An old pastor was in his office one morning going through his normal routine. When a young man, who was considering the ministry came in and sat down in his office. After talking about their lives, the young man paused and said to the older pastor, “When did you know you were called to the ministry?”
The old, wise pastor sat back in his chair paused and said, “This morning.”
Every day we are called anew, some days hearing that call is harder than others, some day you might think that God has made a mistake. Not me Lord, I’m not smart enough, I don’t know enough, I don’t have enough energy, I’m too old, I’m too young, and on and on.
This is part of my story, when I was a junior in high school; I gave my first sermon in church. After my senior year, after another sermon someone came to me after the sermon and said, “You should be a minister.” I scoffed at that, a minister? Me? You can’t be serious, pastors were good people, who got good grades, who knew the Bible, I was not a pastor, nor would I ever be. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say, I haven’t always been a pastor and my actions reflected that.
As a got older, I kept finding myself in pastoral roles. My summer job in graduate school was as the Trip Director at the Presbyterian camp in West Virginia. Then when I got out of school, I couldn’t find any jobs in my field. I have a master’s in physical education and planned to be a college baseball coach, no options there. I also worked for the university during school. I was in charge of the officials for intramural activities for West Virginia University. I sent out about 100 resumes, not even one call back. I think God was trying to tell me something. The job I got was as a youth director at a large church in Denver. I was definitely not ready for that.
I came home to West Virginia and found myself back at the camp, now as the Assistant Director, leading worship, being the pastor to the staff. I started seminary with the express desire to never be the pastor of a church. They say, if you ever doubt that God has a sense of humor, just tell God your plans.
For most of that time, I believed that I was answering a call but God had the wrong number.
Now after years of fighting, giving in, resisting, embracing, being planted, being uprooted, shifting, and standing still I have the honor of serving with you as your pastor.
In our scripture reading today from the book of Jeremiah we hear a piece of his call story. God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
That’s fairly intimidating, don’t you think. “Prophet to the nations”? Yikes, I didn’t sign up for that, says Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
This response is normal, right. Moses said it, Isaiah said it, Ezekiel said it. I mean really who says, sign me up when you hear a voice from God say, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
I have a hard enough time deciding what I want to eat for dinner much less deciding what to pluck up or pull down, what to destroy and overthrow, or what to build and plant. I can barely get my children to listen to me much less prophesy to nations.
I believe that through God we can do more than we could ever ask or imagine, but I wonder if our call is often to pluck up or pull down things in our own lives, in our own communities, we are to build and plant in our own lives, in our own houses.
Maybe Christian calling is not just reserved for those asked to do mighty things. It is the invitation to every Christian to witness to the gospel by investing with radical grace whatever worldly roles God opens to us.
A phrase that my wife have held on to recently is, bloom where you are planted. I wonder if that is what God is calling us to do. Can we at First Presbyterian fix all the problems in the world? Maybe. Can we have a positive influence in Nebraska? Probably. Can we begin to address the needs in Nebraska City? Certainly. Can we respond to God’s call in our own homes? Definitely.
Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
What is your deepest gladness? What is the world’s deepest hunger?
For us to answer these questions we might need to pluck up those weeds that cloud our vision, pull down the barriers we have built up over years of security, maybe we need to destroy some assumptions that we’ve always held, maybe we need to overthrow the perception that God’s grace and mercy are only available to a few. It will lead to build up each other and our community, to plant new seeds bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I said last week, that I don’t know anything about farming, which is true, but I do know that in order to harvest fruit this season we need to pull up the weeds, we need to pluck up last year’s crops, we need to overturn the soil to prepare the land so we can plant our new crop. We often need to plant new seeds, we can’t continue to grow the same fruit in the same soil.
The soil here at First Presbyterian is fresh, it is nutritious, it is prepared for us to plant new seeds, to tend them and to watch them grow into the harvest that will sustain this city, this state, this world, and us.
We have an opportunity to experiment; we can plant whatever we want. It might be something that no one has ever tried here. It might whither and fade, it might flourish and expand our thoughts about what type of things can be planted.
Over the last year or two, you have been in a transformation process. The transformation has worked hard and now you have appointed a Vision Team. That team will be working over the next few months trying to form a vision for this church. We will be dreaming about what our crops will look like, what type of seeds will we plant. I want to challenge you to dream with us. I want to challenge you to think of the most bold, audacious, inventive goal you have for this church. The sky’s the limit; there are no limitations, dream big. In time I want you to share that goal with us, I want to pray for that goal, I want you to name your deepest gladness, and I want you to seek it’s meeting with the world’s greatest need.
I said last week that we are all in this together, but I didn’t say we were all the same. We can be unified without being uniform. Let us work together, let our passions combine, let our ideas grow, let us build up the body of Christ, let us plant the seeds that open our eyes up to the mystery of what we can do when we allow God to put the words in our mouths.
May it be so.