First Things First

At our worship on the Day of Pentecost, the folks in Crafton Heights read two accounts of what happened during that celebration: in the original context, as recorded in Leviticus 23, and after the ascension of Jesus in Jerusalem, as described in  Acts 2

This is a photo of someone else hand-pollinating a passion fruit flower. It’s not my hand, nor my flower. Who would pollinate passion flowers? That’s just uncalled for…

This is a curious and wonderful season, in some respects, for me. If you’ve had the privilege to pass by the alley behind Cumberland St, or to see me from the next-door-neighbor’s yard, you’ll have seen me wandering from one paw paw tree to the next with a Q-tip and a small paintbrush, trying to pollenate the trees and bring forth fruit. Every day for the past week, I’ve come home and walked through the house into the back yard, looking to see if today is the day that the kiwi vines are blossoming, and whether this year is the year that the male plant will finally mature. I’m measuring the new peas that my granddaughter and I planted last month.

Every day I come home, I walk out of my house into a land of promise. There is no more fruit, there are no more vegetables there now than there were in December, but at least now I can imagine them. These are months of promise, anticipation, and imagination.

It occurs to me that this is, for me, a season of luxury and of bounty. Will I get cherries this year? Will the blueberries ripen? Great! If not, well, I’ll have to buy them. That will be a disappointment and an inconvenience.

subsistence_farmingMuch of the rest of the world knows nothing of that kind of luxury. We are now in what subsistence farmers around the world call “the hungry season”. The crops that we grew last year were taken in and stored and have gotten us through the winter. We took some of that precious harvest and planted it a few weeks ago, and now the pantry is getting a bit bare. We can see what is coming – the plants are beginning to appear – but nothing is ripe yet. We look at our diminishing reserves, and at the calendar, and at the weather forecast, and we wonder: will there be enough? Can we make it until the harvest is ready?

Again, most of the people in this room know nothing about that kind of lifestyle, but it is the rhythm of the seasons for billions of your neighbors around the world.

It is also the culture that was called to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, or, as it was called by the Jews, the Feast of Weeks. Seven weeks (or fifty days, hence the Greek name Pentecost) after the first barley was harvested, all able-bodied men were required to journey to Jerusalem and worship, bringing with them the first fruits that had appeared in their gardens. These fruits, having been converted to loaves of bread or quarts of olive oil, would be offered freely in worship, with joy and thanksgiving to God.

Think about that for a moment – about the chutzpah of a God who says that the first fruits are what is required to worship fully. Not “some fruit”. Not “whatever you’ve got in your wallet when it’s time for the offering.” But the first. The ones that I am looking for right now as I wander past and wonder whether my Q tip strategy will have worked on the paw paws, or if Lucia’s sweet peas will take hold.

What if those first fruits make it to the harvest, but then there’s a hailstorm that destroys the rest of the crop? What if it doesn’t rain at all in July, and the first fruits make it in in time, but the rest of them shrivel in the heat? I’m supposed to walk past my hungry family, to ignore the worries that my rapidly-emptying pantry brings to mind so that I can offer God that which comes first?

redcordImagine a farmer walking on his acre or two. He’s examining his crops, not with the idle curiosity of Pastor Dave checking out his odd assortment of fruit, but with the desperation of the hungry season upon him. He hears the whimpering of his children, and he sees the evidence of the first barley, or wheat, or grapes, or figs, or olives becoming ripe. And when that farmer sees the evidence of those first mature plants, he reaches into his pocket and he pulls out a red cord and he ties that cord around the earliest part of the harvest, indicating that this portion of the harvest belongs to God.

Weeks later, when it’s finally ripe, he’ll walk through the fields again and collect these first fruits, called bikkurim, into a special basket made of wicker and decorated with strands of color. And these first fruits would not be eaten by the family, but would be prepared and taken to worship.

Bikurim-or-Bikkurim-Basket-of-grapesIt’s a holy day, because it’s the day that we remember that God gets what is first because it is by God’s grace that we’ve made it this far. God gets what is first because that’s a way of demonstrating our trust in the fact that God will continue to provide, as God always has. It is a time of promise, of anticipation, and imagination.

It is no accident that the Holy Spirit came upon the people of God during the Feast of Weeks. Most folks believe that there were about 120 followers of Jesus in and around Jerusalem that day, and that these individuals represented the first fruits of a new harvest – the beginning of something new that God was doing.

In Jesus of Nazareth, God had come to this creation and fundamentally changed the nature of our relationship with himself. As John’s gospel reads, “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood”. He lived, he taught, he healed, he was crucified, and he died. He was “planted”, quite literally, in a borrowed tomb, around the time of the Passover celebration. And then, three days later, he burst forth from the ground as dramatically and as surely as little Lucia’s sweet peas have done. Jesus is, as Paul says, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:20) The resurrected Jesus was the beginnings of what God intended.

I was unable to find the name of the artist responsible for this piece.  If you know who did it, I would love to credit appropriately.

I was unable to find the name of the artist responsible for this piece. If you know who did it, I would love to credit appropriately.

And then, seven weeks later, the rest of the harvest begins to emerge. The followers of this resurrected Jesus, gathered in a place that was familiar, but not really “home”, experience an inrushing of the Holy Spirit. The little band of Jesus-followers – not yet even called “Christians” – finds themselves equipped for new aspects of life and ministry. It is, indeed, a time of promise, of anticipation, and of imagination.

God chose to inhabit a very old celebration – the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem – in a very new expression of his will, his intention, his purposes for the world. He chose to do this as a demonstration that things like promise, anticipation, and imagination are not only in the past, and for those who came before us, but that promise, anticipation, and imagination are God’s modus operandi. God calls, God delivers, God saves; Christ comes, Christ teaches, Christ rises; the Holy Spirit explodes, the Holy Spirit equips, the Holy Spirit sends out. Again and again and again – in each generation, we can see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit moving in these ways.

Let me say those last two sentences again, because they sound pretty good from the pulpit: God calls, God delivers, God saves; Christ comes, Christ teaches, Christ rises; the Holy Spirit explodes, the Holy Spirit equips, the Holy Spirit sends out. Again and again and again – in each generation, we can see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit moving in these ways.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

But doesn’t that sound pretty distant to many of us?

Here’s the truth, beloved. Not many of us really have gardens. None of us in this room really depends on a garden to get us through the entire year. But every one of us knows something about “the hungry season”.

You who are teachers or students have come a long way from the idealism of your youth or even the dogged determination of October. Those things have been replaced by teaching to some sort of a standardized test that has to be taken on a certain day, and then watching video after video as you are counting the hours and waiting for the days to stop.

You who are in another profession may know the uncertainty of transition. There’s been a reorganization and you know that some positions will be lost. Will yours be among them?

You may have been caring for one who has suffered illness for far too long, you may see your SNAP benefits run out six days before the end of the month, you see the roof leaking and wonder how much they’re going to want to even take a look at it…

We are unfamiliar with the agrarian cycle in which so many around the world are living, but you know what it’s like to be stretched thin and to wonder, “will there be enough?” Will there be enough of me? Will there be enough for me?

You know the hungry season in your heart.

And yet, beloved…and yet…

Can you look for the tender shoots of new growth? Can you see some place in your life where silently, mysteriously, roots are taking hold and change is coming? I know, it probably doesn’t look like much right now. There’s no way that these little sprouts could really change much of anything, let alone be “enough”. But is there something happening?

Can you wander through the thin places in your life and see those tender shoots and gently, carefully, place a red cord around them? Can you see this new thing and say, “I’m not sure what, if anything is going to happen here, but this new thing – this is God’s. This first thing? It belongs to Jesus.”

Can you ask God to work something new in your life – and can you trust him to bring it to bear fruit? Can you ask God to act in you, and to act through you, in the hopes that your world and this world and our world will change as a result?

That kind of trust is not easy, you know. And that kind of growth is not without pain. In fact, 11 of the first 12 followers of Jesus did not die natural deaths. But every one of them would do it again in a second.

Can you give your first, your best, your tenderest, to God? Can you set aside a portion of your income, your time, your energy and ask God to use it in the service of promise, anticipation, and imagination?

Beloved, if you know me at all, you know that I have seen a lot of hungry seasons. I have seen them on African and South American farms; I have seen them in American nursing homes; I have seen them in troubled schools and bankrupt personal lives. And time and time again, I have seen God make a visitation in the midst of a hungry season. And most often, I have seen that visitation occur in the lives of those who are characterized by the attributes mentioned in Acts 2: those with glad and generous hearts. I have come to believe that living this way is, in fact, the only way to survive the hungry seasons of life.

First things first, people. We live in a world of promise, anticipation, and imagination. Let us respond with glad and generous hearts. Not because of who we are, but because of who God is, and his willingness to send a Pentecost to us, here and now, in this hungry season. Thanks be to God. Amen.

I Can Do That!

We finished our series on the ways that God calls us by looking at the calling to Mary as reported in Luke 1:26-38 and some of the ways that she was prepared for that by reading Psalm 119:33-40.

Love for a child changes you. All of you know this already. There are wonderful, exciting things that can happen. And there are aspects of character development that would seem incomprehensible to your previous self.

I noted this shift in my understanding of self one evening when my daughter was about two years old. She had been sick, I had been flying solo as a parent for a couple of days, and we were looking at a road trip to reconnect with some family members. She had fallen asleep in the back of our ancient Chevy Impala before I had a chance to stop for coffee and a sandwich, and now I was faced with the eternal question: do I stop, and risk waking a sick, cranky baby? Or do I drive on in a caffeine-less hungry stupor?

Duh. You don’t stop. Everybody knows, you don’t stop. But I was hungry. I needed something. And then I saw it. Stuck to the grimy blue fiber of the carpet. It was a tootsie pop of indeterminate color and age. I pried it loose, and examined it. Ariel had already enjoyed some of it, yet the chewy center appeared to be intact. It was nasty…but I was hungry… I was ready to throw it out the window just to get it out of my car, but instead I held the pop in my hand for five or ten miles, observing its fur and overall appearance. There appeared to be no signs of life on the surface. Suddenly, something clicked. Clear as a bell, a voice came into my consciousness: I can do that.

And in an instant, I entered into the legion of you who have done incredibly gross things because in some way, you thought that they would benefit a child you loved. In my case, it was simply driving into the night with a furry lollipop, rather than waking a cranky daughter.

Annunciation, by John William Waterhouse (1914)

Annunciation, by John William Waterhouse (1914)

As we finish up our series of sermons on the ways that God calls to people of faith in scripture, I wanted to preach about the call to a teenage girl a couple of thousand years ago that, at least on the surface, seems to be an incredibly unique call – to bear the Son of God, to raise the savior of the universe, and according to some faith traditions, to live a sinless life. That is a heavy call, and there seems to be a lot of pressure there; moreover, when we view the calling of Mary in that way, it is incredibly remote. God will not call me to do that. Ever. I can’t do that.

But then I noticed that in reality, before this is an invitation to bear the eternal savior of the world, it is a calling to be obedient to the first command ever given to a human being. Do you remember the first thing God said to Adam and Eve in the garden? “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. Have a child.”

And that got me thinking: before Mary became a mother; before she walked with Jesus on the road to Calvary, she obeyed God. She said “yes”. She said “I can do that” to an unpredictable path – but a path that, by and large, was full of days and months and years that were not remarkable. She said yes to looking for God’s presence in splintered hands and in home cooking and in family gatherings and in doing laundry.

When I thought about Mary’s calling in that way, I wanted to say that Mary is a great example to us, not because she is so incredible, amazing, wonderful, or powerful, but because she is willing and able to say “Yes” to God in what will become the mundaneness of life in ordinary time. I wanted to say that Mary was a good person with whom to finish this series of call stories because she was fundamentally obedient – that is, she takes us back to the first commandment in the garden and is obedient. Simply and beautifully obedient. Maybe I can do that.

Think about it. There are so many places in scripture where the powerful and intrusive God calls people in amazingly flashy ways to incredibly difficult tasks. How about when he told old Ananias to go and pray for Saul, who’d been trying to kill Ananias a couple of days before? Do you remember when he appeared to an 80 year-old Moses out of a burning bush and sent him to Pharaoh’s court? Or the time he told a 75 year-old childless man named Abram that his family was going to be huge? I’m sure you remember Isaiah’s vision and the ways in which he was humbled by the splendor of heaven. I mean to tell you, those are some callings!

Annunciation by John Meng-Frecker.  Used by permission. See more at www.Catholic-Artists.org

Annunciation by John Meng-Frecker. Used by permission. See more at http://www.Catholic-Artists.org

But this call to Mary seems so simple, so basic, and so profound. And she said “yes”. And when I thought of that, I wanted to tell you that I thought it was a good model for us in many ways, because she was simply obedient.

That’s the sermon I wanted to preach, until I saw that today was Mothers Day. On the one hand, there’s nobody who can carry a Mothers Day sermon like Mary. But on the other hand, if your preacher starts talking about answering the essential calling of God in the same breath as he’s talking about being a mother, well, he’s in a boatload of trouble. Because while such a calling is indeed elemental to our race, it’s surely not within the grasp or the experience of most of us.

All of us are called by God. And most of us do not become mothers. Some of us are too male to become mothers. Others struggle with infertility, the loss of a marriage, or a hundred other obstacles. Not all who wish to be parents are able to become such, and many don’t wish to be parents at all.

Yet God calls all of us.

So I couldn’t preach the sermon I wanted to preach to you about Mary and motherhood. Frankly, this was disappointing to me, because I even wanted to work the lyrics to the Beatles’ Let It Be in there somewhere. But I couldn’t do it because while it was partly true, it wasn’t entirely true to everyone.

But I couldn’t leave this call to Mary alone, either. I kept staring at it and re-reading it. In what way is this singular calling to a remarkable young woman instructive and encouraging to all of us?

And then it struck me. A little word, just four letters in the Greek. The word is “ἰδοὺ”, and it first shows up in our reading in verse 31, where it is translated as “behold”.

ἰδοὺ” means “Open your eyes”, or “pay attention”, or “look here.” It is a common word in scripture, and in fact it appears three times in our reading from Luke. In verse 31, the angel tells Mary, “Behold, you will conceive…” In verse 36, he continues, “Behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth…” And in verse 38, Mary uses “ἰδοὺ” when she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord…”

In fact, “ἰδοὺ” appears six times in Luke chapter 1. That got me thinking. What if the first calling from God is not to make babies, but to pay attention? I went back to Genesis, and in the Greek translation of chapter 1, it’s right there: where our Bibles read “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food,” the Greek word is “ἰδοὺ”.

Isn’t that God’s first word to Moses, to Saul, to Isaiah, to Jeremiah, to people of every place and time? Look! Pay attention! Wake up! Behold! Isn’t that the story of every call in every age?

But if you’ve ever been bird-watching, or fishing, or to an art museum, or babysitting…if you’ve ever been anywhere, really, you know that in most of our lives, we have to learn how to look. We have to figure out how to process the information at hand. We have to learn what to look for, and how to respond.

That’s what the reading in the Psalm is about: “Lord, teach me where to look and teach me how to look.”

People of God: ἰδοὺ! Look around you. The world in which we live is populated by people who say, “Oh, if I only knew what to do next… God, give me a sign…”

We come to church and we read about people like Jeremiah and Esther and Mary and Zechariah who are called by God and we say, “Oh, well, I guess he’s out of that business now. God hasn’t called me in a while…”

And if he were here, the Psalmist would give me a “dope slap” and say, “Look, Pastor Dave, the ‘sign’ that you want is right in front of you. Do you want to know what’s important to God? Do you want to know how to please God? Do you want to know what God wants you to do? Then read his word!”

The person who, perhaps more than any other, can be regarded as the “father of Presbyterianism” was a 16th century scholar named John Calvin. He talked a lot about the things that we notice and the things that we don’t. In one important writing, he said,

The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele (detail), Jan Van Eyck, 1434-36.

 

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.[1]

In another place, he said,

For by the Scripture as our guide and teacher, he not only makes those things plain which would otherwise escape our notice, but he almost compels us to behold them, as if he had assisted our dull sight with spectacles.[2]

What’s important in the world right now? Well, if my television is an accurate indicator of the issues most pressing on humanity in early May 2015, it would appear as though the legal status of a couple of artificially-inseminated embryos created by Colombian actress Sofia Vergara, or the amount of air in the footballs thrown by Tom Brady, or the name of the youngest child born to Prince William and his wife are the most important issues on the planet right now.

Is this what matters?

Why do we care about these things?

Why do we distract ourselves in this way?

Why is it so easy to say, “Oh, God, please show me what you want me to do…as soon as I finish this game of Candy Crush”?

Oh, beloved…what if we are killing ourselves and those around us by allowing ourselves to be so distracted that we cannot even behold that which is true any more?

A Look At Life Through Red Tinted Glasses

A Look At Life Through Red Tinted Glasses

People of God, ἰδοὺ! Look at the people with whom you share a home. Look at the people with whom you share a sanctuary this morning, at least half of whom are struggling with some secret sin or deep pain or hidden need, but don’t know what to do about it. Look beyond the cotton candy in our media and hear the cries of those who suffer from violence or abuse or betrayal or enslavement… And to make sure that you’re looking at the right stuff in the right way, look through the Bible. Use the eyeglasses of God’s word to help you see what is really important in the lives of the people for whom Christ died, and those whom he has given you to love.

I guess what I’m getting at in this sermon on the calling of Mary is this: what if we are waiting around for a call from God to do or be something special but in the meantime we are not paying attention to the “behold” moments of life?

Here’s the truth: two thousand years ago, the Lord of life showed up in a Palestinian living room and asked an illiterate, unwed, peasant teenage girl if she was interested in seeing what he had in mind for the world. She said “yes.” And she entered into the grime and pain and joy and hope and fear and wonder that God opened to her. Not because she was so amazingly outstanding. But because she was willing to see what God would show to her.

Can you dare to believe that God is willing and able to enter into the messed-upness of your life? Do you actually think that God can call you toward something better or deeper or higher or fuller or richer than that which occupies so much of our world’s attention right now? Could God be inviting you to a life of maturity, service, and joy?

Can you ἰδοὺ? Can you seek to behold where and how that can be? And then, can you say “yes”?

There is a lot that I can’t do, including being a mom. But ἰδοὺ? Behold? Cracking open the Bible each day, and listening for God’s word, and trying to see God’s world through that word? I can do that. Can you?

[1] Institutes of the Christian Religion (1560) I.vi.1

[2] Commentary on Genesis, as quoted in Randall Zachman’s John Calvin as Teacher, Pastor, and Theologian: The Shape of His Writings and Thought (Baker, 2006) p. 196

Why Are You Here?

This week, we continue to explore the notion that God calls people to new places in their lives and in the world. In recent weeks, we’ve considered calls to Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah, Peter, Samuel, and Timothy and talked about the ways that God’s call is extended to folk in every station of life, that it brings us to humility and confession, and that we are in need of mentors and guides to help us grow in our attentiveness. This week, eavesdropped in on a call that Queen Esther of Persia received about 500 years before Christ.  Our other text was Acts 4:23-31.

Queen Esther Seeking Permission to Speak, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist Lilian Broca.  Used by permission.  http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

Queen Esther Seeking Permission to Speak, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist  Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

The book of Esther begins like a fairy tale – a beautiful young woman is plucked from obscurity and becomes the queen. However, the fairy tale I have in mind is Bluebeard, not Cinderella or Snow White. Ahasuerus is a greedy, violent, egocentric man who enjoys a life of luxury out of touch with the real world. When his first queen disappoints him, he takes care of her and brings in version 2.0, a young Jewish girl named Esther. While the text does not indicate that she lied about her faith, she didn’t publicize it either. She is mentored in her faith and life by her uncle, a man named Mordecai.

Somehow, Mordecai gets on the wrong side of the king’s chief advisor, who seeks to avenge this wrong by killing not only Mordecai, but every Jew in the land. Later, the advisor gets the king to sign off on this deal. Listen:

When Mordecai heard about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on rough cloth and ashes, and went out into the city crying loudly and painfully.  But Mordecai went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one was allowed to enter that gate dressed in rough cloth.  As the king’s order reached every area, there was great sadness and loud crying among the Jewish people. They fasted and cried out loud, and many of them lay down on rough cloth and ashes to show how sad they were.

When Esther’s servant girls and eunuchs came to her and told her about Mordecai, she was very upset and afraid. She sent clothes for Mordecai to put on instead of the rough cloth, but he would not wear them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs chosen by the king to serve her. Esther ordered him to find out what was bothering Mordecai and why.

So Hathach went to Mordecai, who was in the city square in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told Hathach everything that had happened to him, and he told Hathach about the amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasury for the killing of the Jewish people.

The first thing that we notice about the call to Esther is that it comes at a time of particular need. There is clearly a crisis – the “chosen people” are threatened with extinction. If no action is taken, then disaster will ensue.

It’s interesting and important to note that the first part of Esther’s call story is not God speaking truth from the sky, but rather a trusted mentor and friend bringing a problem to Esther’s attention. This fits in very well with the story of Samuel and Eli last week – here, we see Mordecai preparing Esther to be able to receive the call by educating her as to the current situation. And even though they are unable to speak face to face, Mordecai makes sure that the message gets through:

Mordecai also gave him a copy of the order to kill the Jewish people, which had been given in Susa. He wanted Hathach to show it to Esther and to tell her about it. And Mordecai told him to order Esther to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and to plead with him for her people.

Surreptitious Dialogue, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist  Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

Surreptitious Dialogue, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

I’d like to point out at this part of the story that the call of God to Esther is entirely consistent with her abilities and station in life. Mordecai is asking her to approach the king and to seek to save the Jewish people because, well, she lives with the king and she is Jewish. This is an important distinction for us to consider when we think about God’s calling and direction for our lives.

There was a time when I talked about my life’s purpose, and I actually said out loud that I’d really appreciate being called to be the trombone player for the rock band Chicago. A couple of years after that, I noted in my college yearbook that my highest aspiration in life was to be the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. There were several problems in each of those plans, perhaps most notably the facts that I wasn’t that good a trombonist, I hated to practice, and I didn’t ever go to law school. The list of people more capable than I to do either of those things is incredibly long.

Yet here, Mordecai shows Esther not only that it is entirely possible for her to respond, but that she might be the best person on the face of the earth to answer this call.

There’s a problem, though. Esther, apparently, does not want to do this. She would prefer not to.

Isn’t that so often the case? Sometimes we allow our feelings to dictate our actions in a way that diminishes our ability to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives. In this instance, Esther sends word back to Mordecai telling him that it’s a little more complicated than he seems to think it is, and thanks for his concern, but she’d prefer that someone else took care of this, thanks very much.

Then Mordecai sent back word to Esther: “Just because you live in the king’s palace, don’t think that out of all the Jewish people you alone will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, someone else will help and save the Jewish people, but you and your father’s family will all die. And who knows, you may have been chosen queen for just such a time as this.”

Mordecai, however, reminds Esther that her feelings and her own sense of her abilities may not be the best guides for the current situation. “You don’t know everything,” he says. “What if this is the exact reason for your presence in the kingdom right now? What if God is choosing to do something great through you?”

The call has been extended, and just as in Samuel’s case, it has not been recognized. And, just as in that situation, there’s a mentor to help the person get a greater perspective and be able to see more clearly the path forward. With Mordecai’s help, Esther is able to see through her own confusion and to get past her own feelings of what she’d rather not do and move to embrace the call in her actions.

Then Esther sent this answer to Mordecai:  “Go and get all the Jewish people in Susa together. For my sake, fast; do not eat or drink for three days, night and day. I and my servant girls will also fast. Then I will go to the king, even though it is against the law, and if I die, I die.”

Queen Esther, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist  Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

Queen Esther, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

There is not, in Esther’s life, a sense of recklessness and a jumping out ahead of God’s spirit. Nor is there a selfish pride that says, “Look, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Mind your own business, Mordecai.” As you’ve just heard, she turns to the wider community for help in doing what she doesn’t really feel like doing, and asks them to hold her accountable and to pray for her ability to follow through. She invites people inside and beyond her own little circle to join her in this call to faithful living.

Note, too, that Esther’s response requires her to act without knowing the whole story. She has to move forward in boldness and trust that God will supply the things that she needs at the time that she needs them.

I don’t know about you, but that’s usually how God acts in my own life. I am often nudged to act without having all of the particulars. I get a glimpse of what could be, I see a possibility, I hear an invitation, and then I have to choose whether or not to say “yes” without knowing how all of the details can possibly come together.

These lives that we lead – this daily, ordinary faith that we have – requires that we do what we can, and then we leave the rest up to God. In all likelihood, you are not being called to save an entire race from a genocidal maniac. Chances are, you have experienced less dramatic calls or nudges from the Lord…

  • there’s a new kid at school, and he’s eating alone. Should you call him over to your table? Or go sit with him?
  • There’s that woman. You know that she’s having problems, even though she hasn’t spoken to you about them. Should you approach her? Should you say something? What?
  • You’ve been asked to play a role in a new ministry, or to take a trip, or to reach out to a neighbor. Will you?
  • What about that job offer you’ve received? It looks like a good fit, but you never know…

Beloved, God has placed you at this juncture in history and equipped you with a story that is partially – incompletely – written. What are you doing right now with who you are and what you have?

My mother-in-law has often told the story of when she caught her father rehearsing his line prior to her marriage to Sharon’s dad. Gramps Wetterholm was standing in front of a mirror, saying “Her MOTHER and I do….no, Her mother AND I do… Her mother and I DO.” He wondered which inflection would best convey the meaning of the blessing that he wanted to extend to Gene and Mary’s wedding.

Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity,  from a mosaic series by contemporary artist Lilian Broca.  Used by permission.  http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity, from a mosaic series by contemporary artist Lilian Broca. Used by permission. http://www.lilianbroca.com/queen-esther-mosaics

I’ll take a page from Gramps’ notebook here and ask you a question…

Why are YOU here? I’m not asking about your mother, your brother, your better-looking cousin or your more talented sister. Why is it that of all the people on the face of the earth, God has nudged you toward that job, this relationship, or that other opportunity? What is it about YOU that makes this a good time for you to move forward?

Why are you HERE? I mean, you’re not in Africa, you’re not playing center field for the Pirates… You are here, at this station and time in your life. How did you get here, and what do you think that means? And you know, I trust, that this is not merely a question of geography. You are your you, right here, right now. How did that happen?

WHY are you here? Can you believe that the creator of the universe, the giver of every good and perfect gift, the author of life – has some ideas about how and why you should live – right here, right now?

When Esther received a call, it became pretty clear. It came to her through trusted channels, it was consistent with the direction her life had been going, and it allowed her to act in a way that was loving and just toward her neighbors. It was a good call.

But it was also a scary, scary call. It was an inconvenient call.

In that way, it was similar to the calling experienced by Peter and John in the book of Acts. They’d been summoned by God to tell people of the good news of Jesus Christ. They’d been arrested by the authorities because they kept talking about the good news of Jesus Christ. What did they do?

Take note, people of God – when the early church was in a pinch, when Esther was facing danger, the prayer that they lifted up was a prayer for boldness. They did not pray for safety, nor for ease, nor for someone else to come along and do this thing better than they could. In each of our accounts this morning, the Lord is approached and asked for conviction and boldness.

God’s people pray that we might have courage to be the right people, doing the right thing at the right time, and the grace to live with the consequences of that.

A few weeks ago, I stood up here and suggested that you might spend a few moments in each day simply being quiet and alone, breathing deeply and centering yourself, asking God to fill you.

I would like to think that at least some of you have tried that…and would hope that you will continue. I’d like to encourage you to modify that in one very significant way. As you ask God to fill you, ask, “God, what do you have for me today?”

Ask God to stir your heart. Seek the counsel of a trusted friend. Educate yourself on what the world needs. And start to walk in that direction. Ask for boldness and confidence as you journey, and you may find yourself engaged in a different kind of conversation about important issues today. You may discover an opportunity to begin a process of reconciliation in a relationship that has been fractured. It might be that you are finally able to leave a destructive habit or addiction behind.

Why. Are You. Here.? That is a beautiful and loaded question. Live today expecting to discover more about the answer, and pray for boldness to walk in the light of what you learn. Thanks be to God. Amen.