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Readers’ Theatre presentation of four selections from Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work (a StoryCorps book), and
Acts 11:5-17, from The Common English Bible
I almost never talk about the titles of my sermons, in large part because I rarely have a sermon title when I’m putting the Sunday bulletin together on Wednesday. But today you do have a sermon title in your bulletin, and I’m guessing that it’s raising more than a few hackles.
“Is she trying to tell me that being faithful means I have to change?” I can imagine some of you wondering. Or: “I’m tired of changing. I am who I am, and that’s how it is,” you might be saying to yourself.
Please, don’t shut down just yet. Please, allow me to explain:
I am intentionally using ”change” here in the broadest possible sense of the word: as both verb and noun, in ways from individual to church to societal, as a synonym and catch-all for growth, transformation, healing, opening, widening, broadening, ever-listening to our ever-speaking God.
To say that we are “called to change” is to recognize that “call” is not a one-and-done deal but a lifelong process. To say that we are “called to change” is to acknowledge that individual calls may shift and evolve over the course of a lifetime—and to rejoice in the truth that God is not finished with us yet. It is to realize that our shared fundamental call is to the heart of God and the fullness of life. It is to accept that the arc of the moral universe is long, and that the extent to which, and the pace at which it bends toward justice depends in large part upon our willingness to open our minds, change our thinking, surrender our set ways, and, yes, bend our ways to more closely resemble the ways of Jesus.
To hear that we are called to change and feel our hackles rise can be an opportunity to notice where and how we are resistant and to find some comfort in the universality of human resistance to both call and change.
Think: Sarah, laughing in God’s face when told, in her very old age, that she would bear a son and be the ancestor to a multitude of nations, saying “ha, ha, ha, I’m too old for that.” Moses, complaining about his speech impediment when called to liberate his people from slavery to Pharaoh. Jeremiah, called to be a prophet of warning and bad news to his people, saying “but, but, but—I’m too young for that.”
Think of all the ways you may have resisted different calls on your life, whether they were calls to a vocation or calls to a different way of thinking and living, calls to forgive, calls to healing and wholeness, calls to love God more than anything else, including church and religion.
How often have we said, “not now, maybe later”? (In considering whether to go into full-time ordained ministry, that was always a big one for me.)
How often have we said, in some form or fashion, “but I can’t” and come up with a whole list of excuses—I mean, reasons? (I’ll cop to that one, too.)
How often, when we have stood at the crossroads of hope and fear, possibility and a sure thing, have we let our fears steer us onto, or keep us on, the safest path? (Guilty.)
How often have we, like the acolyte Samuel initially, gotten the signals crossed, thinking our call was for someone else or to something else?
How many times have we tried to ignore the inner voice, the one that sometimes beckons and sometimes nags, saying, “Hey, you! This is it! Go for it. Listen to your heart”?
How many closed doors have we mourned, forgetting to check the windows? How many green lights have we missed because we were too busy staring at a rejection letter?
When called to love someone different, to open doors and hearts and minds, how often have we said, as the apostle Peter did, “Absolutely not! That’s against my religion!”?
Or, how about this: How often do we resist a call to more honest reflection, deeper repentance, more equal relationship, and ever-more-faithful listening, saying, “But that is my religion!”—pointing to our longtime commitments to being Open and Affirming, Just Peace, anti-racism, and earth-friendly?
The point is not to beat ourselves up for resisting a call. The point is not to wallow in regret over opportunities missed and fulfillment lost. The call to change is not a threat or obligation; it is a promise.
To know that we are called to change is to trust in the promise that new opportunities will come and to count on the promise that Jesus’ challenges to ever-greater love and ever-more-radical faithfulness will never end. That the time is always right to do good. That there is no expiration date on God’s mercy. That every day is filled with choices, and that moment after moment we have to decide—and then decide again—to follow Jesus. That no matter how strongly we resist, or how many times we say no for how many different reasons, God’s love never quits. That love is the default position. That God will keep calling, using all things for our good and the good of the world she so loves.
We see it even in Peter’s vision, and in virtually every biblical call story: After Peter (or Sarah or Moses) says no, God persists. God repeats himself. God nags. God uses a thousand different ways to reach us, God keeps speaking through different people and situations—including situations we could have never imagined and things we didn’t want to happen—and the longings of our hearts. Sometimes gently and sometimes not, Spirit wears down our resistance until, if our hearts are open at all, we are ready to get with the Gospel Liberation and Healing Program. Until we open ourselves to transformation.
Until, like Peter, we see which way the Spirit is moving and finally decide we need to go along, saying, “Who am I to stand in God’s way?”
Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps and the author of the new book Callings, speaks of call as the work of our lives, “what [we’re] meant to do with our lives.” The stories in his book tell how various people came to do certain jobs, and they are wonderful stories. Our jobs can be important and life-giving.
But the most important work of our lives is not a job. The most important work of our lives is the lifelong process of becoming who God created us to be. The most important work of our lives is not only something we do but also something we let Spirit do in us and through us.
We can have the best job in the world and still miss our calling if we’re not working with Spirit to love and repair the world. We can have the most important job in the world and still miss our calling if we are not about the business of letting Spirit make us more loving and less rigid, more kind and less judgmental, more giving and less fearful, more open and less stubborn, more willing to listen and less needing to talk—softer, gentler, more concerned about the welfare of others, more committed to justice and peace, more at peace with ourselves, more in love with God and life and everything and everyone around us.
This is God’s call on our lives. This is God’s work in our lives: to love us into wholeness and union, to bring us out of death and into new life. This is the call to change and grow and heal. This is the Spirit work of transformation. This is God’s call to love and joy, to hope and peace. This is God’s welcome call to a feast more abundant than we can imagine.
Who are we to stand in God’s way?