As I pondered my sermon this week, I found myself wondering why on earth I chose the reading I picked. I had three others to chose from… These are not the words of hope and possibility that we long to hear… not just on Sunday morning, but every morning. The prophet Jeremiah’s words are those of grief and despair. They are words of a reluctant prophet… but one who feels compelled to speak to the people.
He longed for healing and wholeness for God’s people. He is only one person, but thousands of years later his words are part of our sacred writings and he is remembered. Who are the prophets in our time?
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In his blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said, he writes this: Greta Thunberg is one in a million. (Actually, she is one in seven point five billion.) She is infinitesimally small, statistically insignificant, numerically inconsequential. She is a brief cosmic blip. Greta is also a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated collection of dreams, struggles, doubts, joys, fears, flaws, and passions, the likes of which the world has never seen before and will never see again. Her presence is unprecedented.
And yet, if you’d had asked her one year and one month ago as she sat alone outside Swedish parliament, silently advocating for the planet—I imagine the shy, awkward, then 15-year old with Asperger syndrome and OCD, would have probably said she is just one person. And she would have been right. She is just one person. And one person, it turns out—is enough to turn the world upside down. It is enough to wake up a generation. It is the stuff that starts revolutions.
This week millions of people stand in solidarity alongside Greta; a passionate, disparate army of reborn optimists and ordinary activists, propelled into movement by a singular human being who became the catalyst for their emotional resuscitation.
One person. Just one infinitesimally small, statistically insignificant, numerically inconsequential person. One year and one month ago Greta Thunberg was fully and perfectly ordinary. She looked at the world, and she did what all good and decent people do when we witness injustice and malice and waste and violence: she grieved and she got angry and she felt urgency. She worried and wept, and likely briefly asked who out there in that massive sea of seven point five billion was going to do something to save the day.
But Greta did two more things: she looked in the mirror and she moved. She decided that no one was flying in from the heavens to save the day, that she would have to do something there on the ground, with the rest of the mere mortals. She pushed through the hopelessness and the fear and the endless maze of “What can I do?” questions—and she allowed herself to change the temperature of the planet. She refused to be frozen into action by the size of the threat or the power of those in her path or the voices inside her head that surely told her there was nothing one 15-year old could do.
The ripples of one life, affecting all Life. The effect of one tiny butterfly, flapping its wings in the streets of Sweden. And Greta Thunberg, as much as she is deservedly an inspiration—is also an invitation. Her life is the irrefutable answer to the question, “What can one person do?”—and she is a mirror now, asking that question of you and of me. Because you too are one in seven point five billion. You too are infinitesimally small, statistically insignificant, and numerically inconsequential. You too are a brief cosmic blip. You are also a once-in-history, never-to-be-repeated collection of dreams, struggles, doubts, joys, fears, flaws, and passions, the likes of which the world has never seen and will never see again.
I don’t usually share such a long passage from someone else’s writing, but he said, much more eloquently, what I had been mulling over the past few days.
Each one of us has something unique to offer to the world. Don’t tell me that you are too young… too old… too tired… too scared… We all have excuses… but it doesn’t matter to God how ill equipped we might feel, we can all offer some sort of healing and wholeness to the world. Our Bible is full of stories about God calling the most unlikely people. Abraham who was old… Jeremiah who was young… Mary who sang of a radical upsetting of political order.You… me…
God doesn’t call the equipped… God equips the called. God is persistent, patient and powerful. Take a look at the photograph on the front of the bulletin… you see beautiful flowers at the top of a wall right? What you don’t know is that those flowers are at the top of a forty-foot wall in a former jail in Dublin… In a courtyard where political prisoners were shot. I toured it last May… even as a museum it is a bleak and harsh place. But into this place of misery… somehow the seeds of beauty took hold…
So too it is with our scripture reading today. We know these words from Jeremiah’s aren’t the end of God’s story for us. But they are part of God’s story for us. What in our faith community needs healing and wholeness? What in this neighbourhood needs healing and wholeness? What in our world needs healing and wholeness? Healing and wholeness that is uniquely ours to offer.
You heard me speak earlier of how oil has been used to offer healing and wholeness since ancient times… How it has been used in ceremonies and rituals of blessing and belonging. I invite you, to come forward, to receive this oil, either on your forehead or the back of your hand. Receive it as balm… receive it as blessing… receive it as invitation to help heal the world.
Thanks be to God, amen.
September 22, 2019
Stairs Memorial United Church
© Catherine MacDonald