“My whole soul is in this.”
A sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 - The Headstrong Daughter
Epiphany III B - January 24 2021
It’s hard to miss the theme of these lessons. Jonah is called to “Get up and go to Nineveh.” And Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”
Even St. Paul senses a call about “this appointed time” and the Psalmist sings, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” And, just in case you missed it, the collect is pretty clear: “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Hmm . . . lemme guess …. It’s all about call, isn’t it?
One of the pastoral duties
I’ve found myself called to over these many years, in and out of parochial
ministry and in interim ministry is helping people and congregations with discernment of call. Most often, that has been
discerning a call to priesthood - or, calling a priest - but there have been more than a few times when
it has been my privilege to walk with someone on the journey I like to call
“Well, what am I supposed to do now?”
Most often, that’s been after
a loss of some kind: A death. A divorce. The loss of a job, either after having
been laid off or fired. A career change. The last kid has graduated from high
school or college. A move to be with a spouse. And, sometimes, it’s just an
“itch” – a vague sense that something needs to change.
Very often the first step on the journey of “Well, what am I supposed to do now?” starts with “But, I can’t . . . .” . Or, “But I don’t know anything else but what I’ve been doing . . .” Or, “I’m just a ____” (fill in the blank: A mom. A cook. A teacher. A bank teller. A musician. An immigrant. And, in one case, a plumber.)
It’s moments like that I love to pull out something I’ve kept in my file for years. I was delighted to go to my file cabinet and find that it was still there.
It's a little
something from Greg Ogden, in his book "Transforming Discipleship: Making
Disciples a Few at a Time." It’s in the form of a letter to Jesus from a
management consulting firm which Jesus apparently consulted about his
Jesus, Son of Joseph
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.
They do not have the “team concept”.
We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.
Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.
The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.
Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.
James, the son of Alphaeus, as well as Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings. They registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.
All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new Venture.
Jordan Management Consultants
I also have a similar consultant’s letter about Jesus, which is far less than flattering, but you get the drift. I love to present this to a person in discernment, especially when I get, “But, I’m just a . . .”.
As I was listening to Joe Biden’s inauguration speech, I remembered a writing exercise we were assigned in the 7th or 8th Grade English Class. We were to write a 250 word essay on the following question:
“Is a man made for the moment, or the moment made for the man?” Let’s update that question for the realities of the Third Millennium and ask, “Is the person made for the moment, or the moment made for the person?”
I remembered that question when I heard our newly minted President say this:
“In another January, on New Year’s Day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper, the president said, and I quote: “If my name ever goes down into history, it’ll be for this act. And my whole soul is in it.”
My whole soul was in it today. On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
And I thought to myself, “He really feels called to this work. He’s a 78-year old man with almost 50 years of service to his country. He has every right to say, “I’m just . . . an old man . . . .a retired Congressman with a Medal of Freedom . . . I’m just a father and a grandfather . . . What more can I give? What am I supposed to do now?”
And, maybe he has said all those things, but he heard yet another call to service. “My whole soul is in this today.”
So, is a person made for
the moment or the moment made for the person?
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote on that essay, but I do remember that I got an A. And, I think I got an A because I was, even then, a budding Anglican.
To my mind, there are times, I think, when a moment arrives that we’ve been waiting for all of our lives – sometimes, we don’t even know we were waiting for it until it arrived – and it is as clear as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face that there is nothing to be done but to step into the moment.
There are also times when a moment arrives and it is nothing we could have asked for or imagined and it’s certainly nothing we ever wanted, and we scratch our heads and say, “Well, what am I supposed to do now?”
And we spin the wheels in our mind about how we are “just this or that” and don’t have the skills or the training to do any of what is required of the moment.
And yet, when we step into the moment, the moment has something to teach us – to give us – and we discover, much to our surprise, that the moment makes something of us we had no idea was even a possibility.
And we are changed, and we
are transformed, and we will never again be the same.
I'm sure you've all got stories about such moments in your own lives. Sometimes it was good and sometimes, not so good. Mostly they are not dramatic until seen through the rear view mirror of life. But, we all have those stories of transformational moments.
One of my favorite stories is about a woman who struggled for years with a sense of vocation, but because she had also struggled with learning, she thought she was, in her words, "a moron, too dumb to be a priest."
She saw her skills in the kitchen as her vocation, so she became a caterer, to the raving and appreciative cheers of her clients and customers. "Jesus said, 'feed my sheep'," she said. "I guess that's what I'm doing."
But, the "call" wouldn't go away, so she came to me to do some spiritual discernment.
It took me some time of gentle persuasion, but I finally got her to confront her presenting "problem". I was convinced that she was not "dumb" but probably had some learning disabilities that had been undiagnosed. We finally found a psychologist who would administer an IQ test.
She had her appointment and, a week later, went in for the results. That afternoon, we had a scheduled appointment. She was noticeably pale and seemed stunned. She sat down in the rocking chair and rocked for about 5 minutes before she finally found the words to speak.
She started by saying that the first thing the examiner asked her was about her son, which she thought quite peculiar. She asked his age and how he was doing in school.
She said, well, he had had a difficult start but once he had been diagnosed with learning disabilities, he got the help he needed and was actually excelling.
The examiner asked if anyone had ever asked her if she had learning disabilities. She said her heart sank. No, she answered, I've just never been very good at school.
"Did anyone ever tell you that your son's learning disabilities were probably a familial thing - that it probably ran in her family?"
"No," she said. "No, I just thought my son, well, had learning disabilities, as I had been told."
"Well," said the examiner, "so do you. Which is why your IQ score can't be accurately measured."
She said her heart sank. She just knew that this was where the hammer dropped. She was so stupid, her IQ so low, it didn't even register.
She took a deep breath and asked, “So, just how low is my IQ?"
"Low?" The examiner put her head back and laughed. "My dear," she said, "your IQ is so high we don't have the tools to measure it here." She added, "You are at the level of genius."
As the words of the examiner washed over her, she closed her eyes and, when she opened them, she realized she had gone from a moron to a genius. Just like that.
And, just like that, right there in the examiner's room, right in front of the examiner, she heard a voice in her ear say, "I have called you to be one of my priests."
She looked at the examiner and said, "Yes," right out loud, as tears streamed down her face. She told me that was the first time she had dared say 'yes' out loud but, she said, "I know I had been saying 'yes' in my heart for years."
She said the examiner looked a little confused but understood that something else - something more, something deep, something important - was happening in that room.
God speaks to us in various ways - sometimes right into our ear - but sometimes, God speaks through other people, other things. We just have to listen to the varieties of ways God sends messages and messengers.
It often starts when we find ourselves scratching our head and asking, “What am I supposed to do now?”
I’ve learned, over the years,
that sometimes, it takes as much courage to let go as it does to take hold and
begin something new, something, as Martin Smith once said, drives us to “the
crucifyingly obscure boundaries of faith.”
We are called at many different times in many different ways. The challenge is not just to look but to see, not just to listen but to hear, as St. Benedict wrote, “with the eyes and ears of the heart.”
There is another sense of call
that I want to leave you with which comes from another moment of the many vocations
I heard on Inauguration Day. These are the closing words of the poem by Amanda
Gorman, National Poet Laureate:
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.
In this season of Epiphany, we are called to be lights of hope, lights of love, lights that lead the weary souls of others, in the words of Amanda Gorman, “to lift our gaze not to what stands between us, but what stands before us” and be part of a people united to “rebuild, reconcile and recover.”
Simon and Andrew, James and John, despite all their flaws, were brave enough to see the Light; brave enough to be a light.