The Challenge of Christian Call

She’d always tell them with a wink, “I may look mahvelous but I hurt more than you when I move.” Lorna had reached the prime age of 77. 

She never left the house or opened the door without being well-groomed and stylish. When the pastor complimented her on this-old-thing, she told her, “My spiritual gift is lookin’ good!” 

But the truth was, Lorna’s spiritual gift was humor and positivity. When she walked into the room you just felt good. You felt loved.

In Lorna’s presence you never doubted that God was good. 

Never.

***

Before he was born, Samuel’s mother Hannah yearned for a child. She ached to hold her own child.

It was especially hard for Hannah because her husband’s other wife made fun of her because she was unable to have a child.

Hannah prayed for God to give her a child. She promised she’d dedicate his life to God if only she could have a child.

That is how Samuel ended up in the temple. From the time he was weaned Samuel lived with the priest Eli learning the ways of God.

When God calls to Samuel in the night, it is Eli who helps him understand that it is God who is calling. God, Eli realizes, has a special plan for Samuel.

That special plan is to replace Eli in the temple. That special plan is to be a prophetic leader who moves Israel forward toward the time when they will have their own king.

God calls Samuel to use his spiritual gifts for the furtherance of God’s unfolding realm on earth. Samuel will be a prophetic leader whose words aren’t allowed to fail.

That is, people will listen and respond. One of Samuel’s spiritual gifts is prophecy.

Samuel’s first prophetic message, however, must be delivered to his mentor Eli the morning after God calls him.

Samuel must tell him that because Eli did not stop his sons from their evil ways, he will lose all that he has achieved in his long life.

Though Samuel’s spiritual gift is prophecy. Even though God will “let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19c NRSV), it does not mean it will be easy for Samuel.

God gives Samuel his message but Samuel must share the message in his own words. He must still confront the priest who has taught him about God.

Samuel must say something that he probably would rather not. 

But God expects it…

and Samuel can do it.

God has called.

***

Lorna’s mother died when she was twelve. On that drizzly Thursday afternoon that her mother took her last breath, Lorna’s father looked at her and said,

“You’re now the woman of the house. I’ll be home for dinner at 6.” He slammed the door as he left.

Lorna’s childhood was over. She’d lost her mother and become a woman in one afternoon. 

***

21 Continuing on, [Jesus] saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets.

Jesus called them and 22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:21-22 CEB)

James and his brother John respond to Jesus’ call immediately. They leave behind their whole world including their father.

Jesus sees in James and John the spiritual gifts that will help him in his ministry. Leaving your family to do as God through Jesus calls you to do is not going to be easy for the brothers.

James and John must do something that they probably would rather not. 

But God expects it…

and James and John can do it.

God has called and they leave immediately.

***

When Lorna’s mother died, the pastor and his wife were there at her bedside. 

When Lorna’s dad slammed the door, the pastor followed him leaving her alone with the pastor’s wife. 

Feeling lost and confused, Lorna looked at the pastor’s wife in disbelief.  The pastor’s wife opened her arms and Lorna filled them. 

Dinner was on the table when the pastor finally returned with Lorna’s dad. For months, the pastor’s wife would help Lorna meet her dad’s expectations.

For years, the pastor’s wife was God’s presence in the life of a twelve-year-old girl who was all alone.

The pastor’s wife had other things she could be doing, that she’d probably rather be doing. 

But her spiritual gift was helping little girls whose mothers died. Her gift was both concrete and spiritual to Lorna, who felt abandoned and lost.

The pastor’s wife had other things she’d rather be doing than being a spiritual mentor for a twelve-year-old little girl.

But God expected it…

and the pastor’s wife could do it.

God has called.

***

Samuel had to give bad news to Eli. He didn’t want to but, though, only a child, he did so.

James and John loved their father. Even if they had not, it was expected in ancient culture that you respect your elders. Family was important. Lineage mattered.

To drop everything and leave their father, the brothers bucked some serious cultural expectations.

But Jesus called, and they followed.

Jesus himself was called to some pretty serious stuff. I imagine there were days on which he’d have been happy to be a carpenter back home.

But God called and so Jesus challenged those receptive and those not-so-receptive to become better Jews.

Jesus challenged them to care for the poor, the widow, the imprisoned, and the stranger. He reminded them what God required.

In the end, Jesus threatened the delicate balance of corruption that allowed Rome to keep the Jewish people under their thumb.

For that? Jesus paid the price with his earthly life.

Jesus did things that he probably would have rather not. 

But God expected it…

and Jesus could do it.

God had called.

***

As a denomination, the United Church of Christ, we were first to ordain women, we took early stances in support of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. We have not been afraid to talk about racism, though we can do better, and climate change.

Our overseas missions have been collaborative with local on-the-ground peoples rather than forcing our “superior” ways on others. We’ve loved without the strings of conversion to Christianity.

These are some — just some — of the things that make us UCC. None of these things were easy but God called and people answered.

In Condon, our particular calling as church has historically been to follow Jesus to the margins. As individuals and as a community we’ve been instrumental in the food pantry, in the memory care center, and with our thrift store.

Our calling has been to look outward as Jesus and his disciples did. None of these things were easy but God called and people listened.

***

In 2015, we are dwindling in numbers if not in spirit. There are things we are called to do in this time.

One of those things is have real conversations about changes that will lead to a future filled with hope.

We need to figure out what legacy we are going to leave to the next generation. But it’s hard.

We don’t want to talk about it. You’re fed up and weary of my tired reminders in my sermons that it is no longer 1957.

We are being called. But we’d rather not respond.

The last weekend of September is the Annual Meeting of the Central Pacific Conference, UCC — our conference. It will be in our own backyard: Pendleton. The theme is Come Alive! Passion & Vitality in the Local Church.

If this is not a topic tailor made for us, I don’t know what is!

This is the resource we’ve been waiting for! This is an opportunity to learn and grow! It is the chance to come home with ideas that will transform us and move us into a future filled with hope.

But you see, if it’s just me who goes. All the good ideas will whither on the vine because you’ve long since tuned me out.

We’re a congregational church. We will only grow and change if you want us to grow and change. No pastor cannot do it themselves…especially a part-time pastor.

I know it’s asking a lot but I also know it’s a lot of fun and I have faith that God will be speaking in Pendleton next month.

***

That’s always how it happened. Lorna would be sitting by herself at home. A song on the radio or the storyline on her favorite show would move her to tears.

She’d remember how hard it was when her mother died. All these sixty-five years later she still could feel what she felt at twelve-years-old.

But she could also remember the woman, the pastor’s wife, who taught her that God loves us through the pain. 

She remembered the woman who had so much else she’d rather be doing, but who still chose to answer God’s call. 

Lorna’s spiritual gift was joy because the pastor’s wife mentored her through those tough times. 

She smiled at herself and then laughed aloud! God is amazing! 

***

Like Samuel if we are going to continue to be the Good News in Condon, we are going to have to do things that we probably would rather not. 

But God expects it…

and we can do it.

God is calling.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

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Posted in 1 Samuel, 1 Samuel 3, 1 Samuel 3:11-4:1, Matthew, Matthew 4, Matthew 4:18-22, New Testament, Old Testament, Sermon

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Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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