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Just a Kid

Sermon - 9/02/07
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jeremiah is our text this morning, from the first chapter:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5‘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.’
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But 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.
8Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.’
9Then 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.
10See, 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.’


This is, of course, Labor Day weekend, also our River Rally weekend, and I love how those two themes kind of come together in this text -- the theme of youth and the theme of labor.

Labor Day is more than a chance for a 3-day weekend.  It is an opportunity for us to celebrate, to recognize, to acknowledge all those who labor to provide the 'stuff' of life:  our roads that we drive on, the cars that we drive in, our homes that we live in, the food at our tables, all of those who work with their hands and their backs to make life better for all of us.

Labor Day is also an opportunity for us to reflect on that which is more than our labor, more than our jobs, more than our work.

Two years ago I went to an event sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), to bring together growers and those who were advocates of farm workers, because we were having a bit of tension at the time around those issues.  EMO issued this invitation for some farmers to come and join us in dialogue.  Unfortunately, there was only one couple that came.  A Mennonite couple from Albany, who had strawberries in the 1960s and 1970s, and then switched to sweet corn.  They had been active in other work with EMO, their peace-with-justice work.  In fact, I still run into this couple -- the Kenagy's, frequently, in some of that work.

They shared with us in that meeting that they started from scratch -- they didn't inherit the farm.  They felt called to farm.  They wanted to have a simple lifestyle, close to the earth.  They built up their farm over the years, and talked about how it took them 40 years before they were able to purchase their first home.  40 years of hard, back-breaking labor, getting up early every day, until at last they were able to live in their own home.

I asked Mr. Kenagy, if he could start it all over again, would he do anything differently?  And he said:  "Oh yes.  If I could do it over again, I'd marry a farm with a wife included" J.  Much easier that way.

As it turned out, the Kenagy's didn't use farm-workers on their farm, because they had a plentiful supply of cheap labor:  young teenagers.  Kids 12, 13, 14 years of age who would go out and pick the berries.  Mrs. Kenagy said she felt she wasn't giving them a job, she was teaching them the basic value of a good work ethic.  Work hard and you'll be rewarded.

I know for a fact that is what she did because I was one of those young teenagers who picked strawberries for Mrs. Kenagy.  Summers growing up in Albany.  Chris Turner, who leads the music in the first service, was also one of those who picked strawberries for Mrs. Kenagy.  When I was 13 or 14, and now 20 years later J.

And indeed, I learned from her the value of work.  And I also learned why we now have child labor laws to prevent such things J.  I was just a kid, I didn't know anything about work ethic, or labor laws.  I just wanted to earn some extra money so I could come down to Eugene, to that new mall, you know, Valley River Center, and buy some spiffy clothes for Fall.  So I could go to school looking sharp.

My son, quite captivated by the story this last week of George Hotz.  I know that's a name that may not be familiar to you.  George knows the value of work.  He spent 500 hours on a single task for which he was not paid:  to hack his iPhone, so it would be capable of working with any cell phone carrier.

Now if you're not one of those Apple technology freaks, you just have to know this is the hot new thing out there today.  He hacked his iPhone, and decided to sell the ability to hack an iPhone on eBay.  Had to stop the bidding when it reached 100 million dollars.  He figured it was a hoax, might have been, don't know.  He also would have had his pants sued off by Apple had he succeeded.

At any rate, he settled instead on exchanging that knowledge of how to hack an iPhone for a 350z (car), and three more brand new iPhones.  And George Hotz is 17 years old.  Just a kid.  He's a kid with a hot new car, but just a kid.  Said he did it because he wanted a job at Google, so he could get attention.  I'm sure he'll get whatever job he wants in the technology field.

We are not only given jobs to do, I am convinced that we are called not to fame and fortune, but to love and service.  Not to put bread on the table, but to feed our souls.  Regardless of our age.  That we have a calling from God.

Consider the difference between a job and a calling.  This crowd has a little bit different perspective than the crowd I was preaching to in the first service.  You may see this from a different view.  But reflect on your own life, and that difference.

A job pays you something.  A calling rewards you.  A job is a chore you have to do.  A calling is a blessing given to you.  A job is a means to a living.  A calling, a vocation, provides meaning to living.  A job is what you do for yourself, your family perhaps.  A calling, a vocation, is what you do for others, it's what you do for God.  A job is something you are called to do.  A vocation is something you're called to be.

Some of us get to be paid for our vocation, get to join the two.  But that's probably not true for most people.  But we all have a calling, regardless of our job.

Margaret Nichols was the Superintendent of 4J Schools, many of you remember her.  She spoke at Northwest Christian College baccalaureate in 1997.  Her words so struck me that I have hung on to them.  She spoke to those graduating students of this calling that we have from God, she told them that:

"God calls us all to service in some way.  Not all to be teachers or preachers or counselors, but all to serve". 

And she went on to tell them that she was not going to do as many graduating speakers do, and tell them to 'grab the gusto', 'seize the day', 'make a name for yourself'.  Instead, she said:

"I want you to do your duty.  Answer God's call to give your life away for others".

What is your calling, the calling that you have with God?

Consider the example of Jeremiah, a prophet in the 6th century before the time of Jesus.  A very critical time in the life of the nation, just before the fall of Jerusalem when they were taken into captivity in Babylonia.  A time of crises.

I've always had a special admiration for Jeremiah, because unlike the apostle Paul who had that conversion later in life, Jeremiah felt this calling at a very young age.  He was just a kid.  Said he was called by God even from the womb. 

He'd never known anything other than life as a prophet.  I, as I know many of you, grew up in the church and have never known anything other than life as a Christian.  So I can related to that.  I've never had a desire to do anything else than to be a preacher, like my father.  Until I became one.  Now I can think of all kinds of things that I'd like to do J.

But I consider it very fortunate to be able to do the things that I've always wanted to do.  To serve the kind of church that I've always wanted to serve.  To work with the kinds of people I've always wanted to work with (mostly J).

For the last 34 years, ever since I was a freshman at NCC and the University of Oregon, I've been an avid Duck fan.  Now, to have all of that, and to be here in Duck-ville, and after a game like yesterday's when the Ducks triumphed over the hapless Houston team, life is good!  Feels good to be here.  It's a great time to be a Duck as well as to be the Pastor of this congregation as we go through that Visioning process, focusing on what we want to be, so to speak, when we grow up as a church.

Jeremiah tells us that he was called from the womb.  And that raises a very interesting theological question.  Not about the beginning of life.  To use this text as a theological justification for a political position about when life begins is a terrible mis-read of the text.  This is poetic hyperbole.  As a prophet, Jeremiah has poetic license, so to speak, to exaggerate, in order to get his point across.  Namely, that he was called by God from the beginning.

And the theological question that raises for us is not when life begins, but rather:  is Jeremiah the exception, or the rule?

In other words, was he the only one that had that kind of calling from birth?  Or, do we also have the kind of calling?

Just as we are born with eye color, hair color, skin color, are we also born with a call, a purpose in life?  And is it ever too late to reflect on what that might be?

Just an hour and half east of Ann Arbor, Michigan (where the Ducks will be playing this coming Saturday against the formerly 5th-rated team in the nation, who were humiliated yesterday by a much lesser team, unlike the Ducks -- did I mention the Ducks one yesterday), is Port Huron, Michigan, on the southern tip of Lake Huron.  It was there that a young boy grew up, just a kid.  Struggled, terribly, in early life -- was stubborn, withdrawn, a slow learner, had bad hearing, emotional difficulties, constantly in trouble, loved to play with fire, burned down his father's barn, got kicked out of school in his first year.  He had one saving grace:  he liked to tinker.  He liked to build things.  And when it came time to choose a path in life, this kid had two options:  to work for the railroad, spend a career working for the railroad, promising future, solid, good pay.  Or to become an inventor.  Which would it be, the job or the calling?

Thomas Edison chose the later.  Over 1,000 patents in life.  And there are some people in life, an Edison or an Einstein, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., who seemed to be called, destined to do something great.  To make an impact.  To do something important in the world.

But what about us?  What about the vast majority of us for whom a job is nothing more than a paycheck, and a calling is little more than a distant dream of a different life?

Here's the good news:  you do not have to be an Edison to bring light into the world.  

Remember that saying of Jesus in the gospel of John:  "I am the light of the world".  So we put Jesus up on a pedestal, he is the light for all of us to follow.  We forget that Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew to his followers:  "You are the light of the world".

Maryanne Williamson really, I think, caught the sense of what Jesus meant in a very well-known quote that has been going around the Internet for several years, falsely attributed to Nelson Mandela, when in fact she wrote it in a book "Return to Love", in 1992.  You'll probably recognize it:

"Let your light shine.  Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?'  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us"

You are the light of the world.

The problem is, we're a lot like Jeremiah.  Told that, we respond like Alfred E. Newman -- who, me?  Or like Jeremiah:  I am but a youth.  Or like Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist:  I'm too old for this kind of thing.  Or remember Sarah, who laughed at God when told that she would be pregnant at the age of 90.  Or Jonah, who fled and went the opposite direction.  Or Moses, who protested:  I c'c'c'c'can't s's's'speak b'b'b'ecause I I I I ssssstutter.

We all have our objections.  It's amazing how much people in the Bible are like us.  Or we are like them.

When we received the call to come to Eugene, I said "But I'm too young?".  It was 17 years ago, after all, I was younger then J.  I'm not a graduate of NCC, or the University of Oregon.  I have a beard.  My image of this church was a very conservative church, I didn't want to come here and get eaten up.  They won't like my preaching.  They won't like my social activism.  And it was a risk to accept that call.  What if I fail?  What if they don't like me?  I still worry about those things J.

And I've discovered that learning to trust God means sometimes we have to take risks.  To leave our comfort zones.  To try new things.

Our youth tried something incredibly new this weekend.  Radical.  Revolutionary.  Heretical!  They picked this theme:  "Walk the Talk".  When they were planning and coming up with this list of names of all the guests that could come in and talk about how they walk the talk as an example for them.  And the closer they got to the event, the more the began to think "Wait a second.  We can do that.  We don't have to invite in some intelligent, wise, good looking preacher.  Or an old fuddy-duddy like our Pastor, who only think he's such things.  We can do that ourselves.  In all of our 15, 16, 17 years, that we have wisdom and insight of what it means to be a person of faith in our world today".

And I sat in on their worship service last night.  I listened to those kids share their faith, and I discovered that they were right.  Incredible stories.  Honesty.  More powerfully shared than many I have heard, giving witness to the presence of God in their lives.  There was Becky, sharing her questions and doubts as she struggled with the issue of whether or not to be baptized.  And as she talked, I thought "This gal is no different than Mother Teresa".  Those revelations this week of 55-years of her life struggling with doubts and questions.  And yet here was Becky, like Mother Teresa, witnessing to the presence of God in her life in spite of, maybe because of those doubts, and walking the talk.

Doug, goofy Doug (I had him in church camp a summer or two ago), witnessing to the love of God that he experienced in his older brothers.  When do you ever hear a teenager talk about the love of their brothers?

David, joined the church here just a couple weeks ago, who was taught that the almighty God was a power to be feared.  A power that became incomprehensible to him, and rightly so, when his mother came down with cancer.  And sharing that because of the youth here at this church, coming here, he now longer fears God's awesome power.  Now he is humbled by God's awesome love.  

Don't ever, ever, let anyone say to our youth:  You're' just a kid.  What do you know?

I'm telling you, they are children of God, just as each of you are a child of God.  You were born, just as they, to make manifest the glory of God, given to you since your birth, since your conception, since the beginning of time.

That is your calling.  All of our calling.  To make that glory known.

I'd like to conclude with the words of Margaret Nichols, spoken a year and a month before she succumbed to cancer.  I think at the time knowing that possibility.  She told those graduating students at NCC:

"There's no promise of a life with only straw-eating lions, roses without thorns, and no big, scary spiders.  There isn't even the promise of fame and fortune.  There's only the promise of God's constant presence.  And enough strength and grace to do what has to be done".

It is that promise that enables us, whether just a kid, just a retiree, just a laborer, just a Mom, just a Dad, just a preacher, just a teacher, just a cab driver, to walk the talk.  To go where God calls us to go.  

And to be what God calls us to be.


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