Month: September 2014

What Is That in Your Hand?

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At Trinity UMC, this is our third week looking at “Questions God Asks Us” from the Trevor Hudson book of that same name. As we examine the call of Moses, it challenges all of us to consider how God uses our abilities, our experiences and our resources to accomplish his saving work in the world.

In looking at Moses’ call, it really got me thinking about how we talk about “call” in the church. I had a supervisor years ago who liked to poke fun at us Christians and all of our talk about “call.” He’d say things like, “So, how’s that work? Does some heavenly phone ring and you pick it up and the voice says, ‘Tracey, this is God; go to seminary.’ What happens if you intercept someone else’s call?” (True confession: There have been a couple of times over my 20+ years that I did wonder if I’d intercepted someone else’s call!)

When we read stories like Moses and the burning bush, it can start to make us feel like a call from God has to be something chalk full of drama, something of sensational proportions. But, the longer I’m a pastor, the more I see that that our focus on the drama and the “instantaneous transformations” has probably contributed to a lot of people overlooking a call from God that came in a way that was gentle and subtle. God can do gentle and subtle. I’ve seen it done and it can, ironically, be pretty powerful.

I would say that my greatest joy in ministry comes from helping other people discern and answer their call, although I don’t think anyone has ever gone on to seminary. But, their respective calls from God have definitely changed people’s lives.

I’ve heard people say that we don’t talk enough about “call” in mainline Protestant churches. I wonder how clearly we explain it. We often talk about call as specific actions or ministry activities God is calling us to do, but call – in our gospels (and other bible passages) – generally begins with an invitation into relationship with God. Before Jesus sent his disciples out to do ministry, he first spent time with them, teaching and modeling what the Kingdom of God should look like. Since the American church is in decline, I think most of us (myself included) want to get new Christians and new members busy with church work as soon as they enter our buildings. I worry that we don’t allow people enough time to simply respond to their call to be in relationship with Jesus. If we bury people under the weight of church jobs, tasks and committees, we might keep them so busy that they never really have the time or space to discern their call from God.
I remember when I first began to discern my call to ordained ministry. I was directing a summer program for an ecumenical children’s ministry in Johnstown, PA. A pastor of one of those churches served as my supervisor. But he was, more truly, a mentor and a spiritual guide. He listened and asked questions that allowed me to better understand what God was doing in my life and with my life. He was patient and open and gracious. To discover our calls can take time.

 

 

Where Are You?

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Tomorrow I’ll begin my fall sermon series based on the Trevor Hudson book “Questions God Asks Us.”  The first question in the book is the first to appear in scripture.  It is God’s question to Adam:  “Where Are You?”

I doubt my understanding and interpretation of any bible story has evolved as much over the years as my understanding of this story of Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis, chapter 2.  As a child I sang a catchy tune about it at church camp.  As a child, I think I considered it a literal explanation of the process of creation.  I guess it didn’t cross my mind to think about the fact that there were two strikingly different stories back to back in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  Back then, I simplistically thought the man and woman got thrown out of paradise because they ate an apple they weren’t supposed to eat… Maybe it was a helpful anecdote for getting children to obey the rules of adults!

As I got older, I began to think about the story as an explanation for sin and decided the sin was that of disobedience.  It wasn’t really about a piece of fruit; it was about them being disobedient toward God.

But now, I’ve decided disobedience was the symptom of that first sin; not the cause of it.  The root of their disobedience was a failure to trust God.  The woman has a choice to make: will she trust the Word of God or the word of the serpent?  I mean, think about it.  When someone we fully trust makes a request of us, we generally do our best to oblige.  But, if we do not trust them, we will weigh our options and consider the cost of what they ask.

We speak of Christianity as a faith or a belief system.  But it is, more fundamentally, about a relationship.  It is like that old gospel hymn, “Trust and Obey.”  We can only obey if we fully trust.

Find out more about the Questions God Asks Us sermon series at http://www.trinitylafayette.org