Is Respect a Right or a Benefit?

Take Off Your Hat by Aaron Tait.jpg

Lectionary Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10 (NRSV)

Jeremiah is called at a very young age. He is worried that he will not be taken seriously.

I know how he feels.

When I started out as a pastor, I grew a beard before taking my first appointment. After being there for a while, I shaved it off. One of our parishioners smiled at me and exclaimed, “Oh, you look just like a little boy!”

I heard lots of comments from people I met outside of our church along the lines of “You’re too young to be a pastor.”

It may be that they believed that old pastors were just hatched and came out of the egg with wrinkles, grey hair and life experience!

It has been my experience in life (and my guess is that this is your experience too) that some people have automatically afforded me respect and others have waited until I proved myself.

There are many in the world with the attitude, “You’ve got to earn my respect.”

This is likely the world in which Jeremiah lived and the reason for his trepidation. Who is going to listen to me?

I understand the view of earning respect and have done things to prove myself in the eyes of others so that my voice will be heard. After all, a preacher that no one pays attention to is doing a lot of preparation for nothing!

But as I think about this idea of earned respect, it makes me realize that we may often be telling the world that I will disrespect you until you deserve otherwise.

This is not a healthy way for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

As I mentioned that I have experienced those that have given respect and those from whom I had to earn it, I can tell you with which I prefer to deal!

Respect for others should be a fundamental thing that is our starting place. What if we adopted the attitude that people are to be respected until they prove otherwise? And even then, it may be that we disrespect behavior rather than people.

One argument for earned respect is that it sharpens us. Would I have been as effective if I didn’t have to prove myself? This may be important for positions of authority that don’t have prior certifications. Leadership is often this way in that we want to follow someone who is going to be effective.

So while I may reserve judgment on a leader based on his or her ability and track record, I will still fundamentally respect them as a person. This means allowing them a voice until they do or say something that would be harmful to those they encounter. Fortunately, I live in a country that is set up to allow the people being governed to have a voice through our representative democracy. This country fundamentally respects its citizens through the Bill of Rights.

This philosophy was not shaped in a vacuum and comes out of the Christian idea that all people are deserving of respect and love simply because they exist. As I mentioned, our behavior is not always to be commended but we continue to respect human beings. This is why we treat prisoners humanely.

So as we explore this passage from Jeremiah, we’ll discover that the message God gives him to relate is not one that will be popular or well-received. No wonder he was nervous! Are you sure you want me to do this God? I hope you’ll join us for worship as we reflect upon Jeremiah’s call story together!

In Christ,

Sam

Follow Sam’s Blog at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by Aaron Tait via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.