Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11
Jeremiah put himself into a box. Not literally, of course. Jeremiah put himself into the metaphorical box of being “too young.” He didn’t have the confidence in himself that God had in him; he was looking for excuses to not do the difficult work that he was being called to do. He looked for reasons why he wasn’t good enough, a category he might fit in that would say “a person like that can’t do God’s work.” Jeremiah told God “I’m too young and inexperienced” to do your work. He put himself in the “box,” the category of being young and he listened to the ideas and assumptions that others had about young people and he believed that he just wasn’t good enough.
There are many stereotypes that we all have – about ourselves and about others. We use prejudice and presumption to find an excuse to bow out of our own hard work or to convince ourselves that others aren’t good enough. Others have the same ideas about us.
Some in this room may have spent many years hearing that they weren’t good enough because they are “girls.” Men have argued for generations that women aren’t smart enough or strong enough; that women need to be the ones staying home with the children; that women don’t deserve the same pay or positions.
The same stereotypes exist for people with different skin colors, or who speak a different first language than English, or who have come to this country from somewhere else.
These prejudices are obviously flawed.
Other stereotypes exist as well. Other ideas we have about ourselves or others that may not be as obvious but that give us the excuse to hold back and not follow God’s call.
Do we hold the same assumptions about young people that Jeremiah does? Do we presume that the next generation is too involved in gaming and taking selfies to do anything important?
One stereotype that many of us hold – one that I’ll admit to holding – is that of the “Frat boy.” Young men in college who are part of a fraternity are often thought of as partying, womanizing, jocks whose sole existence at school seems to be getting drunk and having fun. They all wear their hat backwards and say things like “YOLO (you only live once)” and “’sup bro.”
I suppose there are some good stereotypes about frats as well. The young men in the organization seem to have a strong bond. They support one another, lifting up and encouraging each other. When one has doubts or is struggling, I imagine other frat brothers encouraging him with a pat on the back and a “you’ve got this, bro.”
The brothers of Phi Kappa Psi are new to the University of Alabama in Huntsville. They’ve only been around for about a year but they’ve already begun to work towards making a big change in their community. After recognizing that there were many people without homes in their city – including many veterans – Tyler Reed, president of the fraternity decided to try and do something about it. Tyler brought his idea to his friends and they gave him an encouraging “we’ve got this bro.”
Tyler’s idea has become an organization called Foundations for Tomorrow.
“Foundations for Tomorrow is the fraternity’s new initiative to build tiny mobile homes for homeless veterans. 30 homes can be built on just 1 acre of land. Fraternity members have identified several plots of land in the city that they can acquire for these tiny home communities. The Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy is even providing solar panels for the homes so energy is cost-free. Living, eating, working, gardening, and just sharing better quality lives together is all the fraternity wants for the homeless.”[i]
“Phi Kappa Psi’s mission is to create a tiny home community–completely facilitated by the veterans in a type of ‘homeowners association’ with a central community center for church, bathrooms, and the kitchen. All veterans will be able to help share the chore of making meals and will be in charge with the upkeep of their home. Veterans will also help with the actual manual labor that goes into the building of their home as well as picking out the paint colors. Reed wants to make sure their tiny homes are just that–homes.”[ii]
It takes $5000 to build on these homes. The brothers have been working to raise money through website donations, car washes and other fundraisers. It’s a lot of work to raise the money and get the materials and build the home but everyone involved is able to look at each other and say “you’ve got this.” They’re currently building the first home and hope to be able to give it to a veteran for Christmas.
They’ve been able to get past the stereotype of a frat brother and they’ve been able to see past the stereotype of the homeless persons they hope to serve.
“Reed said the project really hit home for him and the rest of his brothers one day earlier in the semester whenever they were out to eat at Sonic, and he saw one of his brothers sit down and share a meal with a homeless man. Before he knew it, the stranger had regaled the entire band of brothers with his story.
‘It was like he was one of our brothers,’ Reed said. ‘He was homeless, but he was a guy just like all of us.’”[iii]
The organization is looking for a way to give homeless veterans a helping hand, to give them the tools they need to get back on their fee, to encourage them and say to them “you can do this, you’ve got this.”
“This is not meant to be permanent, but it’s the first step to get them out of homelessness,” Reed said. “Hopefully with this house, that could be a burden off of them. They can have a shelter so … they’re not wet when it rains. … They’ll have showers so they can clean up and actually get a job.”[iv]
The brothers of Phi Kappa Psi heard a call and found the courage to answer it. They didn’t say: “we’re too young” or “we’re just a bunch of frat boys.” They got past the stereotypes and found the courage to try and make a difference.
When Jeremiah told God he was too young and inexperienced, God reminded Jeremiah that he wasn’t a stereotype, that he had the gifts needed to do what God was calling him to do. God replied to Jeremiah’s doubts by saying “you’ve got this.”
How do we stereotype ourselves? Too young? Too old? Too busy? Too doubtful? Too frightened? What excuses are holding us back from following God’s call?
When we see someone hurting and say “I don’t know what to do, I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing,” God says “you got this – just being with someone who is struggling will mean the world to them.”
When we look around and see that there are so many people struggling with not enough to eat or nowhere to live, God says “you’ve got this. Go and volunteer with Rosie’s Place or the food pantry, contact politicians and tell them that our priorities should be taking care of those who are struggling.”
When we aren’t sure if our faith is strong enough, if we aren’t sure what we believe, God says “you’ve got this. Keep asking questions, keep walking together with others, exploring your faith.”
Jeremiah put himself in a box. We often do the same thing. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Listen carefully, pray without ceasing, have courage. What is God calling you to do? And don’t be worried that you can’t do it. Through all the hard work and doubt and resistance, God says “you’ve got this.”