Year C, Proper 16
Mr. Kyle Cuperwich
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
August 25, 2019
A few weeks ago, I was taking a long road trip to Vermont. In order to pass the time, I was listening to the Catholic Channel on satellite radio. As I was listening, the radio host began to talk about author John Steinbeck. First thing that entered my mind was, “Well, there’s a name I haven’t heard since high school.” John Steinbeck was one of the most profound authors of the 20th century. His classic writings include The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. His words would impact the hearts and thoughts of millions. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in literature, and his writings are still studied by high school students in this country and around the world.
The radio host would share that Mr. Steinbeck had a daily discipline of writing in a journal. When you read his journal, you can really see inside his mind and get a glimpse of what he thought about himself. Interestingly, even though he had so much success with his writings, even though his words would impact millions, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize, John was someone who wrestled and struggled with severe self-doubt.
As he was writing The Grapes of Wrath, he would confide in his journal and write thoughts such as “I am so lazy, and the thing ahead of me is so difficult…I’m afraid of this book.” He would exclaim, “This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy.” He would even go so far as to say he was a fraud. “I’m no writer,” he we write. “I’ve been fooling myself and other people. This success will ruin me.”
Yet in the midst of all this self-doubt, there was something within Steinbeck that kept calling him back to the page to write and let his words out – as if he were destined to finish that book. “This book is my sole responsibility,” he would tell his journal. “I must stick to it, and nothing more. This book is my life, and it must be. When it’s done, then there’s going to be time for another life. I simply must get this thing out of my system.”
Have you ever felt this way about a task in your life, whether it be at work, at school, in your family, or at church? You think to yourself, “This task is so beyond me. It is so big and I’m just inadequate. I don’t have the right skills, experience, words or resources. Yet I can’t see myself doing anything else. There’s this story that I have to write with my life, and it is my sole responsibility.”
This is what Jeremiah experiences in our Old Testament reading today. God has a big task for Jeremiah. God says that even before Jeremiah was born, this task was given to him. He was going to be a prophet who would speak words to God’s people; a prophet who would live out God’s warnings and God’s promises and comfort. Yet he would work during a time when the people of Judah–God’s people–were running away from God as fast as possible; when they really didn’t care to listen to anything God had to say.
This seems like an impossible task! No wonder why Jeremiah turns to God and says, “God, I’m just a boy! I don’t know the words to say!” Jeremiah immediately goes into self doubt. I could imagine him thinking, “I don’t have the wisdom. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the tools. I can’t possibly do this task that is before me.”
God, however, has a way of seeing right through this self-doubt. When we hear God’s reply to Jeremiah, it’s as if we could hear God saying, “That is the very reason why I love you, because you are only a child, because you are who you are. That’s why I have called you. I will give you the words to say and I will tell you where to go. I will save you from any opposition that may come your way. You may not think highly of yourself, but your words are going to be powerful. They’re going to have the power to build up and tear down when necessary. I love you and I will guide you in the task that is before you.”
Once Jeremiah trusts and responds to these words from God, he goes into ministry and he could find himself doing nothing else. He cannot stop doing that task that was given to him. There are times, of course, when he tries to run away. We jump about 20 chapters into the book of Jeremiah, and he gets so fed up that he says “I will no longer mention or speak God’s name.” He’s about to throw in the towel. Yet at the same time, he says, “There’s this fire in my bones. I can’t hold back.” He could not stop being the prophet that God has called him to be. It was the sole responsibility of his life.
What Jeremiah went through and what John Steinbeck went through is what God’s call is like when we experience it. As disciples of Jesus, we all have a calling to share a story with our lives. It’s the story we recite in the Creed every week, the story we hear from Scripture, the story we pray through the Prayer Book. It’s the story of Jesus offering new life, of death being defeated, of a new heaven and new earth coming into reality. I don’t know about you, but there are times where I just simply feel inadequate, and this message of inadequacy gets easily reinforced in our culture. Everything from T.V. commercials to social media to the news tells us, “You don’t have enough education, you need more. You don’t have enough money, or stuff, or experience…you need more.” This message causes self-doubt to grow and grow.
God, however, sees through it all, looks at us and says, “I love you because of who you are. I have called you to share the greatest story in the world. I will give you the words, I will lead you to where you need to go. I will be with you.” In the baptismal covenant, we make promises to spread this story by word and deed, by resisting evil, by speaking out and fighting against injustice. Yet it’s easy to forget that we say we’re going to do these things “with God’s help.” God will never abandon us in the calling that we’ve been given because the world needs to hear our story.
It’s the greatest story in the world.
It can be very hard to tell the story of Jesus through our lives in a world with competing voices and choices, when no one seems to listen or care, when we encounter opposition. Then we come to church, and we see that the pews are a little emptier than they once were. We begin to think to ourselves, is it us?
Are we inadequate? Do we have the skills to live out the story of Jesus in today’s day and age?
It’s in these moments of despair and anxiety where we need to remember what our story actually is. It’s a story that says that nothing, not even death, can defeat what God is doing in the world. It’s a story that says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth where all things will be made right and we’re called to live out that hope here and now. No matter what anybody says, no matter what we say about ourselves, God wants to use us in order to transform this world and bring God’s story to life.
How is God stirring within you and calling you to live out the story of Jesus on this day? Will you say yes and take responsibility for that calling? Amen.