a Homily for Proper 21B
Text: Mark 9:38-50
The Call Story
Ten years ago, I decided to change my life. In the previous few years, I graduated with a BA in English Literature from Alma College, moved to a suburb of Boston to begin an MFA program at Emerson College, then I moved to Lansing, worked at Barnes & Noble for a couple of years, met my future wife. During this time, I was wrestling with GOD. I kept doing what I thought was the right thing and it wasn’t. It was just a different thing.
Then one Sunday I got the message I had been avoiding. Because that’s normally what we do with GOD. We shove our fingers in our ears and shout “La la la!” over that still, small voice and go on with things until GOD tries to whisper to us again. So I had one of those moments in which I was distracted and hadn’t prepared my fingers for submission into my ears when I got the tickle. That’s what Bishop Leidel liked to call it: a tickle. It was at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in East Lansing.
It really was a strange tickle. It wasn’t a voice telling me anything, let alone, “have you thought about seminary?” I was going into worship and it just happened to be a day in which they were using the New Zealand Prayer Book. As a life-long Episcopalian I was provoked by a way of worship in which every piece was subtly different. Every element of worship was highlighted because the wording was not what I had memorized, but the structure and current of worship was identical. And what I heard were some of the most beautiful prayers in the English language. I was nearly moved to tears.
The grind of the next several years was to go through all of the hoops of our ordination process. And there are many. I visited with Bishop Leidel. I moved to re-establish residency in my old diocese. I needed to be in a particular faith community for so long. I had to initiate and lead a major project, and on. Seminary itself was full of new hoops and that whole process transformed me. I was just telling someone the other day that the more interesting story isn’t the call story, part of which I just described, it is how I changed and how my understanding of my call to ministry has changed since that one Sunday in East Lansing. But I’m talking instead about calls and what we do to them. For me, the learning happens near the end. One particular moment that helped me see everything about being called by GOD in an entirely new way.
I was in my third year at seminary when Bishop Todd became the second bishop of Eastern Michigan and the diocese was going through a transition. Committees and structures were adapting to new leadership. And I was one of the first guinea pigs. When I got to one of the last hoops of ordination: the interview with the standing committee, I didn’t know what kind of strange nightmare scenario I was walking into and that my entire process could get derailed by a simple 20 minute rubber-stamp conversation turning into an hour-long train-wreck.
My ordination story clearly had a happy ending, but I was thrown face-to-face with one of the oldest conflicts in Christianity: when GOD’s plans and our plans don’t match up.
Get Behind Me 2
Going back to last week, we remember that the disciples seem to be avoiding what Jesus is trying to tell them. They don’t want to hear it. Partly because it is about death and they don’t want to go there. Partly because Jesus is asking something of them that is really hard. Something that they’d rather avoid altogether. Then, right on cue, John comes up to Jesus to say that the disciples are trying to stop some random stranger from doing disciple work. He wants Jesus to but in and put a stop to it. Apparently because the guy doesn’t have his papers or a disciple of Jesus license.
Then Jesus launches into an extended scolding that transforms the whole conversation. He’s just told them that they need to take a backseat to children. Now he’s saying Stop getting in people’s way! They’re doing my work, which is the whole point! Listen to why Jesus is scolding them. If their job is to reveal the Kingdom, then they need to stop preventing the Kingdom from being revealed.
My own experience with the standing committee was important in so many ways, but it revealed one of the ways we are all too eager to prevent GOD’s Kingdom from being revealed. Because we have our plans. We have our own way of doing things. We want the Kingdom to look strangely like the world as we know it: the world our parents and grandparents passed down to us, not the world GOD is ushering in. And perhaps worst of all: the main reason we’re so confused is not because we believe there is anything wrong with a person’s call; we just don’t know what to do with them when they don’t fit the normal mold.
Unlock the Gates, Keepers
The challenge for a church like St. Paul’s is that we have all of these established ways of doing things. They benefit all of us when we can walk in and know that the altar guild has set up the table, the ushers and greeters are helping people prepare for worship, and the readers and servers are ready to go. These established patterns make life easier. But what happens when someone is called to a ministry that doesn’t fit? Are we ready to help them? Or are we just going to shut them down?
On Wednesday nights, our video series has challenged us to see the current age as being led by the Spirit: that unlike previous generations, we are being awakened to the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst. If we are being honest with ourselves and trusting in GOD, then we must listen when the Spirit speaks up. When the Spirit takes off in a new direction and whispers “follow me!” That there are voices in our midst who are called to ministries that don’t yet exist or ways of ministering to this church that have not been explored in more than a generation.
Regardless of what we think or what we’ve been taught or what we wish our church looked like, there is one discernible truth that we’d much rather ignore than embrace: GOD is calling way more people to do ministry in way more ways than we’d like—and often we’re the gatekeepers holding back the Kingdom. We’re being called today to open the gates and help new ministries to flourish: new ways of gathering, new practices, and new contributions to our church. Not because we all need more to do, but because many of us are called to do something new: something that does not yet exist outside of GOD’s dream for us.
We need you.
You are the one.
We are putting our trust in you.
And the rest of us are being called to get out of their way. Because I just know there’s some Kingdom work brewing that is going to rock this place.
- Being the Millstone Church (Eating Scripture) (drewdowns.net)