I am honored to be with you this morning, as we begin our journey together I ask for your participation. Will you please look to a neighbor and say the following with conviction… “I am somebody…” and look to someone you may not yet know and say “YOU are somebody… “ and now look around the room and catch as many eyes as you can… and say “WE are SOME body… gathered, called and sent together to be love and bring healing to our communities, city and God’s world.”
In this time of transition I can think of no better place to begin than by exploring one of life’s big questions and this urgent question that many faith communities are struggling to answer… Who are we? What is my purpose as an individual and our purpose in and as community? How am I and are we called to be and what am I and are we called to do in response to the preponderance of fear, poverty, prejudice, and violence?
Now here is the thing, I believe the greatest challenge we face, as individuals, as a congregation, as people and humanity is to overcome unfounded, unnatural, irrelevant and irrational fear.
It is fear that fragments our hearts, minds and lives.
It is fear that obscures the beauty and goodness of God’s diverse creation.
It is fear of being rejected, wrong, bad, unworthy, unsuccessful, vulnerable, powerless, disregarded, discounted, discarded, disgraced, and/or out of control that makes it really difficult to listen for God’s still small voice, discern Spirit’s invitation and follow Jesus Christ’s call.
Have you ever been alone or lying in bed at night and out of the blue you hear or think your hear or might possibly have heard someone calling to you? For most of us, the first thoughts and feelings we might have are less wonder and much more like fear and concern for our own safety. Or wonder, if it was the wind and pull the covers a little tighter and try to fall back to sleep.
I grew up in a small town just 45 minutes south of here. When I was around 4, 5, or maybe 6 years old we watched a program on the Wonderful World of Walt Disney just before we went to bed. I believe it called “The Borrowers”, a story about little people living around and among us. With my over-excited imagination, as I went to sleep all kinds of thoughts turned to fear about the little people who might now be watching me… I tossed, I turned and at some point took refuge among the seldom used clothing and thick winter jackets my mom stored in the hall closet. The thick layers gave me comfort, my fears abated and a fell asleep once more.
The next thing I remember was hearing voices calling my name. At some point in the night, my mother had checked on us and to her surprise had found me missing. She and my father were searching high and low and calling my name. I must have made some noise as I struggled to dig deeper into the closet to hide away from the “little people.” In an instant, light broke through the layers of old clothes and winter blankets. And my father lifted me up and out of my closet refuge, presented me to my mom while shouting exuberantly, “Here he is! I found him!”
More than a funny story, for me as I look back, I feel as though this experience is a metaphor for much of my life; my journey with the diverse communities that I have accompanied in this ministry of transformation; and the exciting, scary, and discomforting implication of listening for and truly following where God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit leads! Over and over again God reaches into the closets and hiding places, illuminates our path and calls us out of the safe and comfortable places and spaces where we settle in, doze off, and hide away.
Samuel did not intend or even want to be the Prophet God called him to be. According to our Hebrew lesson this morning he was perfectly happy to remain asleep, to seek to make his mentor Eli happy. Initially it is hard for him to believe that God might just be calling someone like he or you or me. “Here I am” he says not to God, but to Eli. And even when he accepts God’s call, it is difficult for him to then follow through and speak God’s truth to a leader about the abuse of his and his son’s power.
And imagine Nathanael’s challenge and internal conflict when Philip calls to him and shares the news, "Here he is! We have found the one for whom we’ve been searching!" So colored by cares and fears of this world, he greets this otherwise good news not with joy and wonder, but with cynicism, sarcasm and doubt. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Even as Jesus calls on him, he finds it difficult to get out from under the comfortable assumptions, popular rhetoric and inherited prejudices for Jesus is not who or what or where or like anyTHING he was expecting.
LISTEN - Our calling is not what we think. It is not based on a particular status. It is not limited to certain people, restricted to the power, politics or prejudices of our day. God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit meets us where we are on the journey. Gets beneath the layers of old assumptions and fears in which we are hiding away. Interrupts and challenges our expectations and long held assumptions. And lifts us up and out of the comfortable places in love and through love that we might be and bring love into this hurting world.
Did you know that MLK did not plan or want to become the iconic Civil Rights leader that he became. King trained and prepared to be the pastor of a local congregation and felt called to preach and teach - period. He was young, 25 years old or so when the bus boycott began in Montgomery he was thrust into leadership because others were afraid and ill prepared to lead in ways that modeled and mirrored the kind of community we say we are called to be.
At times on my own journey, I have lived in fear, tried to control perceptions, been preoccupied with busyness, and felt lost, alone, and marginalized by religion. I tried to follow blindly what others told me I was supposed to do and believe. I have anxiously exhausted myself with busy distractions because I was unable to trust and unwilling to believe that God’s love and Christ’s call could include or embrace someone like me.
The good news is this: our calling is not found in roles, titles, busy activities, position, power or privilege. It is not found in the things that give us comfort, safety or the trappings of success. Our calling emerges and bubbles up from our challenges, questions, hurts and hopes. It finds us where we are, finds us on our journey.
In 1967 MLK published a timely book whose content and title asked a question that was relevant and urgent in his day and even more so for us today “Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?” From out of the pain, prejudice, violence and struggle he experienced; King prophetically professed that our calling is bigger and greater than achieving rights, political power or economic security; for it is to be and become a “Beloved Community.” A society in which racism, poverty and violence have no place, the goal of conflict is reconciliation and we embody love, trust, peace and justice as we work together to heal our communities, cities and world.
Because we are all created in the image of the living God, beautifully and wonderfully made; we are not limited or restricted to the fear filled ways of this world. We are not alone on this journey. AND we have everything that we need listen, wonder and respond to “What God might be calling us to be and do today because of who we are?” In this question and on this journey I have seen lives transformed, Spirit revived and communities resurrected!
In the coming weeks and months I will want to get to know your stories, listen to your challenges, questions, hurts and hopes. There will be surveys and conversations, meetings and various activities as we wonder and wander together. For today, as we begin this journey and open to God’s call once more, I offer this prayer. It is a prayer shared at my ordination and one which has been offered at the beginning of each my time accompanying each congregation of I have served in this ongoing, ever unfolding ministry of transformation to which we are called:
Disturbing God, You identify with the weak and powerless, You surprise us as we listen deeply and seek to follow Your Spirit’s lead. Help us find true hope in the now of our action rather than distant longings. Renew our passion, Revive our Spirit of wonder, Refresh our call to be love and bring healing to your fragmented world. May God bless us and guide us on this journey.1
1. Based on a prayer by Joy Tetley as Printed in Prayers Encircling the World.