Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, January 28, 2018: RIC Sunday / 4th Sunday after Epiphany

The following sermon was preached at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity (ELCA) in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, IL on Sunday, January 28, 2018 for the annual observance of Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Sunday.

cropped-img_1909

Texts: Deut. 18:15-20  +  Ps. 111  +  1 Cor. 8:1-13  +  Mk. 1:21-28

Good morning, beloved people of God; and thank you, Pastor Tom, for inviting me to join you for worship on this Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Sunday. You are a congregation that enjoys a strong reputation in our synod for your commitment to issues of justice and your care for one another and your neighbors, so when I got the invitation to preach among you this morning I didn’t really take any time to consider the invitation at all. I just said yes.

I also said yes because, up until relatively recently, I was a parish pastor as well — serving a very small church up in Logan Square, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, where I was preaching just about every Sunday (at least until we got an intern, which allowed me to sit with the congregation and be fed by someone else’s preaching from time to time). It’s so good to hear the gospel preached by a variety of voices, because we each bring a diversity of perspectives and unique histories to how we share the story of God’s total and unconditional love for each and every one of us. About six months ago, my call to St. Luke’s ended and I began a new call as Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), which means that I now get to hear a great deal of other people’s preaching … and that I do a good deal less preaching myself. That felt like a vacation for the first two or three months, then I started to itch for the opportunity to preach in the local parish again — because you, dear ones, are the church, you are precious in God’s sight and the world needs you, now as always, to bear the good news of the gospel in a land filled with ancient hatreds, emboldened prejudices, and rising violence.

So let me wrap up all these warming up words with one more thing: a thank you on behalf of the seminary. For many years you have served as a site for field education, welcoming 2nd year seminarians and interns into your community so that they can learn the arts and rhythms of ministry. I’ve known some of the students that have passed through this community and you should not be surprised to hear that they speak about you with so much love and pride when they share the story of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. You’ve been good for them and, I think, they’ve been good for you. In this, we see once again a small reminder of the greater truth that we are all in this together, each working in the corner of the world where our histories and our relationships give us the power to speak and act with authority to heal the world and its peoples and to liberate one another from all the powers that bind us.

We don’t really know each other, so you might be wondering why Pastor Tom invited me to worship with you on this morning when throughout the Lutheran church many congregations are focusing on the experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other sexual or gender minorities (which I will from now on refer to, rather clumsily and incompletely, as LGBTQ people and communities) and the church’s painful history and on-going need to be reconciled with the LGBTQ people in our parishes and out in the world who have, for most of history and in most places, heard nothing that sounds like good news from the church. The reason why Pastor Tom likely thought I’d be a good person to speak to this history is that I have been involved in the movement for the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the ELCA for many years.

Like many of you, I was raised in the church. In fact, my father worked for the church as a parish musician for forty years, and I grew up spending two to three nights a week at church for one reason or another. It was my second home and my extended family. So, when I told my dad at the age of 14 that I thought that maybe God was calling me to ministry, he said what I would hope we tell all our children. He said, “Yes, Erik. I know God is calling you to ministry, because God is calling us all to ministry. That’s what it means to be baptized.”

He was right, of course. This is what we Lutherans means when we speak of the “priesthood of all believers.” We mean that, in our baptism, each and every one of us has been called and commissioned to be part of God’s movement for healing, justice, love and liberation in the world. Every single one of us. At a time when the church was focused on concentrating power into the hands and voices of just a few, the clergy, Luther taught that clergy were no more and no less essential to God’s mission than anyone else. We are all called to ministry, each of our ministries being necessary and essential to the world. We are called to be parents and children, teachers and bakers, artists and builders, lovers and friends, because the world needs all of these things, and more. And some of us are called to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments; to proclaim the news of God’s reconciling love, to welcome people at the font and feed them at the table, as a sign that God calls all of us to be reconciled, to welcome one another into the circle of community, and to share all that we have so that all might have enough. It’s just one calling among many. And it was the one I sensed God calling me to.

But not too long after that conversation with my father, I began to sense something else. I began to sense that I wasn’t entirely like other boys my age, that I didn’t see what they saw when they looked at our female classmates. That I didn’t want what they wanted, not in the same way. But it was the 1980s, y’all. And I was in Iowa. So, about the only thing I was hearing about gay people was that they were all getting sick and dying. There were no gay teachers, or gay preachers, or gay politicians, or gay talk-show hosts — no one to show me a reflection of who I might be becoming. I had to figure that out for myself. I’ve sometimes said that it wasn’t so much that I was hiding my truth from the world in the closet, as much as the world was hiding my truth from me in the closet. I was looking for something I couldn’t quite even name, and all the adults who might have helped me out just watched as I stumbled through my childhood trying to name a thing no one wanted to talk about.

GoPhoto_0071_Photo-Scan-00377

Pastor Erik, far right (front), with classmates from Macalester College at the 1993 “March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Liberation” (lack of inclusion of trans people not my own).

It wasn’t until I got to college and met other young adults who were also LGBTQ that I began to realize that my experience wasn’t unique, that I belonged to a community that has been finding ways to flourish in the cracks between the spaces where other people live for centuries. We have been whispering our names, signaling to each other through our songs, sculpting our lives out of the scraps left behind when respectability leaves the table. It was exhilarating and it was terrifying, because it meant leaving so much behind — like my dream of being a pastor in the church. Because I quickly learned that God did not want me in the church. At least that’s what the church said.

But I knew differently, and this is purely a gift from God, that I have always known and never doubted that I belong to God, I was created by God, I am loved by God just as I am. It may the only thing I know for sure, but I know it and I always have. I knew it as a child and I’ve never forgotten it. The only thing time has done to this knowledge is to convince me that what is true for me is equally as true for every one and everything else in all of creation. So I know that you, each and every one of you, belong to God. You were created by God, and you are loved by God, just as you are. I know this for sure.

Meanwhile, I still needed a job, and I found a way to use the gifts God had given me in work that felt almost, but not quite, like what I’d imagined being a pastor might be like. I taught junior high for a year. I worked with homeless and street kids in Minneapolis. I was an advocate with children witnessing and experiencing violence in their homes and in their relationships. My kids were refugees from northern Africa, they were kids tossed out of their homes for being queer or trans, they were kids whose moms were staying in shelters, they were hustlers and they were awesome and I loved them. I loved my work and I loved the people I worked with. But I wasn’t happy, because I wasn’t doing the thing God had put in me to do.

So eventually, in 1999, ten years before the ELCA would change its policies and begin to make room for openly LGBTQ people to serve the church as pastors and deacons, I entered candidacy and went to seminary. My only rule with myself was “don’t lie and don’t hide.” I fully expected to get kicked out at some point, which I did, but I could no longer live with the pain and frustration of being the one to hold myself back from the life God wanted to live through me. If the church was going to reject me, so be it — but I was no longer going to do their dirty work for them by disqualifying myself before I’d even begun.

And this is where, finally, I come to the scriptures assigned for this day. Let’s go back to the Hebrew bible passage from the book of Deuteronomy. Here, Moses is giving the people of Israel instruction on how they will live together as a community in the promised land of freedom after he is gone. He tells them “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your people … into whose mouth I will put my words, and that person will tell (the people) all that I command. If any person will not listen to the words which my prophet speaks in my Name, I myself will call that person to answer for this. But if a prophet presumes to speak in my Name a message that I have not commanded to be spoken, or speaks in the name of other gods — that prophet will die.” (Deut. 18:15-20)

How does this passage relate to my story or to our lives? Who is the prophet sent by God following after Moses to share God’s Word with the people? To whom is this scripture referring? Is it Jesus? Or is it … me?

Whoa. I just went there. It’s such a ridiculous, audacious claim to make, but let’s just check it out for a minute. I’ll tell you why I’m led to wonder if I am a prophet sent by God: because people have straight up asked me. When I went through candidacy in the ELCA, a member of the committee said to me, “Surely you know this church’s policies, and yet here you are — clearly living your life in opposition to the teachings and the policies of this church. So, why would you think that the rules would change for you? What do you think you are? Some kind of prophet?”

You know, I’d never considered that question before. It had never even entered my mind to wonder what it meant that I could acknowledge the world as it is, and yet still imagine the world as it could be — even with so much scripture and tradition and policy and procedure standing in the way. I only knew the truth about me and about you, that we belong to God, that we were created by God, and that we are loved by God, just as we are. Those were the things that could not bend in me. Everything else seemed amendable.

CWA05 Vigil

Pr. Erik at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, inviting voting members to ask him about his story.

So I said to the person questioning me, “It’s not for me to say, whether I’m a prophet or not. Someday we’ll all be looking back, and if gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer people have found a new freedom and a new place in the church and in the world, then some people will say that this was a prophetic stand. And, if not, then I suppose I’ll be labelled a heretic, and I’ll be in good company. But only the future knows the difference between prophets and heretics.”

And, you know, I would tell you that I have no idea where those words came from, or the courage to say them in that moment, but that would be a lie. Because I knew, even as I was saying them, that those words were the Holy Spirit speaking in me. Because I was telling the truth about my life, not lying and not hiding. And that truth is what I think Jesus was referring to when he said to the people who followed him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32) Furthermore, I don’t think we’re supposed to run away from the word “prophet,” as if it were somehow thinking too highly of ourselves to imagine that each of us might have an important role to play in the revealing of God’s preferred future for this world, especially when the present is so painfully broken. After all, are we not Easter people? Do we not live our lives in light of the resurrection? Do we not remember Peter’s sermon that first Pentecost day, when he quoted the prophet Joel, saying,

“In those last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your [children] shall prophesy, your youth shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, people of all genders, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)

So, who was God talking about when God said to Moses that God would lift up prophets like him to lead the people into the future? Am I wrong to say that it’s me? No! No more wrong than for me to say that it is you — which I will now say:

You are the prophets anointed by God to lead God’s people into the future! When did this anointing take place? In your baptism! Don’t you remember, “Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Those are the words the church spoke over you as you were washed with water and anointed with oil. Who are the people God has called you to lead? All people, all of us together. Everyone in, no one left out.

On this RIC Sunday, as I stand in your pulpit — a called and ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — speaking to you, a congregation with a story of your own to tell about how God brings new life to people and places left for dead, I don’t need to tell you why it’s important to welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities into the church. You’ve already done that, and frankly we were always here. What I came here today to remind you of is this:

You are God’s own beloved. You were made by God, and you are loved by God. Just as you are. As is everybody else. Everything else is amendable. So, when you look out at the world as it is, lying to us all about who we are and how deeply we belong to each other, what needs to change?

And who will be the one to say it?

Will it be you?

By what authority?

Who do you think you are?

A community full of prophets?

To me, the answer is a clear as the waters in which you were baptized.

Yes, you are.

Standard
Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 26, 2016: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21  +  Psalm 16  +  Galatians 5:1,13-25  +  Luke 9:51-62

Pew Partisanship InfographicA report published this past Wednesday by the Pew Research Center describes U.S. partisanship as being at its highest point since at least 1992, when they first began tracking the data. According to the report “91 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably, with 58 percent holding ‘very unfavorable’ attitudes toward it. Among Democrats, 86 percent view the Republican Party unfavorably, while 55 percent hold it in a very unfavorable light.’” (1)

We feel the split throughout our life together as a nation and it is reflected in the divided Supreme Court, which delivered a ruling this week that denies protections from deportation to more than four million undocumented people living in the U.S., most of them parents of U.S. citizens, families now living under the daily shadow of being separated from one another. (2) We feel it in the irrational divide between the 90 percent of Americans who support expanded background checks for gun purchases and the continued failure of our elected government to act on the will of their constituents.

These deep canyons between us are widening and spreading. While we were in Barcelona, Kerry and I saw posters on every street for the campaign for Catalonian independence from Spain. British voters have now decided by a very narrow margin to secede from the European Union, immediately prompting calls for new referendums in Scotland and Ireland about their futures in the “United” Kingdom.

And we feel it in the church, where seven years after the ELCA moved to allow for the rostering of LGBTQ people and local control over which relationships congregations will or will not choose to bless with marriage rites, we still exist in a state of limbo that does not allow us to say without reservation that LGBTQ people are of sacred worth, created in the image and likeness of God, and that our relationships are as holy and healthy as anyone else’s (which, of course, we would then need to follow up by acknowledging that our relationships are as strained and stretched and painfully broken as anyone else’s as well).

In her letter to the church following the massacre in Orlando at a gay bar that left 49 queer Latinx (3) people dead, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton told the church:

Our work begins now. We need to examine ourselves, individually and as a church, to acknowledge the ways we have divided and have been divided. We must stand with people who have been “othered.” We must speak peace and reconciliation into the cacophony of hatred and division. We must live the truth that all people are created in God’s image. (4)

This is our work to do as Christians, because we bear Christ’s name, and because we have been baptized into his life, his death, and his resurrection. To illustrate the point, we need look no further than the passage we’ve already read this morning from the gospel of Luke.

The scene opens, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Here we are to understand that Jesus faced his future with no uncertainty about what was to come. His confrontation with empire would be his death, but not his end. The phrase “he set his face” is an echo from the prophet Isaiah who confidently professes, “Therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” (Isa. 50:7) Like prophets in any age, Jesus knows that his ministry will provoke opposition and he draws strength from his confidence that God is with him in his work.

Next we learn that Jesus and his followers have entered a Samaritan village. Moving as he is from Galilee to Jerusalem, it makes a certain amount of sense that he is in Samaritan territory, because the most direct path from Galilee to Jerusalem ran directly through Samaria — yet, most Jewish people took the long way around and avoided Samaritans because they were because they were of mixed ethnic heritage, because they had it all wrong when it came to worship and religious life, because they were different.

But Jesus takes the direct route, leading his community straight into Samaria where they unsurprisingly are not well received. Think about this though. Knowing he was headed for a world-changing confrontation in Jerusalem, Jesus still opted not to avoid conflict with the people and communities along the way, but to move through the world not making distinctions between his people and those other people, between his followers and his skeptics. What a different style of leadership and communication than what we’ve grown accustomed to, than we have adopted as our own.

Furthermore, once he is rejected Jesus’ followers ask, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In our present age of aggression, flame wars on the internet are a daily fact of life — the natural byproduct of a culture of micro aggressions and interpersonal violence both large and small. We are experts at dismissing one another. We are primed for retaliation. But Jesus refuses to engage in their ongoing war with one another, instead turning to rebuke them.

The way so many of us have learned to make a home for ourselves in the world is to figure out who is for us and who is against us, and then to fortify the walls that separate us. We find our security in surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who share our opinions, our politics, our prejudices, our language, our religion, our skin-tone, and we call that home. Could this be what Jesus means when he says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son-of-Man has nowhere to lay his head;” that to follow Jesus is to give up the safety of like-minded community, and to take the direct path to engagement with the people you’ve been conditioned your whole life to avoid?

I feel like I end up preaching some version of this sermon over and over again every four years, as the national elections heat up. It’s baked into our political process, this culture of negativity and demonization, and we all get sucked in so quickly. We surround ourselves with like-minded people, and we call down fire upon one another.

How’s that working for us? Has it stopped the gunfire in our neighborhoods? Has it slowed the rate of homicide in our city? Are we feeling any safer?

As the city gathers this afternoon to remember the Stonewall riots that took place in New York City 47 years ago that gave rise to the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement, I am reminded that the single action taken by millions upon millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, Two-Spirit, gender non-conforming people and their allies to change the world was coming out. Telling their story to parents and siblings, friends and co-workers, neighbors and elected officials. It was an act of radical vulnerability. It was the willingness to share their truth with the very people who had too often proven to be untrustworthy, but to do it anyways.

1402304_1280x720

It’s not just the 49 queer Latinx sisters and brothers we’re remembering this year. It’s the children at Newtown. It’s Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. It’s Aurora and Columbine. It’s Tijuana and Juárez. It’s the 6 year old girl shot here in Logan Square, slowly working her way back to health. We honor them best not by doubling down on the tactics of division, but by coming out from behind our walls to tell our stories, to listen to one another, to find the common ground between us — no matter how thin that isthmus of understanding may be — and to begin again the work of building the home large enough and safe enough for us all.

Jesus says, “let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the dominion of God.” It sounds callous at first, but I think in his own way he was saying what I’ve heard so many saying once again in the last two weeks. “We don’t need your thoughts and prayers. We need change.” The dead are gone, and we honor them best by fighting like heaven for the lives of those who remain. When the world is on fire, we don’t need a monument to firefighters, we need water — more water than we’ve ever dared to imagine — to pour down and save us.

You baptized people of God. You are God’s water. We are God’s water. We pray with our feet. Our pride is in the God of Israel and Judah, Galilee and Samaria, citizens and the undocumented, Native and colonizers, Black and White and Latinx and Asian, Democrats and Republicans, Britons and Europeans, straight and cisgender and the whole rainbow of folks who are not. Our God is the God of the living and the dead, and since we can count on God to care for those who have passed on from this life, we are free to fight for those still here and yet to be born.

Amen.

+++

(1) “U.S. Partisanship is Highest in Decades, Pew Study Finds” New York Times, June 23, 2016.

(2) “Low-Priority Immigrants Still Swept Up in Net of Deportation” New York Times, June 24, 2016.

(3) Latinx (pronounced: La-teen-ex) being the name that some trans and gender non-conforming people of Latin American descent have chosen for themselves as a way of moving beyond the gender binary woven into the Spanish language.

(4) “ELCA presiding bishop issues letter in response to Orlando shooting” ELCA press release, June 13, 2016. Online at http://www.elca.org 

Standard
Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, January 18, 2015: Second Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10  +  Psalm 139:1-6,13-18  +  1 Corinthians 6:12-20  +  John 1:43-51

So the apostle Paul wants to talk about prostitution?  OK, let’s at least start there, but here’s where I want to end up: with Samuel in the temple praying, “speak, for your servant is listening.”

I’ve known plenty of people who’ve been involved in prostitution. They’re more or less like the rest of us, neither better nor worse. They are neither morally degenerate, nor covert heroes. They are human beings, each distinct with her or his own story about how and why they ended up involved in prostitution, how it served them, how it trapped them, how they survived it, or didn’t.

As an example, I remember one young woman whom I’ll call Cecilia, a transgender young woman I met while working with runaway and homeless youth in Minneapolis almost twenty years ago.  Cecilia was big and loud, and sometimes awkward and shy.  She worked at a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth, sometimes checking people in at the door, sometime as a barista behind the coffee bar. She’d been kicked out of her house very early in life for coming out as a woman and, like every homeless youth I’ve ever known, had to make hard decisions about how to survive. There is a market for young people’s bodies, so she used what she had.

Once she’d left the streets Cecilia was, for the most part, able to leave prostitution behind. Then one day as she was walking home from work two police officers stopped her on the street and harassed her, making cruel comments about her gender identity and publicly humiliating her. Once they left she returned to the park where she’d often met johns and turned a quick trick, not because she needed the money but because she felt so violated and powerless that she needed to assert herself in a situation she felt she knew how to control.

I wonder how Cecilia would hear Paul’s words to the First Corinthians. “Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15b) I imagine there’s a way to read that verse that sounds an awful lot like the way those cops spoke to her on the sidewalk. I wonder if anyone ever looked at her beautiful trans* body and said, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). That’s what I wanted to tell her, that her body and the bodies of her friends whom I cherished, were sacred temples and homes to a divine presence that is democratically distributed among us all and can never be kicked out. That no matter the rejection or abuse any of us has suffered, God has chosen to make a home inside of us that is permanent.

It was stories like Cecilia’s that finally drove me to seminary, that helped me get over the idea that there was no place for me in the church and to ask if the church actually mattered if it had nothing helpful to say to Cecilia and her friends. I knew from my own experience that the church could be a site of incredible community, unconditional love, and ethical challenge — if you were well-housed, in-school, middle-class. But I wondered if the church had anything to offer to those Howard Thurman described as the “disinherited,” those living with their backs to the wall.

1303751314-logo.31184548_stdIt turns out the church has plenty to say to the disinherited, and a variety of creative and effective ways to say it. For example, down in Nashville, Tennessee the Rev. Becca Stevens, an Episcopal chaplain, started the Magdalene ministry almost twenty years ago to work with women with histories of substance abuse and prostitution. Knowing that poverty and addiction make it very difficult for many to escape prostitution, the Magdalene program combines Narcotics Anonymous and addiction counseling with residential treatment, job training and financial education. After five years of working with these women, Pastor Stevens recognized that it is difficult to find good work upon leaving residential treatment, so launched Thistle Farms, a small business that employs graduates of the Magdalene program to make personal care products sold in stores like Whole Foods and the Thistle Stop Café. For women who have experienced prostitution and have decided to leave it behind, the Magdalene program and Thistle Farms are one way the church has shown up with more than words to communicate God’s unfailing love for their precious lives.

If we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians carefully, we notice that his instruction isn’t aimed at prostitutes, but at those who pay for their services. From everything we know about the world Paul lived in, prostitution was quite common and men felt entitled to women’s bodies in ways that, sadly, hasn’t changed all that much in the intervening millennia. Paul is critiquing common practice, and challenging those who have found their identity in Christ to make a distinction between what is allowed, or lawful, and what is beneficial. It may have been commonly accepted, or permissible, to engage the services of a prostituted woman, but that didn’t make it beneficial to either party. Paul describes the exchange of bodies for money as a sin against the body, as a reduction of something holding sacred worth to something to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Some have asked how prostitution is all that different from the many other ways we buy and sell our bodies in the marketplace: our time, our skills, our labor. I think this is a wonderful line of questioning that might lead us to think more broadly about all the ways modern labor practices dehumanize real people in the production of fetishized objects. How is our treatment of the people who work in sweat shops to manufacture cheap designer clothing or underpaid migrant labor to produce cheap organic food different than our treatment of abused and neglected women and men, girls and boys, to provide cheap sexual gratification? And are any of the above really beneficial to us?

But there is another question that the set of scriptures we heard read among us this morning asks, that begs for our attention. That is, what is God calling us to do and be in and for those whom God created in love for love? The story of the boy prophet Samuel is the story of a child dedicated to God by his family and apprenticed to an older generation whom God calls to lead the people in a new direction. Three times God calls out to Samuel, and Samuel goes to the bedside of his mentor, Eli, mistaking the voice of God for the voice of the past.  Eventually Eli realizes that it is the LORD who is speaking to his young protege, and he instructs Samuel to return to his bed to wait for the voice of God and to answer, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

I wonder what it felt like for Eli, who had spent his life caring for the people and tending to the temple, to recognize that God was preparing to do a new thing with new leadership. And I wonder what it felt like for Samuel to be called by God to share a difficult and painful message with Eli, to tell him that his family’s term in the temple was coming to an end. God tells Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” (1 Sam. 3:11) It’s a moment of great courage by both parties when Samuel comes to Eli to share what God has revealed and the older man says to the younger, “What was it that [God] told you? Do not hide it from me.” (1 Sam. 3:17) What a deeply respectful exchange that is. And then, after Eli hears what God has in store for his family and the larger nation, he says, “It is the LORD; let [God] do what seems good to [God].” (1 Sam. 3:18)

This is how God seems to work in the world, calling unlikely people to get up and leave what they’ve known to do the unexpected, which turns out to be precisely what is needed. When Philip the disciple tells Nathanael about Jesus, he replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But that was the pot calling the kettle black, because who really expected anything good to come out of a group of working class fishermen in occupied Israel? Who really expected anything good to come out of a group of women used in prostitution? Who really expected anything good to come out a group of twelve elderly Lutherans in a crumbling church? But here we are. Out of twelve people who had the courage to follow the voice that called them away from the lives they’d known, God was able to build the church. Jesus assures Nathanael, “you will see greater things than these … you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)

In this season of Epiphany we are challenged to remember that God has a vision for the world that is larger than the domesticated dreams to which we’ve grown accustomed. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, declaring,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isa. 49:6)

As we consider our future together, I pray we have the courage to dream on that scale, to consider that we were called together by the spirit of God, which is not content with simply restoring the survivors, but saving the nations. What radical departures is God calling us to make? What shores is God calling us to leave? Come and see. Speak, LORD, for your servants are listening.

Amen.

Standard