Here I Am, Send Her
Fourth after Pentecost - Year C
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Fourth after Pentecost - Year C
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Let us pray: O God, you call us to be your people - prophets and messengers of your way in the world. Give us the wisdom and courage to do this work faithfully. Amen.
The road to ordered ministry in The United Church of Canada is one with many steps. These include interviews, meetings, education and practical experience. The coming out ceremony, at least in years when there is a conference meeting, is a speech to conference delegates. Unlike a speech at a political party convention, there is not a lot resting on it, at least in terms of success or failure in the process, but I do remember it as an important final step on my own path to this vocation. The speech is a chance to tell a little of your story, to thank the people who’ve helped you along the way and to set out a path for the years that follow - something of your understanding of ministry and your description of the way in which God is specifically calling you.
I always look forward to the introductions of candidates for ministry at a conference meeting. In recent years the frequency of conference meetings has gone down from yearly to events which happen only twice in every three years. Perhaps the biggest loss in this decision is the fact that many fewer people are there to hear the speeches of the candidates for ministry. It is often an inspiring and hopeful part of the conference gathering.
I particularly remember the speech a number of years ago by a colleague who had run into many more obstacles than usual on his way to ordained ministry. For him, this evening represented a significant milestone on his vocational path. It had taken longer than usual, and the delay was in part occasioned by the church which had required him to do some things again and which had questioned his suitability for ministry on a number of occasions. He detailed these obstacles with good humour in his speech. He could have been bitter. He could have railed against the bureaucracy or the narrowness of view that had put obstacles in his way. Instead he chose to describe his story this way. He was ready and he kept saying to God, Here I am and the church responded by sending someone else or asking him to wait a bit longer or do something more. He told this story a number of times - each time describing a stage in his journey and how that had prepared him even more than the previous one, he had placed his readiness before God and once again the system wasn’t quite ready to say “yes”. Finally, here he was, having passed the final stage. It was a hopeful and humourous description of someone who had clearly been ready for a longer time than the church had been ready to accept. The postscript to the story is, almost expectedly, that he has done very well in ministry, and has shown wonderful gifts. Was the church blind to his gifts or were all the extra steps and time an important part of his journey, allowing him to hone his skills and abilities? I guess we would have to ask him, and probably at a certain level, we will never know.
This story is different from the one we heard this morning. My colleague was ready, but the church was not ready for him. My colleague wanted to use his gifts and skills for ministry, but the church wanted to wait. Which path was the expression of God’s will? We are programmed to say that it was the church - we are taught to trust that the spirit is at work in our conciliar system and perhaps it was, but we also know that committees are prone to mistakes just as much (or maybe even more) as individuals.
Jeremiah was in a different space. As we heard the story, God was ready for Jeremiah, but Jeremiah wasn’t ready for God.
“I’m only a boy, you can’t send me”, was his response to the call of God.
“I’ve been ready to send you since before you were born, Jeremiah. You’ll be given the words to say. Trust me. You are ready.”
As it turned out, Jeremiah did have the words to say, but they were not easy ones. His reputation as a prophet is one fraught with stories of bad news for his listeners. Hard words are sometimes necessary. A message of dire consequence is never one that is easy to hear. A modern day parallel, I believe, can be found in the constant reference to climate change and the consequences which seem to be just around the corner, if not already here. Of course the question that keeps coming to mind is whether this is a normal cycle or the action of human beings. For me the answer doesn’t matter. The fact is that too few people are using too many of the world’s resources at an alarming rate. It is a selfish and irresponsible way to treat the gift we’ve been given.
Even if this prodigal activity had no effect on the world’s climate it would be wrong, but the vast majority of scientists and experts seem to be in agreement that our activity - especially in the wealthy northern hemisphere - is contributing to a situation which threatens our existence in biblical proportions. I’m sure many of us regard stories of the flood as described in the Genesis story as metaphorical, but predictions of what will happen to the sea level as the polar ice caps melt make the story of world wide flood more believable.
Jeremiah had a difficult time telling his listeners that things needed to change. They weren’t ready to hear that God had a plan much different from the way they were following. Apparently, Jesus was beset by the same kind of situation. It was spellbinding to hear this local boy read so powerfully from the words of the prophet Isaiah, but when he brought the words home, said they were real and not just metaphorical, the people were ready to run this uppity local out of town, if not send him hurtling to his death over a cliff. We all know that killing the messenger usually has the opposite effect. Rather than kill the message, it usually makes the message even stronger.
I began this reflection by telling you of a colleague who met more than a few obstacles along his own path to a vocation in ministry. The church, in its own way and feeling responsive to the call of the spirit decided that he wasn’t quite ready at the same speed that he felt he was. Such is the way sometimes. God calls people unexpectedly. We’re not always ready to accept God’s time and God’s plan. We all know that children often have the right word for us. We also know that very often we are unaware or unwilling to hear that word. Being open to the call of the spirit, spoken through unexpected people in unexpected places at unexpected times is one of the challenges we face as people of God. Being open to the idea that we could be one of those unexpected people, in an unexpected place at an unexpected time is one of the most difficult instances of all. Here I am, God send her. She can do a better job. She is more ready. I’m too young, too inexperienced, too busy.
“I’ve been ready for you to do it all along. You have the words. Go speak them”, says God. Amen.