Lately here at Pilgrimage, there’s been a lot more talk of feeling “called” to do something than of simply filling slots. Instead of—“Since no one else will do it, I guess I will”–people are saying, “I think God is calling me to do this or that.” A case in point is our new VP, Trudy Stoddert. Here’s what Trudy wrote me in an email.
I am super. freaking. nervous. When Matthew started asking about folks being interested, I had a thought to do it, then I was like “You (roller derby word) lunatic. You’re already stretched so thin …you don’t need this.”
Then, every time Matthew got up during announcements and said he was still looking for someone, I kept feeling that pesky tug on my heart that we all know who’s doing the tugging. But I still tried to ignore it. I always over commit myself and I’ve got so much going on; I wouldn’t do the position justice.
Then I stepped down from my chair position with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Then a month later I stepped down from my Board of Directors position with Atlanta Junior Roller Derby.
Then Matthew made another announcement and after church I found my feet bringing me over to him and my mouth opening and saying “Hey, I might be interested.” And honestly, I almost slapped my own self right then and there…what the Sam Hill was I thinking?? But then another person overheard me saying that someone would have to take over the communications chair and they poked their head into the convo and mentioned that they might be interested in that…or at least doing some of the communications stuff so I could vacate that position. That was the next sign that this was what I was supposed to do. So I told Matthew I would think about it over the holidays.
Then I asked Ben to chat with me about what to expect as the VP and then as the prez (gulp). He offered his confidence in me and offered to help me as much as possible when I become the prez, so that sealed the deal. I emailed Matthew the next Monday.
I have a lot to learn about the UCC in general and PUCC (historically and such) so I can go into the prez position with enough knowledge to be a responsible leader.
And man, am I still super nervous.
When I asked Trudy if there was anything in the statement she’d like me to edit before making it public, she said, “Just tell them you edited it to make it more sermon-appropriate, because we all know Trudy is really an old drunken sailor disguised as a middle-aged mother.”
By virtue of our baptisms, each of us is called by God to use our gifts in the community. In fact, that’s why we have the gifts we have–so that we can use them to build up the body of Christ. So, how do we figure out what our gifts are? How do we hear our calling? As Trudy’s story demonstrates, if we want to hear our calling, we’re going to have to listen.
Trudy listened to all kinds of things as she discerned her call to the VP position. She listened to Matthew’s announcements; she listened to the needs of the Pilgrimage community; she listened to her own needs in terms of commitments—and her penchant to over-commit. The thing to which she listened most intently was the strange stirring inside her, the force that took her feet where she hadn’t planned for them to go. Our Executive Committee is now fully-staffed because Trudy listened to God’s call in her life.
It’s been a joy to watch you make your plans for the pastoral transition. It’s also sad and a little surreal not to be involved in that planning…but mostly, watching you plan for Pilgrimage’s future and seeing how engaged you are in that process makes me very happy. It makes me especially happy that Cathe and Tom will be joining Pilgrimage today. Who joins a church when the pastor is leaving? Visionaries….people who are able to see that a church is about so much more than its pastor. Church is about a community acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name. Tom and Cathe today are answering that call.
So, by virtue of our baptisms, we all are called by God to engage in the important work of acting the world into wellbeing. In order to hear God’s call to us, we have to listen. And while old-drunken-sailor-middle-aged-mom-roller-derby-goddess-new-VP Trudy Grenon Stoddert has given us a terrific example of how to listen to God’s call, it’s not always easy, is it? Sometimes, there’s so much static on the line, it’s nigh on impossible to hear God’s call.
So what causes static? What prevents us from God’s call? For one thing, we might find the idea of “listening to God’s call” strange or hard to understand. Or we might find our lives too busy to listen. Or we might not believe ourselves important enough or gifted enough for God to even notice us, much less to call us to some specific task.
There’s another source of static that’s kind of hard to own up to…it’s the thing that gets in the way of Nathanael hearing Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel lesson: prejudice.
When Philip comes to Nathanael, excited about his encounter with Jesus, in not-so-nice language, Nathanael reveals his prejudice –“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Program note: I wrote this next sentence before Thursday’s news cycle.) Nathanael’s regionalism–perhaps even racism–blinds him to the good that might come from the person reared in what he considered to be a backwater of the region. Jesus persists and reminds Nathanael of something we’re not privy to. When that happens, Nathanael’s tune changes completely. ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Suddenly, Nathanael is able to set aside his bias and hear Jesus’ call.
The connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s comments by our president couldn’t be clearer. Old-drunken-sailor words used playfully by a middle-aged-roller-derby goddess is a completely different thing than our nation’s president crudely denigrating entire nations of people because of the color of their skin. As fruitful as exploring the connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s events might be, I invite us instead to hear today’s Gospel lesson in the context of our life together as a community.
So…what’s creating static in God’s attempts to call you? Is there any static on the line in God’s call to this community? Are there biases? Are there prejudices? Who have you already written off as a bearer of God’s message to you? Who in this community aren’t you seeing? Who aren’t you hearing?
In his short book outlining community life, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer identifies the “ministry of listening” as a key aspect of community life. Isn’t that great? The ministry of listening. (It’s not inconsequential that this section is preceded by one called “the ministry of holding one’s tongue.” J)
Bonhoeffer writes: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to God’s Word, so the beginning of love for the community is learning to listen to its members…”
God is creative. And playful. God speaks to us through all kinds of people. If we write some people off from the get-go, though, it doesn’t matter how loudly God is speaking through them, we aren’t going to get the message.
As you seek to use your gifts to build up this community, through whom might God be calling you? As you as a community discern God’s call for you in the coming weeks and months, through whom might God be speaking? What might happen if you open your minds and hearts to someone—or someones—you’ve never before considered being a bearer of God’s word? What might happen if you recommit yourselves again to the ministry of listening?
Listening to you all these last 16 years, God has said some crazy things…
Ric Reitz: “What about stained glass windows?” My response: “We aren’t a stained glass window church.”
Chris Shiver when we were gluing glass to the mosaic cross: “I could engrave words on the glass.” My response: “No. I don’t think so.” Ric Reitz, when I told everyone to fill in all the remaining blank spaces with glass on Palm Sunday that year, “But isn’t God still speaking?”
Holly CothranDrake: “Let’s start a Joys and Concerns page on Facebook.” My response: “Oh, no. I don’t think that will work.”
Julie Binney and Janet Derby at separate times. (I’m still trying to decide if that was a coordinated effort. J): “Hey, Kim. I heard about this great program called Family Promise. Do you think we might participate?” My response: I’d already thrown the Family Promise materials in the trash.
Based on this list, it sounds like you all might do very well if I just get out of the way! J Seriously. You are some of the most authentic, compassionate, creative people I have ever known. Your gift for hospitality is astonishing. I have no doubt—no doubt—that God has great things in store for you. And because I have learned so much from listening to you, I have no doubt that you have much to learn from listening to each other. God isn’t just speaking TO you, God is speaking THROUGH you to each other. Want to know how to find the way forward on this next leg of your journey? Listen to the still-speaking God. Listen to the tugging inside you that we know who’s doing the tugging. And listen to each other. Who knows? God just might have some more crazy things to say.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2018