Measure This | 7th after Epiphany

Luke 6:27-38

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.” (CEB)

Measure This

Yesterday, in Saint Louis, Missouri, the Special Called Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church opened for a day of worship and prayer. They didn’t get to any business—that part begins today. Yesterday, they spent the hours worshipping and praying together. What they’ll be discussing and voting on today, tomorrow, and Tuesday, are four plans for A Way Forward for the United Methodist Church. The conversation is about one issue: human sexuality. How will we, as United Methodists, move forward?

I have to admit that I don’t know the answer to that question. Depending on how the General Conference votes, we might allow for the ordination of LGBTQ persons or we might not. We might move forward together as one United Methodist Church, or we may move forward on divergent paths by separating from those who think and believe differently from us regarding human sexuality. So you’re aware, the Council of Bishops recommended the One Church Plan, including our bishop, Julius Trimble. They don’t want to see a divided or segregated church. They believe we can move forward together, as one United Methodist Church.

As for me, I hope our bishops are right. I don’t want to see division. I don’t want to see the pointing of fingers and other actions that would inevitably follow a path that leads our church to break apart. I’d rather our church not rename itself The Divided Methodist Church. So, I ask you to pray for General Conference. I ask you to pray for our delegates. And I ask you to pray for yourselves. Ask God for the grace to see you through whatever the General Conference decides for our church.

Yesterday Bishop Gary Mueller said, “One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a human being, as a Christian, as a bishop, is to set my desires aside and to seek God’s will. I have a hard time surrendering to God’s purpose. I think it’s because I like what I like. I think it’s because I can dress up whatever I like with fancy-sounding theological words, with eloquence and beauty. And I think it’s because I find myself able to convince myself that what I want is also what God wants. I suspect that many of you can identify with that.”

And I think he’s right. Sometimes, we put our desires, our beliefs, our thoughts, and our ideals into a box and label it with God’s name. We assume that God must be on our side of whatever issue we’re examining in the moment. Prophets throughout Judeo-Christian history have smashed religious ideas that everyone else knew to be true. In Jesus’ day, everyone knew that people who were handicapped, sick, or poor were in that state because God was punishing them for their sin. God is just, and obviously God doesn’t let bad things like that happen to good people. Yet, the prophet Jesus challenged that notion several times (c.f. Luke 13:1-5; John 9).

So, whatever convictions you hold, whatever you believe to be true, we all need to ask God for grace. God’s grace is the only thing that will see us through this process as one body.

It’s probably not without some irony that the Gospel lesson for today is Luke 6:27-36. That’s just what the Revised Common Lectionary provides for the Seventh Sunday after The Epiphany in Year C. I think God must enjoy making real-world events and the lectionary texts collide in potent ways. It happens enough that I’m fairly certain God does it on purpose.

The first words of this text, “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 CEB) contain a paradox. You see, the word enemy here is ἐχθροὺς, and the root meaning is hate. Jesus tells us, “Love the ones you hate. Do good to those who detest you” (my trans.).

One thing we need to be careful of when we look at this text is that Jesus is not encouraging a passive response to violence, evil, or abuse. In no way does this text suggest that an abused woman should stay in a relationship with an abusive man and meekly offer her other cheek every time the jerk beats her. We need to keep the context of Jesus’ words in mind.

So, let’s put this in its proper context. Slapping someone on the cheek was a way of mocking them and paying them back for blasphemy. Two instances of this kind of religious retribution come to mind. One was when Kings Jehosephat of Judah and Ahab of Israel were considering military action. First, they consulted the prophets who all said the kings should attack because they would win.

Except for one. Micaiah said that he saw all of Israel scattered like sheep without a shepherd (cf. 1 Kings 22:17). “Then Micaiah said, ‘Listen now to the LORD’s word: I saw the LORD enthroned with all the heavenly forces stationed beside him, at his right and at his left. The LORD said, “Who will persuade Ahab so that he attacks Ramoth-gilead and dies there?” There were many suggestions until one particular spirit approached the LORD and said, “I’ll persuade him.” “How?” the LORD asked. “I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets,” he said. The LORD agreed, “You will succeed in persuading him! Go ahead!” So now, since the LORD has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of every one of these prophets of yours, it is the LORD who has pronounced disaster against you!’ Zedekiah, Chenaanah’s son, approached Micaiah and slapped him on the cheek. ‘Just how did the LORD’s spirit leave me to speak to you?’ he asked.” (1 Kings 22:19-24 CEB).

The prophet Zedekiah slapped Micaiah because, to him, Micaiah blasphemed against the Lord by accusing the entire company of prophets of speaking in the Lord’s name by a lying spirit. These prophets were called by God to speak God’s word, and Micaiah said they’d been infected by a lying spirit so they couldn’t speak God’s word. It was blasphemy. But, as it turned out, it was also the truth.

The other instance is when Jesus stood before the High Priest and answered his questions. “After Jesus spoke, one of the guards standing there slapped Jesus in the face. ‘Is that how you would answer the high priest?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘If I speak wrongly, testify about what was wrong. But if I speak correctly, why do you strike me?’” (John 18:22-23 CEB). The Gospel of Matthew records that, when Jesus was mocked by the chief priests and council, they spit in his face and hit him saying, “Prophesy for us, Christ! Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:68 CEB).

So, in this text from the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus told the people in the crowd that when someone strikes them for blasphemy because they believed in the kind of healing and salvation that Jesus offered, or the kind of faithful living that Jesus demanded, they should offer the other cheek and get on with living faithfully. Christians are not to participate in that kind of religious retribution, which is often born of self-righteousness rather than true faithfulness to God.

Jesus does not call us to suffer endless cycles of violence. Rather, Jesus calls us to live faithfully even when others mock us or declare to the world that we’re wrong, that we’re blasphemers, that we’re not holding to religious law and propriety as we ought.

“Love the ones you hate. Do good to those who detest you” (Luke 6:27 my trans.). It’s not only a paradox, but also a challenge that acknowledges there are people whom we—yes, even we wonderful and innocent disciples of Jesus Christ—there are people whom we hate. And there are people who hate us. The challenge of discipleship is to love those we hate, and to do good to those people whom we know—beyond the shadow of a doubt—detest us. That’s. Not. Easy.

That’s why Jesus goes on to say, “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:32-36 CEB).

Sometimes loving others is difficult business. Yet, the demands of being a disciple of Jesus Christ demand this bigger picture of love, and broader inclusion of those whom we love.

The last verses of this text have to do with judgment verses forgiveness, and it’s really about the way these two disparate things work. These words are as difficult as the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 where we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, and the place where Jesus said, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 CEB). “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned” (Luke 6:37a CEB) is a tall order to fill because we’re really good at making judgments, whether is unfiltered and voiced or the inner monologue of our minds that we don’t dare speak out loud.

The reason we’re told not to judge is because only God is good (c.f. Luke 18:19). Only God is capable of making right judgments. So, when we live into a religious or social culture based on judgment, the inevitable result is condemnation for everyone and everything. As one scholar put it, “A world bent on justice through judgment fulfills the anonymous maxim “And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless.” (Allen in Feasting on the Gospels: Luke vol. 1, p. 172). When we live into judgment, we draw lines, define purity, and defend the borders that separate righteousness from sin.

But disciples of Jesus Christ must live into a different reality than that of judgment. When we live into God’s generosity of forgiveness and grace, we can find goodness that overflows. When we remember that we, too, are sinners, yet God has deigned to forgive us and include us in God’s coming dominion, we’re set free from the bondage of judgment. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return” (Luke 6:37-38 CEB). When God’s people live into the overwhelming abundance of grace and forgiveness, we’ll find that God’s good measure is overflowing in our lap and spilling all over those around us—even those we hate and those who despise us.

Can we live with that?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Send Me | 5th after Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-13

1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. 2 Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. 3 They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

4 The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the LORD of heavenly forces!”

6 Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

8 Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

9 God said, “Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. 10 Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed.”

11 I said, “How long, Lord?”

And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” 12 The LORD will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. 13 Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed.

Send Me

Last week, we looked at the call and commissioning of Jeremiah. Today, we get the more familiar account of Isaiah’s call. It ought to be familiar because we recite part of this every Sunday in our Communion liturgy.

Isaiah’s call story is different from Jeremiah’s in some ways. First, it’s much more visual than Jeremiah’s, which is more auditory. Isaiah’s calls story is a powerful and vividly described vision-event where he’s transported, apparently, from the temple in Jerusalem to God’s temple in heaven. We can see the event in our mind’s eye as it’s described to us. Or, at least, our minds will do their best to construct in our imaginations something that is, to our feeble human minds, unimaginable.

God appeared to Isaiah in regal brilliance: giving us a truer sense of what the word awesome actually means. God was seated on a high and lofty throne. The edges of God’s robe filled the temple. Imagine if the temple was filled with only the edges of God’s robe, how much more of God’s mightiness remained unseen by Isaiah? Yet, even the edges were this potent, brimming with power and majesty.

The doorframe shook when the Seraphs spoke of God’s holiness and glory, and the house was filled with smoke. It’s a scene that would have made most of us wet our pants, and it seems clear that Isaiah had a reaction that filled him with dread. Isaiah probably assumed he was about to die. After all, God told Moses that no one could see God’s face and live (c.f. Exodus 33:20), and Isaiah was confronted with the sight of God seated on a throne. Maybe the hem of God’s robe blocked Isaiah’s view of God’s face, but the prophet was clearly undone by this encounter.

We should note that it wasn’t a sense of inadequacy on his part that caused Isaiah to cry out, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5 CEB), it was Isaiah’s sense of guilt. He knew that he was guilty of sin, and his people were guilty of sin. There are both individual and social sins of which we are guilty and, when confronted with God’s holiness, Isaiah felt the guilt of his personal and his people’s sin profoundly. We, too, are lost and unclean, no matter how pleasant we think ourselves to be. We are all guilty of individual and corporate sin. In that sense, Isaiah’s dismay could be ours, too.

A Seraph reacted to Isaiah’s cries as if recognizing that a mortal had suddenly appeared in God’s throne room and quickly took action to save Isaiah’s life. The winged creature took a burning coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips, apparently cauterizing and burning away Isaiah’s sin.

People often wonder about the coal and what it meant. To me, there’s something sacramental about the coal: a visible sign of invisible grace. That’s what sacraments are: outward and visible signs of God’s inward and invisible grace, and a means by which we receive grace. How God can use physical objects of creation to bear and convey grace is a mystery, but since God has created and is creating all that is, God can use anything as a sacramental means of grace.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ, when God became a human being, is the fullness of this kind of divine action in which something physical bears and conveys what is holy. The incarnation is, itself, a kind of sacrament that conveys God’s merciful grace to us. This cleansing of Isaiah’s sin allowed him to hear the voice of God deliberating, either with God’s self or with the heavenly court, saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8b CEB).

Isaiah, in one of the rarer displays of willing volunteerism to serve as God’s prophet, immediately responds, “I’m here; send me” (Isaiah 6:8 CEB). For Isaiah, forgiveness came from being touched with a burning coal, which enabled him to hear God’s voice. For us, forgiveness comes through the blood of Jesus Christ which washes our sin away. In an odd description, when John the Seer of Revelation asked about the people he saw who were wearing white robes, he was told, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood” (Revelation 7:14 CEB).

Because we have been forgiven of our sins, we are enabled to hear the voice of God calling us to serve. God moves alongside and within us all our lives long. Sometimes God’s calling is gentle, and sometimes it’s like a professional wrestling smackdown, but God is always moving, always prompting, always nudging us with sacramental grace so that we can respond to God’s call with our own raised hand and offering of self.

Sometimes we imagine God as separate and out there somewhere in a so-distant heavenly realm that God must be out of touch and unable or unwilling to show care for humanity or individual humans. Yet, as separated and vastly other as God appears in Isaiah’s vision of glory, the topic of God’s discussion reveals God’s concern for us, the Lord’s creatures whom God crafted in God’s own image. The docket of God’s court-business for the day was—and I would imagine always is—about us. God’s love, care, and concern for us runs deeper than we can possibly imagine. Even the conversations of heaven are about taking care of us.

At the same time, God’s call isn’t always what we expect. It isn’t always simple or easy. When I read the rest of this story, I kind of get the feeling that Isaiah was the eager kid in class who often raised his hand to volunteer before he knew what the job was but, by the time he figures that part out, it’s too late. He’s the one.

The mission to which God calls Isaiah seems confusing to our modern ears. “Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10 CEB). Shouldn’t a prophet’s words open our eyes to God’s will, and help us find new and different paths that lead to faithfulness? Should a prophet help us to hear God’s word so we can understand with our minds and be renewed by God’s grace through repentance? Shouldn’t a prophet’s word—which is God’s word—guide us to comprehend new insights into God’s intention for us and how we can live faithful lives?

Why would God tell Isaiah to make people’s minds dull, our ears deaf, and our eyes blind so we can’t see, hear, or understand and turn away from sin for healing from God? It almost sounds cruel of God.

Yet, God isn’t cruel. For the answer to this strange commission, we need to look deeper into the context of Isaiah’s world. Isaiah tells us that he saw this vision of the Lord in the year of King Uzziah’s death. We know that Uzziah lived, reigned, and died in the 8th century B.C. He died in 742. And, within ten years, the Kingdom of Judah became a tributary state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire under King Tiglath-Pileser III. Although Uzziah’s son, Jotham, inherited a strong government, the Kingdoms of Israel and Aram to Judah’s north began to attack Judah. The Philistines, to Judah’s west, began to raid the Judean countryside. The Kings of Israel and Aram tried to coerce Judah into joining their rebellion against Assyria. Things became a mess very quickly.

There’s a not-so-subtle hint of a deeper spiritual issue in Isaiah’s words. King Uzziah has died, but Isaiah declares that he has seen “the king, the LORD of heavenly forces” (Isaiah 6:5 CEB). This hearkens back to the days of the prophet Samuel, before Israel had a king. The elders of the people gathered before Samuel and said, “‘Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.’ It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us,’ so he prayed to the LORD. The LORD answered Samuel, ‘Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them’” (1 Samuel 8:5-9 CEB).

The reason Israel had a king at all was due to the sin of envy. The people of Israel saw how other nations had kings to rule over them, and Israel wanted to be like them, to look like them, to have that same kind of representative power that a king and organized government conveys. Israel rejected God as their king in favor of a human king.

So, the deeper context of God’s mission for Isaiah to speak is, why would the people listen to the words of a prophet who was sent by the true King of Israel whose kingship they had already rejected? Isaiah would speak the true King’s truth and criticize with the true King’s judgment. But truth and criticism are difficult to accept.

Jesus Christ came as God’s living Word and he quotes God’s word to Isaiah, saying: “This is why I speak to the crowds in parables: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. What Isaiah prophesied has become completely true for them: You will hear, to be sure, but never understand; and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing. For this people’s senses have become calloused, and they’ve become hard of hearing, and they’ve shut their eyes so that they won’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears or understand with their minds, and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them. Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:13-16 CEB).

We have to wonder whether we are more capable of seeing, hearing, and understanding than the people of Judah were in the days of Isaiah. I would say that we are not—except by the power of God’s grace. Grace opens us up to the possibilities of changing our hearts and minds. God’s merciful grace gives us power to amend our lives. God’s grace enables us to see, to hear, and to begin to comprehend the unimaginable depth of God’s love and care for us. The grace of God offered to us through Jesus Christ, and the grace conveyed to us in and through the sacraments and other means of grace, enable us to turn to God and offer ourselves to God. It is by Gods grace alone that we are able to say with the prophet, “I’m here; send me.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Known | 4th after Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4 The LORD’s word came to me:

5 “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.”

6 “Ah, LORD God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.”

7 The LORD responded, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’ Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say.

8 Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you,” declares the LORD.

9 Then the LORD stretched out his hand, touched my mouth, and said to me, “I’m putting my words in your mouth.

10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires, to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.”

Known

What does it mean to be called by God? And, how do you know when God is calling you? What does a call even feel like? While there are some similarities between most call stories in the Bible and the modern call stories we hear from others, there isn’t a single way to answer those questions. In Bible Study on Tuesday morning, someone asked how you know you’re being called. The answer I gave is that my call was inescapable.

I’ve likened my call to ministry to the experience of Samuel in that it first came to me when I was young, probably late elementary or early middle school age. When Samuel heard God speak, he didn’t recognize the voice of the Lord, and neither did I. I didn’t know what it was, where it came from, or why it came to me, and my response to hearing this weird call was fear and resistance. So, I pushed it away every time.

My grandmother, Betty Romain, loved the hymn Here I Am, Lord (U.M.Hymnal #593) because it reminded her of me. But my call was definitely not like Isaiah’s. I never really had the heart to tell her, but I never had an “I’m here. Send me!” moment like in Isaiah 6:8.

In fact, my call didn’t come all at once. It was spread out over several years and came at different moments of my life. The earliest moment I remember was when I served as an acolyte for worship at Central United Methodist Church in Evansville. I had to sit in the front pew with the other acolyte, so, of course we had to behave and, you know, pretend that we were paying attention. I mean, it was the front row.

While the pastor was preaching, I remember a voice, or a thought, or whatever it was, tell me I’d be doing that; or that I could do that. And my immediate response was terror! I was like, Unh uh! I’m not gonna get up and talk in front of people. No way! I remember the thought—the call—sort of backing off at my denial, but I was still scared of the idea and adamant that I would NEVER be a pastor.

Well, that scenario came and went a few more times through my middle school and high school years. And my response was always the same. Nope! Not me! Not gonna do it! But things changed during the week leading up to Saint Valentine’s Day, 1996. That was the second semester of my Freshman year at Findlay.

During the first half of the week, that voice, or thought, or idea, whatever it was, had been crashing into me. And I was getting annoyed because, this time, it didn’t go away when I pushed back. By Wednesday, it was overwhelming. I tried to go about my day. I sat at my dorm room desk to study chemistry, but everything came to a crescendo when I heard loud, and clear, and audibly that God was calling me to ministry. I can’t quote a voice or the words spoken, but it was a kind of audible-certainty: you will do this!

This time, my response was anger. I got SO mad! I shoved my book away, threw my pencil across the room, and shouted, “All right, God, I’ll do it!” And, as soon as I acknowledged and accepted that call, my anger disappeared—along with the pounding of that voice—and I felt peace. At the same time, I didn’t have a clue what to do with this call thing. But I needed to figure it out, and taking that step was scary, too. I mean, have you ever told someone that you’re hearing voices? Nevertheless, I sought the wisdom of others who had been called: my campus pastor, Will Miller; my home pastor, Mac Hamon. And each time I spoke to someone, God confirmed my call in so many ways: big and small and weird.

When we look at the major call stories that are recorded in the Bible—even when we hear call stories from some people—we can feel amazed, and awed, and… so incredibly insignificant in their shadow. Stories like Jeremiah’s call can leave us asking, What about me? What am I called to? Don’t I get to have a calling? I’ve never heard God speak to me like that. Where’s my vision, my burning bush, my hearing of God’s voice?

I mean, why do some people today get cool call stories that resemble the call stories we see in the Scriptures while others—even faithful people who want to find their calling—struggle to recognize anything that looks remotely like a call from God. In theory, we might know that everyone is called by God. Every Christian is called to live this radical thing we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ through faithful obedience to God. The Christian faith speaks of baptism as a kind of call—even as a kind of ordination into the priesthood of all believers—in which we’re set apart and called to serve. But in practice—and in reality—we might not see, or hear, or experience anything “big” enough for us to imagine or name as a call from God.

In January of 2014, God got into an argument with me—which I lost—and told me that I needed to write. When I told Joy about this other call, she was deep in the midst of trying to discern her own path forward. Charlotte would start Kindergarten soon. She had considered going back to school, but she hadn’t settled on a degree by that time. And I think she was a little annoyed with me when I told her. She was incredibly supportive, but she told me, “You know, it’s really not fair. You get two calls, and I’ve spent YEARS asking God to give me one. Why do you get two calls when I get none? Where’s mine?”

It was a fair point, I think. But I know my wife. I’d argue that she did have a call, even if she hadn’t discerned the specifics of it yet. We took a walk one evening and we ended up talking about what she might want to do in the future. While she talked a little about what she might like to do, she talked more about the needs of Fort Wayne as a community. That’s where her heart was (and still is). Partway through our discussion, I said, “You know, if you could start an orphanage and take care of every needy kid in the world, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?” And her response was a very startled, “YES! I would!”

Joy’s call is to advocate for children. Whatever she does, you can bet that taking care of children in some way, shape, or form is going to be a part of it. While we lived in Fort Wayne, she was going to enroll in IPFW, earn her master’s degree in School Counseling, and hoped to work in Fort Wayne Community Schools. The 2018 Census Bureau estimate is that 21.8% of children in Fort Wayne Community Schools live in impoverished households, and that’s down from what it was when we lived there. She wanted to be an advocate for those kids.

Then, we heard that we would be moved to Mount Vernon. Just when Joy figured out a path to live out her call, we moved. And it took her time to discern a new path. Joy earned her master’s degree in Public Administration from USI and started Thrive, which began as a project for one of her classes. She’s called to take care of children. But discerning exactly how she could live out that call was a long and winding path, with a few switchbacks and Road-Closed-Due-To-Avalanche signs to boot.

The reason I mention my wife’s call is because, when we read a call text like Jeremiah 1:4-10, or Isaiah 6:1-13, or Ezekiel 1:1-3:27, or the call of Moses in Exodus 3:1-4:17, or of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24, we can feel like our own call is a disappointment, or maybe not even there, because it’s not some grand sound and light show with burning bushes, wheels-within-wheels, visions of God enthroned, and a wet fleece when the ground is dry. Christian calling is not reserved for those whom God asks to do mighty things. Call is the invitation to every Christian to witness to the gospel in whatever ways God opens to us.

Sometimes… Okay, oftentimes, call is something we resist. Either we feel inadequate, or unprepared, or we lack experience. We have really great reasons for resisting our call. Jeremiah was too young. Moses couldn’t speak well. Gideon doubted, and didn’t have the right pedigree to be a leader. We have reasonable objections to excuse us from pursuing whatever call God places upon us. Isaiah, with his volunteerism, is an exception.

Mary also stands out as an exception. She was called to be an unwed mother and said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said” (Luke 1:38 CEB). I think Mary also shows us that our call from God can be something as simple as being a parent—though every parent knows that there’s nothing simple about being a parent.

To have misgivings about our call is nothing new. Jeremiah’s reaction to his call, and his lifetime of work as a prophet, show us that fear, anxiety, resistance, inadequacy, and even resentment are understandable reactions to the demands of a call that God places on us. But, what we also learn from Jeremiah and others is that those feelings and reactions don’t disqualify us from God’s service. It’s not our suitability, nor our list of achievements, nor our level of confidence that caused God to call us.

“Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 CEB). It sounds similar to a Psalm we might have read before, “You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened” (Psalm 139:13-16 CEB).

God knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves. God is the one who calls, not because we’re perfect or perfectly ready to take on a task, but because God knows us. God empowers us to fulfill the call we’re given.

How do we recognize what our call is? I think I’d start by asking a question. And it’s not, what are you good at? It’s not what are your skills? Rather, what moves your heart? What do you see in your family, your church, your community, or your world that tugs on your heart? Even if you don’t have any idea how to begin addressing it, even if you’re certain that you’re inadequate to the task, what are those things?

It might take time to discern exactly how to live out the call or calls that God places on each of us, but that’s okay. We might even be as terrified of our call as I was of my call to ministry, and sometimes we have good reason to be afraid. Yet, it’s God who prepares us to live out whatever vocation or call we’re given. What’s more, every person who is called by God—and I’d argue that every person is called by God—is offered the most often-uttered command in the Bible: “Don’t be afraid” (Jeremiah 1:8 CEB).

God is with us. When we follow our call, God is with us. When we’re struggling to find or hear our call, God is with us. When we’re following our call and having difficulty, God is with us. When we do our level best to ignore the call and pretend that God isn’t pounding on the door of our lives to claim us and all that we are, God is with us. We don’t have to be afraid to answer and accept God’s call, because God loves us, and God is with us always, even to the end of the age (c.f. Matthew 28:20).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay