Aug 22, 2010
“Never Place an Only Where God has Placed a Comma”
Rev. George N. Miller
A bowling ball. A football. Simple, day to day items. Seemingly ordinary and ho-hum.
Only a bowling ball, only a football, right? Not for me.
This bowling ball belonged to my father, his name is engraved on it. It’s probably as old as me. He and Mom had a matching set with blue cases and shoes. They bowled at the Centereach Lanes, which always smelled of cheese doodles.
Dad was not an athlete; bowling was the one sport he participated in. When he died this ball sat in the basement by a neglected fish stand.
But I never forgot it. 10 years after he died, the case was ruined, the shoes was moldy, but the ball was intact. I brought it to my home, polished it up, bowled with it once or twice.
But there it sat until last fall when I joined a bowling league, my salvation during the Search and Call process. Once a week I met with the guys and bowled with my fathers ball, raising my average and lowering my handicap.
Since moving to Sebring it’s sat in the garage until last week when I took it to Kegel Lanes and bowled with Glenn and Kirk.
We each started our games rusty, gutter-ball rusty, but soon we were knocking down pins, talking smack, cheering each other on while joshing the mistakes and missed pins. It’s a thing guys do: I love you man, but you sure screwed that one up.
It was a great night in which memories of my father mingled with memories of MI, while creating new memories in Florida. Too say this is only a bowling ball is to deny the healing history that’s attached to it.
Like Dad, I was not athletic. It wasn’t until 2004 that I learned the value of football. I was working at a summer camp with inner city youth. Before lunch we’d take the ball out, tossing it back and forth.
One day I grabbed the football and called Jonah and DJ over. Jonah was about to enter kindergarten. DJ looked like a first grade version of Urkel.
Both had limited contact with their father or a male role model who was not their grandfather.
We tossed the ball around. More often then not, they missed the ball. Jonah would get hit in the face; DJ would throw the ball and it went in the opposite direction he intended.
Some of the other children came over and asked if they could play; I told them no because DJ, Jonah and I were having quality time.
Well, the next day we are at the park and Jonah takes out the football and says “Mr. G. (That was my nickname), can we have some quality time?”
Now here’s Jonah, just entering kindergarten. I doubt he knew what “quality time” meant. But he did know that it meant that he would have time with me all by himself.
My heart just melted on the spot; and he forever changed the way I would view a football.
Only a football? I think not. It has come to represent the quality time and precious bonding that was spent between a child looking for a father figure and a man who knew only too well what it means to no longer have a dad in his life.
Only a bowling ball? Only a football? Not at all.
There are no onlys here.
Through these experiences, and through biblical readings, I have come to believe that the word only should rarely be used in a Christian’s vocabulary, for we do not worship an only God.
As God’s beloved children, we are more than an only.
In today’s reading we have what’s called a Call Narrative. Jeremiah is recounting how God called him to deliver a message.
In a beautifully worded revelation, God tells the young boy how God knew him before birth and that he’s been appointed as prophet to all nations.
But Jeremiah’s quick with an excuse as to why he can’t do it: “I don’t know how to speak, I am only a boy.”
To which God says “Do not say I am only a boy. For you shall go to who I send you, and you shall speak whatever I tell you.”
This is God saying that we should not allow only to get in the way of achieving what we have been created to do.
This is a message that in the presence of God who knows, appoints and consecrated us that there is no such thing as only.
This is a message that we are more then the only we see ourselves as.
Jeremiah may say “I am only a boy” but God’s response is “Yeah; and do you really think I would have given you this responsibility if I didn’t think you could handle it?
“Trust me, follow my voice. Allow me to work through you so this wonderful, broken world I created can learn how to live in community, justice and peace.”
Jeremiah says to God he does not know how to speak because he is only a boy.
But in concentrating on the only, he failed to realize what he did have going.
Perhaps God was not looking for someone with a splendid speaking voice, but for someone who could sympathize with those he prophesied to.
Perhaps God was not looking for someone too polished, with too many years of training to be believable, but someone with a tender heart whose words conveyed an honesty that comes from an innocent place.
In God there is no only. Today’s scripture allow us to hear that and to apply it to ourselves, for we are all beloved children of God who is not limited by the word only.
For when the earth was only a dark, formless void, God spoke and it became life giving creation.
For when Sarah was only a barren woman, God made her the matriarch of millions.
For when Moses was only a baby in a basket and David only had a sling-shot, God found in them a deliverer and a king.
And when there were only five loaves and two fish, God, through Jesus, found a way to feed all those folk.
And even though the cross was only made up of two planks of wood, it would become a sign of God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and majesty.
We should not allow the notion of only to limit us in what we are able to achieve for the Lord. Our Bible is filled with witnesses who tell us again and again how God takes the only and turns into something miraculous and transformative .
Our God is a God of purpose. Our God does not allow the onlys to get in the way.
Through God no one is only a youth or only a parent or only retired.
Through Christ no one is only rich or poor, male or female.
Through the Spirit no church is only a building or only important when it has high attendance.
In conclusion, I know it has been through the gifts and grace of God that this bowling ball, this football have become more then an only.
My prayer for everyone here is that during this week, when the thought crosses your mind that “I am only” that you will take that moment to reflect and wonder if that is really true.
And after thinking, will you use that moment to seek out the Holy Presence and say “OK God, if you can use someone who is only a boy, I’d like to see what you can do with me.”
Praise be to the Spirit that empowers our lives, to the Son who loved as us we are and to God the Father who knows and calls us by name.
Amen and amen.