. But do not forget, never forget, that all this plucking up and pulling down, all this destroying and overthrowing is only toward one end, to build up and plant a new creation, to build up ancient ruins, to raise up former devastations, to repair ruined cities, and the devastations of many generations [Is 61:4], to be repairers of the breach as Isaiah says [Is 58:12]. You must understand, oh prophet, as the Letter to the Hebrews does, that the sprinkled blood of Jesus poured out on that cross in the ultimate act of non-violence speaks a better word than the blood of Abel [Heb 12:24] shed in anger. This calling, this sacred work that I have called you to won’t just be for the transformation of the world, but it will remake your heart in the process.”
And do you want to know the power of a transformed heart? It can stop a man with 500 rounds of ammunition ready to shoot up the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA near Atlanta. Meet Antoinette Tuff, the nation’s new hero, and my personal hero. If you haven’t yet, go google the video of her account of this past Tuesday, all 16 minutes and 18 seconds of it. She engaged a gunman because she didn’t see a gunman, she saw a hurting human being. She talked about how her pastor had been teaching them at their church to anchor themselves in the Lord. So when Antoinette looked at this young man, she saw someone who was hurting and she started praying for him. Then she started to tell the man of her life and her struggles. She talked about her child with multiple disabilities and how dark it was for her after her divorce. She noticed that he had the same name as her mother’s maiden name, and she said, “We could be family.” “We could be family.” But here’s the part that blows me away, she knew that this man was going to kill everyone because he told her that was his intent. He told her that he was hopeless, that he didn’t have a reason to live, and that nobody loved him. She told him that she loved him, that she didn’t know his name, she didn’t know much about him, but she loved him. When she was asked how she could show such compassion toward this man, she said this, “When I looked at him, I seen myself and my kids.” When Antoinette looked into Michael Hill’s eyes, she saw herself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Antoinette didn’t see an enemy, she didn’t see a gunman, she saw a beloved, hurting reflection of herself and her family; she knew her kinship to this young man. She looked at Michael, the way God looks at us, and love poured out and spoke a better word than the blood of Abel.
Antoinette before God formed her in the womb. God consecrated her and appointed her, and on Tuesday morning, she lived out the fullness of that call. She spoke what God gave her to speak. She plucked up and pulled down despair, and she built up and planted love and hope, and in a world that knows violence only too well, bullets were stopped and lives were saved.
God knew you before he formed you in the womb. Before you were born, God consecrated you. God has appointed you a prophet. Go to all to whom God sends you. Speak whatever God commands you. Do not be afraid. Pluck up what needs plucking up, pull down what needs pulling down, build and plant a new creation. Speak a better word than the blood of Abel. And never forget, never forget, that the LORD God is with you…always.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
August 25, 2013