— Looking for God’s Call
Choice is a powerful and wonderful thing. It is one of the quintessential qualities of being a human, something that makes our minds worth having. Not only that, we can often create more choices where our choices are limited. The only time this becomes very frustrating is trying to decide what to have for dinner – between the abundance of restaurants and food options at home, it seems like wading in mud before we can make a choice everyone likes.
Other than that, choice is great, and it follows us through our lives. I remember as a wee, little young person in rural South Carolina out on the playground – I would get chosen for some games and not others. Dodgeball – you don’t pick the biggest target for your team. Red Rover, however, or football, and I was your kid.
Of course, choosing works its way across our culture into every aspect of life. We choose relationships, schools, jobs, places to live, things to buy or not buy, our elected officials – good luck with that one. Between you and me, it seems that there is rarely a good choice.
The sermon title comes from choosing at the supermarket: choosy moms choose…Jiff. Yes, you remember that one, too. Please do not assume I am getting some kickback for product placement, but this advertisement jingle gets to this fact that choosing is with us everywhere.
The choosy thing for peanut butter was much better than saying we all are stuck together or are all a bit nuts.
It should not surprise us, then, that God is also in the choosing business – maybe that is one aspect of being made in God’s image. I am even going to take it one step further. Not only is God in the business of choosing us, God is probably the choosiest God in the history of the world. All through the Bible we have a picture of a God who selects people and calls them – quite often without their approval. Noah, Abraham, Moses, even Adam and Eve were brought to life to follow God’s intent. Every man or woman who has some hand in shaping the biblical story was put there on purpose. Just think about that – did any of them just show up completely by accident? God wants us to be certain who is behind us and directing us. Take the story from Judges as case in point.
I absolutely love this story. The narrative cycle of the book of Judges is clear. The people of God are doing ok, then they fall away. Then, God sends a people to oppress them but raises a leader or judge after a while, once they start to turn back and look for help. That leader or judge delivers the people and brings them back into faithful practice of God’s life. In Gideon’s story, it is the Midianites who are bearing down on the people. You can hear Gideon’s bitterness as he questions God about why they are stuck in that situation. Of course, God is selecting Gideon for a reason, choosing him, not because he is leader material or the bravest or strongest or the biggest (kind of like the choosing of David), but God needs Gideon to lead the new army.
So he get’s the army and this is where it gets delicious. 32,000 people show up to fight against the Midianites. You might think that is great; God does not. TOO many. First, let’s send home everyone who is scared and does not really want to be there. That does make sense, but over a third of your fighting force goes home. This is where the military strategist packs up and goes home, but God’s choosing continues. It is still too many people. Some out there might assume they won on their own might. 10,000 people IS still a lot of people. It is God’s choosing process here that really cracks me up, though. Let’s keep the people who will drink like dogs. I have no idea what special quality comes in a soldier who can lap water – of course, there is none. God just knew how many would be left after this strange drinking test, and 300 is the magic number. By the way, this is why you should always drink your water politely. I can assure you the chosen 300 did not have their little fingers extended. If you make sure to always drink politely, you will never get dragged into a holy war. It is certainly not the way we would expect God to choose people, but it was the way that worked, because as I said, when God chooses, it tends to happen.
The choosing of Jesus’ first disciples in Mark’s gospel is actually more scandalous than lapping soldiers. When Jesus called to James and John and Simon and Andrew, you have to understand something. You got into a line of work in rural Israel because that is what your father did and his father and his father and his father (and how far back do you think I need to go?). It went back for centuries. You had to support your family with that work, and you had to teach your children that work for the tradition to continue. We have very little connection to this practice today. If my family had followed this, the only time you would have seen me was when your car needed to be fixed – as my grandfather was a mechanic. But my father became a mechanical engineer, and I have been in three different professions. To go back even one more generation, my great grandfather was a farmer, so maybe you would have only seen me out on the tractor.
In ancient Israel, however, the situation was very different. You were locked into the vocation for your life. That is unless Jesus chooses you. Just think about what it meant for those men to walk away from their jobs, their families, their tradition, that financial stability. Fishing was a reasonable job as if times were tight, you could just fish more. Eventually, you would catch some. Of course, fishing was also dangerous if weather caught you.
Nevertheless, the four fishermen heard Jesus’ choosing and decided to respond. They did not seem to debate or have the internal struggle that dogs us today. If you did not ascribe holy purposes to Jesus’ call, you might consider the fishermen foolish or irresponsible. In fact, that is exactly how hearers of this story in ancient times would have reacted – with contempt for the men who abandoned their responsibilities in this way. God’s choosing must be bigger.
This really sets the stage for today. Guess what? God still chooses us and not just in the grand biblical sounding ways. We get chosen for things all the time, even if we do not perceive it. God’s choosing can come in the louder kind of pronouncements. Any preacher is happy to tell her or his call story. The day I knew it was time to head to seminary is ingrained in my memory. The first time you elders were called about serving in the church in that ordained capacity – I bet that is still with you as well. That’s right, God calls to us and chooses us through the voices of others. If you have ever served the church or in the community, I would argue that God was choosing you for that work – putting you in the right place at the right time and opening the door. Even if the service did not work out so well, that does not mean God was not behind it. Obviously, we can mess up our own occasions of service, but that does not mean we weren’t lead to that time of being chosen. There is a reason for you to be where you are and doing what you are doing. That is your will married to God’s choice, and if you get the feeling that it is time to do something else, then God may be choosing you for something new. It is not always this easy and neat. We can entice ourselves with new opportunities – force a choosing, but when you are doing what you feel you need to be doing, it is a beautiful feeling.
Now, two things related to this choosing are coming up right now, and both involve you. One bit of great news we received this week is that the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of the Peaks has approved our Mission Study and has opened the door to us electing a Pastror Nominating Committee for our next installed pastor. They are meeting after worship today to begin this task with the names that you have submitted. This is a crucial and vital task for this group that will involve dedication and hard work for a good bit of time, but this group will be made us of you. YOU will be the persons chosen and committed for this task. Since the Pastor Nominating Committee is voicing what they believe is God’s choosing in our congregation, we all need to hear their invitation very seriously and take their call with prayer and faithful consideration as we might God’s own voice. The other way you might become chosen is also from the Nominating Committee but it is for the church officers and another member of the Nominating Committee for the class of 2023. They will be working on this group in the weeks ahead, but the election of the pastor nominating committee will be in two weeks. Again, both of these times of choosing and being chosen and very important to a family of faith and the life of this congregation. I entrust you will seek God’s will in all of this.
When the voice of choosing comes, you may or may not need to drop the fishing nets, that’s between you and God, but we need to be open to this voice not only for these tasks but for everything in life.
To God be the glory. Amen.