"Experiencing the Call"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 26, 2001
Psalm 71:1-6; Jeremiah 1:4-10
One of the benefits of working at the church in recent days is that we can walk down the corridor, enter a classroom, and watch as the workers construct our new building. A few days ago, two of us raised the window and watched the men working below us. They were so totally absorbed in conversation that laying brick was almost a conditioned reflex. They could probably build a perfect wall blindfolded. They are artists at their craft.
As we watched another crew mounting steel beams, the construction specialists walked across them undisturbed by their distance from the ground. Suddenly they noticed a problem. The beams were off by several inches. Since they would not fit properly, immediately the men began to dismantle the entire structure. The manufacturer replaced them within two days.
Most of us take such projects for granted. Everything from our houses to highways are built without our caring about how much thinking and planning go into their creation. It is as if a hive of bees descends and constructs an enormous superstructure that we call the Springfield Interchange. And they build it while the traffic never stops. From the designing engineers to those building the concrete forms, every bee has a specific job to do. Every task is essential for the project's success.
Those of us who pay attention to people notice something very interesting about them. People appear predisposed toward particular abilities and aptitudes. For reasons that remain invisible, some people are drawn to music. There are a number of us who concentrate our energy on wanting to play a character in a theater production. We love entertaining others. There are people who eat, drink, and sleep numbers. They love accounting, banking, and price-to-earnings ratios. What is it that ignites our passion for one field over another? What drew us to where we are?
A number of years ago, I met a man who was a well-paid physicist working for NASA. One day he sat up in bed and told his wife that he could no longer put off fulfilling a dream he has had all his life. He said, "I intend to quit my job and bake cakes in our basement." She rolled her eyes. "He is having a mid-life crisis," she thought. But the next day he resigned from NASA and set up his bakery in their basement.
He took his delicacies to several major restaurants in downtown Washington and Baltimore. He told the management, "Try this cake. Here is my card. If you like it there are more where it came from." The first company to respond was The Four Seasons in Washington. With the flood-gates wide open, Renaissance Bakery was born. Lois and I have tried many of his cakes and pastries, and there is absolutely nothing to compare to them. You can feel your arteries closing just by looking at his creations.
What happens to us? What is it that stimulates our passion to enter the realm of music, blueprints, spreadsheets, creative lesson plans, innovative business models, or computer programs? The list is endless. What lights our fire?
I want to suggest to you this morning that what Michael Nard experienced while working at NASA was "a calling." Something was beckoning him to become more than he was. He was being urged to pursue a dream. All the second-career people I met this summer at Wesley Seminary were doing something else when they received this "call." What is that call?
In our lesson today Jeremiah writes, "God said to me, 'Before I gave you life, I selected you to be a prophet to the nations." Naturally, Jeremiah responded the way most of us would, "God, are you serious? I don't know how to speak; I am too young." While Jeremiah's words are different, they reflect the same spirit of reticence that Moses displayed at the burning bush.
God told him not to cave into his fears but to begin the journey. God said, "Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak." One of the secrets of life is learning how to listen. How many of us truly listen?
Too many people focus on how much education they will need, and who they know who might open doors for them. Sometimes such thinking produces results. I do not want to refute that. However, when what we choose has such a vast influence over our future, is that decision based on what excites us?
If young people would look upon themselves as an uncultivated gold mine, capable of yielding vast treasures for themselves and their community, I doubt many of them would seek security in groups, or destroy their assets with substance abuse, or compromise their treasure in order to find acceptance. It is no wonder that teenagers frequently feel bad about themselves. Too often, they have elevated the opinions of others above their own. They need to listen.
If older people would look upon themselves as being able to use their vast experience and talents to thrive in a post-retirement environment, we would have fewer inactive seniors who fear that their moment in the sun has come and gone. People can always contribute until they draw their last breath. The problem is that some of them no longer believe in themselves. They need to listen.
"The Call" is frequently associated with people entering the ministry. Clergy use this label because of various faith traditions. Several of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible responded to such a call. Jesus experienced such an urge during his baptism. Saul of Tarsus had a dramatic life-changing event while on the road to Damascus. But there are scores of others who answered "the call" without any earthshaking experiences. Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers is such an example.
What I am suggesting is that "the call" is not reserved only for ministers, priests, and rabbis. Every profession with which we deeply resonate may represent a call. Skills can develop into an art form, enhanced by the spirit of our performance. We can become an average architect or we can become a Frank Lloyd Wright. In most professions, the sky is the limit. Most people have no idea all that they can accomplish until they develop a passion for doing it.
God said, "Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak." Do we believe that Jeremiah received a special ability from God while the rest of us have to fend for ourselves? If so, we do not understand God. According to the lesson, Jeremiah did not feel he was given anything special. He admitted as much by saying, "I cannot speak well and I am too young."
Every "calling" begins the same way. Most of us will never swim by watching others perform or by reading books about how to do it. We have to dive in the water and begin with our first stroke. We only become proficient with time and practice. We crawl before we walk. We walk before we run. No "call" gives us instantaneous ability; what we are given is the inspiration to move in a particular direction. Jeremiah's call was to be a prophet. Have we learned to listen to our call?
Jamie Harrison was a brilliant student. He was a graduate from Northeastern University in 1995 and had excelled in every course he took. He loved learning so much that he successfully earned his Masters and Ph.D. degrees. What was missing was the ability to apply what he knew. He did not know how to earn a living. He had a spiritual dilemma but it went unrecognized.
Religion was a subject about which he knew very little. He figured that it was too other-worldly and he was struggling to master this world. He figured it was all about loving God and your neighbor, while his sense of emptiness kept him preoccupied. He figured religion was about going to church, listening to talks about the Bible, and singing, while none of that interested him. There had been no religious training in either his family or background. There are a lot of people like that.
One evening two of his friends invited him to attend a lecture by Wayne Dyer that was being held at the city's convention center. Wayne was to speak on how to Manifest Your Destiny, the title of one of his more recent books. He had nothing else to do so he went. It changed his life.
For the first time in his life, Jamie became enthralled with something called, "Spirituality." In all his studies, Jamie had never run across spirituality as a subject distinctly different from religion and religious practices. During that lecture, Jamie realized that God's creation is far more expansive, inclusive, and universal than anything religious leaders had to say about it. Spirituality was not rooted in fear-based thinking but in creative possibilities over which he had control. He knew there was hope for someone like him.
That evening Jamie felt "the call" to teach, to pass on his passion for learning. He had never thought about his life as being "pre-wired" for accomplishing his dreams. He learned to listen with intensity not only to Wayne Dyer's presentation but also to his personal desires. Today, Jamie is a thriving, excited, and very passionate teacher in the New York City school system. He loves to kindle the passion of his students for learning. This is what a call feels like.
There are so many people in our society who have not considered attending a church. They may not read books that feed their spirit. They may not take time to explore or enhance their God-given sensitivities. They may have ignored this part of their lives simply because no one ever taught it to them in a form they could enthusiastically embrace.
As a result, so many people wander because they have missed finding and experiencing the largest piece of their life's puzzle -- the connection to what God gave them at birth. God would never allow anyone to come to the earth without equipping them with the abilities to thrive. Yet every year desperate people take their lives. People follow in their parent's footsteps instead of thinking, "What is it that I want to do with my life?" People look at work as something they have to do, instead of allowing their vocation to become a way of life.
John Wesley believed in the priesthood of all believers. He discovered that we can be whole people while developing our craft into an art form. Our spirits can reveal our wholeness whether expressing them as a plumber, brick layer, domestic engineer, or a physician. Our specialty is only the vehicle for communicating and contributing. Why not make that task one of sheer joy by refining "our call" into the art form it was intended to be?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and always-present God, in the rush of our rapidly-changing schedules we do not talk to you as often as we could. We have allowed ourselves to conform to the standards of this world. We hold on to experiences and beliefs in our past, and they often define our future. Guide us, O God, to examine what we are holding on to. Do our thoughts provide us with the magnetism of kindness or the sting of judgment? Can we accommodate differences or do we insist on conformity? Do we recognize ourselves as teachers, or have we remained seekers who are always looking for what we cannot find? We all desire refinement. Enable our church to remain an island where all may find safety and acceptance as we continue our journey. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever-present God, long ago one of your writers wrote, "And what of humankind that Thou, O God, should be mindful of them?" And the same writer answered, "You made them for a little while lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and made them rulers over all things."
How is it, O God, that we come to you with many requests for the very issues you have given us the power to solve? We want peace in the world, yet we frequently hold ill-thoughts about our neighbors. We need to experience forgiveness, yet it remains a challenge to give away the very thing we want from you. We come to you for help with one of life's dramas, as if we have forgotten how to be creative when life presents us with the unexpected.
Help us to discover that the adventure here offers us countless opportunities to expand who we are. Help us once again to affirm our faith that you have never left our side, nor would you allow us to experience what we do not have the potential to manage beautifully.
While we cannot know the eventual outcome of anything we experience, enable us to grow in trust and confidence that you do. As we live with that awareness, may each of us become a disciple who represents your presence everywhere. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . .