Saturday, August 30, 2008

Burning Bushes & Voices in the Silence

Here’s a story the Rev. Stephen Portner shared on the internet (and I must credit him for many of these thoughts and words): “The search committee for a new rector was having difficulty making a decision. One member of the committee, who was admittedly tired of the whole process, offered one last letter of introduction from a pastoral candidate. She read:
‘To the pastoral search committee: It is my understanding that you have a vacancy in your pulpit, and I would like to apply for the position. I can’t say that I preach too well. In fact, I tend to stutter when I speak. I do have a lot of different experiences I could share with you, since I am over 75 years old. I have only just recently had an encounter with God and, despite my initial resistance to the idea, I heard a Voice which told me personally that I was the one to do the ministry for you. One never knows when God will appear right before your very eyes. As far as people skills go, I do tend to lose my temper every once in a while. I also tend to want things done my way, and can get violent if it’s not taken care of right away. Once I even killed somebody. But since I know you are gracious people, I know you will believe me when I say that’s all behind me now. I intend on showing up there in a few weeks to lead you into a brighter future. Although I was reluctant at first to work with you, I still feel called to be with you nonetheless.’
The committee member glanced up at the rest of the group. “Well, what do you think? Can this person be our leader or not?” The rest of the committee was aghast. Have an old, arrogant, temperamental, obviously neurotic, ex-murderer as their pastor? Was this committee member crazy? Who signed the letter of introduction? Who had such colossal nerve? The committee member eyed them all keenly before she answered, “It’s signed, ‘Moses.’”
Moses did not seem like a likely candidate to receive God’s call. But God doesn’t require the same qualifications for a job that we would. Is it possible God is calling you to some kind of ministry? I want us to look at Moses’ call and see if there’s a message there that might help us discern if God is calling us, both as individuals and as a church?
God tends to call us out of the ordinary circumstances of our everyday routines. Moses was going along, minding his own business, tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, when he encountered God for the first time. He wasn’t out looking to find God. But God wanted Moses’ attention. How would you feel if you saw something that did not follow the laws of nature? How would you feel if you were minding your own business and suddenly you heard someone calling your name, but no one was there? Would you think you had finally lost your mind?
I certainly thought I’d lost my mind when I heard God’s call for the first time. I was kneeling in the choir loft at St. David’s, as people walked past to go to the altar to take communion. It was Lent of 1987, and I was a new member of the choir. Out of the quiet of that moment, I heard a man distinctly call my name. The voice seemed to be coming from over my shoulder so I turned to see who could possibly be calling out during the service. There were only women behind me in the choir, and it was obvious that no one else had heard the voice. For some unaccountable reason, I burst into tears. The next Sunday, the same thing happened, and I was beginning to be frightened. When it happened again on the third Sunday, I finally thought I might know what was happening – like Samuel, the third time God called I knew, and in my mind, I replied, “Yes, Lord, I’m here. I am your servant,” while the tears flowed again.
I heard a distinct voice: a voice which did not come from my head, although no one around me heard it. Well, I thought I’d totally lost my mind. I was afraid to talk to anyone about it, even Lewis, for fear that they’d lock me away. For over two weeks I kept the experience to myself, but I was a wreck, and Lewis knew that something was upsetting me. Finally one night I gathered up my courage and told him what had happened, and what God had told me to do. That message from God did change my life, it changed our family life, because what God told me to do was to quit my job and present myself as a volunteer in St. David’s music ministry. I thank God daily for a husband who is open and willing to believe in the supernatural ways God can work. Lewis took me in his arms and told me that the next day I should give my two weeks notice, and go talk to St. David’s minister of music. Turning in my resignation was easy, but it took a while before I finally, tearfully, got up my nerve to speak with Les Martin the choir director. I was still of the mind that he would think I was nuts when I told him that God had spoken to me. Rather than that reaction, his eyes also filled with tears, and he told me that this was an answer to long and intense prayer by the entire St. David’s staff. I remained the music librarian there for almost five years.
When God is calling us, first he needs to get our attention. It may not necessarily be as dramatic as a burning bush, or a call such as mine that grabs your attention. But I believe however it happens, our defenses must be down before the holy can get through to us. I can only speak from my own experience, but I know when I have recognized definite communications from God, it has been when I have been open and willing to receive God’s call. Perhaps not purposefully, or even seeking His will, but simply having an attitude of willingness, of being willing to do things for God – of being open to the possibility of miracles.
I believe that God calls all of us, each and every one of us, to do something in this life that is for Him. You may be called to minister depending on the gifts and graces God has given you, gifts and talents you recognize in yourself. Or, he may call you to do something that you believe is totally beyond anything you can possibly do, like Moses, who refused the call at first, knowing he was not capable, or good enough to do what God called him to do. Like me when I finally realized that I was being called to priesthood, and I just knew I wasn’t smart enough or good enough to do it. But because God called, I would try my best. I stepped out in faith, and here I am, just a few months away from being your priest. Is God calling you? Is it possible that God is trying to get your attention?
Is it possible that God is speaking to your heart, desiring to have a relationship with you—despite any imperfections you think might stand in the way? When God calls us, it is for a definite purpose. God was very specific in what God expected Moses to do. God wanted Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery. Every time I have discerned God’s call, his instructions have been very specific. God has a master plan, and all of us are called to have a certain role in that master plan. But God’s plan can only be fulfilled if we listen, and then do his will.
When God calls us, it is typical for us to object to it. When Moses heard what God wanted him to do, he said, “What? Who? Me? Who am I that I should go do that?” After all, he did not even know God’s name. And who would believe a wanted murderer who said he talked to a bush that was burning but was not consumed by the flames? You get the idea. When God calls you, it is because God has chosen you rather than you having chosen God. Is God calling you? Are you making some excuse for not answering the call? Are you even listening?
All I can tell you from my own experience is: when you are willing, you may hear God’s call. But it won’t necessarily be what you want or expect, and it will be hard to say, “Yes.” But if you do, you will experience a fullness of joy beyond any measure you can possibly imagine. Your life will be that full and abundant life that our Lord Jesus speaks of bringing to us. So be willing, and wait on Him, and even when it is not what you want to do, say “Yes.” And the joy will overflow. Amen.

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