We all have one, don’t we? I know I did. Isaiah does in our first reading. Paul does in 1 Corinthians. And Simon Peter certainly does, in our Gospel reading.
What’s yours? What’s your excuse why you cannot follow Jesus? What’s your reason why you cannot possibly do what God calls you to do?
We all have one—and we are in good company because most people in the Bible have some sort of argument with God about why they cannot do what God calls them to do.
We all know Sarah’s excuse why she couldn’t possibly become the mother of nations with Abraham. She was too old to become pregnant and start a new family line. Moses also had an excuse ready. He said to God, “I can’t speak well—I am slow of speech and of tongue—how am I supposed to go tell the Pharaoh in Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery?" When God called Jeremiah to be prophet, he said he was too young.
We know almost nothing about Isaiah in our first reading, other than his father’s name was Amoz, and that Isaiah had some kind of a potty mouth. Maybe he loved saying all the bad words, or he was a bar-room brawler—we do not know. But about 700 years before Jesus was born, God called him to be a prophet. Like other Biblical characters, Isaiah had his excuse ready—"I am a man of unclean lips.”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that he too, was unworthy of participating in God’s work of sharing Jesus’ love throughout the Mediterranean world, because he had been a Pharisee and persecuted the church. His excuse was that his past made him unfit to be an apostle at all.
And then there’s Simon Peter in our Gospel reading. He and Andrews, James and John, have had a long night of unsuccessful fishing, and were ready to go home and sleep, when this new rabbi commandeered their boat for a teaching stage. Perhaps as a gesture to thank them, to feed the crowd, or to persuade them to join him in his traveling ministry, Jesus instructed the fishermen to cast their net in the deep water. When Peter saw how much fish they pulled in—enough sink two boats, and how holy and powerful Jesus was—the first thing out of his mouth, was an excuse—an excuse why Peter could not even be near Jesus much less follow him: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"
We all have one. Maybe your excuse is different today than it was last week or last year or the last century, but we usually have one ready for God. When I first experienced a call to ministry, I had never seen a woman pastor until I arrived at seminary. Even bigger than that, my excuse was, “I don’t have the right personality”—I liked big earrings, I loved to dance, wear bright colors, I’m too extroverted and ‘out there.’” Most “religious” people I knew, especially women, were more like nuns—not like me AT ALL—they were quiet, demure, unassertive. Oh yes, I definitely had the wrong personality.
I bet if I picked up this microphone and walked around the congregation like a talk show, we would hear a lot of reasons why we think God cannot really use us to catch people, to witness to God’s love, to show compassion, to participate in God’s work in the world out there, not just in here. Maybe like Sarah or Jeremiah or Paul or Peter, you think you are too old or too young, or have too much of a past, or have been too much of a sinner. Or maybe you think you are not smart enough, do not know the bible well enough, do not know how to talk about faith, do not have time, struggle with mental health issues, feel you do not matter or are not important enough. We all have an excuse why God cannot possibly use us. We all have days where we wonder if God can use us at all.
In the late 80’s my internship supervisor actually agreed that I was too “out there” and while I officially passed internship, he cut me to the quick and said some hurtful things to me at the end of my internship. But God reassured me through other people, that there would be some in the church who needed someone like me, and to persevere. I learned we cannot let others’ rejection of us or our own rejection of ourselves, nullify God’s claim on our lives.
God’s story shows us over and over again, that our limitations and excuses are only a barrier for us, but not for God. God looks at you and you and you, and says, “oh yes, I can work with that!”
• I can touch people through you,
• I can bring new possibilities through you,
• I can show love through you,
• I can offer forgiveness through you,
• I can bring justice through you;
• I can feed the hungry and do so much good through this human being, through this limited, beautiful vessel that I made.
God sees so much value, dignity, and kingdom-possibilities in you! God has an answer for every excuse you can think up.
Sarah thought she was too old? Well she laughed all the way to the delivery tent, because her descendants have become more numerous than the stars. Moses couldn’t speak? Well, God gave him Aaron—he was his spokesperson, and God promised to be with them both—they did not have to fulfill their calling alone. Jeremiah thought he was too young? Think again! God said, “I will be with you and tell you where to go and what to say.” Isaiah was such a potty-mouth! But God said, “Your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out.” A vision of burning coal cleaned his mouth right up (which makes me grateful I just had to have my mouth washed out with soap when I was young!) The Bible doesn’t tell us, but do you not wonder how many other potty-mouthed people opened themselves up to God, because if God could work through Isaiah, why not them, too?
The Apostle Paul did have a terrible past—one where he had Christians murdered, but Paul’s past was not a hindrance for God either. God completely transformed his heart and his story. Without Paul’s missionary journey’s and all his letters to the churches, we would hardly have the Christian New Testament today. That’s pretty amazing work through a sinner with a past. And Peter? He was too afraid to follow Jesus and catch people because he was a sinner. But he became the rock on which the church was built. Not because he was perfect. Not because he got it all right. But because God in Jesus Christ used him, even when he fumbled and got it wrong, to be a vehicle of God’s love, healing and hope in the world.
In Ephesians, Paul says, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Our excuses are no hindrance to God. God gives us what we need, so they are no hindrance to us either. God looks at each one of us and says, “Yes! You are very good. You matter. You are loved. I can work with you no matter who you are or what you think your limitations are. I am a limitless God and I call you to join me in doing justice, loving kindness, and bringing healing and grace to this world. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
And with no excuses, we say, "Here am I; send me!"