No More Excuses

Sermon Series: Jeremiah (summer 2002)

No More Excuses

June 06, 2002 - June 09, 2002

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Timothy 4:11-15

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Harry Heintz

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Churches can say really stupid things to its youth and children, whether actually stated or implied. Words like, "be quiet—this is for adults." Or, "you need to go over there—that room is for your age." Or, "we don’t have room for you." Perhaps the worst thing the Church ever says to its youth is this: "you are the Church of tomorrow." Tomorrow? We have no assurance that tomorrow will come. We are the Church today, all of us.

I am perplexed at what "adult" means in our society. There are adult bookstores. What adult books are found in adult bookstores? "War and Peace"? Augustine’s "Confessions"? I read the sports section first thing each morning (okay, I know it’s just June, but I’m enjoying reading those American League East baseball standings). There are these ads in the sports sections about adult entertainment. From what I can gather about these forms of entertainment, I think adult is the wrong adjective. One would think that adult would mean something like mature, disciplined, and capable of making wise decisions. And some movies are advertised as "family movies." The implicit message seems to be that adults wouldn’t be interested in these unless they were dragged along with children. What does it say about me that some of my favorite movies are "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Muppet Movie"?

When God tapped Jeremiah on the shoulder, he was but a boy, a mere youngster. God has no age hang-ups about tapping young people on the shoulder. When Mary was called to bear the Christ child she was likely a young teenager, perhaps 13 or 14 tears old. And did she have a great excuse for the angel Gabriel: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" That’s my kind of teenager. How many of us first felt God’s tap on the shoulder when we were children or teens? More people make decisions to follow Jesus in childhood and youth than at any other time.

Jeremiah the boy tried a classic excuse. "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." Jeremiah was ready to disqualify himself from God’s call for two reasons. First was his mere age—he was just a boy. When he says that he doesn’t know how to speak, the word doesn’t suggest inability, but lack of training. On the basis of age and experience—or the lack of both—he thought God had made a mistake. There are two other factors that young Jeremy might have known. The first is that the Israelites often gave their prophets a rough time. Speaking the Word of God boldly did not always win friends and influence people. The second is that Judah, where Jeremiah was called to speak, was a small nation set between two superpowers of the ancient world. It might have felt like being in Kashmir today, with India and Pakistan posturing to claim your land by force no matter what harm is done. Who would want to be chosen to be God’s bridge in such danger? Maybe this was a pretty bright boy.

So Jeremiah threw up an excuse. In "The Message," he says it this way: "Hold it, Master God! Look at me. I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!" People can be very creative with excuses. These great excuses come from parents sent to school offices.

  • Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
  • Sally will not be in school next Friday. We have to attend her funeral.
  • Please excuse John for being absent on January 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33.
  • Please excuse Jennifer for being absent yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch. When we got it on Monday, we thought it was Sunday.

There is an epidemic of hiding behind excuses in the Church today. We hear words like, "Let someone else do it; I’ve already served." Gordon Fee once said here that the two most crippling things Christians say begin with these words: "I’m justa . . ." and "If only . . . ." We hide behind "I’m justa a layperson," or "I’m justa homemaker," or "I’m justa a retired person," or "I’m just a kid." We hide behind "If only I could sing like Tracy," or "If only I could preach like Matt," or "If only I had the time Len has," or "If only I had more training." Let’s stop hiding behind excuses. God gifts every one of us for service and every one of us has a place in God’s work, both in the life of the Church and in the wider marketplace.

Some excuses are not funny. This one came from a defense lawyer in an actual case. His client, a 14 year-old boy, was accused of sexually assaulting an eleven year-old girl. The attorney said: "They were two kids with nothing better to do. They don’t have cable TV. What can you do?"

Being a teen is complicated today. I have friends who are teens and I have friends who work with teems. And I once was a teenager. It was pretty complicated when I went through it, but its more complex today. The nature of the media explosion has made everything readily available for teens. It works both ways. The opportunities for good are greater than ever and so are the opportunities for bad. We have teens going on short-term mission trips all over the world. We have a group going to the Dominican Republic for two weeks next month.

What is God’s response to young Jeremiah? Let me put it in my own words. "Look, Jeremy, I knew you before you were. I had plans for you before you were in diapers. Before your mom and dad named you, I knew you. Don’t hide behind excuses. I know what I’m doing. You’ll be equal to any challenge I put before you, because I will be with you. You needn’t fear anyone or anything, for I am walking with you and I will take you through everything. There is a ministry to be done among my people just now. It’s going to be demanding and difficult, but don’t you worry about that. You aren’t going to win any popularity contests, except the one that really counts. You are my choice. You are going to make a difference, because I know what I’m doing. Jer, I believe in you. Believe in me. You remember this: I have selected you."

Jesus held up childlike faith as a requirement for being in his kingdom. Childlike is not childish. Prayers of young children often show amazing insight and honesty, like these.

  • Dear God, Did you mean for a giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? --Norma
  • Dear God, Please send Dennis to a different camp this year. --Peter
  • Dear God, I bet it's very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. –Nan

Let’s never outgrow childlike faith—God delights in it. The Church needs to be childlike.

The Church of Jesus Christ is healthiest when it welcomes, loves, and includes people of all ages. It is our vision to be a multi-generational and multi-cultural community with growing influence for Jesus Christ in Brunswick, across the capital district, and around the world. My desire for all our generational and age-specific ministries is that they will point beyond themselves to being a multi-generational congregation in which is everyone is welcomed, everyone valued, and everyone honored. Let their be no competition among children’s, youth, and adult ministries. We are one body in Christ. To that end, I address us in three broad generational categories. Each of us will be in one of them.

First, I speak a word to those who are very young (that is, younger than I am), our children and teens. The Apostle Paul wrote his young friend Timothy as Timothy was assuming a challenging assignment. "Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Children and teens, you are full citizens here in Brunswick Church. You are not the church of tomorrow, you are a vital part of the church today. You have so much to give and so much to receive. Join is in being the church today. The other generations need you. You are the greatest generation of the Church, but you are not alone in that.

Second, I have a word to those who in the great span of the middle years (of which I am on the younger side). I paraphrase Paul: "Let no one despise your middle years, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." You may sometimes feel that all the pressure is on you for keeping the church together today. It’s not. We are all in this together. You might be surprised to know that the age span of elders currently serving on our session is about 50 years. And the same is true for our deacons board and our staff. Three generations are represented on our three leadership circles. The other generations need you. You are the greatest generation of the Church, but you are not alone in that.

Third, I have a word to those who are older. Again I paraphrase Paul: "Let no one despise your older years, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Your experiences and perspectives are needed. When you retire, the Holy Spirit does not withdraw his gifts to you. Remember that the most productive part of Moses’ ministry began at age 80. Remember that God began building that promised family to Abraham and Sarah when they were in their nineties. The other generations need you. You are the greatest generation of the Church, but you are not alone in that.

It has been said that every church is one generation from extinction. Drive through any village in New England or even around us and you’ll find buildings that once housed congregations now serving as restaurants, antique shops, museums, or boarded up. Some look at today’s youth and worry about the future of the Church. Some say that good old days are gone forever. I believe that the Church’s best days are yet to be. I believe that by being a multi-generational church today we set the stage for the Church to be even better tomorrow. I believe that the Brunswick Church is one generation away from being more than it has ever been before. Our greatest generation is yet to be. I will do my part with those of you who are older than I am, those my age, and those younger than I, to set the stage today for what Brunswick Church can be tomorrow.

To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180