Sunday’s sermon: Excusing Our Excuses

excuses

Texts used – Jeremiah 1:4-10; Hebrews 4:11-16

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • We’re actually going to start off a little interactive this morning. Y’all are going to be each other’s sermon illustrations. Let me ask you a question: What are your favorite excuses?
    • Could be classic excuses
    • Could be excuses you’ve heard from your friends, family, etc.
    • Could be excuses you’ve used in the past or even ones you use on a regular basis
    • [PAUSE FOR ANSWERS]
  • Purpose of excuses = get ourselves out of something, right?
    • Getting ourselves out of sticky situations → excuses that try to get us out of trouble
    • Getting ourselves out of obligations → excuses that try to get us out of this event or that meeting
    • Getting ourselves out of responsibility → excuses that try to get us out of being blamed for something
    • Shift the pronunciation a bit and “excuse” the noun becomes “excuse” the verb
      • Noun definition: a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense
      • Verb definition: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); release (someone) from a duty or requirement
      • Excuses excuse They pass the buck. They shift the focus. They redirect attention away from ourselves and whatever we’re doing wrong … or whatever we’re not doing … or whatever we’re trying to keep from doing.
    • And depending on which corner of the internet you’re hanging out in, excuses can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
      • Self-help/personal betterment corner: “13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses and Get Results in Your Life”[1] and “15 motivational Quotes to Stop Making Excuses”[2]
      • Comedic corner: “The 40 Lamest Excuses Ever Uttered”[3] and “14 Hilarious Homework Excuses”[4]
      • And so on, and so on.
    • Church life and faith are no strangers to excuses either.
      • Excuse away why we weren’t at church or why we couldn’t make it to this church function or that meeting
      • Excuse away why we couldn’t make time to attend to our spiritual health today
        • Couldn’t read
        • Couldn’t pray
        • Couldn’t sit quietly with God
      • Excuse away why we act one way even when we know we should act another way
      • And let me tell you something this morning, all – let me reassure you of something. When it comes to excuses and faith, we are by no means alone. We are in prominent Scriptural company. Some of the best excuse-makers ever are found in the pages of Scripture.
        • Adam and Eve → Adam: “She made me do it.” Eve: “The snake made me do it.”[5]
        • Sarah → “Me? Can’t be, God. I’m too old to have a baby!”[6]
        • Moses → “I can’t go there and say that, God. I don’t speak well.”[7]
        • Pharisees (over and over again) → “But that’s not the letter of the law. It must be wrong.”
        • Jonah → (running in the opposite direction) “NOPE! Just … NOPE!”[8]
        • King David … well, that whole Bathsheba incident (just to start with!)[9]
        • Peter → “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know that guy.”[10]
        • Rich young ruler that approaches Jesus → “Yeah, I’ve already done everything. Wait … sell my stuff? Uhhhhh … buh-bye.”[11]
        • Gideon (one of the great judges of the OT – after the Israelites reached the promised land but before they demanded a king) → “I’m the scrawniest guy in the lowliest family in the weakest of the 12 tribes. No way you can actually mean me, God.”[12]
        • Today’s passage – prophet Jeremiah → “Not me, God. I’m just a kid!”[13]
  • Let’s look at today’s passage a little more closely.
    • Context for Jeremiah
      • Jeremiah sees some of the best and some of the worst of the people[14]
        • BEST = religious reforms of King Josiah
          • Renovates and even fortifies the temple → finds a long-lost scroll of the law during renovation
          • Renews religious devotion → draws people back to prayers and practices laid out by God in the Torah
          • Time of relative harmony and unity in Judea
        • WORST: Babylonian exile → prophet to the people of Israel left behind during Babylonian exile
          • Jerusalem = a city forever changed
            • Temple was destroyed when the Babylonians sacked the city and took the best and brightest into exile
            • Walls of the city were also destroyed along with many other dwellings and prominent buildings
            • Living with Babylonian-appointed and Babylonian-born governor who ruled over Jerusalem → killed by rival for political reasons → rival flees to the Ammonites (modern day Jordan) → remaining city leaders become nervous and eventually flee to Egypt (last we hear from Jeremiah)
    • Book of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah’s own call – text: The Lord’s word came to me: “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.”[15] → Pretty weighty, right? That’s certainly no small charge – no insignificant call. I think it’s safe to say anyone would feel overwhelmed by a revelation like that, right?
      • Jeremiah’s response = excuse: “Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.”[16]
      • So we’ve got God’s call, and we’ve got Jeremiah’s excuse. But hear what comes next. This is the important part! – text: The Lord responded, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’ Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say. Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord stretched out his hand, touched my mouth, and said to me, “I’m putting my words in your mouth. This very day I appoint you over nations and empires, to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and to plant.”[17] → God sidesteps Jeremiah’s excuse and says, “It’s not your words. It’s not your work. It’s not your journey. It’s my work in and through you. It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you.” God doesn’t berate Jeremiah for his hesitation, for his fear, for his excuse. God simply takes that excuse, acknowledges it, and releases it.
  • Heb. passage speaks to God’s power to do this, too
    • Heb. context[18]
      • One of those letters that has been attributed to Paul in the past but is probably not actually one of Paul’s
        • Writing style doesn’t match (phrasing, word choice, etc.)
        • Content doesn’t jive with much of Paul’s other writing
      • Time?
        • Definitely written before 95 C.E. (quoted by Clement of Rome in 95/96 C.E.)
        • Potentially written sometime prior to the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 C.E.
        • Probably written somewhere between 60-95 C.E. → roughly 30 yrs. after Jesus’ death and resurrection, after the gospel of Mark, possibly around the same time as Matthew/Luke were written, before the gospel of John
      • Audience (not much known): community of believers, probably 2nd generation (Heb. later mentions the recipients having been baptized) → most likely a group of Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish Christians possibly living in Rome
      • One thing that is clear in the content of the letter itself is Hebrews was written to a community in crisis. Many of the people have grown lax in their faithful living, and it appears that their commitment is waning. They haven’t completely fallen away, but the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that they’ve got some work to do. They’ve been making and living their excuses for too long.
    • Today’s text addresses this by addressing the potent, powerful, penetrating nature of God’s word: God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.[19] → Friends, the good news and the challenging news is that God sees right through our excuses. God sees right through all those walls and barriers we try to put up. There is not an excuse on this earth that God hasn’t already heard. There is not a hurdle on this earth that God hasn’t already cleared. As we read in this passage from Hebrews, God is not only familiar with all the excuses, God is bigger than them all. But God doesn’t berate us for our excuses. God doesn’t shame us with or forsake us for those excuses that we make in our hearts and our souls. God simply acknowledges them, acknowledges the fear and worry and doubt at the root of them, and says to us, “But I am with you. And it’s okay. And it’ll continue to be okay. Because I’m not leaving you, and you have work to do.”
      • Makes me think of the classic children’s book Runaway Bunny[20]
        • Little bunny think of any and every way he can to run away and hide from his mother (become a fish, a rock on a mountain, a crocus in a garden, a sailboat, etc.) but the mother always comes up with a way to find him
        • The mother bunny doesn’t just say, “That’s silly. You’re not a rock. You’re my bunny, and you’re right here.” She doesn’t dismiss his scenario. She imagines herself in the midst of it – a fishermom who pulls her fish-bunny out of the sea, a rock climber who finds her rock-bunny on the mountain, a strong wind who blows her sailboat-bunny to wherever he needs to be. No matter what we try to do to excuse ourselves from the work and call and presence of God in our lives, God is just like that mother bunny. God smiles. God gently but undeniable inserts Godself into whatever story we have woven as our excuse, and God says, “But I love you, and I need you, so let’s go. Let’s do. Let’s be.” And friends, even when we are hesitant and frightened to hear it, that is, in fact, Good News. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] https://www.developgoodhabits.com/making-excuses/.

[2] https://www.success.com/15-motivational-quotes-to-stop-making-excuses/.

[3] https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/lamest-excuses-ever-uttered/.

[4] https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/14-hilarious-homework-excuses.

[5] Gen 3:11-13.

[6] Gen 18:12.

[7] Ex 4:10.

[8] Jonah 1:1-3.

[9] 2 Sam 11.

[10] Lk 22:54-62.

[11] Mt 19:22.

[12] Jdg 6:15.

[13] Jer 1:6.

[14] Patrick D. Miller. “The Book of Jeremiah: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 556-560.

[15] Jer 1:4-5.

[16] Jer 1:6.

[17] Jer 1:7-10.

[18] Fred B. Craddock. “The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 6-10.

[19] Heb 4:12-13.

[20] Margaret Wise Brown. The Runaway Bunny. (New York, NY: HarperCollins), 1942.

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