“DO NOT SAY ‘I AM NOT READY’”
A Sermon Preached at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, MA
on the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (Year C), Jan 31, 2016
Jeremiah 1:4–10 | Psalm 71:1–6 | 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 | Luke 4:21–30
By Reed Carlson
When I started college, I needed a job.
I wasn’t particularly skilled and I didn’t have a car so my options were limited.
A friend of mine worked for a valet company at a downtown Minneapolis hotel, and, given my requirements, it was the perfect job for me.
He gave my name to his boss and I was hired within a week.
That was when I started to learn a few things about valet parking.
Let me tell you, everything you suspect that valets are doing with and in your car while you’re not around is absolutely true.
If, after picking up your car, you think there are a few more miles on the odometer than there should be—you’re probably right.
If you smell something suspicious in your car and suspect that one or more valets brought some sort of substance into your vehicle that was originally not there—you’re probably right.
If you think there were additional people in your car who were not employed by the valet company—you’re probably right.
I’ll be frank: There was a reason none of us owned our own cars. We had yours.
In regards to all this valet behavior, our bosses had a very strict “don’t-get-caught” policy.
Thus the actions and attitudes and nerve of my co-workers shocked me when I first started.
Having just graduated high school and grown up in a conservative Christian home, I think I was very naïve.
To be honest, even driving downtown in a busy city was new to me.
I was from the suburbs with wide streets and big stoplights over the road.
But downtown there were one ways and tiny city streets and dim stoplights on the sidewalk, and this was the mid 2000s so I was always parking these big hummers and Cadillac Escalades...
I wanted to quit, but like I said, I needed a job, so I stuck it out for 2 years until I got a promotion at the hotel.
Arguably, I was not ready to be a valet but I made it work.
This morning we’ve heard a couple stories from scripture about people not being ready.
The first one was from the book of Jeremiah.
This is an example of a fairly common motif in the Bible called a “call story.”
Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and a few other figures in the Bible have similar call stories—and like Jeremiah, they were all a little apprehensive.
They were not ready.
On a larger scale, we might say the same thing for the nation of Israel when God called them out of slavery in Egypt.
They were not ready.
Some of you may remember the story of the wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John.
In that story it seems like Jesus isn’t ready for ministry yet.
But Mary, his mother, calls him anyway.
On the one hand, we can say that this is a literary motif.
When someone in Jewish antiquity wanted to write a story about a calling, there was already this established genre that he or she could use that the audience would recognize.
But on the other hand, we should note the theological point that’s being made here:
God calls you before you’re ready.
God calls you before you’re ready.
(Or at least before you feel like you’re ready.)
Check out what happened with Jeremiah.
God said to him,
"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."
We don’t know exactly how old Jeremiah is supposed to be in this text, but it seems like he is quite young.
He says, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
This isn’t unusual in the Bible.
God calls the preadolescent prophet Samuel in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
These are examples of how the scriptures affirm the profound spirituality of children, even if you and I might want to say (with the best intentions): “No, they’re not ready yet.”
For that matter, it’s something we are often tempted to say about ourselves. “I am not ready yet.”
This is especially true when we are challenged to take part in something that we know is important but that also scares us.
It’s something that throughout our nation’s history, many well-intentioned, well-educated people have said on the cusp of massive social change: “We are not ready yet.”
Arguably, this is the position that the people of Nazareth were in in our Gospel reading this morning.
The full story is broken up kind of awkwardly by our reading schedule, so if you weren’t in church last week you would have missed the first half of this story.
Jesus has returned to his hometown after beginning his ministry elsewhere.
He goes to his home synagogue, perhaps the one he grew up at, and he reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, saying:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Everyone is very impressed.
The hometown boy has done good for himself.
But as Jesus begins to interpret what he has read, it becomes clear that he has something much larger in mind.
It’s not just a claim about his identity.
It’s an invitation to follow his example.
Essentially Jesus says, “This is what I’m about and it’s what you should be about too!”
So this morning we heard the response to this challenge.
The people of Nazareth were not ready.
When Jesus tries to explain that his ministry, that his calling, is much bigger than just their community—bigger than Israel even.
Their response is accusatory and violent.
They would rather that Jesus die than take what they feel belongs to them in order to share it with others.
Instead of being open to the challenge, they wanted to circle the wagons, and attempt to protect themselves against a change that they were afraid of.
They were not ready.
Today at St. James’s after worship, we are going to have our annual meeting.
Many of you are familiar with that process but in case you’re not, it’s an event that most churches have once per year in this country.
We talk about some business, we make some arrangements regarding leadership roles in the church, but it’s also a time for us as a community to remind one another of what God has called us to.
It’s also a time when we get to dream about what God might be calling us to next.
There may be times during this meeting when you feel like “We’re not ready.”
There may be something asked of you when you feel like, “I’m not ready.”
Frankly, our lives are full of these moments.
Maybe you wont face one today in a church annual meeting but maybe you’re facing one this week.
Maybe you have had moments like that in the past and when you look back, you wish you would have responded differently.
The good news is since God calls us before we’re ready, it’s not our fault if we feel afraid.
Or if we don’t always know what to do.
It’s in those moments where it can be helpful to remember God’s words to Jeremiah who was also called before he was ready. God said:
“Do not say, 'I am [not ready]';
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.”
For me, that’s a promise from God that whatever it is we’re called to, it’s supposed to be bigger than us.
It’s supposed to be intimidating.
Because we go with God.
I want to close with something a little different.
I did not come up with this, this is a spiritual practice that was recommended to me but I quite like it.
If you would please, take out your bulletin and find the second reading from the book of 1 Corinthians.
This is a reading some of us might recognize because it is often used in weddings.
I think it is a great text for that purpose because Paul, the author of this letter, is talking about the nature of God’s love in a way that we are supposed to emulate, whether in a marriage, in a friendship, or in a community like ours.
So I would like to close with us reading this text together out loud.
This, I hope, will be especially poignant for those of you who call St. James’s home—if this is your home church.
We’re going to read verses 4–7, so the middle portion.
It begins with “love is patient” and it ends with “endures all things.”
But what I want to do is change two things.
First, anywhere you see the word, “Love.” Let’s say instead St. James’s. Ok?
The other thing is anywhere you see “it” instead say “we” or “our.”
Ok? It’s not that hard trust me.
Just those 3 verses.
(So has everyone found the place?
I’m going to start reading, I’m going to read very slow, and if you feel comfortable, I invite you to join in with me.
(If you don’t want to read, that’s fine. In fact, if you want, you can put your own name in there instead).
Either way, let this be your prayer this morning.
St. James’s is patient; St. James’s is kind; St. James’s is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. We do not insist on our own way; we are not irritable or resentful; we do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth. We bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.