Deuteronomy 30:19-20, Matthew 4:18-25, 9:35-38
The Rev. Tom Herbek
September 3, 2017
Many people in Jesus’ day believed that, if they just waited long enough, God would destroy all of the bad things about the world. In fact, John the Baptizer, was one of them. He baptized people in the River Jordan, and then told them to go home and wait until God destroyed the bad things and bad people (especially the Romans and their Jewish collaborators). After John’s death, Jesus began his own ministry, which was quite different from John’s. Jesus said that it is not that we are waiting for God to do something, but it is the other way around. God is waiting for us.
New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan writes: “Jesus realized that we must not passively wait for God to change the world. Instead. Jesus said, over and over again, that God is waiting for us. Calling to us. Jesus called people to a relationship with the spirit of God here and now, not sometime in the future. Just as Jesus realized that God was calling him to begin, Jesus spent his life calling people to begin.”
The call to begin something new comes to us, as well. Of course, we may believe that we just don’t have what it takes to really make a difference because we are too young, or too old, or too poor, or too tired, or too overwhelmed, or too busy or too…. We believe that there are lots of reasons why we can’t really do anything. And if we do try, the people around us may respond with confusion.
When we follow God’s leadership, his call, many will consider us reckless; many will ask, “Why are you doing this?” But the people who follow God are ordinary people with extraordinary determination. Sometimes when we make these changes in our life, we are surprised how obvious it is. We wonder sometimes why we didn’t see it before, why we waited so long to make the change. Sometimes we have been analyzing and over-analyzing for so long, we don’t see the obvious right in front of us.
Sometimes, after the call, the change in our life, we wonder what took us so long. But to outsiders, there may still be questions of “Why are you doing this?” For many people, life is a task. It is something to get through, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. But when we are following God’s lead, we experience our lives not simply as a task, but as a mission. We know life is much more than time to be endured. We realize that life is precious, and that we can make a difference. There are many people who model this for us. We just have to keep our eyes and our ears open.
As the writer of Deuteronomy so eloquently said it: “Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.” The only way to live is to choose life. Otherwise, we are just going through the motions.
Before I got here, I changed jobs a lot. I went to college to be a Navy pilot and an aerospace engineer. Then I switched to biology and was going to be either a biology teacher or marine biologist. I did get my degree in biology, but I decided I wanted to be either a university chaplain or professor of religion, so I went to seminary.
I graduated and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in religious studies (which I did not do) and taught philosophy in a community college to pay the bills. I then became fascinated with hospital chaplaincy and became a hospital chaplain and counselor, getting a graduate degree in counseling. I then become a health care manager, running non-profits and got another graduate degree in management. And then I found this church family and I stopped changing jobs (and decided I had gone to school enough!). I guess some of us are slow learners on what life is really about, and how to really choose life.
Former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskold described it this way for his own journey: “I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life had a goal.”
God calls us to be all that we have been created to be. Sometimes our journey looks pretty strange to those around us. A woman named Mary Caroline Richards once said:
I must be able to be whoever I am. For example, it seemed strange to me, as to others, that, having taken my Ph.D. in English, I should then in the middle of my life, instead of taking up a college professorship, turn to the art of pottery. During one period, when people asked me what I did, I was uncertain what to answer; I guessed I could say I taught English, wrote poetry, and made pottery. What was my occupation? I finally gave up and said “Person.”
“Person” probably best describes who we are called to be. In one of his novels, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that “strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” It doesn’t matter whether we are just beginning our journey or retired and have the ability to make more choices about our time than ever before. We all may be caught up in some dancing lessons from God, perhaps even today or tomorrow or this fall. And our job, the journey that Jesus is calling us to, is not to do it all. Our job is to make choices that help to create the right conditions for God’s spirit to flourish. The Spirit of God is in our world and in our lives. We are not required to be God, just to do our part to create opportunities to choose life for those around us. When we do that, and when we choose life ourselves, then possibilities that everyone else thought were impossible begin to flourish. As Mark Twain once said: “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it.” It is never too late to find more dancing lessons from God, to start making things happen that everyone else believes are impossible. It is never too late to follow Jesus’ call, the call to find new ways and new places to do what we are called to do.
It is never too late to decide again to choose life. Joan Chittister says it well:
To do what we are meant to do in life, we must have great passion for it. What we do with our life is our gift to the human race. To do it well, we must give it everything we have so that the work of God on earth can be done through us. The effort we fail to give to what must be done will only delay its coming to life. To say that we are committed to doing peace work but do it poorly or seldom or carelessly or irresponsibly only means that many will go on suffering even longer from the effects of violence.
To do what we are really meant to do in life, we must see what we are doing not only as the real purpose of our life but also the ultimate legacy of our life. It is what we will leave behind us for future generations to build on. God did not finish creation; God started it. Its ongoing development God leaves to us.
- Following the Path
So let us choose life at every opportunity. Let us create opportunities for God’s spirit to flourish. Let us hear the call and follow. As Jesus said, there is much to do, and more people are needed to make it happen.
So let us leave behind those things that are holding us back, and instead, stand up and follow. It may require another job change, but it may be one more stop along the journey toward becoming all that we have been created to be. Let us be ready for more dancing lessons from God, more chances to choose life, to follow- no matter whether we are 17 or 97, no matter where we are on our journey of life!