No, you can’t!
Yes, I can!
February 03, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Luke 4:21-30 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Have you ever been irritated when people tell you what can’t do? Or when they decide that you aren’t good enough to accomplish your goals? You know what I mean. You’ve heard phrases like, “You aren’t smart enough to do that.” Or, “You should set your sights a little lower.” Or, “There’s no way that you can do all those things at the same time.” Often, people are genuinely trying to helpful when they say discouraging things like these because they don’t want us to be disappointed if we fail. But if we never try, then we’ve already failed, haven’t we? Even worse, some of these messages come from inside of our own heads.
There’s an old saying that has often been used in the military as well as in business, “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.” -unknown
We don’t like being told that our dreams, our goals, or our aspirations are impossible. But hearing these negative messages, whether they come from others or from inside of ourselves, can lead us in in one of two directions. Either they motivate us to prove them wrong, or they cause us to give up before we even start.
On May 16th, 1946 the musical, Annie Get Your Gun, premiered on Broadway starring Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton. In the play, there is a musical exchange between Annie Oakley and her romantic interest, sharpshooter, Frank Butler which results in the song, Anything You Can Do, by Irving Berlin.
Anything You Can Do – Irving Berlin
Anything you can do I can do better
I can do anything better than you
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t
Yes, I can! Yes, I can! Yes, I can!
So, what does any of this have to do with the Bible or with our church?
Simply put, when it comes to living a life the way that Jesus wants us to live it, we are constantly hearing, “No, you can’t” from others and from inside our own heads. But that’s not the way it has to be. We begin this morning listening to the voice of the prophet Jeremiah as he describes the conversation he had with God when God first called him to be his prophet. (Jeremiah 1:4-10)
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
before you were born, I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
God begins by saying, before your parents even met one another, I knew you. Before I made you, created and crafted you, I knew everything about you. When you were just a sperm and an egg, I knew who you were and what you would become. And even then, I called you to be mine and to be my voice to the people, and to the nations, around you. And Jeremiah, being somewhere between 12 and 20 years old, protests that he is too young and doesn’t have the skills to speak in public. But God isn’t listening to any of that. God commands Jeremiah to do it anyway and tells him, “Yes you can.” Don’t be afraid of church people, or kings, or the strangers that he would encounter on his mission. And we can hear that same voice as it echoes to us, “Yes, you can.” Don’t be afraid that you won’t have the right words, or that you are too young. Don’t be afraid of the mission field, or your coworkers, or your classmates.
God knew you before you were born and had already called you to follow him, work for him, and speak for him. Maybe not to kings and nations, but to friends, neighbors, and others that might not ever meet Jesus any other way.
And if you’re still worried that people might not like your message, remember that even Jesus spoke to some tough crowds. In Luke 4:21-30, we hear the story of when Jesus returns to preach in his own home town and in what was probably the synagogue that he grew up in.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
As Jesus reads scripture in the synagogue in his home town, the people are amazed, not because of the power that flows behind the words, but simply because they knew his father, and had watched him grow up. Rather than being impressed, they are incredulous. They wonder how this guy can speak so well when he, and his father, were just simple, uneducated, poor, working people. And from that, Jesus anticipates their next question. Jesus knows that their next question will be to demand that he perform a miracle for them just as he had in other towns. The thought that dwells on their minds is, “We don’t believe that a poor laborer can ever become anyone of importance. If this guy is all that great, prove it.” And even before they can ask the question out loud, Jesus simply says, “No.” And, as if to add insult to injury, Jesus reminds them about prophets of the ancient world who performed miracles for foreigners, but not for anyone in Israel.
While the people doubt Jesus and seem to say, “No, you can’t,” Jesus, while clearly refusing to perform a miracle in front of them, Jesus is just as clearly saying, “Yes, I can.”
And the people Jesus grew up with tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.
This story should teach us several things. First, it should remind us that the message of Jesus Christ is a radical message. Not everyone wants to hear it, and having heard it, not everyone is going to like it. The people of our churches, and the people of our culture, often think of Jesus as this mellow, likeable, easy-going teacher, but the truth is that his message was so radical that even the people he grew up with tried to kill him. Second, Luke is clear that we don’t choose when or where God does his work. It isn’t up to us to demand that God perform miracles when we want them. God is God and we are not. God chooses whom he will heal, and whom he will not. God chooses, who walks in the door of our churches, and God chooses which of our friends might have a receptive heart to accept the message that we share with them. It isn’t, and never has been, up to us. Third, we need to remember that if the message of Jesus was rejected even when it was preached by Jesus, then we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who hear us share that message reject it as well. Remember that while the farmer is expected to plant seeds, he doesn’t get to choose which seeds grow.
And after all these lessons, Paul has a few things to say to us also, this time not so much about doing the work of the church, but what kind of people we should be while we do it. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes these words (1 Corinthians 13:1-13):
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I am convinced that in writing these words, Paul is addressing the same sort of people in the church that we still see regularly today, and he is plainly telling them to knock it off. You know who I’m talking about because you’ve surely met some, or at least seen them on television. These are the people who somehow manage to make the message of Jesus into something that sounds hateful, hurtful, unloving, restrictive, rule-based, exclusive, and everything that Jesus preached and fought against. And in answer to these people, Paul preaches a message of love. No matter what great gifts God may have given to us, they are useless and pointless if we don’t make love a higher priority. Love must be one of our highest priorities because, at the end of the day, Paul says, only three things are truly enduring, faith, hope, and love.
We live in a world that seems determined to shout us down and tell us that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t smart enough, or educated enough, or pretty enough, or handsome enough, or rich enough, or powerful enough, or famous enough, or some other thing. We’ve heard those negative messages so many times that we’ve internalized them, and we hear their echoes coming from inside of our own heads and our shattered self-confidence. And together they are shouting “No, you can’t.”
But, if we listen, we can hear the voice of God quietly proclaiming to a young Jeremiah, to Jesus, to Paul, and to his followers everywhere, “Yes, you can.”
In scripture, over and over again, God promises that he will equip us for the mission that he has given to us. When God called Jeremiah to speak, he promised that he would have the words to speak. God said, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” But that doesn’t mean that everyone who hears our message is going to like it or is going to respond the way we hope that they will. After all, the people that Jesus grew up with tried to throw him off a cliff. But regardless of their reaction, we are commanded to share our message with them anyway. As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called and commanded, to go out into our world and share the good news of the gospel message. We are called to plant seeds. We have no idea which seeds will grow, but like every farmer, we must trust that God will use some of those seeds to bring about a great harvest of souls.
Know that God has sent us into our community and into the world to share the message of God’s rescue.
There’s no need to preach at people. Simply plant seeds of faith, hope and love.
And as you hear the voices in our culture shouting, “No, you can’t,” have courage in knowing that God will give you everything that you need to do what he has sent you to do.
And sing your answer back to the world, “Yes, I can. Yes, I can. Yes, I can.”
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