After that wholly-depressing post last night (which I still stand by) I decided that I needed to put something not horrible up this afternoon. So, without further ado or introduction, the sermon.
Exodus 3:1-15, Jonah 1:1-16
When I started seminary, there was one question I was asked more than any other. I have been asked it officially, like as part of applications for school, for starting the ordination process, and during interviews, personally, like by about every person I met when started school, and asked or randomly by people who are just curious. Oh, and I have also been asked by my atheist friends who wonder why I, someone who they had always respected, decided to betray that respect and not just decide that God was a control device and followed their atheist paths. And yes, that last one is mostly true.
The question I was asked is less of a question and more of a request: tell me about your call.
And I have cute stories about it, which I will gladly share and have gladly shared when asked, but my sense of call can be defined very easily and much more entertainingly than my cutesy stories: 13 years of kicking and screaming, about a month where I thought I could do this, then 8 more years of kicking and screaming, and then finally deciding that God was going to get God’s way if I came willingly or kicking and screaming so I decided to come willingly. And you know, once I stopped fighting it, things seemed to fall into place and roadblocks seemed to disappear.
I’ve often wondered, if there has been a sense of call in my life literally from my inception, and things have gone better since I decided to go into ministry, what was pulling me from answering the call? What was it that made me think that my path was more correct than God’s path? Why was my answer to the call consistently “no”?
The answer is so very simple, and one that I know I’ve preached about regularly this summer. It’s what stops good people from doing a lot of things:
I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.
I can remember saying “My faith isn’t strong enough” when discussing feeling this call. Over and over again. “I’m not worthy.” And as far as excuses, that’s a pretty good one. Most people look to their pastor or minister as someone who is an achiever of “Christian Perfection” and I am definitely not capable of that. And not to ruin any surprises, but Mike and I aren’t achievers of that “Christian Perfection.”
I’ve found this feeling of being unworthy is fairly common among seminary students. A fellow student shared a story from when he was discussing seminary with his pastor. When he expressed that he felt unworthy, his pastor had a beautiful answer to his concern: You are unworthy, get over it.
It’s easy for me to stand up here and talk about the fall and sin and depravity and unworthiness, being true to my Pauline beliefs and following the Reform theology, but at the end of the day there is a call we all have from God to do the work of God’s creation no matter our own unrighteousness.
And the answer to that call is supposed to be a resounding yes.
Supposed to be. Like you’re supposed to eat healthy and save money and exercise regularly. Life is better and easier if you do these things. Reality is, though, that we don’t always do those things, or always answer God’s call with that loud and resounding “YES!” When that happens, God tends to not make our lives easier.
As I was writing this, I couldn’t help but think of Jonah. His is really a beautiful story of God getting God’s way. Jonah’s motives for not going to Ninevah may be different from my motives for not pursuing ministry but his story illustrates so very well how effective fighting God’s call isn’t.
The first 16 verses are about all of the illustration we need. God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and, like all good followers of God, he goes the opposite direction and tries to escape. When he does that, God gets a little frustrated and a storm brews. The sailors are looking for a reason why and when they discover that Jonah is using their boat to run from God, they throw him overboard.
God was displeased and, through a little bit of unpleasantness, got Jonah to answer the call with a yes. And mind you, Jonah had to be a pretty decent preacher. He goes into town, covers about a third of the ground he is supposed to, gets frustrated, quits, and still they are convinced that they were sinning against God. Because of his message, they completely repent of their sins of their own volition, so completely in fact that God spares them.
Jonah is good. And yet, with how good he is, how much skill he has, he still ran from God’s call.
There is a lesson in that by itself; if God has blessed you with a skill, you should be using that skill for God’s will. But not everyone who God calls is given that supreme skill set to be the best option from a practical standpoint. Sometimes we are called to do things we are uncomfortable doing. We are sometimes called to do things we are untrained and unskilled in and called to trust that God knows what God’s doing.
I think most of us are more like Moses and less like Jonah. When God calls, we question not that God wants us to do work but rather question if God is really asking the right person. “I know you are calling me to do this, Lord, but really? Me?” The question Moses asks of God is a question I’ve asked as well: Who am I that I should go?
And when it comes to reasons why he shouldn’t be sent, Moses comes up with some good ones. “Oh my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” That is a perfectly valid reason to think that he might not be the best choice for this particular job. Though he is familiar with the Pharaoh, having come from the royal family through adoption, he still figures he should at least be slightly capable to speaking in public, which he is claiming he isn’t.
God’s response is so telling for each of us: “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” There is a lesson here, too. Much like we shouldn’t rely on our own abilities and “greatness” to live our lives, we should also not rely on our own shortcomings to prevent us from living out God’s call. A friend of mine posted a very simple thought on the issue on Facebook one day: if God will see you to it, God will see you through it. If God calls you to something, God will give you the ability to do it.
Unfortunately, though, it isn’t only our practical shortcomings and lack of skills that drive us to not do what God calls us to do; it’s also our fear of our own unrighteousness. I can almost imagine what was going through Moses’s mind when he said “Who am I to go?”: I am a no-body in this land and a murder in my home land; I am not worthy; find someone who is more holy and more respected. And in my heart, I don’t think this question is an excuse; I really read this as he doesn’t believe he is worthy. He doesn’t think he is good enough.
You aren’t worthy; get over it.
God calls sinners. All sinners. The bible is full of sinners; Ruth, Elijah, Paul, Ester, John, David, Naomi, Sarah, Abel, Mary, and so many more names that we rise up as the ancestors of our church and as saints and every last one was a sinner. Frankly, when we have people like Moses and Noah as the greatest of their times, we should know that God calls sinners. A drunk was the only righteous man left on earth and a murder was called to save the entire Jewish people. These aren’t exactly the sort of people we would even interact with now and they are the saints of our faith. God can use anyone and does use anyone.
And when you look at these sinners that I list, they have done some amazing things. Elijah was so great that God came down and just took him to heaven, bypassing death completely. Mary gave birth to Jesus. David was arguably the greatest king of Israel. Each was great despite their fallenness.
We are all unworthy and yet, we are all as worthy of God’s call as our saints. We are all as worthy of doing God’s work. We are all as worthy as the next pastor or preacher to grace our paths. We are all God’s children and all have a call to answer.
So what is the answer to the call? Yes. Yes, Lord, I will do this task You have set before me, even though I’m fallen and may not believe I am capable. I know that if You call me and set a task before me, You will see me through it. And I know You love me. Period. Full stop. Amen.