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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

I Am Only A Boy

I Am Only a Boy
                                                           Jeremiah 1:4-10
A few years back, several adults from my church decided to form a mission trip to the Appalachian Area in Tennesee. We started out in high hopes that this would be a good experience for our young people. After some difficulties encountered along the way, (a flat tire, some restless kids not used to traveling 10 hours in a car) we arrived at our destination. The kids settled in and the next day we began our work projects. I don’t know who decided our kids could get on the lower part of the house roof, next to the bathroom vent and paint. They had to wear something to cover their noses and mouths, but good naturedly finished the project. We discovered that some of our kids had the talent for painting window frames, some had the ability to befriend the families we were helping and many found new skills at the opportunity center on the following day. But one very remarkable thing happened on the day they had off. Everybody donned swimming suits and went to the river to swim. The river was nice and had plenty of rocks to climb on. Some of the fish were a little aggressive. I could feel little nibbles on my back end. But we discovered an underwater tunnel running through a rock. The kids enjoyed swimming through that tunnel, but we noticed a young lady who hung back and would not join the others swimming through that tunnel. In spite of all the encouragement from kids and adult, we could not get her to try the short swim through the tunnel. But she was a wise young lady and noticed that I had not tried to swim through the tunnel either. She challenged me to try to swim through it. Knowing that we would not convince her to try it, I decided that the only thing to do was to swim through it myself. So, I mustered up the courage, dove into the water and began the swim through. I will admit that my heart was racing, and at the back of my mind panic was ready to spring forward. It was with great relief that I made it to the other end and upward bound, I broke the surface of the water on the other side.  I knew what the girl faced and backed off the pressure a little. I wondered if she would give in to the panic half way through that tunnel. But others wanted to see her go through. Finally, with a lot of encouragement and pressure, she decided she would try it. She dove in, and we all held our breath. After what seemed like an eternity, she broke the surface on the other side of the tunnel. When we saw her emerge, I think we moved mountains with our cheers and congratulations. Something else happened that day. It seemed like a young lady grew up. A shy young lady became a little more outgoing, and quite a bit braver.
Jeremiah Heard God call to him. That in itself would have been an incredible thing for the young man. But when he heard what God wanted from him, any delight in being called by God was replaced with fear. He had a good excuse not to do what God wanted him to do. He did not have the experience to talk to others about God. He was too young. Speaking to others was his tunnel of water to swim through. And here is how God changed his mind: First, God promised to be with him. We don’t really know what Jeremiah’s faith was like before his encounter with God. But I can imagine he had some sense of God, some education in his faith and its stories. God had plans for Jeremiah before he was even born. God knew more about Jeremiah and his abilities than Jeremiah could have imagined. Secondly, God interacted with Jeremiah in a way that was kind of like an ordination. God placed his words in Jeremiah’s mouth, giving him the physical ability to speak and thus the ability to accomplish what God needed to have accomplished, and officially empowered him to do great things. Jeremiah did not have excuses any more. His path was set and he was empowered.
Courage is a gift. It most often comes with experience. We have the courage to take on projects that involve our skills and talents. We shy away from those projects and events we do not feel we have the qualifications for or the experience with. A person who does not know how to play a piano would not fill in if the pianist at a concert got sick.  Ordinarily a pro golfer would not attempt to fly a space craft to the moon unless he or she had the training that would go with that venture. A lawyer would not want to do surgery on someone. And, if called to do so, would probably fear for the patient’s life. Or the lawsuit they would incur even if they stayed at a Holiday Inn the night before. 
Fear dictates what we are willing or not willing to do.  A person who has fallen or had a car accident and been seriously injured, is often reluctant to walk without assistance or drive a car for a while. When we are called to do something out of our comfort zone, we can get locked in fear. We miss opportunities because we fear. How many times can any of us say, “I wish I had done that when I could?” “Why didn’t I go on that trip, or take up that offer to try my hand at painting pottery when my friend wanted me to go try it?” What opportunity crossed our paths that we did not participate in because fear held us back? What comfort zones did we not dare to leave because we were paralyzed by fear? Fear is a contributing factor to how we dare to live our lives.
But when we are people of faith we are called to not live in fear, especially fear that prevents us from accomplishing good things in the name of Jesus. We fear to try something new. What if we don’t like it, what if it was our idea and others don’t like it? We fear to sing in the choir, because we think we can’t sing or it will be too much commitment (after all every Wednesday night is quite a commitment). Yet how many of us belt out a song when we know no one is around? 
We fear to join a Bible study, because everybody else will know more about the Bible than we do. We hear people who can spout book, chapter and verse when they want to prove a point. The rest of us may or may not know the basic stories and we fear others will view us as ignorant or bereft of faith and yet how many of us would like to know more, to dust off that token Bible we have placed in our homes?
We fear to speak up when we are puzzled by questionable decisions made as the body of Christ. We are afraid to rock the boat. Maybe we don’t know enough, maybe our faith is weak, maybe we feel we cannot speak up on behalf of God, we Jeremiahs of our times. Perhaps the pastor will be displeased and we will feel on the outs with the rest of the congregation. Sometimes we want to stay anonymous and live out our faith in a quiet, private way. Then our question becomes whether we are doing so out of fear. The only trouble with being afraid to speak out about faith is that someone else is missing out, someone else is not being given the hope that we have come to know.
Living in fear and believing in God do not go hand in hand. Jeremiah tried to convince God he was not fit for the work God had cut out for him. I wonder how many great people of faith at one time believed they were not capable or fit for doing the work God had cut out for them and were afraid to move forward with the leap of faith required to begin. Yet they did leap forward. Why? Because God promised to be with them and to empower them to accomplish what was needed. 
Each of us sitting here today might be called by God to venture out of our comfort zones to accomplish something for God. And when we pay attention to that call, what is holding us back from accomplishing it? My guess would be fear. Our shaky knees of faith kick in and we back off. But we can rely on our faith, we can rely on God’s promises to be with us and empower us to do the tasks we were created to do. It isn’t that God sets us on a course of action, then sits back to see if we will accomplish it. God stays with us, whether we recognize His presence or not. God supplies us with all we need. We can rely on those promises. Fear can be replaced by true faith, the faith of knowing our relationship with God. I know why that version of How Great Thou Art  we heard last week is so powerful. It reaches deep within us and proclaims just how great God is in all our activities. It proclaims that God is great enough and powerful enough to move our mountains of fear and move us into being productive, proclaiming Christians, a people of faith, energized for doing God’s work in our community. Let us listen once again to that very powerful version of a beloved hymn. 
Fear, leave us alone, fly away in the face of faith. We are believers, empowered by God to move mountains. We can ask in faith, what mountain do you want moved, O God our rock.      

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