Sermon by Pastor Dan Woodman
What Is God Calling Me To Do?
This is the third and final message on the series of three questions that was posed to us by Kelly Gallagher, the head of the UCC Central Association, to consider as we reflect on how to make the best use of our sabbatical time together. The physical and emotional distance that we have from Charley provides opportunity to be more objective about how we identify ourselves as a community of believers and as individuals. Charley is asking himself these same questions while he is away. It will be great to compare notes in October. The question we considered two weeks ago is “Who am I?” Last week it was “Who is my neighbor?” This week it is “What is God calling me to do?” Not one of these questions can be answered fully without considering the other two. They depend on each other and are integral to each other in framing our personal and our corporate identity as we try to open ourselves to who God created us to be and what is the plan God has for our life. These three questions interrelate. Just like the three persons of the Trinity interrelate, and it gives me the chance to use my favorite seminary word: Perichoresis. It’s a Greek word which means mutual indwelling. It defines the nature of the trinity as mutually dependent and independent at the same time. Maybe it’s a stretch to apply it to our three questions but it gives me a chance to show you how smart I am. In any event each of the questions helps us to think about the others. We talked about “Who am I” in the context of how we might discern who it is God created us to be. We were created in God's image, and God has a plan for each of us. But, from the moment we are born we pick up patterns of behavior and influences from those around us. We try to differentiate ourselves from our environment but it's hard. It begins with our parents as we subconsciously pick up patterns of behavior and attitudes that are passed down from generation to generation. As we mature we try to figure out who we are through trial and error. And, we all go through lots of trial and errors. That is, unfortunately the way it is meant to be. But as we continue to differentiate and discern, and as we become more intimate with our true selves, that is when we are happiest. That is where we are as we more perfectly reflect our own sacred God-created image. In talking about “Who is my neighbor” we reflected on the difference between boundaries and barricades. Boundaries are important. Boundaries are essential, in fact. They protect and define our individuality. Boundaries exist for a host of good reasons. Boundaries make good and healthy neighborness. But barricades are a product of our own creation. We erect them both consciously and subliminally. We defend them oftentimes without even knowing why we are doing it! Barricades prevent us from engaging with our neighbor. I suggested a strategy of deploying our own “personal permeable membrane” that would allow us to filter our encounters with others. We have the ability to control how we engage. We can figure out how to honor that which is holy and common between us. And, we can prevent the negative elements of fear, mistrust, anxiety, and prejudice from getting in the way. So today's question of “What is God calling me to do,” is a natural extension of the first two questions. I firmly believe that each one of us has a calling. We are created for a purpose. Figuring that out is part of the fun in life. Ok, maybe fun is the wrong word but I think exciting might work. But I clearly acknowledge that frustrating and confusing work pretty well, too. So, how do we figure out God's intention for us? Where do we look for the answer? Here again, just like the other questions, it’s a process. It’s a journey of trial and error. And it’s a journey that can take a very, very long time. But throughout this journey we are constantly learning. Information is pouring in to our consciousness and our sub consciousness constantly. And it demands that we look both inward and outward. We all have the gifts to be able to direct this data; channel it, analyze it, and act on it. For some people it can take a long time. I mentioned before how it took me almost fifty years to settle in to what I understand God’s call for me is. Do I regret that I did not get here sooner? No, I would not change a minute of any of my life experience. All of that stuff has been fundamental in making me who I am today. Am I happy with what I’m doing now? You bet. Do I feel like I wasted time in getting here? No way. I am the happiest I have ever been because I feel aligned with what I understand to be God’s purpose for my life. It just took a while. But I don’t think I would be where I am without embracing all that has been part of my journey. And, there has been some pretty hard stuff. But it is all necessary stuff; stuff from which we learn. So, it’s taken me a while. But, for some folks it can happen a lot faster. I don’t think there is any explanation or formula for that other than it is all part of the mystery that is God’s plan for each of us. For some people it can be while they are young. We witnessed that very thing this morning as we celebrated the blessing and honoring of DJ’s name. He knows at 18, knew at 16 even, who he was. He has courageously embraced who he is, who God created him to be, and, I believe, trusts in God’s plan for his future. And, that’s the thing. God’s plan for us, God’s call to us, is in no way stagnant. It is vital, it is alive, and it can change. God’s call to us can be different tomorrow than what it is today. It can be different in five minutes from what it is right now. Again, that is part of the beauty and mystery of The Plan. The trick is we must be open to it. We open ourselves to it by going inward and outward. We search inwardly with prayer, as we quiet our mind and open the ears of our heart as we listen. Will we hear it as plainly as Samuel? Maybe. We search outwardly through engaging with others. It’s that trial and error thing again. It takes some risk but it is oh so important. We are meant to engage and learn from each other; to help each other on their own individual path. Helping others helps us in our discernment as share our journeys of discovery together.
I just mentioned Samuel so let’s take a look at our question for a biblical context. Samuel was a pretty important guy in the Hebrew Bible. For those who don’t know, Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had been unable to have children. She appealed to the great priest Eli who was touched by her earnestness and her faith. He told her the Lord would help. Sure enough, Hannah had Samuel. She was so grateful for Samuel that she took him to live with Eli that he might be dedicated to the work of the Lord and become a great priest. This is the background of our reading today. The most important thing about Samuel’s mission in life though is that he was the one who responded to God in selecting and anointing the first great king of Israel, Saul. And, after that, God was instrumental in directing Eli to discover, and to anoint, the greatest of all the kings of Israel, King David, from whom Jesus is descended. So Samuel was a pretty significant player. What we heard today is the famous Call of Samuel. We don’t know exactly how old he is but he is obviously a boy who is living with and studying under old Eli. God speaks to him, and it is so clear he thinks it’s Eli from the next room. God calls him by name, just like God calls each of us by our name. “Samuel! Samuel!” He jumps up certain that it is Eli, and runs into the next room where Eli is sleeping. “Here I am!” he says. This happens three times and Eli figures it out. He tells Samuel that the next time it happens simply respond with; “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And, he did. So, fast forward to today, to right here, right now. I think God is calling our names all the time. Tim! Debbie! Sue! DJ! Judy! Roger! Andrew! You get the idea. God is calling us all the time but we generally are just so involved in our own stuff that we can’t hear him. That is why we need the inward and the outward. We need to let go of the distractions and listen. I mean REALLY listen. God has a plan for you right now. Do you know what it is? In your heart, I think you know.
If you haven’t yet written on the post its, now is the time. Remember, this is anonymous. Write whatever you feel is your call, right now, at this moment on both post its. Make it as specific as you are able. Blank is not an option. If you’re really not sure put down a question mark. That’s ok. The question mark is an acknowledgement that you’re searching. Remember your call can change from minute to minute, and day to day. The ushers will come by with a basket. Drop only ONE of them in the basket. The other one is for you to take home and put on your refrigerator. You will be reminded of your call, and/or your search for your call every time you see it. If you would rather keep it confidential from the household, put it in your wallet. The ushers will bring the baskets forward and I will bless these calls because every one of them is special and precious. Just as each one of us is special and precious in the eyes of God.
Let us pray:
Holy and Loving God, you know each of us by our name. You have a purpose for each of us. Open our eyes that we might realize that purpose and live in to who we are meant to be and what we are intended to do. Help us to support each other on our journeys that we might, together, make your world a more loving, open, caring, and just place. Help us in our search to trust in your divine will and goodness. In your holy name, Amen.