Monday, January 27, 2014

Epiphany 3A

Question for you:

How would you know God’s voice if you heard it? How would you describe that voice to your friends?

Would it be so clear that you could respond with great joy in knowing that you’re part of God’s saving plan for the world? How would explain that call to your family? 

Or is God’s voice a whisper barely heard? A gnawing in your stomach, a suspicion that God - somehow- wants to be part of your life, and is quietly working in the background as you go about your day-to-day business, trusting your gut. How would you put that call into words?

Or is it somewhere in between? You trust that God speaks through scripture and that’s good enough for you. For now. No explanation required.

For most of us, that’s not an easy question to answer, is it? Most stories of hearing God’s call are met with great big question marks, or even laughter. It takes some intestinal fortitude to talk about the voice of the divine. Not everyone will believe you. Few people will take you seriously. It may even cause you some trouble.

I should know. That’s been my experience.

When I first heard the call to pastoral ministry I was in the third year of my music degree. I didn’t hear any voice whispering in my ear, the heavens didn’t open up, there was no dove descending, nor did I hear a disembodied baritone address me, telling me that I was my life and my labour would be in the church. And it definitely wasn’t the voice of the community actively affirming my gifts for ministry.

It was just a strong sense that my life was going to be dramatically altered. After all, becoming a pastor was NEVER my plan. I was going to conquer the world of classical music and stand in front of the great orchestras of our time waving my arms. 

But this call was from a voice I couldn’t define, but seemed very real. I needed to explore it.

It certainly wasn’t those around me who told me I should be a pastor. In fact, many in my community were telling me to NOT go to seminary. It’s not that I wasn’t given affirmation of my call, but many of my friends, colleagues, and teachers were actively discouraging me from pastoral ministry.

The strongest response was from my conducting teacher. When I told my her that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in music and was going to seminary instead, I thought she was going to have an aneurism.

She stood up from her chair, pointed her finger at me and bellowed, “I FORBID it! I FORBID you to go to seminary!” In fact, after that encounter we stopped having any meaningful conversations. It was like she felt that she wasted her time with me.

The most “encouragement” I received was from the campus pastor, who when I initially told him I thought God was calling me to ministry said, “I guess if that’s what you want to do I suppose there’s no harm in that.”

I was still officially an Anglican at the time, although I was involved with the Lutheran Student Movement, so I went to see my bishop in Niagara to see what kinds of hoops I had to jump through to become an Anglican priest.

Back in the mid-nineties, there were, apparently, too many Anglican clergy. So I was told that I’d have to wait ten years after seminary to be ordained and receive a parish.

So, I called a number of other bishops in Canada looking for better news. But they all said the same thing. There were too many clergy. Sorry. Can’t help you.

I began to wonder if everyone was right. I began to wonder if the call I heard to ministry was something other than God-given. Did I really receive God’s call?  Or was I just talking to myself? Who was I trying to impress, anyway?

If so many people were responding so negatively to me becoming a pastor, and if so many doors were closing in my face, maybe God was saying that I shouldn’t be looking in the pastoral direction. Maybe that sense of call wasn’t as real as I had imagined it to be.

I had to figure this out because graduation was now only four months away. I had to discern my life’s path before I made a HUGE mistake.

So, I went back to the campus pastor, who was in a more helpful mood that day, and let him know what was happening. He suggested that I visit with Eastern Synod staff of the ELCIC. So I did.

I made an appointment with the assistant to the bishop, who, although didn’t welcome me with fanfare and confetti, certainly didn’t discourage me.

He outlined the process. Gave me some forms to fill out. And, most importantly, encouraged me to keep discerning whether ministry was what God wanted me to do.

And so, with that in mind, I entered seminary in the fall of 1995, after finishing my music degree, and let God do the rest.

I was surprised and saddened by what happened next. While I helped support myself up until then through trombone playing and composing music, after I started seminary, the phone stopped ringing. I stopped getting music jobs. My music life ended abruptly, and it ended with silence.

It was like an announcement that one life ended and another life began. It was like someone was saying that the old Kevin was gone, and a new Kevin was born.  I felt that I was severed from the person I was previously. It was a lonely affirmation that I was following God’s call.

I imagine that’s what the first disciples’ felt after they left their old lives behind and followed Jesus.

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Can you imagine Zebedee’s reaction to having two of his sons abandon him and the family business to chase after God’s call? With just two words from Jesus, the brothers James and John left their lives - and everything - behind.

I would think that their friends and family were not at all impressed with such a display of religious recklessness. Zebedee needed them to keep the business going. Those two pairs of hands were sorely needed. Jesus’ call had consequences, and left collateral damage. Following Jesus is not without repercussions.

What about you? Where have you heard God’s call on your life? Since you’re here I’m guessing that God has placed a claim on you. In the waters of baptism, Jesus has said “Follow me” and you followed.

But what does that call look like for you? In your life? How do you hear God’s voice leading and directing you? 

Is it through the words of scripture, announcing the mighty act of God and proclaiming salvation in Jesus? 

Is it the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear, guiding you along God’s path? 

Is it the community of believers helping you discern God’s vision for your life?

Or are you still waiting, not knowing what to look for, suspicious of disembodied voices and divine intervention?

However you hear it, God’s call on our lives can be a fearful thing. And it’s ongoing. It never stops. I don’t know if God wants me to be a pastor for the rest of my life. I don’t know what God wants for me tomorrow, let alone 20 years from now.

But what I do know, is that I have been recruited into God’s salvation movement, that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to me, that wherever God leads me, wherever Jesus calls me, I can rest in knowing that I am a child of God, shining God’s light into a world that can be devastatingly dark, bearing witness to the one who died so that we might have life.

And that’s why we celebrate today as Jase is welcomed into the family of God through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. In these waters, Jase hasn’t JUST been saved for eternal life, but also recruited into God’s saving movement in THIS life. Jase has been fished for in these waters, and has been caught in God’s net.

As he moves through his years, God promises to use Jase in God’s continuing unfolding of creation, and participating in God’s New Creation, using Jase’s gifts to build on God’s resurrection reconstruction of that which has been destroyed by human brokenness. 

That is his call to ministry, the ministry of the baptized. To minister in his own way, wherever he finds himself, with the gifts that God has given him, so that Jase can let his light shine before others, and glorify the God who named and claimed him as God’s own for ABUNDANT life in THIS world, and ETERNAL life in the world to come.

And I know the same is true for you. You have been fished for, and you have been caught in God’s net. God has a call on your life, that you are being used by God to bring love and healing to this world, where you are, and in what you do. God has given you unique gifts to serve and to build on the care for others that God is already doing. That is YOUR ministry. That is the ministry of God’s beloved community.

God has a hold on your life that will never be let go, with a hand that reaches from eternity, grabs you where you are standing, and pulls you into the life that God wants for you, so you can glorify God in all that you do. 

Because of Jesus, God’s light shines through you because that’s where God has decided to shine. In you, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. On US, God’s light has shined.

May this continue to be so among us. Amen!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home