Hearing God’s Call

Crew of the Western Sea mending a purse seine net at McLoon’s Wharf, Rockland, Maine. Photo: Paul Molyneaux

Crew of the Western Sea mending a purse seine net at McLoon’s Wharf, Rockland, Maine. Photo: Paul Molyneaux

A sermon preached at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME, for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.  Lections: Jonah 3:1-5, 10Psalm 62: 6-141 Corinthians 7: 29-31, and Mark 1:14-20.  

I want to talk with you this morning about what it means and feels like to hear a call from God, an invitation by God to do something specific at a given season in your life. If there is one theme that runs throughout the Bible, it’s that of people from all walks of life are being called by God to a particular task. All the biblical characters worth knowing have as part of their story a call to do something brave. And at first, all feel unworthy and ill-suited to the task.

Think of Moses, how when he realized that God wanted him to return to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery.

  • “Who will believe me when I say I heard your voice speak to me in a burning bush?”
  • “Who am I to demand anything of Pharaoh
  • “Have you noticed I stutter and stammer?

But there was nothing he could say to change God’s mind. For better or worse, with all his weakness present and accounted for, Moses was God’s man.

Jeremiah was a boy when he heard his call—young people in the congregation take note. When he protested, God replied, “Don’t say that you’re only a child. Go to whom I send you and say what I tell you to say. Don’t be afraid, for I will be there with you.”

And lest we imagine that God calls only men, consider Esther, a Jewish woman who by a series of remarkable events found she had won the Persian king’s favor and wound up in his harem. There, an evil adviser tricked the king into decreeing that all the Hebrews were to be killed. Esther’s uncle Mordecai pleaded with Esther to intercede on her people’s behalf. Esther hesitated, fearing the king’s anger, but Mordecai persisted, and uttered words that we all might take to heart: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to be where you are now for just such a time as this.”

Then we have the four fishermen who leave everything to follow Jesus, immediately, as the story’s told, as if his words had some magnetic pull. Someone once described the call of the four fishermen as the ultimate miracle story: Jesus needed disciples and so he made disciples out of four men the way he once turned water into wine. But I suspect there is more to it than that.

To say that you and I are called by God to do particular things at a given moment of time,

  • be they acts of courage or kindness,
  • of intention or commitment

is to live by the audacious conviction that your life and my life matter, and they matter as one colleague puts it “on an infinite and eternal scale.” That may sound like a bold claim. And any number of things can conspire to convince us that life is simply to be endured or sped through at a dizzying speed.

  • Perhaps there’s nothing about your daily life that seems world changing or history-making to you.
  • Perhaps a loss or a humiliating setback has left you feeling that your world is irreparably broken.
  • Chronic illness or a stalled career could make you wonder whether you have anything truly significant to offer
  • Or, you may have reached the pinnacle of success, yet you find yourself wondering, “Is this all there is?” (Owensby, 2012)

Have you ever seen the boardgame, Worst Case Scenario: The Game of Surviving Life? The game’s premise is simple: the goal is to make it from the beginning of the board to the end. At the end, there are five possible destinations:

  • a Mega-Million Dollar Mansion
  • a Comfy Condo
  • an Old Folks Home
  • Skid Row
  • or, a Graveyard

The game has over one thousand questions, based on a book of the same title that was best-seller for six years that catalogued all the terrible things that can happen in life and miserable ways that you could die. You move on the board answering these questions; if you get one wrong, something catastrophic happens. The only goal of the game is to make it the mansion, or at least, the comfy condo.

What this game portrays is human life experienced as either

  • wealth or wounds
  • fraught with anxiety and the fear of survival

I saw this game several years ago and showed it to my youth group. As horrified as I was of this game and its view of life, I was even more horrified by their responses:

  • this isn’t a game; this is documentary
  • This is what the college application process feels like
  • This is what our parents’ lives look like.

Our children are growing up in a world that rewards unbelievable wealth to a very few and deals terrible wounds to the rest. Life, they are learning, is about survival, getting ahead, and making it to the top.

But “The great heresy of our time,” writes Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman, “is the idea that we can and indeed must live an uncalled life, one not referenced to any purpose beyond ourselves.” (Brueggeman, 1986, p. 19).

We can choose the Worse Game Scenario lens if we want to or are talked into it by others, but that’s not the life God wants for us. God wants for us to know that we matter,

  • that our lives can be of deep significance
  • that at any moment, no matter who or where we are, we might hear God’s call
  • Who knows? Perhaps we have come to be where we are right now for a particular task that is ours.

Over the next weeks and months, I will be listening closely to how you experience God calling you. And to what God is calling us to do as a parish. Fair warning: when we hear such a call, it will likely feel impossible at first. And our first response may be to dismiss it, out of disbelief or fear. God knows this about us. That’s why his messengers invariably repeat over and over: fear not.

But I believe that the Episcopal Church and our congregation at St. Peter’s are being prepared by God for a new call, one that will address the greatest hungers of our people and the needs of our time. We have so much to offer those caught in the Worse Case Scenarios of Life, and we have a path of deep meaning to share through Jesus.

Won’t you join me in listening for God’s new call for us?

Works Cited
Walter Brueggeman, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Jake Owensby, Connecting the Dots: A Hope-Inspired Life, Bloomington, IN, WestBowPress, 2012.

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