Call: God's Early Warning of Change

Kent Beduhn

January 21, 2018

Texts:
     Ps. 62: 5-12
     Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
     Mark 1: 14-20b

Jesus arrives on the scene in Mark just as John is imprisoned: one brother and prophet succeeds the next.  The Message, the Good News is clear: Time is fulfilled; God’s Kindom is at hand, has “come near”; Repent! Transform your minds and actions (metanoia)! Turn and Change!

  • It is God alone who calls us (just as Jesus does).
  • It is possible Leave everything; follow God’s creative possibility in a call (just as the one Jesus proclaimed).
  • We can Trust that, by faith, God can change everyone and everything, including those we (personally) give up on (just as Jesus did).

God Alone

The Psalm is profoundly clear:

 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
  for my hope is from him.
  6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
  my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

It takes humility to keep “The awe and reverence of God always before my eyes” (Ps 36:2).  This is a God we so quickly, maybe conveniently, make as small as whether we’ve done something we ought to have, or not done something we should not have.  This large God is not necessarily only a God of shoulds or oughts.  I am moved to say this is a God large enough to offer us ultimate permission to be Godlike ourselves as we follow.  Our humility—becoming humus, in the Latin becoming earth-like or able to offer nurture and provide nutrient for growth—makes it possible for God’s understanding love and mercy to meet us, even shine through us.  We may have been on silent retreat, or in our daily quiet time when we waited in silence, experienced God as our hope, salvation, rock.  It is a posture of anticipation.  Something’s going to happen, now; I know it, because God is present, presence itself.  Conscious awareness of presence is a participation in God’s own awareness, shining through us, waiting for “God alone.” This may be our sole source of nurture and supply, and in this humble moment, it is enough. 

  • "YES, God cares!"
  • "Yep, God lets us think whatever we will"
  • "God’s out of the action, missing or absent."

These are just thoughts… This is not the same as inviting God’s will, presence, or God’s call, to invite God’s presence through us to act in the world.  To step out on a scary or even foolhardy or treacherous path in the name of God—What does it take to trust God Alone?  But it is not us, it is God’s will through us.  Jesus prays in the Garden, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”  We think we choose our own destiny, but this kind of prayer—said by each of us many times in our lives at crucial places—clears a way for God’s life to be lived through us. 

How are we able to invite a Larger Love and Will into our life through God?  Are we one who clears a way for God alone to be seen and heard, visualized and listened-to?  God is imaging God’s self through us, resonating and singing through our choices, situations and clamor of living.  In the clamor of many distracting noises and what falls too often into deep darkness, are we able to be present to God alone?  I don’t believe this can be our idea, but God’s idea through us. 

When we Let God, God Breaks in.  We get “wake-up calls.” It’s God’s “early warning” system.  There we are at home, along the sea, mending our nets with our father and the hired men, and we are yanked out of our complacency—maybe even boredom with life—as we fish for fish.  Some new voice, presence, invitation hits us, and invites us to be “people fishers,” not “fish fishers.”  When we let a conversation, a class, a song, a group, even a sermon fundamentally shift us, when our inner ground is prepared as humus, as the humility before God alone, we are prepared, we are open.  And then, when we are really opened, God breaks in, providing “early warning” for what we’re getting into. 

If you’ve ever experienced this, there’s nothing like it. It can happen indirectly or directly, but it’s unmistakable: you are called to do something.  “Only God alone could allow something as outrageous as this to be true!  We are over our heads and it’s wonderful.”

A life example: It was just this time of year, in January of 2006, returning from a second trip in six months to Israel-Palestine and a Palestinian Nonviolence Conference we had just attended in Bethlehem, that Carol Bullard-Bates and I decided to call a mission group with Lee Porter for advocacy for the Palestinians in the US-supported Occupation.  Later, Alice Azzouzi joined us.  This was the Way to Jerusalem Mission Group, a justice-seeking ministry which pursued 3-4 solid years of advocacy, study, conferences and leadership on this issue.  We were committed to the six Kingian Nonviolence Principles:  

PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. 

PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.  The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.  Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. 

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.  Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative. 

PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.  Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice. 

Fundamental tenets of Dr King’s philosophy of nonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.

At times we would think to ourselves, “What made us think we could do this?” But we did it, because of the call and horror of the injustices, many of which are unfortunately worse today than they were then.  This illustrates a fundamental principal of Call also: we are not promised or sent forth on our call to achieve “success,” but only to be faithful to our calling as it is revealed to us and the group of committed people around us.  We were on the journey in a place of surrender and faithfulness to the unfolding call as it had been revealed to us: we were asking for God’s will to be done through us to pursue justice through nonviolence. 

It may have been what the disciples, Zebedee’s boys, James and John, felt when they wondered later that evening, “What is a fisher of men?” It may be in Jonah’s mind when asked to walk across a city for three days to proclaim conversion or death: “This is so outrageous; I will either be killed or silenced for demanding Ninevah’s repentance.  Here’s our National Enemy, Ninevah, with all its people and even cattle repenting, surrendering, humbling and prostrating in ashes.” This speaks to the nature of how God’s will breaks in, changes everything, and leads us to not give up.

It also speaks to the nature of call itself.  Call has certain qualities and values in our Church of the Saviour tradition:

Call is part of a tradition of courage and wisdom: let this be reflected in our action on calling.  Ultimately, call is something you do, you don’t just talk about or explain it: engagement with like-minded people to have an impact on the world, bringing Kin-dom values of justice, peace, service to the “least of these,” conversion, resistance, or solidarity. 

It’s part of our tradition, more than just personal, but shared tradition; it is communal and cannot be pursued alone but only by putting God as primary mover.

It’s certainly part of our culture/society of “Do it yourself,” but as Christians we “Do it together”: let that be reflected in our spirit of community and shared commitment .

In our CoS tradition, there are three qualities of call: These are the three ways we evaluate and affirm the truth of one another’s calls, as a faith community, as they are evoked among and between us by God:

1. Joy.  Where your joy and “deep gladness” meets the world’s pain and “deep hunger.” (“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”― Frederick BuechnerWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

2.  Gifts.  There are personal and shared spiritual gifts, for the service of what needs to be done.

3.  God-Sized.  Beyond human accomplishment: The impossibility of Call is part of the condition that it is “of God.”  This elicits a Spirit-sized imagination for all of us: participating to conceive the largeness of God’s hope for the world.

It may be the same call and “early warning” and faith Pete Seeger had when he wrote and sang “Quite Early Morning”:

Don't you know it's darkest before the dawn?
And it's this thought keeps me moving on

If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning

Some say that humankind won't long endure
But what makes them feel so doggone sure?

I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go ringing

And what generates this kind of faithfulness?  That faith comes by following a call in the middle of the darkness; it’s a faith we can make the “freedom bells go ringing” of God’s Kin-dom, God’s beloved community rising up and doing the will of their maker.  It’s humility, the kind of humility you see in the life and work of Pete Seeger.

Joan Chittester writes in her book (I recommend) on Benedictine core principles, Radical Spirit, about this humility of putting God Alone first… She shares:

Once upon a time, the ancients say, a disciple traveled far and wide to find a spiritual master who could lead him to the fullness of the spiritual life.
“What is it you seek?” the Holy One asked him.
Master, the younger seeker replied, “How can I ever be emancipated? [Set free?]”
The Zen Master answered: “You must ask yourself who it is that has put you into bondage.” 

Chittester continues to write:

The seeker is us.  The missing spiritual master in this instance is the humility it takes to rest our lives in the consciousness that only God is God.  Not us.  And definitely not anything else in life that we have allowed to become our god other than God…

When we make “shrines to ourselves,” a common personal and cultural tendency, we can provide ample activity and busyness to even believe only in ourselves sometimes—that we are “all that!” But it does not take long before our avoidances of our callings (beyond ourselves, that is), or even our distractions themselves, begin to pale and become bland, colorless and tasteless, and we cannot even believe our own hype!  Something else happens in this ego trap: We stay immature, self-indulgent and perhaps trapped in a self-centered/deluded do-it-yourself world.  If it happens to an adolescent, it’s sad.  If it happens to an adult, it’s tragic.  If it happens to a leader who’s supposed to be an adult, it’s dangerous because everyone around the person is as vulnerable as they are themselves blind.  The danger of narcissism is a paradoxically a danger of low self-esteem, which pathologically can be made up for by excessive efforts to prove one’s inflated self-esteem. Through hard work, luck, gifts or graft, such people can amass immense power, money, influence and dominance.  But all the efforts to prove oneself end up seeming, as Shakespeare said, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”  The Psalmist may have known someone like this, as it says in Ps. 62.     

Those of low estate are but a breath;
  those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
  they are together lighter than a breath.

On such a path of artificial inflation, perhaps the greatest loss to the individual is the utter lack of an authentic spiritual life, a “flying boy/girl” stuck between fantasy and mock achievements that are ultimately meaningless and fruitless.  In light of the real Good News that Paul is responding to, he counsels what must have been a very urbane and hyper-active crossroad in Corinth.  He says in so many words, “Since time is short, waste time on nothing, because, ultimately, even things we think really important like our marriage, our grief, our joy, our possessions, mean nothing in light of how Jesus will change everything.” We get caught up with our own narcissistic tendencies: Our health, how hard we work, our homes or families, can all be self-involved achievements mirroring our worldly greatness.  All the ways we build ourselves up with meaningless self-importance come to nothing, “shrines to ourselves,” compared with the change Jesus brings. 

Through Call, we leave everything

And so we keep on while we live
Until we have no, no more to give

And when these fingers can strum no longer
Hand the old [guitar] (banjo) to young one stronger

 

In the process of humbling ourselves and following call, we have to remove ourselves from the sway of dominant culture and tendencies.  Call is, in this way, counter cultural.  In an American culture which is individualistic, achievement-oriented, competitive and mostly self-centered, it can lead us to even a kind of self-idolizing or narcissistic path.  On the contrary, our call leads us to “leave everything,” especially our self-focus, in order to focus on the thing we are doing to serve, attempting to change and be changed by our mission.

Trust by faith, God changes (even those we give up on).

So, we, too, are changed: How do you keep going into your readiness for a call?  Carol, with her recent retirement, is going through a period of discernment right now.  Mike Brown, with his Intern Commitment under his belt, is certainly discerning how to tell his story in a spiritual autobiography that seeks to investigate how God’s story and will has expressed itself through his life.  Certainly Alphonso and Crisely on an extensive tour and celebration of their wedding will continue to explore call and discern how God is speaking right now in their lives… As Barbara O prepares for her spiritual autobiography in a couple weeks as part of her birthday celebration, she is discerning how God is speaking through her life of intercession, support and self-giving service to people in her life.  All these people strike me as “open to God’s will” in fundamental humility and service… These are people who, we see and hear, put “God alone” as a practical priority in their lives, and have shown their mature ability—even readiness—to “leave everything” for the sake of what they are Called by God to do. 

What call are you hearing now?  How distant or close is it? How urgent or emergent?  Sometimes “call” seems distant, unthinkable, perhaps due to pride and preoccupation, and we’re closed to “call,” and so it may seem like the deep darkness before the dawn.

So though it's darkest before the dawn
This thought keeps me moving on

Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows

The startling and then surprising good news, the common gift we share again and again in our faith journey and commitments, this is Call.  To keep our membership commitment—which you heard Mike Brown share last week—we address call in three different ways:

  • first we accept God’s call (by seeking to be open to God’s transforming power and love),
  • second we respond to God’s call (by standing with the least of these—a direct reference to Matthew 25), and
  • third, we “joyfully affirm we are called” (“to a life of love that includes all of God’s creation”) [in italics below]:

Eighth Day Commitment

I come today to join the Eighth Day Faith Community. I commit myself to following Jesus whose life was fully centered in the grace and truth of God. I believe that God’s transcendent love is revealed in Jesus. I will endeavor to follow Jesus in paths of peace, forgiveness, healing, justice, and mercy.

I accept God’s call on my life as my highest priority. I will seek to be open to God’s transforming power and love. I acknowledge that God’s truth is revealed in many ways and through other people and other faiths.

I commit as a Member* to engage in the spiritual disciplines and practices that are expected of my membership. In making this commitment, I affirm that the practice of spiritual discipline is necessary to deepen both my spiritual growth and my engagement with the world. I recognize that I need the support, challenge, and discernment of my Christian community in order to grow spiritually, walk humbly, and act in faithfulness.

I acknowledge that we are united in God’s love and grace. I offer my gifts, my strengths, and my weaknesses to this community and pledge to open my heart to what others bring. I accept the responsibility to build, sustain, celebrate, and challenge our community to do God’s will in the world.

I will respond to Christ’s call to stand with “the least of these” by committing my resources of time, money, and energy to help build a world of inclusiveness, love, and equity. I joyfully affirm that I am called to a life of love that includes all God’s creation.

In this respect, open to call, accepting of call, responding to call, and affirming a life of love in call, we can view our “wake-up calls” which unmistakably resonate through us as God’s “early warning” gift of amazing grace.  They are God’s “early warnings” of the dawn about to break.

Don't you know it's darkest before the dawn?
And it's this thought keeps me moving on

If we could heed these early warnings
The time is now quite early morning