Here we are
“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, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
In the name of God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.
Well… look at us!
Here we are.
Our Sunday morning worship looks a little different than usual, doesn’t it? We are out of doors on this beautiful late summer day, feeling the breeze in the trees, hearing the birds sing to the morning, seeing the sky. This is a wonderful way for us to more intentionally focus on the gift of God’s creation, given to us all to enjoy-and to remember that giving thanks for our created world is a blessing and a privilege.
It is also a privilege to have this opportunity to be out in our community in a way that is more open and more visible. It feels a little funny, doesn’t it- we’re sitting in chairs rather than our pews, we’re walking on grass rather than our wood floors, how we come to the Table to be fed is not exactly the same. But our time of worship and fellowship here this morning really is a treasure- there are no boundaries between us and the community, this town where we live and love, gather and pray and serve. Today, we have come out of our beautiful church with its gorgeous stained glass windows and welcoming red door to live the truth of the words of our dismissal: “Let us go out into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, thanks be to God!” We are not divided in any way by physical space- and I can’t help noticing how beautifully the Light shines through our windows to gift us with beauty from this direction as well.
Here we are.
Last Sunday, Mother Barbara talked to us about division and unity in a way we could easily understand, reminding us that the goal of Jesus’ ministry is always peace and reconciliation between us and among us, binding us as humankind with God’s mercy and perfect love. It is unavoidable that division will occur as we struggle with the temptations and weakness of our own humanity and our feeble but earnest attempts to return again and again to the life God has designed us to live. Division will also come when the world encounters this Way of Love that we proclaim- a way of living justly, loving mercy and walking closely with Jesus- that can often clash with the world shouting a different set of values. Our takeaway from this is that unity and peace are our endpoint and our steadfast goal, not division, and that working towards them with patience, determination and love is always at the heart of what we are called to do. If we allow ourselves to live into the discomfort we feel when we work towards mending the world’s brokenness, we will find ourselves on the path that leads to a much deeper walk with Jesus and a greater faithfulness to our call to love our neighbors as they need to be loved.
Our prayers and our lessons today speak beautifully to our longing for unity, especially on this fresh new morning when we gather outside of our walls to share our worship with our wider community. Our Collect, which as a prayer said early in our service “collects” and binds us talks of this unity, voicing a plea that the Church, when gathered together by the Holy Spirit, will show God’s power to all peoples. Contained in this message is the reminder that we are the Church- we are the heads and hands and hearts of God in this world– we are the ones who must share our faithfulness and love so freely that others are drawn to share in our mission and join us on the path toward making it a reality. There is no room for division among us, for this is work we are called equally to do, relying on the power of the Spirit to lead us into all truth and fully equip us with all we need to accomplish it.
We could not have a better example of this than our Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah that he has been deeply loved and dedicated to a unique and valuable mission long before he was born. His mission- as is ours- is to be one of going forth and proclaiming the word of God, of kingdom building, with the courage born of knowing God is always present with us. As we respond to this reading with Psalm 71 (one of my very most favorites, I must add) we hear of this reassurance in wonderfully descriptive terms. God is a strong rock, a castle to keep us safe, an unshakeable place of security. I have had the breathtaking experience of being in castles in Scotland and I was overwhelmed by all that had happened in human history during the long centuries when the castle had been a stronghold in that place, so for me this imagery is powerful and real. The psalmist teaches us that we are given refuge, delivered and set free, strengthened both for mission and everlasting praise.
And yet, even given this divine reassurance, Jeremiah is uncertain and tells God maybe he isn’t up to the task because “I am only a boy.” God reassures him, of course, and Jeremiah goes on to be faithful to what God has called him to do. This is too important a statement to leave here though, because of the word “only”- it is our “onlys” that divide us and separate us from our role as people who are called to share God’s reconciliation and unifying love.
It would be incredibly easy to come up with a list of “onlys” that have held us back from becoming more deeply who we are called to be and prevent us from fully sharing God’s kingdom. We each have our stories. We might think we are only a boy, or only a girl, or “just a kid.” We might see ourselves only through the pain and weakness of our physical bodies, or only through our loneliness or grief. We might see ourselves only through the color of our skin, or where our family came from, or how much money we have. We might see ourselves only through those things we’d like to change about us- through our anxiety, our fear, our distrust of anyone different than ourselves. Things we tell ourselves about all the “onlys” of our lives are really falsehoods that we are somehow not enough- when really we need to hear that no “only” can separate us from God’s perfect and unifying love. What other divisions do we need to erase so we can become more fully who we are truly called to be in this world?
In today’s Gospel Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years, so bent over she was unable to even really see. Jesus refutes the synagogue leader’s claim that healing on the Sabbath is wrong because it is an unnecessary division between human need and God’s all-abundant love, and she is freed immediately for a deep and life-altering way of praise. She is no longer divided by the pain or limitations of her disability, but freed through the utter grace of this unexpected healing for a new way of being in the world. This is the grace that belongs to all of us when all divisions are cast aside, when we refuse to allow our “onlys” to prevent us from true sight. This woman is everyone who has struggled to rise above the pain of judgement or low self-worth or fear or loss or anything that divides us from our belovedness in God, anything that cripples us so we have no voice for the deep praise that shares and rejoices in the kingdom. As our psalm taught us, it is through the hope of deliverance from all division as found only in God that gifts us with the confidence to not be ashamed and to throw off all that might oppress us. God’s righteousness and strength are ours as we set about this work, striving for healing and peace in our families, churches and communities, standing firm in the belief that no division between neighbors is part of God’s plan for our world.
And so, dear ones, where does that leave us? It leaves us right here- in our church family, in our town, in this place that is uniquely ours to live and serve and love in. If our “onlys” are holding us back, we need to set ourselves free, free for our lives of praise and our work of unification and renewal. We need to face up to and own any divisions that are hindering the Spirit’s work of gathering us and guiding us towards the oneness that will make God’s kingdom on earth a reality. We need to freely embrace God’s abundant love offered to heal us from all that cripples us and bends us into a life where we cannot see either the love or the mission love calls us to. We need to voice our gratitude for all we have been given, the joy we feel at being here, in this moment- and go forward into our shared future with courage and love.