31 Aug 2014
“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (Jeremiah 20:7) In the name …
Today is Youth Sunday in our church denomination. And today’s Lesson is drawn from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, which is a helpful coincidence since Jeremiah begins his story by telling us that God had called him to be a prophet when he was young. Jeremiah would say even too young. The prophet protests to God about his calling: “‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’” (1:6) God counters with a promise to be Jeremiah’s strength and tells him not to be afraid. And if you’ve never read the Book of Jeremiah, you might expect the rest of the story to be a tale of one success following another as God works through Jeremiah. But God’s way is a lot more complicated than just treating Jeremiah like a pet parrot.
Today’s selection from Jeremiah that Emily read for us recounts a time of personal crisis in his life. No other book in the Bible is as autobiographical as the Book of Jeremiah. Even before there was an actual discipline of psychology, Jeremiah was offering us psychological insights into what it means to feel called to speak God’s word. We don’t only hear what the prophet has to say publicly. We also hear what he thinks privately. And today the first words we hear are: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (20:7) You fooled me God, in other words, you tricked me. Jeremiah had the unenviable role of telling his countrymen that they had failed and that God had turned against them. It was Jeremiah who had to proclaim to his neighbours a message of surrender and destruction. Jeremiah was born into a family of priests and he had to foretell the end of the Temple. He was hated for what he had to say, and when we’re allowed into his thoughts we hear that he hated to have to say it, but he could not not say God’s Word. And that’s the personal and psychological turmoil that Jeremiah shares with us in his writing.
Now what does this have to do with Youth Sunday? Let me start by saying that Friday Kristin went away to college and this coming Friday Amanda is leaving for college. Whether we like it or not, however it makes us feel, moving on is a part of growing up. When the girls were tiny we used to play a game out at the swingset in the backyard. I would give them a push, but they kept swinging back to me. So I gave them another one and I told them, “O.K., see you later.” Then the swing came back. And I would keep telling them with every push, “O.K., see you later.” As tiny little girls they got the biggest kick out of the fact that they kept coming back, push after push. That game may be fun for a three-year-old, but it’s not going to keep a 21 or 18 year-old occupied for very long. At some point they’re not going to swing back. At some point they have to set out on their own. It’s all part of growing up.
This past Sunday I read a newspaper article by a college mom. She wrote about bringing her oldest daughter to college for her freshman year and all the anxiety she felt as she did so. She wrote of spending the first few days futilely checking her phone for a text to let her know how things were going. She wrote of creating excuses to send a daily text, but many weren’t returned. She continued: “I asked too many questions. I was too quick with advice. I wanted her to call more often and stay on the phone longer.” Then, she said, she figured it out. She needed to become a college mom. She pulled back and developed the faith that her daughter would figure things out on her own. Then the college mom concluded with: “Our time together was less frequent but in many ways even more precious.” The college mom had prepared her daughter to act responsibly, and the daughter came back on her own, not as a child, but as an emerging adult.
Maybe it works like that in the relationship between God and us. Maybe God has to let go a little so that we can choose to find our way back, even if we have to stumble back. I was talking to a guy at UMass the other day. He’s actively opposed to how quickly the United States turns to the military to try and solve problems, plus he’s actively religious. He said he’s waiting for Jesus to come back because it’s so bad. I answered that I think Jesus would rather have us figure things out. At some point in our relationship of faith, we may have to take on more of the privilege of responsibility. This may not be easy for either God or us, but I think it’s part of maturing in the faith. It’s like letting go of a child so that he or she can become and adult. It’s like Jeremiah struggling to come to terms with God’s revelation. Jeremiah is not only repeating God’s words like a trained parrot. He’s invested in them. He can’t not say them. He says it’s like “a burning fire shut up in my bones.” Jeremiah struggles mightily as a prophet, but it was those very struggles that helped him and then the people of Israel come to terms with their national defeat and their religious implosion. Maybe only a prophet called from childhood had the time to come to terms with this terrifying a revelation.
And that’s an important message for any given Youth Sunday. We hope what we do here prepares our young people for the responsibility of faith so that when the time comes for them to believe on their own they will have the resources and the relationship to choose God. This is why today we hold registration for our School of Christian Living. It doesn’t focus on doctrines about Christ, but on how to live like Christ. And I close with words borrowed from the new pastor of the South Deerfield Congregational Church. He writes: “The point of faith is to believe in the journey’s goodness and grace regardless of how difficult or dark it may be at any moment. The point of the church is to experience here (as the Apostle Paul said) the “encouragement of one another in love,” with Jesus in the very midst of it all.” Let us pray that our young people be prepared for their journey of Christian living through all we do here. May this be our Youth Sunday prayer, in Jesus’ name we pray. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo