Pr. Matt James
August 25, 2019
Tell Me Your Story
Grace, peace, and mercy to you, from God our Creator, our Sustainer, and our Redeemer. Amen.
Tell me your story. How you got to this place and this time. Tell me your call story.
That’s a question that I ask of most people when I meet them in the course of my day to day work.
I love call stories.
So I guess it’s appropriate that in my work, as Director of Admissions at a Lutheran Seminary, I have the profound privilege of hearing and stewarding the call stories of hundreds of people each year. A lot of the times the stories that I hear go something like this:
‘People always just tell me that I should be a pastor.’ Or ‘I never thought about serving until we went on the mission trip and my life was changed.’ Or ‘Something just comes over me when I receive communion…. or sit with someone in the hospital…’
But every story is unique.
These stories lead folks to think that maybe, just maybe God is calling them to serve the church and the world through what we often call public ministry, and that’s usually when I they wind up in my office.
And I love biblical call stories because I believe they are some of the ‘realest’ stories in scripture. Where else do you find people experiencing self-doubt, conflict avoidance, literal existential threats, and sometimes even running the other way. That could very well be the appropriate response to what God is calling us to be and do and say as God’s people. Especially in a time when the message of the church; the message of the Gospel seems to run counter to what most of what the rest of the world professes. I guess not much has changed in a couple of millennia….
But what I also love about call stories is the visceral nature of the way in which God calls God’s people in Scripture.
In the translation of the bible that we use most often, most prophet call stories begin the same way, with the prophet retelling their story by beginning: ‘The Word of the Lord came to me…’ But in the Hebrew, the language in which most of the prophetic call stories in what we’ve often called the Old Testament, the language goes even deeper. In seminary, we learned to read this phrase, ‘The Word of the Lord came to me…’ as: ‘The Word of the Lord happened to me…’
The verb that is translated as ‘came to’ in our version is rooted in the Hebrew word meaning ‘to occur’ or ‘to happen’.
And so, the Word of the Lord happened to Jeremiah. God’s Word didn’t just come and whisper into his ear, God’s Word changed Jeremiah. God’s Call was life-altering, it was active, it was real.
The Word of the Lord happened to Jeremiah.
Calling him, in spite of his protestations about his age, God’s Word happened to Jeremiah, compelling him to be the voice of God to the powers, the many kingdoms and nations of his time. Even as he learns that he will be called ‘to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant’—which seems to me like then would be the appropriate time to run…
But God’s Word continues happens to Jeremiah. And in a real sign, in the face of his pretty reasonable questions and doubts, God reaches out and touches the budding prophet’s lips.
God touches Jeremiah, and places God’s words right where he needs them, in his mouth.
So there will be no doubt, God’s Word, God, will be with him forever, through all that he might, that he will, come to experience.
I also think it’s appropriate that one commonality in call stories is the objection.
There is plenty to get in the way. There is plenty to consider why God should go find someone else. We are too young… or too old. We might have the wrong gender or racial identity. Our physical ability might hinder us. Our political affiliation might turn off others. Our citizenship status might just disqualify us. The list could go on and on.
Of course, these are labels that we also place on others. Refusing to listen to someone who doesn’t fit our ideal of who can be called teacher, prophet, social worker, politician, minister. These are the walls (literal and figurative) that we construct between us and them. The ins and the outs. Our own constructions that get in the way. Our sinful reality that we fail, that we refuse, to see the fullness of God’s image in our fellow humans, our fellow creatures sent to minister with and for us. Everywhere, our own selfishness and brokenness seeps into seemingly every crevice of our life.
Through these, our unsubstantiated fears, our misguided perceptions, our own self-limitation that burden us, we are bent down, as Martin Luther would say, curved into ourselves, we find ourselves there with the woman in the gospel, consumed by an evil spirit for 18 years. Bent over. Able only to see a very limited view of her world. It is far too easy to be consumed in this endless cycle. It seems to impossible to break free.
And yet God Word’s happens to that woman. Jesus sees her from afar bent over with this spirit. And pronounces her whole. Just the same, God’s Word happened to us, when we were brought to the font, when we were named. In baptism. We were changed.
Writing about baptism in the Christian Century recently, Pastor Frank Honeycutt, notes that in Romans chapter six, where he writes about the very nature of baptism, Paul refers to death 14 times in 11 verses.
‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.’
Pastor Honeycutt observes that we often downplay the reality that in baptism, there is also death.
There. There in those waters of baptism, God’s Word happens to us, and we are put to death. Our old selves die. Our selves that are self-possessed. Our selves that have built up walls and broken down those who are ‘other’ from us. Our selves that thrive on self-doubt and fear.
There in those waters, we first die to these old ways, to our old selves. And out of those waters we rise changed, a new people. Sharing the same baptism, the same resurrected life of Jesus, our Savior. We rise from those waters fully in the image of the One who Jeremiah professes, the One who knew us, even before we were knit together in the womb. There, there in those waters God’s Word happens to us and we are changed, re-made with Christ.
God’s word happened again upon Nolan Himes Loris, as he was baptized last night at HTLoop.
Nolan, died and rose to this new life, his call to be God’s own beloved child. With all of us, Nolan begins his journey of being opened up to a broken world, a world still obsessed with (and yet still afraid of) death. Called to bear God’s very creative and redeeming, life-changing Word into this world.
This is our call story. That we have been freed from what burdens us, we are turned outward from our selves and our own failings and phobias and doubts to proclaim this healing, this transformation that we have experienced to the world. And in the face of whatever doubts or fears or disqualifications we or the world might throw out, God’s promise stands strong. God reaches out to us whenever, wherever we stand in those dark times, touches us, and promises to be with us. To give us the words. To never leave us.
And so time and time and time again, as we pass by those waters remembering whose we are. We are welcomed at this table, again and again and again. One with another, in spite of where we come from, in sprite of what labels we place on ourselves or what labels others place on us.
We gather at this table. To receive the very One whose death and resurrection we share. Christ’s very own body and blood in simple bread and wine. Food for the journey. Strength when we lose heart.
So that we might be present with those who have been trampled down upon.
So that we might be the voice for those who are silenced.
So that we might be journey with those who have been imprisoned.
So that God’s life-saving, earth-shattering Word might continue to happen in and through our lives.
Yes. In and through those life-giving waters. God’s Word happens to us, we are called.
Called for the sake of this world.
Called to be hope and life and light.
Called to be real, tangible signs of God’s love happening in this world;
Making us all whole;
Transforming all of Creation.
In the name of the +Father, and the +Son, and the +Holy Spirit, Mother of us All. Amen.
 Honeycutt, Frank G. (2019, July 29). We should celebrate the “death day” of our baptism each year. Christian Century. Retreived from https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/we-should-celebrate-death-day-our-baptism-each-year.