Summary: We are here not because we are strong enough, but because God is strong enough. Therefore, we need not be afraid.
Don’t Be Afraid
February 26, 2006
There was this old mule that was owned by a Quaker farmer. This was the most stubborn animal that God ever created. The farmer couldn’t get this mule to do anything. He coaxed, cajoled, and even pleaded with this animal, with no success. Finally at the end of his rope, the farmer got a stool, sat down in front of the mule, and looked him square in the eye.
“Mule,” he said, “You know that because of my religion, I can’t beat you, or curse you, or abuse you in any way. But mule, what you don’t know is that I can sell you to an Episcopalian.”
One of my heroes of the Hebrew Bible is Jeremiah, who has become more and more important to me over the last few years. I have a feeling that there were times when he felt just like that farmer.
God has called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. Now we know that prophets seldom have an easy time of it. People generally don’t like to listen to prophets. But it seems that Jeremiah had it worse than most.
The people just wouldn’t listen to him, no matter what he did, what he said, or how he said it. He told them that God was going to come down and punish them if they wouldn’t listen, but that didn’t do any good. Like that farmer’s old mule, they just refused to pay attention.
It is a tendency of human behavior that when we don’t like the message we are getting, that we take it out on the messenger. Things were no different for Jeremiah. I have lost track of the number of times that he was threatened. He was arrested and put into jail. He was cast into a cistern and confined in stocks. When they failed to kill him, they had him exiled to Egypt.
Over and over again, Jeremiah kept telling God that he wanted out. He complained and cried. We call him the “weeping prophet” because of all the times his tears flowed for his condition. He moaned and groaned and threatened to quit.
God would listen to him and then say, “Well Jeremiah, I have something else for you to do. I have somewhere else for you to go. I have another message that I want you to deliver to the people.” And Jeremiah would say, “OK, Lord. I’ll go” even though he knew that he was going to get into trouble again.
When Jeremiah’s call came, he told God that he couldn’t do the job, he didn’t have what it took, he wasn’t smart enough, he didn’t have enough “gravitas,” he didn’t know the right people, he was too inexperienced, he didn’t know what he was doing. The list of his deficits kept growing and growing. In fact, he went out of his way, laying awake at night, trying to think of ways to convince God that he wasn’t the right man for the job.
I think he knew that the road ahead would not be an easy one for him. Perhaps he knew the trouble for which God was asking him to sign up. Perhaps he knew that one day he would be the most hated man on the block. And he knew that he didn’t need that. Who does?
A few years ago, a pastor was appointed to a church which was located in a fast-growing suburb of greater Chicago. The potential was there for some significant growth. The pastor went into the church full of expectation that things were going to go very well and that he would have a very successful ministry, if you define success in terms of financial and numerical growth.
The reality was different. This assignment turned out to be the most difficult the pastor had ever had. He started to call the church to account for some of the things they were doing which were not advancing the kingdom. He began to try to move the church out of old patterns of behavior to see new possibilities. He found new ways to reach out to the surrounding community. He began to pay attention to some people who had little institutional power or prestige, which in turn angered long-standing members. The result was that he was derided and harassed. He was unfairly accused of unethical behavior. Finally, he was forced to leave.
To paraphrase the language that the Apostle Paul uses in I Corinthians 13, church people are sometimes arrogant and rude, not always patient and kind, sometimes boastful, envious, irritable, resentful, don’t always rejoice in the truth, and don’t always exhibit the sort of love that bears all things, hopes all things, or believes all things.
One pastor was in attendance at a continuing education event when he told of his experiences in serving the local church a number of years ago. The pastor really poured his heart out. He said, “The bishop sent me to a little town in South Carolina. I preached one Sunday on the challenge of racial justice. In two months my people were so angry that the bishop moved me. At the next church, I was determined for things to go better, so I didn’t preach about race. But we had an incident in town and I felt forced to speak. The board met that week and voted unanimously for us to be moved. My wife was insulted at the supermarket. My kids were beaten up on the school grounds. “