I entered seminary right after I graduated from college, when I was still 21 years old. And that summer I was called to my first meeting with the committee that would later decide whether or not to ordain me as a minster. I was really nervous, because I was sure I would get asked some sort of confusing theological question, or I’d be asked to recite the books of the Bible or something. I had no idea what to expect.
I the end, the meeting went well. No curveball questions. No unfair expectations. But the committee said they had one concern: I was 21 years old. Wasn’t I too young to know that I wanted to devote my life to God?
It was the last thing I expected them to question me on, because I thought a young person who wanted to serve would be greeted with open arms. I had made this decision so carefully, even throwing away my law school applications to apply to seminary. And I left the meeting approved to go forward, but feeling this sense that I wasn’t being taken seriously because I was young. It’s left an impression on me to this day.
It’s no surprise that we sometimes do not value the voices of young people. We all have experiences of being told we are too young, or of not being listened to. And as kids and as young adults we hate it, and we say we will never do it to others once we are in positions of power. And yet, generation after generation it happens.
The prophet Jeremiah must have known what that felt like. Jeremiah was living in a Judah, a place going through some complex changes. As a people they were deciding what they would worship, and what really matters. And God calls to Jeremiah one day and tells him he is going to be a prophet, which is someone who will tell his people what God wants for them in terms of being just, and being faithful, and turning away from the false things that surround them.
We’re not sure exactly how old he was. Probably a teenager. He was young that when the call from God came, Jeremiah’s first reaction was this: I can’t do this. I don’t know how to speak. I am only a boy.
God answers him, “do not say that you are only a boy, because I am with you.” God goes on to tell Jeremiah that he has been chosen to speak to entire nations, and “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant”.
My guess is that his entire life up until that point Jeremiah had been told he was too young to really matter. He might have ideas and opinions, but he had to get in line and wait his turn. He had to be old enough for them to be listened to. So when God told Jeremiah, “I’ve got a job for you”, it’s little surprise that Jeremiah’s first answer was “oh, no God…not me…I’m too young.”
But you can’t say no to God. At least, not for long. And in the end Jeremiah went on to be one of the greatest prophets of the Bible. So important that he is recognized today by followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for what he had to say, even though he was “just a boy”.
I was thinking about this reading this week and I was thinking about why it was so perfect for this morning. For those who are visiting, I’ll tell you what I’ve told the congregation before, which is that our readings on any given Sunday are not picked by us. Instead we follow a calendar of readings called the lectionary, which is shared by most Catholic and Protestant traditions. And this week’s story is about a child being asked by God to do great things.
And it just so happens that today is Scout Sunday. Today we invite the Boy Scout Troop and the Cub Scout Pack that this church serves as the charter organization for to join us in worship for a blessing. We also invite others who are involved in any Scouting organizations, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, to join us as well, and we celebrate them and ask God’s blessing upon them.
We have all of these young people here, as well as their parents and their Scout leaders and the adults who sit on their Scouting committees, and we have this story of God telling a young person that he is being chosen for something big and something important.
Maybe God is trying to tell us something. Maybe God is saying, “you know, I have some big plans for these young people”. And maybe God is telling us that we should listen to them.
The young people who are here today are sooner than we think going to be responsible for the world that we are creating now. They will be the generation to deal with environmental problems. They will wrestle with war, and with peace. They will decide whether or not to work to end discrimination in every form. They will try to find ways to make sure that their neighbors have enough to get by. They will inherit the world that we leave to them.
Which is all the more reason that we who are adults have a job to do. Not only do we have to help to create the best possible world for them to inherit, but we also have to prepare them for their place in it, and for the hard but good work that they are going to be asked to do.
The Cub Scout pack that we sponsor has been having a lot of fun, but they’ve also been learning a lot that will prepare them for the time when they are called to be leaders. They’ve been learning about what it means to be a good citizen. They’ve been learning how to treat others with respect. They’ve been learning, at a very young age, what leadership means and how to be leaders. And we as a church are supporting them in this work because we believe it matters.
My hope is that the boys who are in our Cub Scout pack now will go on to be Boy Scouts. But, more importantly, my hope is that they will go on to be young people who are filled with confidence in their own abilities. My hope is that when later in their life they get some sort of a calling, some sort of a nudge in a particular direction, they will feel ready to accept it, and they will draw upon what they are learning here feel confident.
That’s my hope for all young people, boys and girls, Scouts or not. That we who are adults would be finding ways to empower then to answer their calling with confidence. That we would teach them what matters. That we would give them the skills that they need for a lifetime. And that we would understand that when we hand them something like a pine box derby car, we’re not cut teaching them how to sand wood or put wheels on a car, we’re teaching them that God created them to do the things they never knew they could do before.
In a few minutes we will be saying a blessing for our Scouts, and for their parents, and their leaders. We have Scouts from a variety of religious traditions today, and so we will honor those differences in the blessing. Whatever they believe, today we are going to ask that they will be blessed them and prepared to serve the greater good in their communities.
But if you offer a blessing to someone, that means you have to take part in it too. So for those of us who extend our hand in blessing, we are also making our young people a promise. We are telling them that we will help them to grow. We will provide the resources they need, within our ability. And, most of all, when God calls them to do something new, we will listen to them and we will support them. Not just because they are our Scouts, but, more importantly, because they are children of God. And God calls even the youngest amongst us to do the greatest things. Amen.