Sunday, August 31, 2014

"The God Who Is" a sermon

“The God Who Is”
St. Thomas’ Episcopal, Richmond
Year A, Proper 17, Aug. 31, 2014

Last week I got the chance of a lifetime, and it was nothing I deserved, it was nothing other than a gracious and generous gift.  It was offered.  And without thinking, I accepted and I am so glad I did.

Before school starts on Tuesday, this last week was the only chance that I knew that we could take the girls out of town while it was still summer.  Stephanie, the kids and I ran down to Nags Head for a few days.  After grabbing dinner in Manteo on Monday night, I took the kids to see the marina in Wanchese just down the road.  While driving around, I saw a beautiful fishing boat jacked up on blocks.  The name emblazoned on the side was “Jesus Freak.”  I was on vacation, so I slammed the brakes, backed up the van, and made Stephanie take my picture.  Some of you may have seen her handiwork and my vacation-hubris on Facebook.  Just after the picture, what is not shown was the owner of the boatshop walking out and asking if he could help me.

I was a little embarrassed, but apologized for being in his driveway, but that I was a priest and needed to get my picture with the boat named Jesus Freak.  He laughed, and said the owner would have loved that and that his other boat is named Salvation.  Then after chit-chatting for a bit, he asked me if I would like to see a boat he had just finished that was down in the water.  Now remember, this is around 6 p.m. on a Monday night.

He said to follow him in his truck.  We went just a block away, and there in the water was a beautiful 62’ fishing yacht.  No expense had been spared.  Every detail was custom, and gorgeous.  There was not a wasted inch in the 62’.  The kind man asked my daughter how much she thought it cost, and she said, “$2,000.”  We all laughed, and I said she needed to add a few zeros.  Before all the detail work, it was $2 Million dollars, and after much, much more.

We were out riding around, not even thinking of getting on a boat, when we were surprised by grace and given a gift I will never forget.  Only time I will be able to get on a multi-million dollar yacht like that.  It came out of nowhere, and for an hour we were given a detailed, room-by-room tour and it was astounding.

Moses was about his business as a shepherd, when grace broke in on him.  He was doing his work, when he felt the need to turn aside and “look at this great sight.”  His plan did not include burning bushes and the angel of the Lord, but it happened and he was astounded.  The call of God came when it came, and it was not planned.  It probably wrecked Moses’ calendar.  It was not convenient.  Like the TSA at the airport, he had to take off his shoes.

This was when God broke through to Moses.  He had been in hiding for decades after he committed murder in bout of righteous indignation, and he ran for his life.  He settled far away from Egypt, and planned to live a simple life where no one would know him, and no one would ask him to go back to Egypt.  

But God had other plans.

On July 13, I talked about the general call of God, the call that goes out to any and all.  That call to be good, help others, and to love God with all you have.  Today, however, we are looking at the specific call of God, that person-to-person call, or deity-to-person call, where God steps in and messes up our calendars and calls us to the last place on earth we might expect to go.

The call of God can be all manner of things.  It can come from an off-hand compliment from a stranger that affirms a quietly held idea we have been keeping secret and safe inside our minds, but once vocalized we have to ask if it could be God talking through that person.  The call from God can come from deeply held desires, that we wrestle with for years.  The call of God can be just a part of who we are.

I shared this in the coffee and conversation interview with me during Lent, and I apologize for the repeat.  Growing up, all I ever talked about was being a minister.  Really.  Now there were age-appropriate delusions around what type of minister I would be.  At 4 I was going to Africa to be a missionary, mostly because I wanted to see lions.  At 7, I was going to be the first chaplain on the space station like in 2001: a space odyssey.  By high school, I had it more refined and reined in, but it was still there.  I was surprised at my high school reunions, that people actually stopped me and asked if I became a pastor.  When I said yes, they said I was the only person they knew that actually became what he always said he would become.  The call of God does not have to come from a burning bush.  And it certainly does not have to be about becoming a priest or deacon.  What it has to be about is that piece of the puzzle that you can fulfill in way that no one else can, to the glory of God.  You are uniquely qualified to do what it says in the Lord’s prayer.  “On earth, as it is in heaven.”  Your call is to make this place a bit more like heaven, to the glory of God.

Like Moses, though, we come up with many excuses why this must be some mistake.

3:11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

I love God’s proof here, “You will know that it was me who did this calling thing when it is all over and you are back here at this mountain with everybody.  Then you will know.”

This call of God is call of faith.  We have to take that step, like Indiana Jones over the abyss, and trust that there is solid ground to catch us.  Even though we have to take this step alone, we do not have to go it alone.  One of the wonderful and exciting things we do as a church is our discernment committees for those who hear God’s call to vocational ministry.  That is something that our Diocese does exceedingly well.  Coming from a place where that was far less established, and people who were really struggling often found out mid-seminary that the ministry was not the call of God, I have seen how not to do it and am very glad of the deliberate and intentional nature of the process here.  When we respond to the call of God, we step out on faith.  But how do we know it is God who is calling us?

3:13 But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"  14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

These verses of Scripture, are some of the most pivotal in the Bible, and the few minutes we have here I cannot do them justice.  But the name God gives for Godself is “I AM.”  The Hebrew here is ambiguous, and God is who God is, and all the permutations of the past and future tenses.  I am who I was, I am who I will be.  I was who I am, I was who I will be.  I will be who I was, I will be who I will be.  In other words, God is God, yesterday, today and forever.  And also what he is saying to Moses is that he is the God who is.  And that is the call we want to hear.  When we hear that call, from the God who is what have we to fear?

But that being said, it does not mean the road is easy.  Moses still had to go back to Egypt.  As Jesus put it in our Gospel reading, speaking to his disciples and to us today, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16:24-25)

We are called to follow down roads that are not the easy and broad streets, but the hard and narrow.  We know what the cross is, but I find it fascinating that people so often miss the possessive pronoun.  “Their cross.”  We are called to take our cross and respond to God’s call for us.  We might have to do something that scares us, like go back to Egypt or go to a neighborhood we were always to told to stay out of.  We might have to do with less, monetarily or in social standing.  We might have to move.  Susan and Rick, thank you for hearing and responding to God’s call.  Richmond is not the mountains of New Hampshire.  But God who was there, is here, too.

I was glad I stopped my car on Monday to see a boat.  A simple picture became something far greater.  I am glad I heard God’s call from my earliest years.  Moses is glad he stepped aside to see a marvelous sight.  Though it can be scary, the call of God is the greatest of gifts and our highest aspiration.  No matter the call we receive, the God WHO IS, the great I AM, will be with us all the way.  Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock