Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Six years ago this weekend I was sitting in a cornfield in Wisconsin with a friend of mine. We were talking about the state of my impending student loans. I was bemoaning the fact that they were coming due in November and the payments would be huge and everlasting and I just did not know what I was going to do. Now she is a pretty direct person who doesn’t pull any punches and she said, “Well Kate, are you going to just let it creep up on you or are you going to take some action on this thing?” Now that is hardly God saying to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Or Jesus saying to Matthew,” Follow me.” But though I did not know it at the time, it was definitely a call from God. For that conversation led me to do some some research on the National Health Service, which in August had me interviewing for a job at WMHC, and in October, gathering my possessions and setting forth to land of Southwest Minnesota where I "pitched my tent" in M and at St.J’s, and journeying on by stages to this place where I stand before you today as priest and preacher. When Sue and I had that conversation in that cornfield, I would not have been able to say that I was being “called by God” to something, other than maybe feeling there was an answer to prayer about the crushing debt of the student loan burden. But there was a sense of it being a journey of faith. Because there is an earlier piece to the story, a little prequel, if you will. In January of that same year, on Epiphany Sunday, I had had a close encounter with the living God. Prior to that time I had been struggling. With church, with faith, with God. I had been questioning if there was a place for me in the Episcopal Church, in any church really. I had been doing all the things I thought were supposed to make me happy and successful and they didn’t seem to be working, and I was kind of at a crossroads. A friend had invited me to an Episcopal Church community where I truly felt a sense of God’s welcoming love. In that experience, I had a sense of myself being like one of the people in the Gospels that Jesus heals, those people that are taken from a place of emptiness to belonging from exclusion to inclusion, and thus are healed and transformed and even in some cases brought back to life. On that Epiphany Sunday I had written in my journal: I am having a premonition of Epiphany. If I go on this journey (to the center of Reality?)...something WILL happen. I am being pulled, drawn, yanked into this....it feels not in my control. I am struck that I have "done church," done spirituality, but I have not allowed myself to be convicted. I am again at that place where I closed the book so many years ago and being asked, being urged, invited, pulled, drawn....to open it, open me again. To be radical. To be fearless in my fear. This God is not the polite God that supports and gently nudges. This God wants more, wants me, wants all. This will require something of me, will change me in a way that I am not getting to be in charge of. This God wants conversion, wants to pull me through the tunnel of my resistance into the center of something that I have glimpsed, flirted with, but never allowed myself to be taken to, given to possessed by. This is new and scary business. And I want it as much as I don't!
So the following January, almost a year to the day from that Epiphany Sunday, when Father Ken asked to talk with me about this thing called Total Ministry, and inquired if I might be interested in being a part of the team providing pastoral care, there was a sense of “oh, so this is what God is up to here” and all of this moving and changing and turmoil in my life took on a whole new meaning. From the cornfield to that point, and every stage of the journey right up to now, it had been based on faith. Sometimes known and sometimes unknown. Sometimes I knew it was God I was saying yes to, and sometimes not. Sometimes I went as willingly as Abram and Matthew and sometimes it was kicking and screaming all the way. Because it is always into the unknown this faith journey. Abram was asked to leave everything….county and kindred and household. He was essentially asked to leave his very identity behind based on a promise. And he went. Matthew was a tax collector. Now while this was not a profession that held a lot of status, it could be a lucrative one. But when Jesus came along and said “Follow me,” we don’t have record of him asking a lot of detailed questions about where and why and for what. No. He “got up and followed him.” As always I am so struck by that. As Jesus calls his disciples, he beckons and they come. In connecting this with the Old Testament story, it appears that this is in a lineage with his father….in fine relational tradition….the Lord said “Go” and “so Abram went…” and this word who becomes flesh and dwells among us continues to call others into relationship and new ways of being. Jesus called Matthew and apparently Matthew called his friends to dinner….his not so-acceptable friends, at least according to the Pharisees. The ones at the edges, those who are empty or sick, who do not belong or are in need. Those who are sinners. The ones, it seems, that Jesus always finds, always chooses to be with, much to the dismay of the powers that be. The ones, he explains, that he actually came for. Not the well, the righteous, but the sick, the sinners, those who are in need. This was confusing to those who were expecting an earthly king who was going to continue the status quo and not this counter-cultural rabbi who persisted in giving them these messages that kept shaking up the system. In today’s Gospel, he quotes the prophet Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Again, we are not that far from the sermon on the mount and all of it’s disturbing “calls” to behave in ways that are antithetical to the culture and perhaps some of our inclinations. “The knowledge of God” seems to be about God’s love and steadfast covenant and God’s desire to be in relationship with God’s people. Jesus’ manifestation of that seems to be about calling us to actualize in radical ways this commandment to love one another as God has loved us….all the way back through Abraham and Sarai and even before that! God says to Abram “lek leka” “get going”….move off into the unknown. In answering this call there is always movement required, and it is often into the unknown. But it is because we know that we can trust that the God who calls us calls us for the good of God’s people and not for God’s own ends, we can do what we need to do move out of our comfort zones to “journey on in stages.”
It has been an amazing journey these last six years. If someone had told me that day in the cornfield that it really wasn’t about student loans, but a call from God I might have told them they were crazy. But what I know today is that this is the life that God had prepared for me, the place that God had for me to serve, it was simply waiting for me to say yes. And on the anniversary of that day, these six years later, I say, thanks be to God that I did. Amen.