January 28, 2019
Lord, you knew me in my mother's womb,
I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
And the darkness is not dark to you,
when the night is as bright as the day.
["Mother's Womb" by Jonathan Rundman]1
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, February 3, 2019, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, are as follows
In my role as bishop, when I meet a pastor or a candidate for ministry the first time, one of the things I ask them is to tell me their call story because each one has a story that is unique to them.
One of the things that is consistent in all their call stories, however, is that it wasn't easy discerning God's call. How do we know?
Each one of us in rostered ministry has another thing in common in that, if we recall our discernment process, most, if not all of us, would admit that we either put up some objection or wondered why Jesus would choose to call us at all.
I can tell you that I wrestled with my sense of call for nearly a decade until I finally realized that God was calling me to God's service. I struggled determining, or more accurately, resisting my sense of call to ordained ministry. And even now, as bishop, there are times when I question whether or not this is really what God has called me to be.
Last June we produced a video for our synod assembly asking our first call pastors here in Northeastern Ohio, who or what inspired their call to ministry. For some, it was a pastor, for others, it was their camp experience - whether as camper or counselor. Their answers were varied, as you can see by watching the video [Click Here].
In the assigned Old Testament reading for this coming Sunday we hear the story of the prophet Jeremiah, who was a young boy when God called him into service. Jeremiah objected, saying, "I am only a boy."
Jeremiah felt totally inadequate to be a messenger for God, but God had a purpose for Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to be "a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah would become one of God's greatest spokespersons, assured by God with the words, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."
Just as Jeremiah was given a new responsibility that day, so also we have been given new responsibilities as the people of God and the body of Christ.
God's call comes when we least expect it and often to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises. Take for example, the Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Corinthians.
If anyone were considered the least likely to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, it would be him. You may recall that it was Paul, in the book of Acts, who was present at the stoning of Stephen. It was Paul, who went from house to house, dragging Christians out and sending them to prison as he conducted this wave of persecution against the church.
But it was exactly this person whom Jesus chose that day on the road to Damascus and entrusted with his ministry. Paul goes on to establish churches in Corinth, Rome and other places all around the Mediterranean basin.
By human standards, if we were to pick someone - anyone - to lead the church today, it certainly wouldn't have been either of these two men. But though we may not be as unlikely a choice as Paul or Jeremiah, there is not a single living human being who has such a blemished background that God can't use you. It may not be to rostered ministry, but as Lutherans, we believe in what is called the priesthood of all believers. That means that God calls each and every one of us to be God's chosen people through holy Baptism.
At the moment of our baptism each of us was given a new identity as a special child of God, one of God's chosen people. When God claimed us in those baptismal waters, God called us to that new identity, and with that new life we were also called into a new mission.
God is calling you and me, each and every one of us, for a special purpose. God knows what we are like but that doesn't let us off the hook. Despite our flaws, God still loves us. God does not give up on us, just as God did not give up on Paul or Jeremiah. We are chosen, forgiven, and God promises to lead us, to guide us, and to give us the skills we need to fulfil the challenge before us.
So when you're asked by your pastor or someone else to be on a board or a committee in your congregation or in the synod, or to take communion to the homebound, or visit the sick, or talk to a neighbor about Jesus and the Church, or help in a worship service, remember it is actually God inviting you into God's wonderful mission and ministry in the name of Jesus.
Should you hesitate - which you will - remember Jeremiah, then remember God's words of assurance: Do not be afraid...for I am with you."
I have a relatively light visitation schedule this month, so I am taking advantage by worshipping, not presiding, at congregations. Yesterday, January 27, I was blessed to be with the people of God at Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Seville. It was fun to engage in conversation with the people and not have any responsibilities. I have yet to determine where I'll be this coming Sunday. Prepare to be surprised.
This week and always, may the Lord be your strong rock, a castle to keep you safe; your crag and your stronghold.
+Bishop Abraham Allende