Tag Archives: Vocation

After Go

A Sermon for 12 March 2017

A reading from Genesis 12:1-4.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

When I was a little girl, I loved Sunday night services with the missionaries.  That was back in the day – at least in the Midwest – when churches gathered for worship both on Sunday mornings and on Sunday nights.  It wasn’t like the early and the late service with two different time options to experience the same service of worship.  These were two entirely different services – with two entirely different sermons by the one same pastor.  I’m pretty sure our pastor also loved the Sundays he’d only have to prepare one sermon because a missionary financially supported by the church was on furlough in the States and available to do their thing among us.  The thing they would do on those Sunday nights varied.  Most told stories about the people they were meeting in places deep in the heart of Africa or somewhere over in like Korea.  We’d be shown pictures of people who looked very different than all the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Dutch descendants living in my little hometown.  Never before had I seen such luscious black hair.  And no matter how long my sister and I tried to tan on the beach, our skin could not get as dark as the beautiful faces we’d see from places like Nigeria.  The dress, the language, the very different climates:  I loved it all!

Some Sunday nights those missionaries would take the mic to tell their own personal stories.  We’d hear of calls from God to folks who left successful businesses to venture to the other side of the world.  A few would say they were born to parents committed too to such work; ministering somewhere exotic was all they ever knew.  Every now and again a missionary would get teary-eyed as they told how different their life had become.  Not anything like they’d ever imagined.  They would explain that since they went, they had learned how to communicate with people whose first, second, or fifth language was NOT English.  They now gathered for worship to the sound of a conch shell or the steady beat of a native drum.  After they sold most all of their possessions to make the trip to the other side of the earth with one simple suitcase and few if any luxuries that were common-place back home, they found out they really could be content with less.  They explained:  gratefully, their lives were nothing like they had been back home in the States after they answered, what they believed to be from God, the call to go!

I wonder how many of us would say the same thing.  That gratefully our lives have become like nothing we knew before – like nothing we ever could imagine – after we answered a call to go.  . . .  Don’t tell me you never have.  It doesn’t have to be to some far away international mission field.  We’ve got plenty of work to do for God right here in our own communities. . .  At some point, all of us have answered the call to go.  For starters, we woke up this morning, did our regular morning routines, and landed here in what may be a long-time favorite pew – or perhaps a spot in a sanctuary in which we’ve never set foot before.  . . .  At some point in our lives we agreed to go – go to worship.  Go to a new member’s class.  Go to a bible or other Christian study with a bunch of folks we barely knew.  Go to serve at a mission project sponsored by this congregation or another local church.  All throughout our lives we have answered the Christian call to go – to serve in the world in something more than just a job.  To understand our daily work as the vocation in which our best gifts and abilities can be used for the glory of God – at the school where you teach, or the hospital in which you serve, or the business in which you practice.  Each of us is called by God to go into relationships with people that end up dramatically changing our lives.  Into families that turn out in ways we never would imagine.  Into friendships that shape us for good.  . . .  At some point in our lives every last one of us recognizes some sort of nudge.  The Spirit of God within beacons through a notion we just can’t get out of our head.  A passion stirs that sets us on fire for the benefit of another.  An emotion nags until we sit down to sort out just what it is all about.  That’s the call of God – directed at every one of us.  The summons to go from what we have known into land that’s absolutely unlike anywhere we’ve been before – even if we only ever travel to our local communities, places of employment, or very own families.  We all are called to go.

It’s the story of our ancestor Abram.  In Genesis 12 we start out in Haran with Abram, Sarai, and Lot.  We forget that Abram’s family already had been on the move.  In chapter 11 of Genesis, we learn that Abram’s father Terah first took his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran where they settled before reaching their ultimate destination Canaan.  All we know is that Abram’s father died in Haran.  For whatever reason, he didn’t forge forward on their trek to Canaan.  And after his death, it was time.  The LORD says to Abram:  “go!”  Perhaps Abram knew the location where God wanted them to be.  But here in Genesis 12, God just says “go . . .  to the land that I will show you” (vs. 1).  So much like God – not to give us clear flying instructions before we’re to venture forth.  . . .  We feel that way a lot today, don’t we, as a church?  Gone are the canned ministry programs of the late 20th Century that were designed to get a church from point A to point B to point C.  The experts keep telling us there is no set way today to re-grow a church, other than get to know our neighbor’s needs, organize afresh for action with impact, and switch our mindsets from luring people in as fresh blood for our pews – switch our mindset from going to church to being Christ’s disciples in the world.  To getting out there.  Go-ing into the world to meet people where they are.  So that we can serve the need they have – not in hopes they eventually will come ‘round to be members here – but just to be with them in their need.  Because they have a need – we all do.  And we, as Christ’s body, now act as he would on earth.

Going is scary.  We’re not so sure what we’re going to find.  Abram never had been to Canaan.  He couldn’t anticipate the Canaanites he’d meet.  Other than through possible rumors, he knew nothing of their customs – what they valued and made a part of their daily lives.  He may or may not have been able to speak words that made sense to them.  He didn’t know what would happen for his family’s needs to be met.  He could not anticipate what would take place all along the way or once they finally arrived.  He’d been told he’d be made a blessing – but how that would take place he could not yet know, before he first set out.  . . .  When I consider the steady decline of Mainline church in America, sometimes I wonder if it’s God’s summons to go.  God’s invitation to follow to a whole other land.  Like an adventure to leave behind the country in which we’ve grown comfortable to journey to the land God will show.  It’s not that the land we’ve been dwelling in is bad or anything like that.  It’s just that sometimes we need new vistas.  To expand who we’ve always thought we were.  We need new ways for God to be able to get in that our trust might be deepened and our faith grown wider.  As we go, we’re changed.  We learn what’s of value to those we don’t yet know, which just might sharpen what really matters to us too.  As we go, we’re made into different ways of being in this world which honor our past and take seriously the present.  We’re blessed to be a blessing in ways unimagined if we decide we’d rather not go.

In the end, it’s our choice.  But talk to anyone who’s tried to dodge it – Moses, Jonah, a whole lot of second career preachers.  No matter how foreign the territory to which God tells us to go, we’d do well to let God use us to be a blessing.  Who knows:  maybe we’ll end up grateful.  Our lives changed in ways we never could imagine, before we answered God’s persistent call to go!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Who

A Sermon for 29 May 2016

            A reading from the gospel of Luke 7:1-10. Listen for God’s word to us.

“After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

            Have you heard the story of the little boy and a shop owner? Award winning author and blogger Chiao Kee Lee writes it and it goes like this: “A store owner was tacking a sign above his door that read “Puppies For Sale.” Signs like that have a way of attracting small children and sure enough, a little boy appeared by the store owner’s sign. “How much are you going to sell the puppies for?” he asked. The store owner replied, “Anywhere from $30-$50.” The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. “I have $2.37,” he said. “May I please look at them?” The store owner smiled and whistled, and out of the kennel came Lady, who ran down the aisle of the store followed by five teeny, tiny balls of fur. One puppy was lagging considerably behind. Immediately the little boy singled out the lagging, limping puppy and said, “What’s wrong with that little dog?” The store owner explained that the veterinarian had examined the little puppy and had discovered it didn’t have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame. The little boy became excited. “That is the little puppy that I want to buy,” he definitively stated. The store owner said, “No, you don’t want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I’ll just give him to you.’” The story goes that at this point, “The little boy got quite upset. He looked into the store owner’s eyes, pointing his finger, and said, “I don’t want you to give him to me. That dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs and I’ll pay full price. In fact, I’ll give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents a month until I have him paid for.” The store owner countered, “You really don’t want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and jump and play with you like the other puppies.” To this, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the store owner and softly replied, “Well, I don’t run so good myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands!”

The author goes on to write: “The part that really got my eyes filled up with tears was when the boy got upset and said, “That dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs.” It goes straight to the heart of what we, as human beings, have . . . worthiness. In the little boy’s eyes, just because the little puppy was without a hip socket doesn’t mean he is less worthy compared to the others. As human beings, we are the same,” writes the story’s author. “Just because we are not perfect doesn’t mean we are not worthy. We are created exactly the way we are supposed to be. We are perfect in our own imperfections. Worthiness is merely a perception defined only by ourselves. Like that puppy,” says the author, “I am worthy and so are you” (by Chiao Kee Lee on http://thedirty30sclub.com/blog/2011/10/the-boy-and-the-puppy/).

Why is worthiness something we’re so quick to define for ourselves? Let alone for others? Why is it that we human beings so quickly come to our conclusions about who is worthy and who is not? . . . Who deserves our time, our money, our affections, and who does not? A world in need surrounds us daily. Consider our neighbors whose families are coming apart at the seams from the stresses and strains of life in this post-modern world. Or what of our beloved family members, either near or far, who going through health crises? On this weekend especially we remember all who have given their lives to keep peace in this world. The sacrifices they and their families make for the benefit of all. And that’s just to name a few of the people of all ages, races, and creeds in this world who are in dire need each day. . . . Which of them are worthy of our time, attention, and money?

Jesus is up against the very same question every day of his life. Here he is, in this story, which the gospel of Luke alone records. Jesus just has been among his disciples and great crowds saying to them things like: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. . . . And love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . . If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you (Luke 6:20-21, 27, 32, 37-38a). These are the words of his infamous Sermon on the Plain as the gospel of Luke tells it – not on the Mount as is recorded in the gospel of Matthew. . . . No sooner does he finish speaking, than Jesus is going to have an opportunity to put into action the sentiment of his very own words.

According to Luke 7, Jesus enters Capernaum. In his day, this wealthy city was known as the crossroads of the nations. Capernaum was over on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee and one of the last stops in Israel on the way to Lebanon to the north and Syria to the east. Living in Capernaum when Jesus arrived that day is one we can only assume is a pretty well-to-do Roman centurion. It would seem this man is of rank for he speaks from the experience of commanding other men. “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes,” says the centurion. “And to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it” (Luke 7:8). Which, it would appear, is part of his problem. According to the text, the centurion has a highly valued slave who no longer can fulfill his orders. He’s sick – near death, in fact; and this has the centurion so upset, it’s as if he’s pulling in favors to save him. . . . Now, I realize the word alone leaves a bad taste in many of our mouths because we’re most familiar with 18th and 19th Century slavery in America. And while the institution of slavery always is denigrating of human rights, it’s presumed slavery of Jesus’ day was nothing like the chattel slavery of America’s past. While the man was the property of the centurion, commentators believe he was treated with dignity. Some even note affection or at least the admiration of the centurion for his slave. After all, for his slave, such a prominent Roman is willing to bother his friends, the Jewish leaders, and even this one called Jesus he’s heard about. Supposedly the centurion is a God-fearer. A non-Jewish believer who is seeking to live by the moral ethic of Judaism. He’s ensured a synagogue was built in Capernaum – so that the Jews of the village had a proper place to worship the LORD their God. The floor of that very synagogue has been found under the remains of the Second Century Capernaum synagogue. And it’s an amazing spot on which to stand as you realize Jesus lived many of the days of his ministry in Capernaum a stone’s throw away at Peter’s house and often worshipped and preached right there in that synagogue. The Jewish elders of Capernaum explain to Jesus the gratitude due to the centurion for his generous devotion to God and the community of Capernaum. “He is worthy of having you do this for him,” they say, “for the centurion loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us” (Luke 7:4-5).

Whether Jesus agrees with the conclusion that the prominent God-fearing centurion is worthy, or whether Jesus is blind to such worldly distinctions and knows he needs to go help a sick slave few others might deem worthy; Jesus shows that both the slave at the bottom of society and the non-Jewish centurion are worthy of his attention – not because of anything they’ve done. But because of who Jesus is. . . . He said it at the start of his ministry, according to the gospel of Luke – words reminiscent of his pregnant mother’s magnificent song: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” Jesus proclaimed as he was beginning to live out his baptismal call. “Because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). . . . In other words, those in the most dire need are worthy of his attention. Those in the most serious of situations are the very ones he was sent to serve. The Spirit of the LORD our God lives among us to seek out the lost. . . . Jesus spent his whole life giving his time for, paying attention to, and having affection for the very ones the rest of the world quickly would conclude are not worthy.

What about us? As his body alive here and now, who do we deem worthy of our attention? To which ones shall we give our time? Who shall we use our money to help? . . . Once we realize that all are worthy in the eyes of our God, the questions kinda become obsolete. . . . Any in dire need deserve the attention of the body of Christ, the church; for, as we see with the centurion and the slave, all are worthy of our Lord’s. . . . We might take a lesson from Jesus as to where to begin. As those advocating for the centurion’s slave crossed the path of Jesus; likewise, all in need who cross our paths are worthy of our attention. But if that way of living ready for constant response is too much for us, maybe we can take a lesson from that little boy. Remember the one wanting the lame puppy? He wanted that one exactly because of their common need. He knew he understood the little puppy’s struggle because he’d lived through it himself. That kind of solidarity with another in need can be an incredibly motivating force. The wounds we have lived through, give us understanding for the wounds with which another struggles right now. Listening to the experience of our lives and honestly responding out of the pain our hearts have felt, opens us to the kind of empathy another needs. In this way, we come to know our true vocation – the real reason we are here in the world. The way we, like Jesus, live out our baptismal calls as our particular gifts, abilities, and history are used for the glory of God. . . . In great thanksgiving, let us ever be ready to respond!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)