After worship today, I will need to leave quickly. I am part of the installation commission for the Rev. Joshua Dunham, being installed as the new pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Gresham – and it begins a 1pm. Covenant Presbyterian Church has called a new pastor, to lead them into a new era for their congregation. Today marks the beginning of the next leg of the journey for them. The call has happened; but the journey is just beginning.
For Pastors, our call story is something to which we return often. In the Presbyterian church, people who want to become pastors have committees and individuals who are constantly exploring our call to become a pastor. We are asked when we move from one congregation to another: what is your sense of call to this new role? Strangers who discover we are pastors are curious about how we knew we wanted to be pastors. Is there a particular story of the moment when we knew this was our calling? That is why I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement about his call (see below*). No burning bush or a blinding light on the road Damascus for him, but a constant unrelenting nudge.
How do I know I am called is both a hard and an easy question to answer. The easy part? We are all called. That is why we are here this morning. Because we have been called to a relationship with Jesus, and that means being part of a movement to change the world!
The hard part? My specific call, to pastoral ministry. I can point to life-changing moments. In fourth grade, I saw a church make a terrible decision which turned their back on a vulnerable community where my parents were serving in the name of Jesus. The pain of that scarred me and planted in me a vision to do things for the under-served and invisible of our world. In junior high, my family and I were miraculously protected in a devastating car accident in New Mexico. The accident, and the pause in time of a long road trip, left me sure that I had been spared for a reason. I was supposed to do something with my life, not just for me, but for others. God wanted me alive for some reason. …And, there are other stories.
But did Jesus ever ask me to “Come and see?” No. Actually, the experiences which shaped my sense of call would be common to all of you. We all have our life-changing moments. And, mine did not necessarily determine that I should be a pastor. There are so many ways to follow Jesus in this world! These deep wake-up calls simply left me assured that I should do something with my life which made a difference for other people and for God’s Kingdom.
Think about your life story for a moment. Were there moments which were turning points for you? …What got your attention? What did you do? …Have you followed the nudging? …Where has it led? …What have been the moments which have stayed with you powerfully enough to shape your life?
I wonder what Andrew would say looking back on this day when he left John to check out Jesus. Would this day be remembered as Robert Frost’s woodland ramble?
…I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. [Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” in Mountain Interval, 1916.]
Perhaps. And yet, on this particular day in the service of John the Baptist, I doubt Andrew understood the significance of checking out this man named Jesus.
The call to follow Jesus heard by Andrew and his unnamed friend was pretty underwhelming! The two were disciples of John the Baptist. One day John saw Jesus and said, “Look! The lamb of God!” Apparently this got Andrew and his friend’s attention and they veered off in Jesus’ direction. They just started walking behind Jesus, catching up to him. No, “Hey Jesus, wait up! John sent us.” But, pretty soon, Jesus had the sense that he was being followed and turned around, “What do you want?” Testing, demanding, welcoming, curious?
Andrew didn’t know what to say. He stammered the first thing that came to mind, “Where are you staying?” They seemed pretty nervous. (Odd that Andrew’s name means “brave” in Greek. He seems just the opposite here!)
But Jesus was not put off. His reply seems as off-hand as Andrew’s question. “Come and see.” Andrew’s question was nervous and uncertain. Jesus’ reply was gently invitational, perfectly suited to allay Andrew’s nerves. And what he heard and saw and experienced over the next hours was enough to set him on fire! He went and got his brother, and who knows how many others. He was convinced. He had found the One. The Holy One of God!
Do you ever wonder where your life is headed? If you are called to something more? What can I do to build more meaning into my life? I suppose that you do, or your would not be here today. There are some things we can learn from Andrew and his friend. The seed of the call started really small. Andrew had been following John the Baptist as his teacher. Kind of like going away to school would be these days. He was taking a semester away from fishing in order to learn more about faithfulness to God. And that teacher introduced him to the next teacher. Then he stumbled straight into being a teacher himself, convincing Peter to join the school of Jesus.
How many of us found that our first experience of leaving home – for school, military service, volunteer work, marriage, a career, led to the next seeds and the next, which would make us who we are. Would we identify these as part of our call?
One of the things we have learned over the years is that an experience of volunteer service – from a summer mission trip, to a church retreat, to a trip downtown to walk in a march for justice – is powerful and formative for young people (and older ones, too). Get people out of the places of their normal routine, and windows for the Spirit open up in our souls. Where was Jesus staying? Where didn’t matter. The come and see, did matter! Andrew was being taken off of his turf and given an opportunity to hear God’s voice through a new open window in his soul.
Two things not to be missed here: 1) Pay attention to the little things – a chance phrase, a surprise, a moment that returns to you in your evening review of the day or in your dreams. It may be part of the nudging. 2) Take time away from your routine. Open new windows to the Spirit.
What else can we learn about call from Andrew? Ask questions. Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, advises: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them…. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
We are so much about answers in our age of science. But Andrew stumbled on a path through a question. Live the questions first. Let the questions lead you. What seemed like a foolish, nervous question, “Where are you staying?” led Andrew on the journey of his life.
Live with Holy Curiosity. Pay attention. Look. What do you see? In or around the church? In your volunteer work? In your communities? On the way to work or school? Are there themes, needs, loves which call to you? Listen. Is there a holy voice calling you in these things you see, these questions you ask?
Jesus asked the great question to start it all off: What are you looking for? Here at the beginning of a new year, examining the question of what God is calling us to do, this is the question of the hour. What are you looking for?
When visitors join us, I ask a variation of this question: what led you to our church to explore your spiritual path? So many these days don’t even consider a church as a place to look for the Spirit. And yet people come, wondering.
Which begs the final question: what is our response? What do we offer? I read somewhere this week the reminder that it is not ourselves we offer the world. It is Christ we offer, Christ in us. Like Andrew, we humans want to know where Jesus is staying. Our world yearns for the presence of love. We have found that presence in this community – not so we can keep Jesus to ourselves but so we, too, can proclaim with Andrew: “We have found the Messiah.” Come join the movement of Jesus, who is even now growing the realm of God among us. It may seem small, but don’t count out the power of a seed – it will peek through the crack of a sidewalk, and split a rock as it grows. The kingdom is like that. And we have joined the kingdom-bringer. Let us be brave, and take the road less traveled by.
*“My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become….” – Martin Luther King Jr. [https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/my-call-ministry]