Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 21, 2016

Unlike some churches in the DC area, this small parish contains individuals who deeply and personally understand lay ministry…people who do Kingdom work every day and everywhere. You are truly a blessing in this troubled world.

Each person in this room has the power to do vital ministry, to accomplish acts that can be done by you and no other, because you are the perfect combination of gifts and location and resources needed for particular deeds and needs that must be met. God’s calling is not random: if God calls you, it is you who is wanted.

Because of this, and because of challenges faced by Gospel ministers, it’s sometimes important that we address a tough question: What is it that gets in the way of our important work for God?

Well, as Pogo once said: “We have met the enemy, and they are us.” God calls us to works large and small, fleeting and long-term, easy and difficult…and what do we do? We look for a way out. My friends, the lessons for today are clear: no excuses will work.

God gives Jeremiah his instructions; Jeremiah whines, “I’m just a kid.” God says, No excuses; you don’t have to feel inadequate; it will work out, because I will be with you. Yes, Jeremiah, they may throw you into a cistern and leave you to starve, but I will take care of you. And God took care of Jeremiah; yes, he did.

God calls Moses; Moses protests, “I’m no good at public speaking.” God says, it will work out, because I will be with you – and, by the way, here is your brother Aaron with all his eloquence and your sister Miriam with all her charismatic leadership. Yes, Moses, you can help these Israelite dolts find their way through the Red Sea and forty years of wandering, because I will take care of them, and I will take care of you. And God took care of Moses; yes, he did.

God calls Elisha; Elisha begs to be excused: “I’m right in the middle of plowing a field; maybe later.” God says, no excuses are good enough. Yes, Elisha, timing is important; because Elijah will soon be leaving, you are needed right now, and I will take care of you. And God took care of Elisha; yes, he did.

God calls Jesus to heal a poor, suffering woman of an infirmity that has plagued her for years. Jesus says “Yes, but the synagogue leaders will tell me it’s the wrong day of the week…it’s the Sabbath, and they’ll cause me trouble if I do work.” God says, not only will I take care of her, I will take care of you. And God took care of Jesus; yes, he did.

God calls Mary Magdalene, the prophet Deborah, Ruth and Naomi…Peter, Paul, James, John…Beth, Mary Margaret, Del, Carol, Romana, Lynn, Bill, Janet and Janet’s helper, even Pat Bleicher, even you. And, my friends, no excuses are good enough. Buckle up.

Whatever we may say at first, and whether our words are genuine or we’re just lying to ourselves, no excuses are good enough. We should save ourselves the trouble, and just get on with it. Our one true path is to trust God with the results. God can be trusted.

Okay, we may be genuinely reluctant to act, and threats are sometimes very real. How do we deal with that? Oddly, a good answer comes to us from culture instead of scripture. In his address after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt said some of the truest words ever spoken by a US President. He said:

…the only thing we have to fear is: fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that stifles needed efforts to turn defeat into advance.

Lay ministry can involve facing deep-seated fears. People may react with scorn or even violence; we may be vilified or crucified…but God will take care of us.

Sometimes fears are intimate and of longstanding. A woman in Tennessee was absolutely fearless in business, a force to be reckoned with, for sure. But at home, she was held captive by fear of consequences. She had been raised by a loud, drunken bully of a mother, a woman who kept her in terror until she fled her home town. When I knew her, she was deeply concerned that her mom, now over 60 and in crumbling health, was killing herself. Yet the fear she had learned as a child kept her silent for a very long time.

While I cannot say how she reflected and prayed, it was clear that something miraculous had happened after she decided to trust God. She decided. She chose to act, in the hope that God would take care of her. And God took care of her; yes, he did.

She cancelled all her appointments and drove to her mother’s house. She said her knees were a little wobbly as she went up the steps to the porch, but she continued. When she found her mom in the kitchen with a glass of bourbon, at 10:00 in the morning, she said: “Mom, this has got to stop. You are drinking too much. I think you are an alcoholic.”

And her mom said, “I know.” She couldn’t have been more astonished.

My sisters and brothers, I am absolutely sure that God knows when our fears are real, and God goes before us to prepare the field (or the mom) for our actions. If you doubt that, re-read the story of Ananias and Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul. God calls Ananias to take the Gospel to a man who has been persecuting and killing his friends, and Ananias says “I don’t wanna go there.”  God says, no excuses; I am with you, and I will take care of you. And God took care of Ananias; yes, he did.

This week, please reflect upon what God is calling you to do, but you are afraid to do. Be honest: ask yourself if the real barrier is not the potential bad thing but your own fear. What would it look like if you just acted, and trusted God with the results? What is keeping you from believing that promise?

The entire Bible, Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures, provides one unified teaching on these issues: God will take care of you. In the worst time of my life, Psalm 37:3 helped me choose to act. When I had acted and the vilification had begun, other words meant a lot to me…they are from Isaiah 43, where God says:

Have no fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
When you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
The flames will not utterly destroy you.
For I am God, your personal God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
You are precious in my sight, and I love you.

Do the work of ministry, my brothers and sisters, with no excuses. Choose to leave fear behind. God will take care of you; yes, he will.   

AMEN

     -- Prof. Patricia G. Bleicher