Rev. Martha Jacobs
God is Calling; Are You Ready to Answer?
Psalm 27, Matthew 4:18-23
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Almost 27 years ago, I realized that I was called to ministry. When I shared what I thought would be this startling realization with my spouse, Pat, she said to me, “Well, we’ve all known that for some time. It’s about time you realized it.” I think that she and our close friends knew because over the past several years, close friends of ours had died from AIDS related illnesses; deaths that were difficult and painful for everyone. And, because I was involved at Riverside Church, I guess I had been stepping up to help not only those who were dying, but all of us who were grieving the tremendous losses to our lives, of young, once vibrant and extremely talented and loving people.
The idea of being called to ministry was exciting, sobering and, at the same time, very, very scary. As I have said before when talking about my journey to ministry, at Riverside, I was under the tutelage of The Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin who taught all of us how to put feet on our faith – how to be doing and not just sitting in the pew and expecting that only the clergy would get involved. He taught us that we all had a call to serve God, especially because in the UCC, all are called to serve and, he often reminded us that we all are equal in God’s eyes and heart.
Once I accepted that I was called to ministry, I felt like I was answering the true calling of my life. Not that what I had done before was not right, but everything, as I came to see it, looking back many years later, had brought me to that place and that time and that recognition that I had been called to ministry. Over the years, as I have hit bumps and sometimes potholes in the road and questioned myself as to whether or not I had the wisdom, the patience and the love for all of God’s people, I have still come back to acknowledging that indeed, this is the true calling of my life at this time in my life. I was compelled to answer God’s call.
Everything else left me unsure and unhappy. As scary and weird as it seemed, I had to answer God’s call. Even when I realized that I would have to go back to school, study, read books that were incredibly dense, write long, footnoted papers, and defend what I believed, I had to answer that call. There was no way I could say “no.” Luckily for me, Pat was willing to go down this path with me. We never talked about it, but I wonder if God placed a call on her heart as well – because it has certainly taken the two of us to get to this place.
Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, writes about his journey through depression and other life incidents that had a major impact on him. His book illuminates a pathway towards vocation for people who seek what he calls, “the true calling of their lives.” Palmer, who is a Quaker and a well-known educator, describes a Quaker discernment meeting where he was looking for career guidance. One of the people there, in responding to his “need,” said that he needed to look not at the door that had just closed, but rather, to turn around and see what was awaiting him. Palmer observed, “As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up.” He wrote, “All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around – which puts the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls.” Palmer believes that we stand on the ground of our new life when we are ready to take the next step in that direction.
While the fishermen who Jesus called probably didn’t have the insights that Mr. Palmer has, chances are that they believed that what they did with most of their time did not make a particular difference in their world. They seemed to be willing to turn around from their nets and their boats and their families, and walk towards Jesus – towards the rest of the world that Jesus was opening up for them. Matthew says they immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus. I am struck by this idea that they immediately left what they were doing. It is as if they were compelled to follow Jesus and to obey him. It was almost as if they had been waiting all their lives to have a new door opened for them, to hear his voice, to be issued this call, so that when it came, they immediately dropped what they were doing and followed him. They had no idea what was in store for them.
Believe me, I too had no idea what was in store for me when I answered God’s call. What I did know and do know is that God is the ground of our being, as theologian Paul Tillich described God. God, who is “the ground of our being,” the ground of my being, will not let my foot slip. At times, I have felt like I was slipping. At times, I have forgotten to turn around to see what is ahead of me instead of what is behind me. At times, I have wondered what in the heck I am doing trying to serve God and serve so many wonderful people. At times, I have wondered, why me? I have tried to grill God about that, but have gotten nowhere…thus far. Believe me when I tell you that I thought I was one of the most unlikely people that God could have called. Again and again, even after almost 20 years of being ordained, I am still surprised that I can be a source of help and hope, and bring God’s good news to the world, even in the most troubling times.
Friends, I have come to realize that a calling is less about what we do than who we are. God’s call isn’t simply to do something, but rather to be something; to be a child of God. As a child of God, we then take on certain traits. Just as we take on the traits of our earthly parents, we take on traits that are similar to God’s. We take on traits like seeing each other as children of God. We treat everyone equally. We welcome everyone despite where they may be on their own life journey. We welcome to our table people who would rather not share that table with us. God loves each one of us, and we, therefore, are called to love each other. Sometimes we may not like each other, but we are called to love each other and to care for each other.
We are called, like Peter and Andrew, to follow Jesus and, in following him, to listen as he proclaims the good news of the kingdom. There are no bright stars and there are no earthquakes. There is just a voice that strikes our ear amid the ordinariness of our lives that tells us that God is indeed among us because we are children of God.
We are called to be children of God. Even if we don’t quite know what being a child of God exactly means. I certainly had no idea what being called really involved. But, I can tell you that God values and honors and loves each one of us. If we are open to being God’s children, we will learn over time what it means and, indeed, find all kinds of things to do in response to God’s call. We have already seen that so much here at FCC. Part of our call is through our relationship with each other and with those who cross our threshold.
We volunteer for all kinds of worshipful work here – whether it be as a trustee, or other officer of the church, or a Chair of a Board or Committee, or serving as a Deacon or singing in the choir, or ushering or being liturgist or being a mentor to one of our confirmands. Or, helping with ESP or Barn Sale or Tag Sale or selling Christmas trees or helping our youth or cleaning out the deacon’s closet, or pulling weeds in the columbarium or praying for the people on our prayer list or setting up for Coffee Hour or doing flower arrangements, or helping with Sunday School, or chopping wood, or…I am sure that I have missed someone doing something here because I am still amazed when things seem to just happen, even though I know things do not “just happen.” It took one or more people to make it happen! But however it is that God may use all of us – it’s important to remember that before God calls us to do anything God first calls us to be something: God’s own beloved children. And knowing this, we can trust that the rest will follow.
God is not only calling each one of us, though. God is also calling our congregation to be the gathering of God’s beloved children. God is calling our congregation to be a place of welcome and acceptance. God is calling our congregation to be a sanctuary, a safe space, where God’s word is taught, the good news of the kingdom is proclaimed, and all find healing, love and acceptance. Friends, FCC is us. FCC cannot continue to survive without people listening to that call from God. We have this building and land around us, but without us, it is an empty shell. Without our being willing to answer God’s call, without our being willing to volunteer, without our being willing to give of our time and talents and resources, without our being willing to go beyond what we thought we could do, people who are in need who come to this beacon on the hill, this safe space, this sanctuary, will find nothing but a shell. If you don’t answer that call when God tugs on your heart and your soul, you will miss out on an amazing opportunity to help us help others.
When we do for others, we get so much back, as our youth remind me every time they serve our homeless guests or help out around the church. So when God puts a call on your heart, I hope and pray that you are ready to answer. You may not know exactly what you are to do in that moment. You may need help in discerning what God is calling you to do. You may think it is odd or crazy or feels just right. Just remember, you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to know all of the details. You don’t need to be in control. You only need to know that God is the ground of your being and will never let you go. As we go to our Annual Meeting, you will see that a lot of people have already answered God’s call. Look at the list of those who have said “yes” when God called them to help our church continue to function. If you don’t see your name on that list – perhaps you need to listen more closely, because we are all called to serve. Listen, your heart and soul line from God is ringing. Listen, God is calling; are you ready to answer?