Monday, September 30, 2013

The Call We Respond To

ESR student Thomas Swann shared this message in ESR worship on September 5, 2013:

Sue – eee!  Sue – eee.

That is a call still used in parts of the southern Appalachians to call in the pigs for their evening feeding. I have lived in those mountains and they are dear to me. And yet I left there to be here. Just as you have left some place to be here..
Sue –eee. Have no fear I am not going to speak about the shoreline of Galilee and the demons that Jesus cast out and placed in the herd of pigs that were near by.  Pigs roaming in a land of Kosher is however captivating to the imagination. Many questions do arise.
 The shout of  Sue – eee is a call of sorts.  But for now, no more, Sue –eee’s.  But I do want to walk around the territory of Call, A Call, The Call, Our Call and what we are doing about it.


Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters. We gather here today, some of us having returned for another year, some of us just starting this journey and others holding the ground of stability upon which the community’s foundation is maintained. For all of us I hope there is a sense of call to be doing the work before us. The story each of us would tell of how we arrived at this place, is as different as we can imagine and perhaps limited only by our imagination.  Or perhaps it is beyond our comprehension for if it is a call then there is some other entity doing the calling. Again for each of us we may explain the call differently but the implication that someone or something beyond us is doing the calling still stands. There is a voice calling out, drawing us forward. Beckoning. Perhaps this arises fear or exhilaration in us, or a little of every emotion possible.

I am regularly struck by the calling of the disciples. There are several places in the New Testament where we hear the story of Jesus calling forth one or two individuals to follow him.
                Matthew 4:18-20 says
                As he walked by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter,          
                and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And
                he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately,
                I repeat, immediately, they               
                left their nets and followed him.” 

A call and an immediate response.  And then.

                Mark  1:19-20
                As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who           
                were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left
                their father Zebedee in the boat with hired men, and followed him

An immediate call and response.  And then.

For me I believe there are stories not canonized or passed on in letters or gospels of how a similar encounter or encounters happened between this man, Jesus and the women who too were called and responded in a way that was immediate. Nancy Bowen teaches of “gap filling” when we fill places in the narrative to make a more complete picture for ourselves. So I gladly draw into this story what I believe is a clearer understanding  of our story. It was not only men who responded.

An immediate call and an immediate response.

Is that how it is for you? In your story how did you hear, how did you respond? Was the call immediate? Was the response immediate? How is this journey going for you after our first week here together?

I know for me it was not that way. I was not an immediate responder. I might have preferred to stay in the boat with Zebedee and the hired men. And sadly I still cannot gleefully say I have given over to my call completely. Now I do spend less time walking around the geographical landscape of this beckoning I have heard for many years, or ouch, actually decades now. But then I am still a bit of a wanderer.

It is only a very patient God who waits for me. Faithful in the pace I choose to keep.

However I think I might just be missing something. Their response was immediate.

Another piece of scripture that comes to mind as we enter this year is from Matthew 18: 18-20.
“Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by your Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This is also often quoted as saying “two or more”. 
Either way, 2,3 or more, it is not one that is mentioned.  It seems we are being told that when we gather, the same indwelling that many of us feel in our call is expanded among us. It is shared and together we can be answered in a way that we cannot when we walk this journey alone. Something is available, perhaps only when we work together.

Last week at the opening convocation we heard Bethany President Jeffery Carter speak of the gift we have already received. My spine had waves of energy pass over it as he said in such direct and immediate language that there is good news, what we seek from God has already arrived. It is present in you and I and all around us. I heard a soft tempo building forth as a shout of joy rose into my heart. All possibilities are present because we have received a gift.

But my friends what about that gift? How do we go from the call that has been felt, to as we hear in Ephesians, “a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Worthiness is one of those terms that creates a gasp and shutter when I hear it. It seems loaded with layer upon layer of societal pressure and expectation. I want to grab one of my talented Jewish or Greek scholar friends and say do tell me that there is another word or meaning that will take away the sickening feeling in my stomach that the word “worthy” creates. Aren’t we all worthy? Haven’t we all received the gift?


Take a deep breath.
The trap door to existential hell does not need to open up, Thomas.
Thank you.

But what is the journey to worthiness?

Within the Katha-Upanishad there are the words, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” And this is hard, this answering to our call. Do we think it was easy for those men and women who dropped what they were doing and took steps toward a man who was calling them?

How far do we go back to understand the call that brings us here? As I have reflected on this topic these last days I keep seeing the thread of my call going further and further back. Things I didn’t remember pop in front of me and I say yes there is a seed, there is another. As if the call has existed in the universe waiting for my birth and yours.

I recently reconnected to my college advisor, professor and friend, after nearly 30 years. It was a great rambling conversation, which grew from a quick lunch to a three-hour slice of time. He did not seem surprised that I was in seminary. From my perspective he should have been stunned but he wasn’t. Then yesterday I remembered he was the person who told me about a book by John Hersey entitled The Call. That title, that book was probably the first time I began to realize that there could be a “voice” that could drive individuals to do something they had never conceived of or to dream about things being different in a significant way. A reviewer at the time said, “This huge novel, despite a slow start and a subject – Christian missions – that won’t appeal to all, is exciting and moving.”  Hmmm, I say that is a terribly written sentence that still captures so much.

No matter how creative my story of how I came to stand before you there still is the nagging question, would I have stood up from mending my nets and started a walk towards an unknown future. Or how many times have I walked right past the opportunity when it has called out to me in the texture of my day. I am certainly not feeling any shame about this today and hope no one here feels the need to cast any darkness on their journey. However, I am asking all of us individually and collectively to start asking ourselves, what does this call really demand of us. It will perhaps look differently for each of us but when we hear the call, what extraordinary challenge is before us. What is the equivalent of standing up and walking towards a place that is uncomfortable but full of hope?

Annie Dillard at the start of her book An American Childhood opens with these words.
                When everything else is gone from my brain – the President’s name, the
                State capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name
                and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends,
                and finally the faces of my family – when all this has dissolved, what
                will be left, I believe, is a typology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay
                this way and that. (3)

What typology are you rooted in that will remain lasting beyond all memory? A hard question, yes, but didn’t we come here to ask hard questions? And better yet find answers that can change our life and the lives of others.

In a world of the instant, where instantly most anything you can imagine can appear, what are we immediately being called to do? What in the ancient mind or in the particularity of these early disciples can we learn from?

I am not offering you much to hold onto in answers but the opportunity and invitation to consider.

I am so excited that we have this opportunity, for all of us to learn and explore, to questions and find answers in a desperate world. We do this both alone and together at the same time.

Two or more have gathered. The sense of call is abundant. What are we going to do within and with each other? What are we calling out and asking for?

To paraphrase Ephesians:
“Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you … for where two or three are gathered  … I am there among you”

Amen and Amen

The Closing Benediction

My Dear Neighbors
As we move out into the world
This day
To the afternoon
To days ahead
Let us keep sight
In our ears, eyes and heart
What brought us here
What beckons us

Life is abundant
Opportunities are abundant

Please Go In Peace

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