|Text: John 15:16
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit”.
Harry Lipsig, a New York lawyer, took on cases that others lawyers refused to touch.
A woman was suing a drunken police officer who had struck and killed her 71-year-old husband with his patrol car. She argued that the city had deprived her of her husband’s future earnings potential as a psychiatrist. The lawyers for the police officer believed they had a water tight case against such a claim and argued that at the age of 71, the man had little earnings potential.
They thought they had a clever defence until they realized that this woman’s argument about her husband’s future earning power was being championed by a vigorous 87-year-old Harry Lipsig. His case rested on the argument that he was 87 and still practicing law and suggested that the psychiatrist, too, could have looked forward to many more years in the work force. Mr Lipsig’s client was awarded $1.25 million.
Facing some of the brightest minds in the legal profession, the 87 year old could have said but didn’t, “I can’t take on a case like this. I’m too old”. However, I’m sure all of us at some time have said, “I can’t do that. What can I do? I wouldn’t know what to do.”
For example, we learn that a close friend or relative has met with tragedy. Our immediate reaction to the news we have just heard is a desire to do something. We want to say something, do something, anything that will help.
But as we contemplate all this we start to ask ourselves, “What can I do?
I wouldn’t know what to say.
What if I say the wrong thing?
I might offend the person if I offer to help around the house.
I don’t know how to deal with overwhelming with grief.
I am only a housewife, a labourer, an accountant.
I am only a teenager, a farmer, a retiree.”
“I am only ….” are only 3 small words but have the power to stifle anything we consider too challenging or too demanding.
We hear those words spoken numerous times through the Scriptures and even if they aren’t spoken out loud we can assume that they were in the minds of those who questioned God’s command or even rejected it. When God told Jonah to call the people of Nineveh to repentance, I can well imagine Jonah saying as he boarded a ship to get away from God, “I can’t do this. It’s crazy. I am only …”
There are others who initially said, ‘I am only’ but then responded with obedience.
Take Jeremiah. No sooner had Jeremiah been told that he was chosen for a special job by God than the prophet-to-be blurts out, “I can’t. I don’t have the training. I am only a teenager.”
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Moses tried to wriggle out of undertaking such a risky task and excuse himself from going to the Egyptian king by saying he wasn’t very good at making speeches, saying, “I am only a shepherd. I’m a nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11).
Gideon was a farmer and God told him to lead an army to rid the land of an enemy. We can imagine him using those 3 words “I am only …” as he complained, “How can I save Israel? … I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
When the angel spoke to Mary and told her she was about to bear a child, the Son of the Most High God, she too said, “How can I? I am only a young girl not even married yet.”
When God called Amos, an orchardist,
Andrew Peter, James and John, all fishermen,
Matthew, a tax collector,
Saul, a persecutor of the Christians,
one and all could have quite legitimately said, “I can’t do this! I am only a … farmer, a fisherman, a tax collector, an ordinary sort of person”.
When God chooses people for certain tasks and calls them to do what is seemingly dangerous and downright crazy, he knows what he’s doing. Even if the individual can only respond with ‘how can I do this’ and proposes all kinds of objections, God can see past our weaknesses and insecurities and see the real potential that exists within each of us.
When God came to young Jeremiah and said, ‘I am appointing you as a prophet to the nations’ we can understand why Jeremiah starts to object. Here is a teenager who is told to speak God’s Word of warning and judgement and repentance to people who would not take too kindly to this kind of message, especially from the mouth of a lad. But before Jeremiah and those like him can say anything else, God assures him that he will always be there to assist, rescue, support and strengthen his messengers, even in the worst of situations.
He says to Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid, for I will be with you to protect you. …. Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak”.
To Moses God said, “I will be with you”.
As Joshua takes over from Moses as leader of the Israelites, God says, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you”
As Jesus commands his disciples to preach and baptise people of all nations he says, “I will be with you always”
The words God uses here indicate his deep commitment to those he chooses in much the same way as the Bible describes the commitment between a husband and wife or the way God speaks of his commitment to the people of Israel.
Just as God came in his grace to Jeremiah, and called him to be his prophet, he has come to us. Through Jesus and his death and resurrection he has given us
a new identity as his chosen people and given us a new life.
Just as Jeremiah was given a new responsibility that day so also we have been given new responsibilities as his chosen people.
To be God’s voice to speak his Word of comfort and grace;
to be God’s ears to hear the cries of those who are hurting;
to be God’s hands to demonstrate God’s love through our care and love;
to be God’s feet to go and be his disciples in the every day matters of living in this world,
to be a witness to God’s love for all people in our neighbourhood, our community, in fact, the whole world.
It all sounds very nice to talk about Jeremiah and all the others and their call to be God’s messengers and seeing a parallel with God’s call to us to be his chosen people through holy Baptism. But when it comes down to it our response ends up no different to the biblical characters, “How can I do this. I am only …” and like Jeremiah, Moses and the others feel totally inadequate to carry out what God is asking us to do.
The words “I am only..” are words that deny the gifts God has given us to develop and use. “I am only …” is offered as a reason why we can’t do something. I don’t have what is needed to be on a congregational committee, or visit the sick, or talk to a neighbour about Jesus and the Church, or help in the worship service. I am only a farmer, a house wife, a retiree, a council worker.
Our fear of failure is nothing unusual. Our feeling of inadequacy is normal as we wonder how we will cope and what we will do. We would prefer that God leave us alone and ask someone else.
Like I said, it’s normal to feel afraid and inadequate and it’s just when we feel like this that we need to be reminded of God’s commitment to us.
It is God who chooses us to be his children and to actively be his disciple.
It is God who has promised those whom he has chosen that he will never leave them and will always be beside them to give guidance and help.
His commitment to us whom he has chosen as his people and given the task of using our gifts and skills to bless others is no different to the one he gave young Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you”.
If God can overrule the objections of Jeremiah, and Gideon, and Moses and Peter, he can do that for us as well. God chooses us and appoints us to bear much fruit, to use Jesus’ words (John 15:16). We can be sure he won’t challenge us with anything for which he hasn’t equipped us. And we can be sure that he will help us in our times of hesitancy and lack of confidence. He will provide us with those who will help us be what he has chosen us to be.
I know that you and I will all too willingly shy away from challenges that are presented to us. It is part of our human nature to want to take an easier path and not to step out of where we feel comfortable. Be assured that our God who knows what we are capable of better than we know ourselves is the one challenging us to extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable and easy. And as we are reminded of this, let’s also remember Jesus own words, “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit”.
Those are reassuring words – we have been chosen by our Lord and Saviour to carry on his work and as his chosen people he is not only ready to forgive us when we fail but also gives us the means of carrying out his work. No matter how inadequate we may feel, God has a marvellous way of using what we say and do to bring blessings to others.
When you hesitate and wonder what you could possibly say and do, remember you are God’s chosen people, made clean by the blood of Jesus and given a new life through his resurrection. He has chosen you, appointed you, will support you and provide you with the means and opportunities to bear much fruit.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy