Sermon for January 19, 2020: The Lord called me (reworked from January 19, 2014) (The Rev. Dr. Debor
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
“Almighty God, grant that your people may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known to the ends of the earth.” Amen.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church. My family was always very active in my home parish – both of my parents served on the Vestry, my dad was a Lay Eucharistic Minister, and I often spent my Saturday mornings doing Altar Guild with my mom. My older sister was one of the first female acolytes in the Episcopal Church, and I was the first female Senior Sacristan at my college, where I once had the privilege of serving alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu. As an adult, I have served in liturgical and church government positions in five different dioceses. But I never wanted to believe that I was called to ordained ministry. My goal was to become one of those fabulous and revered elderly church ladies who gets an amazing turnout at her funeral. Unfortunately, that’s not what God wanted.
When I was 25 and working in broadcasting, I began to feel very uncomfortable – as if I was not right in my skin. I went to see my parish priest and he suggested that I might have a call to ordained ministry and perhaps I should start doing some discernment about that. Instead, I went to Social Work school and became a social worker. Two years later, while working with chronically mentally ill homeless people, I started to get that “itchy” feeling again. This time I knew what God wanted, which I promptly ignored in favor becoming a psychologist. I figured that if I could keep upping the ante on “helping people”, I could get out of this whole “priest thing.” Ten years later, the inability to live in my skin came back – and this time it was so unbearable, that I cried out to God in frustration, “I give Lord, I give!” Almost immediately, the discomfort in body, the fear in my heart, and the questioning in my mind, stopped. Because, although I knew I was not worthy on my own merits, I realized that God had chosen me for her own reasons, and would be my strength.
My battles with my calling are not unique. It is so common for people who feel called to ordained ministry to avoid that call for as long as possible that they have a slang term for it – they call it “doing a Jonah.” Stories about people who run away from God’s call seem familiar to us because although we each have a calling, most of us have no idea what it is, much less how to go about fulfilling it.
St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle that the grace of God has been given to us in Christ Jesus…so that [we] are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” In other words, we have everything we need to fulfill God’s call for each for us. The question is, how do we know what our calling is? We have to slow down and listen. We cannot hear God’s word when we are constantly “multitasking” in order to fulfill the obligations of our earthly lives. Today’s psalm tells us that we must wait “patiently” for the Lord. I know this is hard – but take it from someone who refused to listen to God for 25 years; God will get you in the end.
We must, says St. Paul, wait for Christ to be revealed to us. That means we have to open up the lines of communication between us and God. We have to pray – every day in every way. George MacLeod writes that “we are in touch with God every moment that we live…for the simple reason that God is life: not religious life, nor Church life, but the whole [of] life.” Every single thing we do shows God who we are and how we are called to be God’s hands in the world.
Today’s gospel says that John the Baptist was already baptizing before he even knew who Jesus was. “I myself did not know him,” he says, “but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” Andrew and Simon did not know Jesus either, but when they overheard John the Baptist, they followed Jesus. They didn’t know who he was or where he might lead them, but they went – because Jesus called them. I think that sometimes, like Andrew and Simon, we have to start following before we know exactly where we are going. As Bishop Yvette Flunder says, “Sometimes God will give you the what, but not the who, when, where and how.” That’s frightening – but not knowing the whole plan doesn’t mean we can ignore the parts we do know.
The good news is that we don’t have to search alone. Christians live in community for many reasons, including helping one another work through our doubts and fears – and remind us of the calling that we all share. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ…The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members,,” because in order to fulfill God’s purpose for his creation, all of us are needed.
Tomorrow we will celebrate the life of a person who answered and carried out his call from God at a terrible cost. Six years before he was assassinated, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a sermon called, “Love in Action.” In it he said, “One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves…How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds?…This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.” As Mary Earle puts it, “We need to be living the Great Commandment, not just talking about it.”
This seems overwhelming. It seems like enough of a risk simply to cry out against the immoralities of this world. After all, we are small, the system is large, and many of us are already struggling to manage our own lives. It doesn’t feel fair that we should be asked to do more. But I’m going to share with you something that I am just beginning to understand: answering God’s call for you will not add to your burdens; answering God’s call will lift them. That’s because using your gifts to serve others gives us the chance to find out and be who we really are – and to get to know God better as well.
Our responsibility as part of God’s body the church is to figure out what it means for each of us to live our own lives as faithful Christians. C.S. Lewis said, “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord.’” Your calling may not be that of an ordained minister. Your calling may not be as a civil rights worker. But you have a calling – a calling to do the work of God – and any work that you do to fulfill the will of God – any work that you do to love your neighbor as yourself – any work that you do that shines with the radiance of Christ’s glory – that is your calling. Wait patiently for the Lord, knowing in your heart that God is always provides us with the gifts we need to fulfill our unique ministries. We are God’s chosen. We have been called and anointed by God. We have been given as a light to the nations that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. We are blessed. AMEN