Later today, I will be preaching at St. Mary's, Putney -- an invitation extended by the Vicar, Giles Fraser, and approved by his bishop. It is an extraordinary act of hospitality, for which I am deeply grateful. This remarkable parish at the foot of the Putney Bridge has an amazing history, being the site of the historic Putney debates that led to the participation of the "common people" in the civic life of Britain.
I must admit to feeling the awesome weight of this day. Security people are busy making sure the venue will be safe for all, despite threats of some sort of protest. The media will be out in full force, and the sidewalks will be littered with satellite dish trucks. They're all looking for a "good" story, of course, because they're in the business of selling papers and TV shows. By "good," they mean that I will slip and say something I shouldn't, or at least say something negative about the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion that will make a juicy headline. Everyone else is telling me how much they are looking forward to what I have to say.
I, on the other hand, am feeling very small. How appropriate it is for the lesson to be from Jeremiah in which God calls Jeremiah to speak on His behalf, and Jeremiah, feeling very small and not up to the task, responds, "I'm only a boy!" I know how that feels. While everyone and everything is swirling all around me, I am trying to hear God's voice, to discern what it is I'm to say: NOT what I want to say, but what GOD wants me to say. To Jeremiah, and to me, God says (as God always says), "Be not afraid." I'm trying.
God also says "I will put my words in your mouth." I'm holding God to His promise about that one, because everything I think of saying sounds short of the mark, so inconsequential to the awesome task. I worry less about the people who will quarrel with whatever I say, than about those whose hopes and dreams and view of God (and God's church) seem to be at stake. They are beginning to believe that God loves them, after years of being told otherwise, and they are looking for a word of hope from me. I so want to deliver that word of hope -- that the God they've had the courage to believe really loves them, really does.
The anxiety for me comes between now and when I start to speak. I'm not worried about all the eyes which will be on me. I worry about doing God proud. I worry about getting it right. I worry about both expressing the joy I have come to know in my life at the hands of a gracious and loving God, in such a way that those who hear my words will believe that that same joy awaits them.
I know that when I begin to preach, God will take away my anxiety and bring me to that calm place from which I can dare to speak words on God's behalf, as best as I can discern them. In the meantime, I just feel like a boy.
Pray for me.