Rev. George Miller
January 31, 2016
Last week, American Treasure Betty White celebrated her 94th Birthday.
Like any good friend of Dorothy, and Blanche, and Sophia, I am a fan of Betty White, but my favorite Betty White moment is not from “The Golden Girls” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” but from her recent sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”
In this particular scene, Betty is talking to Joy, an insecure woman in her late 40’s who is dreading the big 5-0.
In a moment of heartfelt vulnerability, Betty says to her “There’s a secret that nobody ever tells you- you don’t feel old. You feel like yourself.”
There is scientific research that backs this up. It turns out that there is a part of our brain that never ages. It is forever youthful; it is forever young.
Therefore, we always see ourselves as perpetually in our teens and our twenties.
That is why, as we age, it is a shock when we look in the mirror and see someone else looking back, someone much older, someone with much more wrinkles, someone with a bit more wear and tear than our young brain can comprehend.
That is why no matter how old we get, when we are sick we want our Mommy; when something needs fixing we miss our Daddy.
This comment from Betty White, and this science of the brain, reinforces something I have often said.
I believe that our lives are nothing but 7th grade relived over and over and over again.
That deep down, just below the face we portray to the world, we are all 12 to 13 year-olds just trying to figure things out, asking ourselves “Where do I fit in?”
That when we attend a public function, we go a party, we enter the Fellowship Hall, we navigate where we belong and what table we sit at.
The table with the popular kids? The table with the jocks and homecoming queens? The table with the leaders and members of student government?
The table with those of different skin color or different lifestyles? The table of misfits who bare no definition?
The table where we sit all alone, afraid to join the others, but hoping someone will sit beside us?
Each and every person here, deep, deep, down, is harboring a 12-13 year old kid hoping they are welcomed and loved, hoping no one can see just how scared and lonely they really are.
There is a book coming out called “Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It”, written by talk show host Grace Klebig.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at “faking it until you make it.” The author states that she had a revelation: “No one knows what they are doing, and (success is) basically about who can pretend the best.”
So to sum the first 5 minutes up:
-no one really knows what they are doing
-Deep down we are all 12-13 year-olds
-Part of our brain never ages
-And in the words of Saint Betty- “you don’t feel old. You feel like yourself.”
Which brings us to today’s reading.
Jeremiah was a prophet living during a time of Israel’s history in which no one is getting it right, the nation is not united, people have turned from God, and they could care less about doing justice, loving kindness, and humbly walking with the Lord.
Therefore, they have become vulnerable to the enemy, who in a few short years will attack the city, capture the king, burn the Temple down to the ground, and kidnap thousands of the city’s citizens.
Guess who gets to be the one to share this news with the nation? Jeremiah.
Guess how old Jeremiah is when he first gets this word from the Lord? About 13.
“Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” Jeremiah says to God when he first receives the call to speak up.
To which God says “Do not say ‘I am only a boy’, for you shall go to all to whom I send you. You shall speak what I tell you. Do not be afraid of them…for I have put my words in your mouth.”
People here will get nervous when they are asked to pray, be ushers, and liturgists. Imagine being 13 year-old Jeremiah and receiving such a direct directive from God herself.
And Jeremiah does what any true leader does- he says he is not ready; he does not want such awesome responsibility; he finds all the reasons why he should not be the one to carry such tremendous responsibility.
Jeremiah really does not want to do this; he feels he’s not ready; he thinks he is way too young; he is afraid to fake it until he makes it.
This is a common theme throughout the Bible- God calling people who doubt their ability to do the work of the Kingdom.
God calls Moses to free the slaves, but Moses asks “Who am I?”
God calls Moses, but Moses says “What if they ask your name? Suppose they don’t believe me? But I don’t speak so good.”
God calls Gideon to deliver the people from their enemies, but Gideon says “How can you care about us when all these bad things have happened to my people?”
God calls Gideon to deliver the people, and Gideon says “How do you expect me to help when I am the weakest member of my family, and my family belongs to the weakest clan?”
No one in the Bible really seems to know what they are doing. No one in the Bible really is prepared for what is asked of them.
Even Jesus has his moment in the Garden when he begs and pleads the Lord to remove the cup that has been placed before him.
You never feel old, and deep, deep down, no one really knows what they are doing.
Yet, we place so many people upon a pedestal, and we assume that they have all the answers, that they will get it right the first time, that they won’t make a single mistake, or be afraid, or be flawed.
So when they fail, when they falter, when they fall way, way down, we get upset. We get angry.
Because we fail to realize that each and every one of us harbors a 13 year-old inside of us, trying to figure it all out, we punish people when they get it wrong.
How quick we have become to sue a doctor because a difficult surgery has gone wrong.
How quick we are to bring a teacher before the school board because we don’t like a particular chapter of a book that’s being taught.
How quick we have become to comment on what was said, what wasn’t said, or the timeline in which everything takes place.
No one really knows what they are doing. Not a CEO, not the President, not the single parent trying to care for their four children.
And when we look upon the biographies and testimonies of those who have made it, of those who made a difference in the world, we will discover that they have actually experienced way more failures than they ever had successes; that they had more naysayers than they had fans.
That often times those who are successful just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right people with the right plan.
The rest of the time they were just as confused as a 13 year-old kid trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria.
And here is where the nature of Grace comes in. Here is the beauty which we find in Jesus Christ.
Jesus, as the incarnation of God who knew us when we were still in the womb, knew that we do not know what we are doing.
Jesus knew we were all imperfect, we were all flawed, we were all unprepared, and scared.
And yet, Emmanuel- God With Us- surrounded himself with all these amazing, imperfect, broken, flawed human beings who were constantly falling down.
Jesus just didn’t surround himself with imperfect people, he welcomed them, he worked alongside them, he saw them for who they were, who they are, and who they could be, if just given a chance.
I believe that Jesus saw the 13 year-old in each and every person he encountered.
That when Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree so they could eat together, he saw the 13 year-old who just wanted to be liked.
That when Jesus forgave the woman who committed adultery, he saw the 13 year-old girl who really just wanted to be loved.
That when Jesus called Peter to be a fisher of men, he saw the 13 year-old who watched his father slave away day in and day out.
That when Jesus saw Nathanael sitting alone under the tree, he saw the 13 year-old boy who was being crushed by feelings of intense loneliness.
That when Jesus saw Martha rushing about doing her many tasks, he saw a 13 year-old girl who thought she always had to please her parents.
And Jesus did not shame them. He did not put them on a pedestal to knock them down.
He loved them. He forgave them. He offered them a new way of living in which their inner 13 year-old could thrive.
Even after he was crucified and deserted by the disciples, Jesus came back, resurrected, and instead of chastising them, he said “Peace be with you; receive the Holy Spirit. I am sending you out to do my work.”
Jesus knew that they were all imperfect, but he loved and trusted them anyway.
I believe that deep down inside, we are all like Jeremiah. We all have within us a 13 year-old boy or 13 year-old girl who is scared, insecure, and unsure.
I believe that like Jeremiah, many of us are doing things in which we actually feel like we don’t know what we are doing, and so we are making it up along the way, hoping others don’t pick up on it.
And that’s where the grace of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the grace of Jesus Christ becomes so important.
Because it is that grace which says we don’t have to know it all, we don’t have to fool the world, we don’t have to have all the answers, and we won’t always do the right thing all the time.
But we can show grace to our leaders, we can show grace to one another, and we can show grace to ourselves by simply acknowledging that there is that 13 year old in each and every person, who wants to be liked, who wants to be loved, who wants to please, who doesn’t want to be alone.
And when we show that grace to one another, when we show that grace to ourselves, we create space for the Holy Spirit to swoop in.
We create space so we can be brave in the midst of fear, secure in the middle of rough waters, find the right words to brighten the darkness, and to feel connected even when we are the only one in the room.
Deep down we may all feel young, we may all feel we are just a boy, or just a girl, but through the gift of grace found in Jesus Christ, we are all so much, much more.
Amen and amen.