Inadequate for Ministry? Who cares?! God sure doesn't!
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."
Yesterday, we celebrated a quinceañera here at St. Mary's. For those that don't know, a quinceañera is a Latin American coming-of-age ceremony for fifteen year old young women. It is very popular in Mexican culture, which is the heritage of the majority of the members of our parish who attend the 1:30 service. For the quinceañera service, we nearly always here this reading from Jeremiah that we just heard today: God calls Jeremiah to do something really important and special. Jeremiah objects because he is too young, and therefore does not have the skills to do it. But God tells him to do it anyway, to not worry, to not be afraid, because God is going to give him the words he needs. You can probably grasp quite quickly why this might be a powerful reading for a service that honors a young person: they can find their own life in it. For a teenager who has probably heard many times that she is too young to do certain things, who has probably internalized that, like I suspect Jeremiah had, to hear instead that God isn't worried, to hear that her (or his) limitations aren't a barrier for God can be freeing, liberating. God has called the young to do things, special things, important things. And whatever limitations their age or inexperience may bring, it is okay, because God is with them and will make up the difference. When God wants something done, God doesn't really care about our limitations, God calls and God makes sure that the holes in our resume are filled, God equips us in whatever ways we may need equipping, Our own inadequacy is more than made up by God's adequacy.
Some of you might be saying to yourself, what does this have to do with me? I'm not too young. Maybe you are thinking the opposite: "I am too old." Well, this isn't just true for the young, Jeremiah's call story is a particular story for a particular person with particular objections, but it is a story that repeats itself over and over again with a different set of particulars. God calls, the person objects for some very good, logical reason, but God moves forward with them anyway.
If you can't find your story in Jeremiah's, because you can no longer say "I am only a youth," remember Abraham and Sarah who were called to be the ancestors of a great nation, but objected because they were too old. Well, God continued to call them anyway. Or remember Isaiah. It was the same: God called, Isaiah objected, God resolved the objection and moved forward with him. In his case, it wasn't because he was too young or too old, but because he was too impure - "I am a man of unclean lips." But God cleansed his lips and moved forward with the inadequate Isaiah. Esther had a similar situation: called to save her people from certain destruction. She objected because she didn't have the right kind of power and authority to save them, but God gave her the courage she needed to complete the task. Moses objected that he didn't know God well enough and wasn't a good enough public speaker, but God equipped him, too. Jonah was just too close-minded and vengeful, but God used him. Mary was not yet married for her task, while her cousin Elizabeth was barren, but God called them to be mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist. As a persecutor of the Church, Paul was certainly inadequate to become one of its greatest leaders, but God called him to do that. This is a pattern that continues to repeat. God calls those who are ill-equipped and equips them. God calls those who have limitations and inadequacies and well-reasoned objections, and tells them to be not afraid.
This repeats through Scripture. This repeats through history. This continues to this day. Whatever limitations we may have, whatever inadequacies we may have, God calls us to do ministry anyway. If we are too young or too old or too weak or impure or unskilled, God calls us anyway, each and every one of us. God calls to do important ministry in this world, God calls us to be Christ's healing hands and feet in the world, bringing the Good News of God's love, mercy, grace, hope, and reconciliation. God calls each one of us, and God calls us as a community. We may be inadequate to the task of solving homeless all by ourselves, but we cannot let that keep us from the call to house guests at the Family Night Shelter and the Egan Warming Center. We may be inadequate to the task of solving hunger, but we cannot let that keep us from the call to feed people like we do at the Saturday Breakfast and through our food collections for distribution at a food bank. We may be inadequate to the task of solving the refugee crisis, but we cannot let that keep us from the call to welcome the stranger in our midst, the refugees who will soon be here in our community. We may be inadequate to the task of solving the great divisions in our society, but we cannot let that keep us from the call to try and bridge differences and break down barriers that keep us separated from one another. We may be inadequate, we may have limitations - we are and we do! - but God calls us anyway. Because inadequacy is irrelevant to God; God is more than adequate to make up the difference.
Sometimes when I have visited people bed-ridden or house-bound in the last weeks and months of their lives, a few of them have said how they wished they could more for the church. And I tell them they can. I ask them to simply pray - pray for the Church, pray for the world throughout the day. They may not have the ability to come down here and worship any more, or to answer phones at the welcome desk or to set the altar anymore, they may not be able to sit on Vestry or serve eggs at the Saturday Breakfast, they may not be able to teach Sunday School or sing in the choir, but they have the gift of time, time to pray. God will make up the difference between what they are able to do and what God needs done.
Our limitations are not really objections in God's eyes, but rather opportunities for God to say "Be not afraid. I will be with you" just as God told Jeremiah and Isaiah and Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Esther and Mary and Elizabeth and Paul and so many others who have gone before who also all had their own limitations and frailties, but who God used. We may be limited, inadequate, impure, or inexperienced, but as long as we are here, God can and does call us to do something. Listen for the call. Be not afraid of it, for God is with you through it all. Amen.