The theme of the lessons today is all about call. And when we think about a call, our reflex is that it’s something big with a dramatic story around it. But if you look at the call stories in scripture, they run a range of different ways and methods.
If you think about Moses, you get the ultimate kind of dramatic call. Moses is eighty years old; he’s been tending sheep for forty years out in the desert. His attention is drawn to a bush that’s on fire, but not consumed. He turns aside to take a look and hears a voice say, “Take off your shoes, you’re on holy ground”, and then God speaks to him through the burning bush: “I am the God of your fathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and I have heard the cry of my people in slavery. Go and tell Pharaoh to let my people go”. Moses argues; God prevails, and we’re off. Pretty darn dramatic. Hard to top that one; in fact, it isn’t topped.
Now if you go much later into the book of Samuel to the call of Samuel, you’ll remember that after he was weaned, his mother took him, according to a promise she had made to God, to the temple to be raised by Eli, the old priest, to be a holy man. When Samuel was a lad, sleeping in the sanctuary to keep an eye on the lamp, he hears a voice, “Samuel, Samuel”. The voice of God was not heard in the land of Israel much in those days. Thinking it was Eli, Samuel goes to him several times, until Eli explains to Samuel what is going on. So the next time Samuel hears the voice, he says, “I hear you, Lord, and I am your servant.” And that story is on launch.
In the book of Esther, God is never mentioned--the only book in the Bible where God is not named. Esther was the Queen; she was Jewish, and it was a secret—even the King did not know. One day her uncle Mordecai came to her. He had been her coach, and helped groom her and arrange for her to become Queen. He says to her, “The King has signed a decree. We know Haman put him up to it, but the King signed the decree that in the very near future, on a certain day, all the Jews are going to be rounded up and put to death. You have to go to the King and stop this”. And Queen Esther says, “I can’t do that. If you break the King’s rules, you face death. The last Queen crossed the King, and we know what happened to her.” And Mordecai says to her, “You think you are going to escape this? You will be found out, and you will be put to death.” And then I imagine Mordecai pausing a moment before he says, “Perhaps it was for just this moment that you were chosen to be the Queen.” This call never mentions God.
In the New Testament, in today’s Gospel, we have the calling of the first Apostles. John the Baptist says, “There is the Messiah.” And two of his followers peel off and start to follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, goes to get his brother Peter, and he joins them in a rather second-hand method of calling.
In the Acts of the Apostles, in another dramatic type of call, Paul, then known as Saul, is on his way to Damascus armed with arrest warrants to arrest followers of the Way, and take them back to Jerusalem for trial. We know what that means. This very same Saul had arranged the stoning death of St. Stephen, first Deacon and first Martyr. Saul can see the gates of Damascus, but before he arrives he is knocked down by a blinding flash of light. (By the way, he is not on a horse. The artist, Carvaggio, put that in his painting, and that image sticks with us.) After Saul is knocked down and blinded by this flash of light, a voice says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asks, “Who are you?” And the answer, “I’m Jesus, and you’re persecuting me. Go into Damascus to the house you were supposed to go to, and you’ll get further instructions.” Paul gets up, still blind, and makes it to the house, stays there, and is baptized. And as he gets up, something like scales fall off his eyes, and he can see. And he is off.
There are all kinds of different ways to be called. One of the fun things for me as Bishop, something that took me a couple of years to figure out, was to ask people as I was getting ready to confirm them, “How did you end up here?” I remember one Sunday morning at Christ’s Church, Martinsville, everyone was in the narthex getting lined up, and someone came to me and said, “Here are two of your confirmands”. They were 30-35 years old, husband and wife, and were in the choir. On the spur of the moment I asked the wife, “How did you end up here?” She said, “We’re newly minted doctors, and are working off our student loan bills by working in an under-served area.” Then she pointed to an older woman in the choir and explained that she was their real estate agent. As they were going around town looking at houses, the agent asked if they were looking for a church. The woman said, “Yes, but it’s got to have a good choir.” The agent said Christ’s Church had the best choir in Martinsville, Virginia.
Another time I was at a church in a more urban setting for a confirmation, and I had the adult confirmands say in a sentence or two why they were there. And this young woman said, “I was kind of lost; I was at loose ends, particularly about faith, and I walked by this church where there is a labyrinth in front of the building. So I walked the labyrinth, and then I went indoors and have been here ever since.”
Different stories – different ways to be called. And it’s true for people’s non-church stuff, too. It’s fun to ask a contractor, or a teacher, or a doctor, “How did you end up doing this?” The stories are sometimes very touching: “I was inspired by a teacher in the fourth grade”; or “I have always imagined myself doing this very thing”. Other people say the job is OK, but what I really love doing is this....
So I bid you this week to open your ears and open your hearts; think about yourself and the calls you’ve had. I invite you to share your story with someone, or ask other people to describe their story to you.
The last word is this: God loves you, each and every one, exactly as you are, without reservation, more than you can ask or begin to imagine.